Rebecca's Cooking Journal

salt and pepper

Archive for the ‘where I’m going’ Category

Salt and Pepper

Last night, I was making a same-old recipe once more (arancini and chicken nuggets, if you must know). But as I was chopping the chicken and seasoning it, I smelled the overwhelming smell of the salt and pepper. I took a deep breath. It smelled so good in the kitchen. Right at that moment, I fell in love once again with cooking, just knowing that that raw chicken would, in the course of a very short time, be delicious chicken nuggets (yes, I think mine are particularly delicious).

I’ve been wanting to give new life to this blog for a long time. I don’t know that I”ll ever have time to dedicate to it as I had originally intended, but I’ll keep checking in every now and then.

Thereby, I hereby rename this blog “Salt and Pepper.” I was inspired by that whiff of salt and pepper. I can’t think of a single thing I could cook without salt (I’m sure there are things, but, really, it’s so important!). I’ve heard people say that they “just add it later” or what not to make sure they don’t ingest too much sodium. But I cannot eat food — it’s just so BLAH — if it doesn’t have proper seasonings. I added “pepper” to the blog name because, well, I just love a pretty pepper mill filled with multi-colored peppercorns. And pepper is pretty important to making things taste nice too.

Salt and pepper are also the basics. Some recipes just say “add seasonings.” Have a slice of tomato and add salt and pepper and you have a yummy snack. Saute a pork chop with salt and pepper and you have an entree for dinner.

This blog, then, is about adding seasoning to my cooking life. I want to remember to cook a variety of foods.  (My goal, though I fail, is to not repeat anything each month).  I want to try new recipes and foods (again, I should try something new every month, actually every week, but lets start small). I want to remember the basics of cooking, like the difference a bit of salt can make to pumpkin soup. I want to make cooking and eating fun for my son, who already likes to pretend to cook.

Most importantly, I want to make sure that for the next 50 years of cooking every night, I don’t lose my mind!

Although I won’t have time to post a lot, maybe once or twice a month I will appear to say, “I cooked THIS this month.” Or I’ll try a new recipe and, if possible, give you a link to it.

What ingredient(s) do you feel you couldn’t live without?

A New Stage of Cooking

Despite the lack of posts on this blog, I have been cooking.

I feel I am entering a new stage of cooking. Up until the past few months, I had to research out recipes and cook them. I had to write things down and plan ahead. In the last few weeks, I’ve been finding I’m more neutral to recipes. I read it and figure it out, and then I put it down and go cook the food, sometimes referring to it and sometimes not. It’s like the recipes are suggestions that I like.

I really like this. I want to be more of an “improvisational” cook, but I’ve always been tied to recipes. I’m feeling another wave of  reading cooking memoirs coming on and I’m looking forward to the recipes in them: not because I’m going to go and cook them ingredient by ingredient, but rather because I want to see what they do and how they arrive so I can likewise adapt in my own kitchen.

I have been cooking lots of the old regular recipes, many of which I’ve mentioned on here. If I posted my “what have I been cooking” list, it would look rather boring and repetitive. But there have been some new recipes and there have been some more “experimental” dinners: meals in which I just tried it and it turned out okay.

I don’t think I’m going to stop cooking by recipes anytime soon. Even with a recipe I get overwhelmed sometimes and feel like “it’s just too hard.” But I like where my cooking is going!

Experimental Cooking

Our dinner guests the other night asked us if we are “experimental cooks.”

“No way!” I immediately responded. I like to cook recipes. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Anything I cook will be common. That’s not “experimental.” Experimental would be using odd ingredients and cooking without recipes: just making dishes up.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

I realized that every recipe I cooked Saturday night was brand-new to me, including the churros, which had to be fried in oil. I had “experimented” with three new dishes. And I’d only done so because I thought my husband (whom I consider the cook) would be in the kitchen helping me. I probably wouldn’t have attempted new recipes if I knew he was going to be in the basement fixing the water softener, as he was. I would have been afraid to do so, for some reason.

And yet, I was fine. I cooked new recipes by myself and they were delicious and easy. Now I consider them in my repertoire, and cooking them again won’t be a “challenge.”

So I am an “experimental cook” in that I try new recipes that sound good, even if they are new to me. My husband’s encouragement and implicit faith in my cooking helps me to be more experimental.

As I ponder that little bit of experimentalism, the more I think that such willingness to experiment is part of being a cook. In order to improve, I have to try something new. If my baby hadn’t experimented with walking, he would be crawling still.

My hope is that as I become more comfortable experimenting with new recipes, I’ll also become more comfortable experimenting beyond “new recipes” and into the No-Recipe Improvisation that I’m always so impressed with.

Are you an experimental cook? In what ways do you experiment? What are the best techniques for becoming more experimental and less timid about new foods and recipes?

Eating Through Life

I’ve been reading A Homemade Life, a memoir/cookbook by Molly of Orangette. It’s quite delightful reading, simply because it shows how good food has always has been an integral part of her life. Her life is and always has been one of food, cooking, and eating.

I feel jealous.

My life hasn’t revolved around food memories. In fact, I didn’t know until I was 25, for example, that cooked pork chops are not supposed to light gray and tough (apparently, pork chop are not usually steamed). My favorite childhood foods were cinnamon toast and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and I got through four years of college by eating sugar cookies and cold cereal. Dinner had always just been a necessary thing every night (that is, a way to fill my belly), but food itself had never been a central part of my life and memories.

For many years, rather than begin a fruitless search for something appetizing, I decided I’d rather not eat. Eating was a bother. I skipped dinner most of the time when I was in college.

Reading Molly’s memoir helps me to realize that I want my son’s life to be different than mine. I want him to experience food as a pleasure, not just a necessity. I want him to recall seasons of his life through the foods we eat. I want him to recall dinner with fondness, and not just dessert.

Food, especially dinner, is communal. I want the dinners we enjoy together as a family to be a means to forming life memories and lasting relationships.  Food really can tell the stories of our lives, as Molly’s memoir attests.

And that is why I strive to learn to cook better.

Why do you learn to cook?

Blog Post BINGO “personal” post. Details here.

What is a “Good Cook” and What is “Gourmet”?

Since I’ve taken up cooking, I’ve been told (or asked) occasionally that I like “gourmet food” and that I cook “gourmet food.” I’ve been stumped by this. I love to eat food that tastes good, but I didn’t think that that preference made me into a French food person. What is a gourmet? What is gourmet food?

Merriam-Webster defines gourmet as “a connoisseur of food and drink” and it defines connoisseur as

1: expert ; especially : one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge

2: one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties

So I suppose by those definitions, I do meet the connoisseur definition on one hand: While I’m certainly not an expert in any way, I do like the subtleties of food, and I’m learning to discriminate among good, better, and best dishes.

I’ve been thinking over the past year about various levels of cooking, and what it means to be a “good” cook. A few questions I’ve pondered:

  • Is one who cooks Rice-a-Roni and Chicken Tonight (or similar prepared and canned dishes) every evening a “good cook”? What if he or she really likes doing so, and finds the end result delicious?
  • Is one who follows a recipe to the letter a “good cook”? What if they hate doing so, and dread their time in the kitchen?
  • Is one who tries challenging recipes that never turn out a “good cook”? Is one a “good cook” only if their meals are always delicious?
  • Is someone only a “good cook” if they create new meals, basing their creations on past experiences?

I certainly don’t know the answer as to what is a “good cook.” What strikes me, though, about cooking is attitude. I personally think being a good, better, and best cook is all about willingness to try, about learning how to think outside of a box (and I don’t just mean Rice-a-Roni).

That attitude goes back to the definition of “gourmet” and “connoisseur” as one who “enjoys discrimination.”

As I make a soup and add a little more salt, I get excited when I taste the flavor “pop out.” I’m not an expert. I’m not even a good cook in my own mind. But I do get excited about it. Cooking becomes a mystery waiting to be solved, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to figure it out. If not, at least my belly is full until tomorrow.

I wasn’t sure that Merriam-Webster’s was exactly what these people meant when they said “gourmet”, so I turned to Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a more detailed cultural definition of gourmet, and this worries me a little bit.

Gourmet is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterized by elaborate preparations and presentations of large meals of small, often quite rich courses.

The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion. For some, it holds a negative connotation of elitism or snobbery.

So my next question is this: When someone tells me I am “gourmet,” should I consider that they think I’m a snob?

I don’t like elaborate cooking; anyone looking at my lists of past menus would have to agree I’m not very original or “rich” or “refined” in my cooking. I’m just a stay-at-home mom who wants to create healthful, inexpensive, and tasty meals for my family. What about that makes me “gourmet”? I’m stumped.

So the bottom line is that I don’t consider myself “gourmet” (especially considering the cultural definition from Wikipedia). As for whether or not I’m a good cook, I like to think that’s a dream I’m on my way to fulfilling. Give me a few more years.

What do you think makes one a “good cook”? What would you consider “gourmet”?

Blog Post BINGO “definition” post. Details here.