Things you ought to know about me – the Adam Edition

Damn it. Now I’m bashful.

(The never happens. I’m the social one around here usually)

Laura has already mentioned the important points you need to know about my cooking:

  • I don’t really believe in recipes – don’t get me wrong, they’re useful and all, but only for ideas.
  • I like meat. No. Really. I’m totally down with eating animals. Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.
  • I started learning to cook as soon as I could stand tall enough to help my Momma at the stove.

There is more to the story than that though. I love the kitchen. I love cooking and I love feeding people. To be perfectly honest, I think it might have something to do with being a born and bred Southerner. You know – maybe. That whole hospitality shtick. It’s hard to tell.

My first memory of cooking is sitting at our kitchen table watching my Momma make chili in the bright red Le Cruset ductch oven she had been given as a wedding present. 12 years before I was born. 25 years later she is still using it to make  chili. Amazing chili. Reminds you of home, love, and everything-you-ever-need-including-the-sea’s-salty-air chili. You may be wondering what the secret to this unbelievable chili is. This chili that was an important part of my childhood. (Especially since it is the dish my Momma made to feed the hordette that followed my brother around when he was a teenager.)

Back to that red pot for a minute. It’s a great pot. Awesome enough that I convinced Laura that we should ask our families to get us one for a wedding present. They came through. In spades. Ours is bigger.

Now I’m going to tell you a story and a secret. The secret of my Momma’s chili.

I remember the way she started it because it was the way that she started all of her Meals-in-a-bowl meals (this is a technical term and  shall become familiar to you all, trust me.) – pouring enough jade green olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot, turing up the fire to heat it up, and then adding bright, white, diced onions and LOTS of garlic to sauté. Once she had clarified the onions, she’d add ground beef. Two pounds of red, raw ground beef to brown. She stood over the pot stirring the meat, garlic, and onions together until the meat had browned and then she added a chili mix. That’s right. A mix. (Queue dramatic music) Specifically two boxes of Fantastic World Vegetarian Chili Mix. That’s the secret. That’s it. My Momma added soy protein and a commercial chili mix to her chili. It’s what makes it so thick that you stand a spoon up in it. So hearty that one bowl is enough to see you through to the middle of the next day.

Once she had thoroughly mixed that into the ground beef, onions, and garlic, she would add pico de gallo. Otherwise known as Pace Medium Salsa, two of the big jars.

Now, I prefer to use Hot and/or to just make my own pico. But that’s because I can be a snob who has too much time on his hands.

Back to the chili. With the pico in, my Momma would add two or three cans of black beans, a can or two of pinto beans, and then a can of diced tomatoes. She salted the pot. Added a little water to get things thin enough to stew properly and then she put the lid on. She waited while the pot heated up. Occasionally taking the lid off to stir the pot. Once the whole pot was simmering happily she turned the heat down, put the lid back on, and went to her study for a little while.

Thinking about that chili again has got me going – I’ll just have to make a pot of it myself. There will be pictures. And if Laura can corner me, I may just have to put together a recipe to post up here.

In the mean time, here are my two favorite tools in our kitchen:

The Dutch Oven and my Chef's Knife

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Things you ought to know about Laura (Because it affects how I cook)

So, I’ve mentioned that Adam learned to cook from his mom, growing up. What did I learn about food growing up?
1) One recipe out of the Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook (snickerdoodles for the win!)
2) Eggs cooked in a microwave suck (sorry Mom)
3) Bread dough should be placed atop a working dryer to rise; nice enclosed space, extra dry heat – it works well.

Seriously, freshman year of college, during the traditional round of ‘cafeteria food sucks’ that all freshman I’ve met/heard of do, I said, honestly, no trolling intended, ‘this tastes a bit better than I got at home.’

My friends were appalled.

Let me clarify that a bit.

My six-foot tall, football player sized, 18 year-old guy friends were appalled.
Probably because they all knew how to cook (and cook well).

Let’s just say that peer pressure works, because my response to being a) the lone female in a group of guys and b) the only one who didn’t already know how to cook was to decide that obviously cooking is a life skill and if I wanted to be a competent adult, I was damn well going to learn how to feed myself.
Yeah, I had some delusions of being a Heinlein-ien “competent man”. Except, you know female. What can I say, I was 18. These days I just aim for reasonably keeping my life in some semblance of order and knowledgeable about ‘my’ areas.  One of the best benefits to being partnered, to my mind, is getting to hand off your weak areas to your partner’s strengths (or slightly better skills…)

Any way, back on track.

So yeah, I am completely self-taught. Basically from cookbooks. Yes, I have a book on knife skills. You have no idea how much that helped. Also, sped up prep time. When I started teaching myself, I started with stir-fry because 1) I like Chinese food and 2) had to stay at the stove the whole time – no wandering away and forgetting that there was a casserole in the oven. But let me tell you, focusing on stir-fry without good knife skills? Pain and sadness, my friends, pain and sadness. Although, no knife injuries (on my hands or anywhere else). Apparently, if you’re sufficiently aware of ‘holy shite, I have a thing that could make me bleed that I’m wielding near my fingers’ you pay attention enough to avoid cutting yourself. Even with less than stellar knife skills. Why yes, they’ve improved, why do you ask?

And yes, I own a kitchen timer now. A rather nice one that can keep track four different times simultaneously. Useful for Thanksgiving dinner. And dinner parties.

Other things to know:
1) I have no sense of smell
(No really, the scientists at NIH told me so!)
I am, in fact, missing both olfactory nerves in my nose and the olfactory bulb in my brain to process what the non-existent nerves would send up.
(No, really, the nice scientists at NIH told me so!)

This means my sense of taste is less than average. I figure I’ve only got the five basics  (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Umami) and the pain receptors call Spicy:

  • Sweet: Over dosing on sweet makes me a bit nauseous (as does roller coasters, riding in the back seat of cars… stupid stomach/inner ear). Yes, I love dessert and baking. Quite a lot. Just… moderation of sweet. Or so I try.
  • Salty: Look, if I can taste the salt, there’s too much salt. Because when I taste salt, I’m tasting grittiness. Salt should enhance all those other, subtle flavors I totally miss. Yeah, I fall on the under-salting side of the scale. I’m working on it, I promise.
  • Sour: Eh.
  • Bitter: Do not want
  • Umami: Yes, please.
  • Spicy: I absolutely love spicy. Spiciness if good. If it’s not your thing, please, please, on any recipe I mark as spicy, use the low end of the range I’ll give. And have a glass of milk at the ready for drinking. (This tip brought to you by L, a good friend. Even if she doesn’t like spicy food. Or nuts. J )

So, there will be no descriptions of smell from me – wait for Adam’s posts for that. My focus is on visuals and texture. Texture is, in essence, taste for me.

2) Food sensitivities
Yep, in addition to not being able to smell, I have food sensitivities. Life is unfair and then you die. So let’s have some good food in the meantime. Luckily for me, none of these are of the ‘kill you dead’ or ‘carry and epi-pen’ variety. Just the
Me: ‘oh god, what is that horrible, bright shiny thing?’
Adam: ‘the sun?’
Me: <wailing> ‘turn it off!’
migraine variety. Also, it’s a dosage-response thing: a little bit usually doesn’t hurt.

Ze list:

  • Alcohol – most cooks off on the stove or in the oven, so this doesn’t affect my cooking too much. Just no imbibing or wine pairings. Also, a large hole in my knowledge of food related stuff that I just cannot seem to care enough to fix. Although, apparently I make really amusing faces whenever I taste beer. We’ll have to see about getting a video of that up here. J
  • Caffeine – no coffee, tea, or chocolate unless I say ‘f— it, that looks worth a migraine (L, I’m eyeing your brownies). I do miss tea. Ah well, at least Adam’s morning coffee is safe from snagging. And given the way that boy loves his coffee, I think my fingers are happier for it.
  • Peanuts – pain and suffering. I also avoid peanut oils and peanut butter.
  • Citrus – no raw citrus fruits or juices. Cooked is alright though.
  • Bananas – yes, bananas. No, I don’t get it either.
  • Sulfates – sulfates are usually used as preservatives in processed meats. So, no bologna, pepperoni, salami, chorizo (thought that is sometimes worth a migraine…). And lots of reading of ingredient lists.

3) Mushrooms
I may have mentioned this earlier, but texture is taste for me. And that I don’t get the subtle flavors from the aroma and whatnot. So yeah, mushrooms are… awful for me. Like, rubbery, chewy, slimy awful. Choke on them if I accidentally eat one awful. I tend to leave them out of recipes. And if I don’t? Well, then Adam gets my share – much to his joy.

4) Pork
My parents did not keep kosher while I was growing up (still don’t but I don’t live there anymore). But we still never had any pork products in the house. First time I ever tasted pork was a set of pork chops one of my buddies in the cooking rotation made for dinner, senior year. Didn’t really like them (thought they were kinda gritty, which might have been freezer burn). First time I liked pork was a pulled pork dish my ex-boyfriend’s mother made on a visit (also senior year). I’m still trying to recreate that taste (it was really good). And yes, I’ve asked for the recipe. She doesn’t remember exactly what she did/used. Ah well.

Bacon. Um, yeah, this is not the blog for bacon (please keep reading anyway!). Visually, bacon just hits all the wrong buttons for me. It combines the two things I dislike most about food: fried/cooked until visually wrinkly (my visual cue for overcooked) and visible slabs of fat that isn’t marbling. Plus, since I didn’t eat any growing up, I don’t have any happy childhood nostalgia for bacon. Just not my thing.

So yeah, pork recipes are going to be sparse around here.

5) Adam
He likes him his meat. We joke that he’s a carnivore, not an omnivore. He’s terribly good to put up with the occasional vegetarian experiment. Even likes them on occasion. 😀

He’ll introduce himself later.

The Obligatory Introduction

Or: About us

Also known as: Why we’re interesting, so read us, please?

More seriously: Categorization of Meal Producers

Bear with me a second here, this is the thought process behind the blog title. I’m a librarian, specializing in cataloging – I work with organizational schemas.

The way I see it, there are three approaches to taking ingredients from market to kitchen, to meal to (happy, happy) digestion.

Chefs, Cooks, and Kitchen Chemists

Chefs are professionals, training to reproduce a dish consistently (taste and appearance) reliably. Having never met any chefs outside of a business relationship (they produce food & I pay money to make happy noises), I have no idea about method. The key point here is the reliable and consistent reproduction of dishes in a commercial setting.

Cooks tend to know how food goes together; they cook by smell and taste and knowledge of ingredients – what ingredients do on their own and in combination. Typically, they do not use recipes and don’t bother with measuring ingredients. Cooks tend to go from the general (technique, ingredient, type of dish, etc) to the specific dish/meal on hand.

Kitchen Chemists follow recipes and measure X amount of Y plus A amount of B under Z conditions (1 hour at 450°F, 10 minutes on low on the stove, etc.) produces the foods. They are more likely to be bakers, less likely to improvise, and tend to build their skills from the specific to the general.

Now, none of this is hard and fast rules – it’s all a continuum of cooking styles in my mind. Also, absolutely nothing to do with quality. There are good, bad, and mediocre chefs, cooks, and chemists all over the world. This little classification schema only speaks to or about a person’s main approach to moving from raw ingredients to a dish of food. But it really helped me understand why I learned more from certain authors/recipes than others – they were teaching in my learning style.

So what’s this have to do with a blog?

The husband (Adam) and I (Laura) have completely different styles – which is what originally led to my thinking about this topic and coming up with this little classification schema. We are, in fact, so different in style, and (originally) such pure examples of our styles, that we cannot cook together lest we drive each other nuts. We do, however, act as  prep-cooks for each other, helping with the peeling and chopping and the peeling (and the chopping… it never ends!)

Hi, I’m Laura, and I am your kitchen chemist of the title. (Seriously, you have no idea how long [years!] it took me to be comfortable with substituting ingredients within a recipe.) I am completely self-taught. Huzzah for cookbooks, experimentation, very patient friends/test subjects, and the internet.

Like I said, the husband is Adam (he’s a handsome guy [help, help, he’s stolen the keyboard from me!]) and the cook of the title. He learned how to cook at his mother’s knee (French peasant style, according to him). Also, he spent some time in restaurants, working his way up from dishwasher to prep-cook to line cook to short order cook.