Kitchen Tapes: Dinner Course

Cooking and music go hand in hand, or fork in hand.

My aunt, who is a wonderful chef that I cook with often, once told me, “you can’t cook without music”. This has greatly figured into my personal cooking philosophy and I now hate cooking in silence. Music flavors your food just as much as seasoning or emotion does. So my main suggestion is to cook to music, you’re preference is King and you can play whatever you’d like, but i’ll tell you some of my favorites.

I have strong opinions on what I like to cook to depending on the time of day and the type of meal. For breakfasts I prefer lighter music with a more romantic theme. But this is the dinner course and I really love cooking dinner to heavy, strong bass-ed, thumping music. Dinner and trap music are a match made in heaven in my humble opinion. Heavy flavors of a hearty dinner are affirmed by heavy beats and strong lyrics in the music, not to mention it just makes the ambience in your kitchen so much fun. I find this is directly influenced by your own personality and music tastes, I really enjoy cooking dinner to a strong bass line, an R&B oldie, hip-hop, or just about anything with strong material to bring out my emotions and better the meal (they always say cooking with love is the best, but I think strong emotions period translate directly into the betterment of a meal).

In order to better illustrate my suggestions I have attached a dinner cooking playlist below that you are welcome to follow, though I hope you will soon have your own kitchen playlists up and running. Be warned that most of the songs are quite explicit in nature, so please don’t if you suspect some lyrics will offend you, and don’t fret the breakfast and lunch courses will be much lighter in subject matter.

Cook happily to the beat of your own playlist’s drum, and be good.


Salt in my Coffee

I don’t drink coffee.

To me it is so much more as a spice than as a beverage.

But I recognize that I am probably the only person who holds that opinion.

I recognize that the economies of many countries have been launched by the coffee trade with many different regions vying for “baddest in the game”. I wish I had the stomach for it, and I do believe coffee, straight, to be one of the most elegant things to consume. So while I avoid coffee as a drink, as a spice or even seasoning it is life-changing.

Yes, I think coffee is like salt.

Just like salt it exemplifies flavors in other ingredients yet is almost too powerful on its own. When I eat coffee and chocolate I feel like Remy from that scene in Ratatouille where the lights dance behind his eyes to that smooth rhythm. You know which one I’m talking about. The way the flavors play off of each other, it begs to be compared to another form of art: music, painting, dancing, anything aesthetically pleasing and beautiful. Where salt is the spinach to the savory world’s Popeye; coffee is the spinach to the sweet world. Where coffee goes, flavor follows. Keep this in mind the next time you bake a cake, whip up a batch of brownies, make homemade cookies, or any other baked good. It serves as the Holy Spirit of the Holy Trinity of baking, along with salt and vanilla. Thus the only way I can see to consume it is this way, or in coffee ice cream.

Or primarily in an espresso after a large dinner, it is itis-deterrent, and I am usually in desperate need of that.


Now drink happily and be caffeinatedly-good.



Grilling As Divine Flavor Purity

I grew up watching probably too much Barbeque University with Steven Raichlen on PBS. But boy it taught me more lessons than Sesame Street (jk love you Grover).

One of the most beautiful things about cooking is that its centered around intensifying flavors. As chefs we are delivered foods with flavor on the precipice of birth, we bear them, raise them, and watch them develop and give life to the next generation. God I can be such a sap. But one of the ways chefs do this is by harnessing heat, most often in the form of fire. While tradition is in many ways meant to be challenged and rewritten, our neanderthal-esque ancestors had one thing right, fire and food go hand in hand. Grilling is a modicum for achieving divine flavor purity.

Many times when we cook something we cook it in something else that shifts or otherwise affects the flavor. Think of cooking any food in a pan in which you add oil so that it doesn’t stick. Even oils claiming to be flavorless (a concept that doesn’t truly exist) add another layer to our recipes. Alas, in order to achieve purity in a dish we cannot cook it in anything. Some will claim that boiling, poaching, steaming, or another of the water arts is then the best way to maintain full flavor in a dish. This however simply leads to the water the food is cooked in becoming flavorful, not the food itself. This is how all stocks are made, because water steals and holds onto flavor quite well, but it does not leave much for the food itself. One could then say that cooking in an oven is the best way to trap flavor in an ingredient, while this in theory is true, there is something about food being licked by the actual flame that changes its flavor composition in ways an oven cannot. This brings us to grilling. You can place any food you so wish on those metal rods and concentrate the flavor so strongly that it is honestly poetic. I recall an episode of Barbeque in which Steven grilled watermelon, seem heinous? It’s all about letting the sugar caramelize and concentrate just like salt can sometimes achieve without heat. By evaporating water without the addition of another liquid and using genuine flames allows grilling to bring each flavor it comes into contact with to its peak. It is a thing of beauty.

There are a couple other methods to achieve full flavor in food. One is sous-vide, which allows you to cook food in water but in a vacuum-sealed package that allows the flavors to build upon themselves. The other is confit, cooking meat in its own fat. Both of these methods prove they are fruitful in their delivery but are quite difficult techniques to master (or purchase). Whereas on any given day you can grill a steak to its medium-rare perfection and enjoy your spoils.


Now be good, eat happily, and grill before the summer is out.


Ever the Macgyver, Sometimes the Macgruber

Have you been turned off from being a home chef because you feel your kitchen is not properly “outfitted”? Have you been told you need hundreds of dollars worth of equipment to even begin to consider cooking, and that doesn’t even include ingredients? Has most of this information come from infomercials you watched at 4am when you couldn’t sleep? Well have I got news for you!

You don’t need any of that crap.

Well not any of it, but you don’t need most of it. We are often told in all aspects of our lives that consumption leads to better product. Consuming more kitchen goods will make you a better chef, consuming more wine will make you a better drinker, but this is not a completely factual belief. I have come to know that apart from plates/utensils to eat off of, there are only a few items each kitchen utterly needs to survive. They are:

  • A chef’s knife (that can be sharpened so one without “teeth”)
  • A cast-iron
  • A dutch oven
  • A big spoon (I prefer wooden)

Both pots can go from the oven to the stove or vice versa so you’ll be able to bake as you see fit. If your knife ever dulls you can get it sharpened (many kitchen supply outlets will do this for you) and a good sharp knife, with a little finesse, will let you achieve everything you need to do. You’ll be able to peel, chop, julienne, and flex. A big spoon will allow you to serve, stir, test if your oil is ready for frying (if it’s wooden) and makes a pretty good fake microphone. To start as a home chef that’s all you need aside from clean counters.

But being a “Macgyver” in the kitchen is also about approaching every recipe with a bit of confidence that even if you don’t have every single tool or recipe asked for, that you will still be able to achieve your end goal. My freshman year of college I didn’t even have access to a stove but in my rice cooker and hot water heater I managed to make rice (obvi), pasta, steamed veggies, you can bake cakes in rice cookers as well as pies (good ones!) and if you have the heart you can make soup or stew in a hot water heater. My rolling pin for the past 6 years (until I bought one last week) was whatever wine bottle I had on hand. Your hands are excellent strainers. A fork is an excellent whisk. Your fingers and a knife can make and shape any dough, anytime, any place. All I’m saying is while kitchen tools are cute and chic they are in no way necessary. So don’t fret when you need to approach a souffle without a standing mixer, just roll up your sleeves, kiss your biceps, and get into those egg whites.

As always, be good, and eat happily (no matter what you’re eating off of)


I Gave Up On My Diet In Cuba

I recently spent about a week in Cuba enjoying the fruits of the land and the rum in my mojitos, but I was struck by a certain realization.

The diet there is primarily meat and starches (rice, beans, potatoes) and yet most of the residents were sporting quite spry figures. I had to question how they could be in such good shape when I still recall “eat more veggies” being the only diet plan shoved down my throat from the ages of 0 until now. In numerous conversations with my family and friend we discussed that perhaps it was a result of the food still being fresher than most of the processed products we consume in the states. This brought me to an interesting query I think I will deal with quite a bit in this blog: what is nutrition and how do we measure it?

Many many MANY publications on nutrition and food will tell you to avoid foods rich in fat, sugar, or salt. To avoid carbohydrates and opt for lean proteins. That fiber is the key to life and cholesterol is the lock. For all of these assumptions it seems as though every year one of them is refuted and another pops up to take its place. A couple years ago there was a connection drawn between red meat and cancer, before that there was fish oil being a cure-all, and prior to that the metals in sodium were slowly poisoning our body. Do we still hear any new information about these fads as I rather pejoratively call them? All of this is to say, in the US we process and process our foods to discover some hidden vitamin in them, we enrich our cereals with whole grain (which we take out and then add back in) we add fiber or protein or vitamins, or anything else to our food so that while it is tasty we can also know that we’re gaining some benefit out of it. As though food has to have a point outside of filling our bellies and giving us energy.

In the states we suffer from an extreme market, we eat many foods that are boiled down to their most nutritious part and then enriched from other sources, or we eat foods devoid of any “nutrition” whatsoever (though they may be filled with happiness). This often causes us to become unbalanced.

Across the world, and often in our very own US of A, people eat what they please, when they please and are quite healthy because of it. Mark Bittman discusses what one could call the French Conundrum: how can a people that enjoy such rich foods be universally known for being small and fit? I ate 3 separate vegetables in my stay in Cuba: carrots, green beans, and squash. Two of which are quite heavy in starch. Yet while there I was healthy and moving as were all of the people I encountered on the island. But is a week (or a lifetime) of meat and starches so bad for us? In the pursuit of nutrients have we missed the inherent goodness in food?

As I spent my week in Cuba expecting to balloon to twice my size from the constant servings of pork, rice, and liquor I realized all of my worries were for naught. A healthy diet ought not be measured by how many grams of protein or how many servings of fiber but rather what it does to your body and how it makes you feel. Take into account that I am not a doctor, just a wannabe chef with strong opinions. When I tucked into my twelve piece nuggets, large fries, and cookies and cream milkshake from Chick-Fil-A when I got back stateside I forgave myself for eating it all in 7 minutes and basked in the glow of not considering what nutrients were buried deep in my meal but instead that American food has a deep place in my heart and belly.


Now eat whatever you want happily my friends and be good.



Mandolins. Not the musical instrument, the culinary one.

An icon. An aesthetic. A culinary tool flex if I’ve ever seen one.

But also, a perfect dirty little secret.

Want to have the chopping abilities of Jacques Pépin with a quick purchase? (let’s be real no one will ever be on his level but still)

A mandolin is your one stop shop. In a flash you’ll be making the best gratins, perfectly cut french fries, julienning every veggie, your crudités will be the most aesthetically pleasing thing your table has ever seen. I could wax poetic about this little mechanism forever but my biggest point is get one, you will not regret it. I have used it to slice pizza toppings (imagine perfectly cut pepperoni from a roll of salami), I have made the best gratin dauphinoise of my life (cheesy potatoes to the next level), and french fries that could go toe to toe with boardwalk fries from the beach. Now, I’m not trying to brag about myself and my own abilities because all of these things would have been unachievable without my mandolin, it is truly a little wonder.

Now I consider myself to be somewhat of a culinary McGyver. You have to be when you’re a broke adult who can barely afford a set of new utensils let alone items for specific purposes. But that’s where I think the beauty of the mandolin shines through. It is a universal tool for chopping and not like those crappy ones you see on infomercials every Saturday. It will rid you of your grater, a few of your knives, and you’ll never have to buy a french fry cutter (a serious consideration in my case). Also, while it is all good and dandy to make do with what you have, its always nice to treat yourself to a new tool in the kitchen (don’t get crazy! I mean a new wooden spoon or a paring knife, not a $400 blender). So go forth and prosper and purchase mandolins! And no I am not sponsored although I wish I was because I would give all of my friends mandolins (hint hint wink wink to any kitchen tool company that reads this).


Now go chop your veggies, eat happily, and be good!


Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is the closest we will get to the hunt as modern-day human beings.

Unless you actually hunt or are a farmer.

But if you exist like me in a city where all the slaughtered chickens and cows you can imagine are within walking distance and you don’t have to pick your own veggies, then grocery shopping is probably the closest you will get. I, thus, treat it as a sport. I actually love going during the holidays when there’s a risk your favorite grocery store will be out of that one item you desperately need so you ride around from store to store hunting down your prey just so your meal can be perfect. However, I realize for many grocery shopping is the bane of their existence and the main reason many take-outs and meal delivery services are available. But I don’t think grocery shopping has to be approached with such angst, if we just plan a bit ahead.

First off, don’t ever play yourself and also know yourself (Khaled and Drake giving us life lessons in each song). But what I mean by this is DON’T GO TO THE GROCERY STORE WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY. For me, going to the grocery store while famished is playing a tug of war between my stomach and my wallet and I’ll tell you, my stomach always wins. Every seemingly small craving you’re having will be intensified when all foods are right in front of you just begging to be eaten so just don’t do it. Also, be aware of who you are as a grocery shopper. I love grocery shopping but I still think going more than once a week is overkill. However, here in New York, the common culture is to grocery shop everyday, just buying enough food to get you through your 3 meals. No judgment here on whichever way you lean, but just know your leaning. I am also the type of person who can plan all of my meals as I walk through the grocery store with no menu in hand and come out on top. But if you are not that way, do some research, find the recipes you want, and make a list. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and there is no worse feeling than coming home from grocery shopping and feeling like you have nothing to eat (perhaps only matched by coming home from clothes shopping and feeling you have nothing to wear). As you grocery shop more and more you will become better and better at it, so don’t be distraught the first few times you overspend or under buy, it’s an art that is not easily undertaken.

Perhaps the most important part of all of this is to find a grocery store, farmers market, or food emporium that you actually like. This can be very difficult in some areas, but it is important to achieve. I know quite a few grocery stores on the East Coast like the back of my hand, and it makes grocery shopping that much easier. If you can find one that matches your budget, your needs, and is close to you then you have found the holy grail (Trader Joe’s). But be willing to sacrifice on one of these in order to fulfill the others (be willing to travel to Trader Joe’s).

So to boil down my grocery shopping musts:

  1. Don’t ever play yourself – don’t ever EVER grocery shop while hungry
  2. Know yourself – know your shopping style and frequency, and plan accordingly
  3. Find a grocery store you love or at least like
  4. Always buy yourself a treat at checkout they put them there for a reason

Now buy your groceries, cook them up, eat happily and be good!