Sunday, November 19, 2006

cooking shows, learning about food

After my recent rant about Everyone Always Telling Me to Watch Cooking Shows, But Those "Chefs" Are Not As Talented As My Beloved Chefs I Already Learn From By Eating Their Food And Buying Their Cookbooks, several readers commented to the effect that I do not seem interested in the science of food and, if I were, I would probably watch Alton Brown. I am willing to give Alton Brown the benefit of the doubt (if someone wants to tape his show and mail me the tape, the Drunken Housewife has a handy P.O. box).

Here again we arrive at the crux of the matter: the old D.H. is just not a big television watcher. I am indeed very interested in the science of food, because that helps me to be a better cook. How I learn about the science of food is through reading and cooking, which makes more sense to me. After all, did I attend college through television? Did I study for the bar via TV? No. I learn primarily through reading and doing. I once read a spellbinding (well, to me) article on wheat berries and how different flours are made by removing parts of the wheat berry. (This article vindicated the poor, adolescent precursor of the Drunken Housewife, a sullen girl stuck in rural Maine who feared being "just a housewife" and imagined an exciting urban lifestyle far, far away. The D.H.'s parents were on a big energy efficiency, do everything yourself with the help of child labor kick, and as part of this, they bought a flour grinder, and the D.H. was required to grind flour for the household's needs. Grinding flour is tedious, and it yields a coarse, crunchy flour which is unsatisfactory. The D.H. asked for store flour to be occasionally bought for making cakes, but her father ridiculed her and said that if she were only better at grinding flour, she'd have flour just as good in the stores. Now, far removed from that situation, the D.H. is completely vindicated, having learned that parts of the wheat berry must be completely removed in order to yield a fluffy flour, and that cannot be done in a rural Maine kitchen by an untrained, unequipped adolescent).

Incidentally, I am reading "How To Read A French Fry and Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science" by Russ Parsons, which I would recommend to any culinary scholars. The main thing I have learned so far is that while Vidalia onions are the sweetest onions while raw, you should never caramelize them. Why? Because Vidalia onions and other special, sweet onions contain no more sugar per pound than the cheapest yellow onions. They taste sweeter raw because they contain less sulfuric compounds. The sulfuric compounds are broken down in caramelizing them, and yellow onions end up tasting the sweetest.

If you want your raw onions to be sweeter, repeatedly wash the cut onions in cold water. You'll see that the run-off water is milky, which is the sulfur being washed away. Alternatively, toss the onions with a little vinegar (I like to use champagne vinegar from Thomas Keller's O line of vinegars and oils). The vinegar taste will completely block the sulfur taste. I make many salsas which call for rinsing the chopped onion or tossing it with a little vinegar, and now I know why. That makes me a better cook, because I understand the underlying purpose.

In closing, in the interests of fairness, I will post an excellent recipe by television cooking personality Rachael Ray, a salad which is greatly loved by my husband (so you can take from that the fact that evidently there are things Rachael Ray and her cohorts could teach me, but I contend that I could teach them as much):

Mesclun Salad with Dried Apricots and Spiced Nuts

1 tsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
dash cayenne
a few dashes salt
1/2 C roughly chopped waluts


5 C mesclun
5 C Boston lettuce
1/2 C slivered red onion
8 dried apricots, cut w/scissors into quarters

1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
5 T olive oil

Melt butter in medim-sized skillet over med. heat. Sprinkle in spices and blend. Cook for 1 min. Add walnuts, toss to mix well, cook 3-5 min, tossing frequently (note: why does she use the word "tossing" so often? What's wrong with "stirring?") When the nuts are toasted, set aside to cool.

Combine salad ingredients in large salad bowl.

Whisk together salad dressing ingredients in small bowl until smooth or place them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.

Just before serving, pour 3/4 of the dressing on the salad. Toss to coat well. If you need more, then add it, but be careful not to overdress the greens. Sprinkle the nuts on the individual portions.


Anonymous said...

I grind my own flour using a modern electric home mill (Nutrimill), though it isn't something I would begin to entertain using a manual grinder. Finely ground w/w flour in a bread machine is an easy and convenient way to get great homemade whole grain bread. And with a few tricks, the loaves turn out pretty fluffy.

2amsomewhere said...

This is moderately tangential, but I think I've found an article that might drive the good Drunken Housewife to sobriety once and for all. ;-)

As penance for that atrocious article, if you let me know what your preferred substitute for ground beef is, I'll be more than happy to post a vegetarian friendly version of my chili recipe... involving beer no less.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Oh, my, that was really disturbing. I hope it doesn't catch on in my city.

Go ahead and post the chili recipe, por favor. The Morningstar people make a frozen faux crumbled beef which is extremely palatable which I can substitute for meat.

2amsomewhere said...

The Vegetarian Version of the Not-So-World-Famous Ten-Pound Chili (not your parent's chili)

(based on "A Grand Chili", published in a 1991 article in the _Chicago
Tribune_ about serving beer with food)

Beer Choice

The rule of thumb is that darker beers give a richer background. I usually prepare using Killian's Red. I have gotten away with Miller Lite (blushes). The deepest dark I've tried is Beck's Dark. I think a stout or porter might be overkill.

1 large onion
6 cloves of garlic
canola oil
3 lbs. of frozen faux crumbled beef
crushed red pepper
1 28 oz. can of italian-style (pear) tomatoes
2 16 oz. cans of kidney beans
2 12 oz. cans of darker beer
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of pepper
3 tablespoons of chili powder
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of cumin
olive oil
1 lb of fresh mushrooms, sliced


1) Chop onion and mince garlic. Sautee both in a large skillet of hot canola oil until onion turns clear.

2) Add frozen faux crumbled beef and crushed red pepper to sauteed ingredients. Adjust amount of crushed red pepper to your tolerance for hot food. Brown until done.

3) Place seasoned frozen faux crumbled beef into a large pot. Add tomatoes, kidney beans, beer, salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano. Bring to
boil over high heat and then reduce flame to simmer. Cook for at least an hour.

4) Sautee mushrooms in olive oil. Add mixture to chili pot. Cook for another half hour.

When serving, top chili with garnish of your favorite Mexican cheese and some sour cream on the side. The sour cream moderates the heat, just in case you added too much red pepper. ;-)

Cornbread makes for a good side dish.