Faster, more chocolate!

May 23, 2009

I had a little time before today’s lunch routine, and my sweet tooth was reminding me I hadn’t baked anything for some days, so I raided the fridge.

Bingo: we happen to have several fresh fruits at the moment: grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries.
Muffins seemed the obvious choice, given the time I had.

I grabbed flour, sugar, butter, egg, milk, raspberries, cherries … and some chocolate for good measure.
Mixing, melting, whisking, adding, washing, cutting, mixing again and pouring. Done!

25 minutes of medium hot over later, I have ten “all red” muffins, and four with added chocolate (is it true that it’s not really pastry if chocolate is missing? :p)

No too overcooked this time, I took them out of the oven as soon as the “blade test” was OK.

I haven’t even tasted one yet!

Impro pie

May 16, 2009

When I started cooking today I knew two things: I wanted pie, and I wanted sun-dried tomatoes

I wanted a meat pie, but the meat still was a mystery. The onion/garlic basis, on the contrary, was an obligatory checkpoint.
I find it so difficult not to use onion (or cousins like shallots, or leeks) when cooking. The mere perfume of sizzling onions is enough to activate my salivary glands…

Ah, I found the meat: versatile and easy to cook chicken breasts. I defrosted them and diced them in a jiffy.
Yes, defrosted.
When one has to cook on very short notice, or doesn’t always know what’s on the menu before grabbing the cutting board, frozen ingredients are a benediction!

A wok, a touch of butter, and onions plunge happily.

The moment I’ve been waiting for: friendly sizzling sound, penetrating scents, changing colors … this is magic.

Before the onions start to turn into gold, I add the meat and chopped garlic

The fire being “set for burn”, I add some spices, and start stirring happily. Something smells good! 🙂

Today’s special ingredient is added to the mix.

Again, I invoke the power of the freezing gust, and add frozen peas, and a mix of forest mushrooms.
I know, it doesn’t look too good.

But after some time, the ice is broken, the veggies feel perfectly at home.
And the produced water is a perfect way to hold everything together (like the Force)

The filling is done. Let’s choose the receiving dish

Dough’s easy, dough’s good.

Rolling is a game, and a precision one, when it comes to adjust the bottom layer in the dish

The very satisfying moment (of truth): the filling quantity is just perfect; not too much, not too few. And I didn’t measure anything.

More rolling, more adjusting.
And as a bonus, as I was feeling inspired, I crafted some dough decoration

Egg yolk is crucial at this point: it glues the decoration in place, and will give that golden color to the pie when cooked

35 minutes later, the oven is very proud of his work. I won’t contradict him

Another moment of truth: cutting the beast open!

Result: It worked, and is perfectly edible.

A last glimpse at today’s game: everybody won!

Cooking in a word

May 9, 2009

If I had to sum up the cooking experience, what single word should I use?

It’s always a challenge and a danger to reduce something to a word, so why should I even go through the exercise of categorizing something so dear to my heart?
Well as it sometimes happens, the destination is surpassed by the voyage. Maybe trying to explain what cooking is will give me more insights on why or how I like it?

The things I like about cooking are diverse, I’ll try to draw a sketch of an enjoyable cooking session.

  • I have a purpose, a guide.
    It doesn’t necessarily have to be a recipe, it can be an ingredient that just wants to be used, or a mood I want to express.
  • I’m preparing the ingredients beforehand (only the main ones if there’s no recipe), and spread them before me.
    Far from being a ritual, the view of the raw matter still is satisfactory, gives me my cue.
  • Apron, knives, cutting board, bin are readied
  • Once I begin, I always use the same hand (the right one) to cut, move the ingredients from board to bowl to saucepan.
    The purpose of this is to always keep a hand clean (the left one). It’s a old habit no one taught me, I find it convenient and helps me save time: I can cut onions, peel vegetables, cut them, put them in the frying pan, add spices, then cut some meat, add it to the vegetables quicker (I think) than if I used both hands to manipulate the ingredients. You could call it a habit, I suppose.
  • I try not to multiply utensils.
    If a bowl was used to measure flour, I’m reusing it for the milk, then the eggs.
    Apart from additional dish washing, the main reason for this is to avoid clutter, which is one of the things that can downright spoil my cooking experience: the view of a sink and table full of stacked bowls, plates and unemptied saucepans makes me cringe
  • Cleaning during the preparation
    When I didn’t have a dishwasher, this rule was paramount, but I still apply it now. When no more cutting is required, I wash the board and knife while the cut ingredients are starting to sizzle. As soon as the pressure cooker is closed, I clean the table, and utensils. It is a very peaceful and fulfilling moment to know your dish is still cooking, and the kitchen doesn’t show any signs of cooking activity.
    Like magic.
  • Multitasking and optimizing
    Using the oven to bake entrĂ©e and dessert, while the pot-au-feu steams away doesn’t fail to bring a smile. Good timing is knowing the onions you just put to sizzle will give you enough time to prepare the meat; when it happens, I am rewarded with a sense of … destiny? Things were supposed to happen just this way!

All this being said, is there a word to sum it all up?
Expertise? Assurance? Obsessiveness?

As I’m writing this, I think I just discovered a fitting word after all.
It is not really a word describing the way I cook, but a broader qualifier for the mood I’m in when my cooking’s fun and satisfying (for me and the people I cook for).
This is it, the restaurant is the place where all this happens; being efficient, caring for others, always thinking ahead and getting ready for the next order.

(I should have realized this long ago, since my parents have been in the business as long as I can remember,  but you know, sometimes obvious realizations are harder to attain)

To serve friends

May 8, 2009

I love cooking.

My being French does not have anything to do with the matter (I think), but the fact remains that this is an act of creation I particularly enjoy.
I’m definitely not a “haute cuisine” adept, even if I like to venture into complex cooking to be followed by the book, as well as abandon myself to wild improvisation.

Cooking every day

I cook every day, almost, and there are some times when a particular recipe worms its way through my imagination from the very morning, until it becomes an urge.
From this point, there are several possibilities:

  • I have the required ingredients
    Most of the times I docilely follow the recipe, and even get to a honest result
    But sometimes, even if this is my first attempt with this recipe, and I obviously haven’t mastered it yet, I start to drift and add a new spice, or try out another mixing method. This very rarely produces something excellent, but it never discouraged me from repeating my wanderings.
  • I don’t have the ingredients
    That’s when things get out of hand very quickly: knowing that the recipe is not feasible by a long shot, I open fridge, cupboards, and stare blankly at what’s inside, waiting for inspiration.
    And it’s not unlike writing (as I experience it at least). Once an idea emerges, and lets itself be caught, I can start building on it.
    I can find myself making a semi-flaky pastry, still not knowing what it will enclose, but then opening the spices cabinet, grabbing the cumin, and one thing leading to another, I have “petits fours” oven-bathing.

It would be presumptuous to say that imagination guides all my cooking, I have a relatively high rate of “misses”, and when in a dark patch, I retreat to simple and secure basic carbonara pasta, stir fry, crĂŞpes …
The fact is I love cooking. Be it basic or complex, it has always been fun so far.

Cooking for others

If cooking a dish I dreamed of all day is fun, preparing a dinner for friends is another story altogether.

Not that it is not fun, but it requires a little more than imagination, I think: I need a plan.
Or rather, a theme.
Successful past dinners for friends were built around an idea: noisy food, or on the contrary, silent food, food that don’t taste like what they look, or food shaped after a given occasion. A time-shifted Christmas dinner (complete with faux tree and real presents) was a big surprise for our guests, and a “Satka’s restaurant” dinner where guests are given a menu to choose from a few weeks before the dinner was repeated several times.

Offering friends a meal, on top of the sacred (almost mystical) value of the gesture, is a very exciting moment for me, not unlike choosing the perfect gift for the ones you care about.

Again, I’m not saying each and every one of our guests keeps an imperishable memory of the meal, because sometimes, the pizza delivery solution or the gargantuan pasta cauldron  is just the perfect choice.

If cooking is fun, creating a meal is an adventure! And even if it’s nothing special, sharing it with friends gives it automatic value.