Understanding the Basics

Being a good cook has many different aspects that need attention.  It is not all about putting quality ingredients together and adding a few seasonings to make a good dish. 

In saying this, to be a good chef means that you should not be selfish in your methods and ingredients.  Not everyone is going to like or be able to eat all of the items on your menu.  I have found over my nearly three decades of cooking that there are more chefs that get angry when restaurant guests have special requests.  A lot of the time they get upset because of the lack of knowledge behind their menu items.  If they had a better understanding of the origin of their menu items then they could create a menu that is more diverse and would have less special request. 

Times are changing with people understanding both food and their bodies better, so the more you are able to adjust and move with this, the more enjoyable cooking will become.

One secret to getting away from the grips of recipes is to understand the dish that you are making right back to its roots.  I am not saying you need to know who created the dish but, more so of why the dish was created. That being said, the more you know about what you are creating will always benefit you in the long run.

The Caesar salad was created to make use of the anchovy runs that went up through Mexico and California.  An Italian restaurateur by the name of Caesar Cardini created it for his restaurant in Tijuana Mexico.  That’s right dear reader! the Caesar salad was created in Mexico, Not Italy.  Now that you know this little fun fact, try to think about the last Mexican restaurant that had the Caesar salad on its menu.

Another example is a cooking technique called confit.  Which is basically cooking something like duck or goose in its own fat at a very slow temperature until it basically dissolves in your mouth.

The whole reason for this dish was to act as a form of preservation before there was refrigeration.  People would render down the goose fat with various aromatics and then slow poach the goose. When it is done simply leave it on the counter for dinner another night. What happens is as the fat cools, it pushes all of the air out and you are left with an air tight seal and to make it even better its sealed in one of the best fats ever….DUCK FAT!!

Most classic dishes that date back many generations were often created because of an abundance of an ingredients or a way to feed families in a pinch to avoid starvation.

The reason why I am sharing this with you is so that you can take an origin of a dish or a technique and use them to your advantage to step outside of the box and get away from reading as you cook.

Let’s take the confit method for example.  If we break it down what do we have?  You have a rich fat used to poach something with flavoring added to the oil to enhance the flavor.  In the example I gave you I used goose fat and goose meat or more commonly used duck fat and duck legs.

So we have a fat, a protein or item to be cooked, herbs and spices.  If you are a vegetarian wanting to do something with this then try thinking along this path.  What is in season that you want to use up from your garden or what is something that you really like to eat? 

Tomatoes have just come to the end of their season so what if you took some cherry tomatoes, some thyme and rosemary and poached them in a nice grape seed oil.  Once you have done this, you can then seal them in jars and you have something for later in the winter to add to a sauce or even make a vinaigrette out of.  If you start thinking like this then you will not be forced to eat tons of items from your garden all at once.  You can spread them out over the seasons to last longer. 

If you understand the origin of the dish then you can use the same methods or reasoning and twist them to create your own dishes.

Let’s take a pesto sauce and throw a fun twist into it to create something of your own.  A basic pesto should have basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil.

If we take each ingredient and switch them up you are left with something new and unique to your liking.  Change the basil for another herb like cilantro or mint or even both.  Maybe you have do not like pine nuts so you use almonds or cashews.  Perhaps you have a nut allergy so try using seeds such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. 

I have always lived by the way that each ingredient that is in a dish should play a specific role to round out the dish.  In the case of a classic pesto, the pine nuts help the sauce from having an oily or thin outcome.  They help thicken up the pesto to give it a better finish on the tongue and give a slightly creamy texture with a very subtle bite. Since it has some viscosity to it, it will coat the ingredients it is used for like pasta or a bread. 

The herbs give it a beautiful color as well as the main flavor component.  Maybe you have a ton of kale or Swiss chard in your garden so try swaping out the herbs and make a pumpkin seed kale pesto. 

This is how all good chefs think when they are trying to branch out of their comfort zone on a very basic level. As we move forward with more blogs and videos we will raise the bar and get into more advanced techniques.

To understand and follow me on this train of thought, you will still need to do some reading and study a little but, in the long run you will find  yourself not looking at recipes the same way ever again. Instead of an in-depth study of the recipe, it will be more of a skim. 

I am not going to share a recipe with you on this blog but I will however ask for this.  Email me or leave a recipe in the comment section with your own creative pesto recipe and what you used it for.  I want to see you challenge yourself and share your creative side with me.

Warm three beet salad/spicy candied pecans/soft goat cheese/curry & Kaffir lime pesto

Let your inner chef shine!!!

Pickles Part 2

In the first part of of my pickling series I wrote about the basics of pickling. This was meant as a stepping stone for you. It is important to get comfortable with the basics before you start stepping outside of your comfort zone.

One of the most important parts of cooking is to understand that there are many little details that all add up to creating a great recipe or dish. Balance of flavors is one and texture is another. The look of the dish is almost as import as the flavor profile and this step should not be overlooked.

In this blog I am going to share a few different recipes to help you with getting started. The brine will always stay the same but and the changes will occur in the actual pickling jars.

  • Basic Pickling Brine
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 part)
  • water (2 parts)
  • Kosher pickling salt (enough so it is almost too salty for your palette)
  • Sugar (to balance the salt levels and add another layer to your pickles)
  • Pickling spice (a few tablespoons for every 2 liters of brine)
  • Whole Lemon
  • garlic (a few cloves for every few liters)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • fresh rosemary sprigs

Bring this brine to a simmer and allow your ingredients to steep like a tea. While you are preparing the brine you can now begin to process your pickles.

It is best to make very large batches of this and have it ready for future use. If you decide to do pickling down the road then all you will have to do is simply bring the brine to a simmer.

Pickled Turnips

A perfect item for a chicken sandwich or burger. These can be found in Shawarma’s and can really lift up any sandwich with a unique bite and flavor.

  • Basic brine
  • slice the radish with as uniformly as possible with either a knife of mandolin
  • In the pickle jars prior to pouring the liquid on add a few slices of raw beets and whole garlic cloves
  • The beets will bleed into the turnips and the garlic will give them a sharper flavor.once the liquid is covering the pickles and the lid is on, give them a little shake to help the beets bleed into the whole jar. You can even store them upside down to help this process but make sure you have the lid sealed tightly.
  • These pickles will be ready after about 4 days or when they have turned a beautiful rose color

Pickled Fennel

a great addition to almost anything with fish such as fish and chips, salmon steaks, smoke salmon on a bagel & cream cheese or even an accompaniment to a cheese platter.

  • Basic brine
  • a few extra teaspoons of sugar in each jar
  • a few sprigs of fresh dill in each jar
  • a sprinkle of mustard seeds in each jar
  • shaved fennel
  • pour hot brine until jars are full
  • seal jars and put in fridge

These pickles will be ready after 2 days

pickled eggplant

a nice addition to a cold cut sandwich, stir-fry, or even a finishing element to a soup or salad.

  • Basic brine
  • thinly sliced Japanese eggplant
  • a few ounces of good quality soy sauce to each jar
  • a few ounces of sesame oil to each jar
  • a few tablespoons of sugar to each jar
  • a drizzle of fish sauce to each jar (optional)
  • pour the simmering brine over top
  • seal
  • store in fridge

These pickles will be ready after about 2-3 days

Pickled Cherries

a nice addition to a cocktail over the holidays, in a fresh salad, or morning pancakes or crepes

  • Basic brine
  • 1 cup red wine in each jar
  • 1 ounce triple sec or grande marnier to each jar
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar to each jar
  • 1 slice of lemon
  • 1 slice of orange
  • pour hot brine over top
  • seal and store in the fridge

a little tip to the cherries is to leave the pits in so they keep a nice shape prior to using them. If not then they tend to get small and wrinkly and are not as crunchy or ascetically appealing.

These pickles will be ready after 1 week

Nana’s Pickles

These pickles stay crunchy as long as you keep them nice and cool. They are amazing on burgers, diced up into a tartar sauce, on a charcuterie platter, or simply a late night snack when passing the kitchen.

For this last recipe, I am going to share with you a family cucumber pickle recipe that holds a close place to mine and my families hearts. These are what started the whole obsession with both food and pickles with me way back when I was a little boy.

There is only one other pickle that I have been able to buy at a grocery store that come slightly close to these pickles and they are Claussen Kosher Dill Pickles. They are kept in the chilled section of your grocery store.

For this recipe you will not require a brine at all.

I will give you a recipe based on a 1 liter pickling jar.

  • 1 tablespoon of pickling spice and put it in the jar
  • 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • fill will pickling cucumbers
  • repeat the same process as with the pickling spice, garlic, dill seeds, and fresh dill at the top of the jar.
  • cover with only water and seal the lids tightly
  • store in a very cool area if not in the refrigerator

These pickles will take somewhere between 1 and 2 weeks to be ready

One of the things that a professional cook does that makes their lives easier is to prepare everything at once. The fastest way to achieve this by doing all of the same steps at one time and then moving on and doing all of the next steps and so on.

Here is how I would go about doing multiple varieties of pickles at once. set out all of your jars

  • get a large batch of brine on the go.
  • prepare all of your vegetables, that is washing cutting etc.
  • fill your jars with the ingredients while the brine is heating up and make each one the way you want to.
  • clean up your mess and have the jars sitting beside the brine ready to go.
  • when the brine is finally simmering, all you have to do is simply use a ladle or small sauce pot to pour the hot brine over each one.
  • cover your jars and you are basically done.
  • One little note to watch out for is that if your knife skills are not fast and the brine begins to simmer prior to you finishing, make sure to check it before you use it. The more it reduces when simmering, the more intense the brine becomes such as too much salt or too acidic.
  • If you find that it has gotten too salty or too acidic then simply add a little more water until it is where you want it

Feel free to post questions or comments at any time for me to help you through your pickling adventures. If you want help with anything related to pickling I am always here for you.

I will be posting videos in the near future to help you, so stay tuned