Rants

Childhood Tastes

Now I know I recently gave y’all a rant about my childhood, but I’m back in DC and I’m feeling nostalgic.

How many times has someone told you a flavor is “an acquired taste”?

After your first sip of wine? Beer?

After you tried split pea soup that one time and barfed because it’s gross?

We are constantly told that we will like better things when we get older, and that if we like something when we’re older it is superior.

I think this is a crock of BS.

While yes it is true that that we grow and enjoy different flavors as we grow and get different experiences, and perhaps we are not as scared of the color green, I find it difficult to believe that EVERYTHING we liked as kids gets thrown out of the window. In fact, I believe that we return to all of these flavors just in newfound ways. Like I said, I’m back in DC and I always learn something new about food from speaking with my father. This visit’s lesson seems to be that we always return to our childhood cravings, be it presentation or flavor. If you look at new restaurants and their menus, the entirety is often influenced by their childhood favorites. French chefs often pay compliments by saying “you transported me back to my childhood”. There is something innocent and pure about the flavors of our childhoods, the first time we experienced them. So yes, maybe you have to try something a few times to discover you like it, but don’t be fooled, you’ll remember that first time your household chef passed you a spoonful like they passed you a secret.

So don’t let anyone shame you for eating that honeybun we all know they’re delicious.

 

Happy Thanksgiving Piglettes, remember these meals fondly.

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Rants

Fireside Story

“I don’t know where I was when they were passing out patience. I must’ve been behind the door somewhere, because I don’t have any.” – Leah Chase, Chef and Owner of Dooky Chase

I feel you Leah, I feel you. With Halloween basically here I thought I’d give you a somewhat scary story with a golden nugget of wisdom hidden in the center. Here we go.

When I was younger, I’d say from the ages of 9-14, I baked as often as possible. Cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls even. If it was sweet and went in the oven, I was on top of it. One of my favorite things to make, because we almost always had the ingredients in the house, was pound cake. Pound cake amongst the women of my family is somewhat of a trainer for further culinary exploits. Understanding your own rendition, its strengths, its weaknesses, is part of growing up as a young lady in the kitchen. I was well on my way to having my own defined version of pound cake. It couldn’t compete with my grandmother’s or my great aunt’s (my family often gets into yelling matches over slices of the latter) but it was mine and I loved it.

One Friday afternoon I was endeavoring to make a pound cake while also relaxing and watching tv with my brother (this was during the phase of my life when my parents only let us watch TV on the weekend, and even though I was baking I held fast to my 3:00pm call time in front of the TV). Like most young chefs, mis-en-place and all other preparation eluded me. I preferred to fly by the seat of my pants and make my way through all recipes like that. Thus, of course, I hadn’t pulled the butter out of the fridge the night before in order to let it soften. In fact, it was in the freezer. I did what I had done what felt like a million times before, I got out a tiny pan to melt the butter on the stove (a phase in my life when we did not have a microwave as well). However, this time, instead of using the normal mini cast iron pan I always did, I instead used a thin tin cup, the kind cowboys cook their coffee in in movies. I stood up the butter in the cup, the two sticks reaching far above the top of the cup, set the flame to full force (because EFFICIENCY) and went back to enjoy my tv show.

I came back a couple minutes later to what can be called a truly beautiful grease fire. The tin cup was holding 2 foot flames that reached the hood of the stove in vibrant blues, yellows, and oranges. For a moment I stood and thought “hm. Well this is quite a predicament you’ve gotten yourself into”, then I leapt to action. I was able to turn off the flame on the stove, grab a potholder, grab the tin cup, carry the flames over to the sink and dump water all over the situation. Luckily this was a small grease fire so the water succeeded in smothering the flame but it should be noted: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUT OUT GREASE FIRES WITH WATER, SMOTHER THEM OR DUMP BAKING SODA ON THEM. I was but a child and did not know the rules of grease fires and thankfully got lucky. I let the tin cup cool, washed it out, melted some more butter (without leaving the kitchen), and returned to the living room shaken up, but more wise. The funniest thing about this story is that no one knew. I didn’t scream when I got to the kitchen so my brother in the living room had no idea and my parents weren’t there. To be honest, I think reading this post will be the first anyone in my family hears of it. Surpriiiiiise.

But now for the nugget of wisdom: patience and preparation matters in cooking. People who remember to pull out their butter and eggs the day before so they can come to room temp, make better cakes. Those who measure out all of their ingredients and read the recipe over a few times before diving in, make better food upon the first attempt. I am impatient person learning patience and the kitchen is a great teacher. Things of great beauty, often take time. So yes, you could feasibly cook a chicken in half the time if you roasted it at 500 degrees, but it would be dry and sad. So while I agree with Leah, I know she is patient where it matters: with food and not people. And while I will never blame you for throwing together a meal; the thrill can be addicting, I will always think you are so cool if you prepare first.

And if you don’t throw water on grease fires.

 

Now eat happily and be good.

Rants

(Don’t) Trust the Process

Though my friends now would probably find it hard to believe, I grew up lacking processed foods. Like Pandora was tempted by that box I was tempted by every neon-colored sugar (or salt) packed box in the grocery store. I would beg and plead with my father that Froot Loops would change my life (they did) and that Gatorade would actually turn me into a superhero. He avidly declined my supplications and instead would give me water or Berry Crunch Organic cereal, to this day freeze-dried strawberries hold a special place in my heart.

However, when my mother went grocery shopping, a rare treat, she would allow all of the things my little stomach was missing into my life. Cap’n Crunch, Ice Cream, Nutri-Grain bars (an offense to my father’s palette, a necessary portion of my brother and I’s diet), and even the occasional microwave meal (a TRUE treat). I would happily gobble down everything and think how downright upsetting it was that I was denied this food. This food that every commercial on tv was alive with, this food that promised bright futures and well-balanced nutritious breakfasts. The food that I was told was real, spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

When I think back to these early days of exposure to processed foods I realize, like many things in my life, I only wanted them because I could not have them. The meals I remember from my youth don’t have a ‘™’ at the end and were prepared in a kitchen not a factory. Of course, I still love an occasional Cheeto and you cannot tell me that Cookie Crunch is not the best way to start the day (I’ll argue with y’all on cereals later). But the foods that bring me true joy and nostalgia are all handmade. Radishes my dad taught me how to pick at the grocery slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt. Warm oatmeal-raisin-chocolate-chip-walnut cookies from the oven (a classic of mine). Peanut butter tomato turkey stew that I crave to this day whenever I am sad, cold, or just plain hungry.

There are some icons of the processed food world that are praiseworthy and that I do partake in. I love a good McGriddle. Tell me I’m killing my body but we all are fam, I might as well enjoy this McGriddle while I’m here on Earth because I promise you there is not a McDonald’s in heaven. I love sugary-sweet, “what flavor is this?” breakfast cereals. Think: so sweet the only apparent flavor is sugar and you could punch a moose after you finish a bowl sweet. I have a pure hatred for homemade oatmeal but Dinosaur Egg Oatmeal is the g.o.a.t. Of hot breakfast cereals and will be treated as such.

I don’t believe it is in your own best interest to swear off of all processed foods, even my own father enjoys a Nutty Buddy every now and again. What’s important here is to discover your own palette and learn how to play with the flavors that bring you the most joy. Often, it will be fat and sugar, but fat and sugar can vary infinitely in how they are presented. Cutting yourself off from processed foods can lead you to binge on them later (ask any college student what they ate for a month when they first moved out of their parent’s home). But finding a balance between what is processed and what is homemade can bring you to dietary nirvana.

All of this is to say: discover your own palette and be wary of the process.

 

Also eat happily and be good, friends.

Rants

Prezzie Plain Jane

You can make the best souffle or whipped mousse ever but if you don’t know how to present it then no one will care.

McDonald’s made a fortune over putting a burger in a cardboard box, presentation matters.

Now everyone loves a good show, it’s the reason Benihana restaurants thrive, but otherwise food presentation ought to be exceedingly simple. Think about it, almost every restaurant serves you on white plates. This is because they create contrast that balances beautifully with the numerous colors you will pile onto the plate. Aside from white dishes, slabs of wood stand in as an excellent presentation base. It is because they harken back to earlier on in your food’s journey (a cutting board) or earlier on in man’s journey to civilization. Not to mention they’re quite chic and again provide contrast against the deep browns and reds of the meat that is served on them.

That “hipster” place you love that serves the food in all different vintage dishes that were handmade and painted? Still pretty simple in presentation. A plain color, that draws the eye in and stands stark against the food held within, and though it doesn’t match its other dishes they all pair nicely. In fact, the most ornate dishes I’ve seen are of the Mediterranean persuasion, and have deep royal blue contrasting with crisp white in swirling patterns with maybe a hint of yellow. The camera loves to pick up this color and contrast and anything green on those plates is sure to stand out. That is as intricate as plate coloring and design in professional restaurants get. Most, wouldn’t even dare for mismatched dishes or color at all (I think it’s kind of cute, distracts you from how little food there is on your plate).

As presentation is almost entirely made up of accenting empty space on a plate, it is important that that space be noted while not becoming the star (I took art in high school I know what I’m talking about). White plates allow for depth and intrigue that other colors often steal away. Think about it, you’re never taken aback by the way the white plate gleams when your food comes, you marvel at how the food stands out and is accentuated. However, you will probably find yourself distracted by a black or heavily painted dish, as it has its own *star power*. White plates also allow the chef to manipulate how much you think you are consuming, and therefore, paying for.

Too much space? Add a dollop of sauce, now the plate looks full

Too little space? (Never a complaint) but one can alway size up the plate and force you to believe that you ought to clean it. Maggiano’s, I’m looking at you.

By playing with size of the plate, concentration of ingredients, and overall how to “paint” the plate, chefs easily convince us that we are full, still hungry, or have just enough room for dessert. All of it comes back to that white plate though, who knew a plain jane could clean up so nice?

Now use your white plates to trick yourself into eating happily, and be good.

Rants

What’s Tea (or Coffee)?

As Fall is now “upon” us and we all fall back into our habits of school, work, or both; traditional morning routines come to mind. For most of us, our morning beverage of choice is often more important than breakfast, one for sure gets skipped more than the other. I’ve always taken a great interest in how people’s personalities inform their tastes in everything, I use to spend hours asking family members which wine they preferred when I was 8 and couldn’t even imagine the flavor. I find choosing your morning beverage to be based on similar structures. So tea or coffee? (Neglecting that juice/water is an option)

I have always been a tea girl. Coffee often makes me sick to my stomach and I only partake on very rare occasions where I need to be awake and soda isn’t an option. I love a good espresso after a hearty meal though, it makes you feel weightless and gives you enough energy to get to bed when the itis is like a koala on your back. My family is very accepting of all breakfast beverage habits, my mother a die-hard coffee drinker, my father incomplete without his three cups of Earl Grey, and my brother a purist hybrid.

This brings me to the topic of purity in breakfast beverages. I have finally made it to the point of adding no sweetener (not even honey) to my tea. The bitter leaves and citrus have become a welcoming elixir to me and unlike most other things in my life, I do not feel the need to shower them in sweetness. When I do take coffee, the story is completely different. I like my coffee to taste like melted coffee ice cream. 1 part coffee to 1 part half & half with enough sugar to turn it into a syrup. My brother embodies minimalism to a shocking level and drinks all of his morning beverages with no sugar or cream. But the spectrum is obviously very wide and we all differ.

I like to think that eating and drinking comes with a greater purpose than just feeling full and fueling your body. Perhaps it is to experience flavor or to bring people together, for many its a way to make money. But purposes muddle when you boil down the subject: if I drink tea the purpose is moreso comfort and tradition than anything else. For coffee, energy and bouts of nausea. For purists in both departments, flavor and greater expertise. No matter the reasoning, I guess deep down you really must enjoy the flavor to drink bitter herbs boiled in water even if you mask the originality in sugar and cream.

 

Cheers to the Fall piggies and to warm caffeinated beverages!

 

Rants

Sweet Grits

Sweet grits are an abomination on God’s green earth and you can quote me on that.

But really on a serious note, sweet grits are horrible.

I find it difficult to fathom why when we’ve been given so many different cereals to enjoy that you would rather destroy one dish with sugar than just enjoy another grain. I told you all I was prone to dramatics, but herein lies my issue with sweet grits: they’re just not made to be enjoyed that way. Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat have better textures and flavor profiles (or flavorless profiles) to combine with sugar than grits. This is because grits, even without any seasoning, lean towards a more savory profile. I will expound on the science behind this later, but first some very basic reasoning.

You see shrimp and grits, not shrimp and oatmeal, not shrimp and cream of wheat. Clearly, chefs and our ancestors did the work for you so that you did not have to expose yourself to these horrors. Furthermore, we are blessed to live in a time when most grains are available to us at our beck and whim so tainting such a good, prime, savory grain as grits is a purposeful form of torture. In fact, Quaker Grits, a cornerstone of the hot breakfast market does not even sell a sweet instant grit variation and this is the company who sells Dinosaur Egg Oatmeal (delicious, more on this later). So if they won’t go there, why should you?

But let’s dive deeper for a moment shall we? If you’ve ever eaten grits you’ve probably seen that the container reads “Enriched Hominy Product”. This means that depending on your vendor of choice they’ve added certain “vitamins and nutrients” to your grits. However, you may be asking yourself, what is hominy? Hominy is corn so fret not my pets, but it is corn that has gone through the process of nixtamalization. This means that dried corn kernels are cooked in an alkaline solution (most often limewater) before going through the processes of grinding and filtering that make hominy into grits. This process does a number of things to the corn, it loosens the hulls of the corn kernels, causes starches to swell, strengthens doughs made from the corn, and makes the protein matrix within the kernel more easily absorbed by the human body. This is quite a bit of unnecessary science, but the process also removes hemicellulose from the cell wall of the corn. In layman’s terms: NIXTAMALIZATION, THE PROCESS THAT CREATES GRITS REMOVES SUGAR FROM SAID GRITS SO DON’T PUT IT BACK. If science doesn’t convince you, the same process is used to create masa, the traditional corn flour used to create tortillas as well as tortilla chips. Now ask yourself this, would you eat a sugared tortilla chip or tortilla? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be eating sweet grits either, and I rest my case.

Don’t take me too seriously, my mom gladly eats sweet grits all of the time.

 

Eat happily and be good…and avoid sweet grits at all costs.

Rants

Sugar, Sugar How’d You Get So Fly?

What’s the newest food trend we see painted down our timelines and thrust into our arteries?

Sugar.

Sweet, ooey-gooey, processed sugar built in creative ways to be served on a silver platter and ingested ad infinitum by our sugar-whipped taste buds.

You know what I’m talking about, how every new restaurant or food stand seems to be selling a slab of ice cream sandwiched between two 2 pound warm cookie dough balls dipped in chocolate and covered in cotton candy. (The sad thing is I’m trying to be dramatic and I’m not that far off from what is genuinely available).

Now I am an OG sugar junkie through and through. I have put 17 sugars in a large coffee, eaten candy for breakfast in the summer, and as a child mixed sugar into my water when there was no juice in the house for the rush (you think I’m kidding. I’m not). However, in my old age I’ve come to realize the beauty I find in sugar, beyond the inherent energy rush. Sugar is complex; sweetness need not meet your tastebuds the same way twice, and there is a delicate balance to sweet and savory, bitter and sour. My issue with this trend is that it eradicates all of this. These treats are cloyingly sweet with no complexities to their flavor. They are literally sugars, layered over themselves, in an endless loop.

For instance, that Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino (though claiming to be Blue Raspberry flavored aka sour sugar) contained 59g of sugar, primarily from the mixing of different flavored syrups (flavored syrups are already sugared x2 because syrup is sugar and water and the flavorings often contain sweetened add-ins. Read: blue raspberry is not a naturally occurring flavor so in order to achieve it sugar and blue #4 are mixed with sour flavors and raspberries and then thrown in the syrup). So not only is it already a quasi-milkshake, it is then injected with syrups and dusted with “fairy powder” (finishing sugar). While I would like to say this was a one-off leap into the sugar void, it seems as though Starbucks set the industry standard for Unicorn themed items and bakeries across the US. Freakshakes, unicorn burritos, and ice cream sandwiches now abound with different forms of sugar all layered together with very few complexities in flavor. Forget dipping your ice cream cone in chocolate, now you can dip it in marshmallow fluff, roll it in cotton candy, and drizzle it with colored caramel. The reaches of this new sugar trend are long enough to even grab the home chef. I know you’ve seen those videos encouraging you to take a Reese’s cup, sandwich it in an oreo, wrap that whole thing in cookie dough, take multiples of that concoction and layer them on a baking pan, fill the baking pan with brownie batter, bake it, then torch marshmallows on top. My heart literally aches at the thought.

There are wonderful new pop-ups creating new flavor profiles in sugar while not being consumed by it. So hope remains alive. I will simply suggest that you, like them, diversify your sugars.

Be good, and eat complexly.