Revelations

Muva of All Proteins

I love pork, that much is clear, but my heart also overflows with love for all of the other proteins, even more so for the neglected ones. Of course, everyone has their own tastes but is there a reason we don’t at least try the more “exotic” meats? I am constantly bombarded by people who don’t eat a certain meat because it sounds weird but its all about socialization. We are taught from a pretty young age that chicken, beef, pork, and a couple species of fish are acceptable. But as a lover of underdogs I’ve gotta say I stan the lesser loved meats. For example…

Duck. My biggest goal in life is to eat the pressed duck at La Tour d’Argent or one of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants (like my love Action Bronson). I’ve met many people who are turned off by chicken’s superior cousin but let me tell you, there’s nothing better. Imagine a chicken of entirely dark meat, that’s duck! Flavorful, rich, with enough fat to cook itself in twice over. There’s truly nothing better in my opinion and it is probably the easiest first step into the world of “exotic” meats. Don’t worry about buying an ancient duck press, just buy a duck, put some salt, pepper, and olive oil over it. Nestle it in a bed of potatoes and put it in an oven at 375° until the juices run clear. You will not regret it, I’m serious.

Octopus and Squid. So I know many of you out there probably love calamari and are able to separate the idea that you are eating baby squid from the delicious experience. I say, don’t be ashamed and branch out of that crispy fried covering and enjoy life. Squid and octopus present some of the most interesting textures in protein you can find on this planet (at least to my not world-travelled teeth). They can easily become rubbery and octopi in fact require tenderizing before being prepared but when properly cooked the experience is one of a kind. They are some of the few proteins without a strong unctuous property but amazing mouth-feel. Grilled octopus is on the rise in New York and is an incredibly refreshing Spring to Summertime treat. But if you’d like to dip your toes in, just about every bodega I’ve been to sells canned, marinated, octopus, squid, and mussels. My dad sautées them together with some oil, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms and WHEW let me tell you I have begged him to serve it over rice every time he has come to visit me.

Goat and oxtail. Now hopefully for many people reading this these meats will not sound strange at all. They are in fact staples in many different dishes in the Caribbean and in Africa. I find these to be far superior to beef because they have so much more flavor. Oxtail primarily because it is so flavored by the bone and tendons that comprise it, but goat too has a flavorful quality I can’t completely put my finger on. I suggest diving headfirst into these, go to your local Caribbean spot, order stewed goat or oxtail, make sure you get some plantains, and dive in.

A big issue within the meat industry worldwide is that we have concentrated our socialized desires into so few categories that we’ve created bigger beasts than we’re prepared to eat. Not only do we primarily consume chicken, beef, and pork, we only dare to consume certain portions of each animal. By neglecting different proteins and focusing on overfed cuts, we’ve arrived at a bland, texturally lacking foodscape. Chicken used to have a flavor, but now everything “tastes like chicken” because in its over-production it has become a rather taste-less meat. If you miss the flavor of real meat and don’t want to take the time to find real butchers and farmers, dive into these “exotic” meats where the market has yet to become saturated. You won’t regret it and in taking some of the pressure off of your go-to’s, you may find their flavor can resurge.

 

Eat well and be good piggies, ducklings, squids, calfs…

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Revelations

Beats, Rhymes, and Dinner

What are things that you look for in a restaurant? Beyond the food.

Everybody appreciates a good, affordable meal, likely with good service and a wonderful ambiance. But what exactly is incorporated in ambiance? I find lighting to be the greatest issue currently plaguing restaurants across the world but that’s a conversation for another time. Ambiance can include a number of things: how well heated or cooled the restaurant is, how well spaced the tables are, the decor, and very important for me, the music.

You can go into any restaurant and listen to some smooth jazz stylings but I always find myself to be truly amazed and happy when a restaurant has a real soundtrack. Songs with lyrics that match the feeling they want their food to give you. This is part of the all encompassing restaurant experience. Every sense should have its time in the sun when you eat out, and your ears shouldn’t get left behind just because everything else is having a good time.

Most people think that only bars and clubs should have a good soundtrack or a DJ but I will tell you that every restaurant, obviously catering to their clientele and ~vibe~ should have a good soundtrack. When I was bartending in DC I was allowed for one night to take over the playlist for the restaurant below and the rooftop bar. God bless Spotify because it was a great time and my playlist held me down. While this is a dream for me (I am the queen of taking over playlists everywhere and requesting jams at clubs) but it really showed me how much music choice adds to your aesthetic in a restaurant. Food and music go hand in hand. While cooking you need to listen to music and its always great to listen to music while you eat (though sparkling conversation can substitute in as well). You really can’t call yourself a complete restaurant without taking into account how everything you display is taken by all five senses.

Two restaurants that have taken this challenge head-on and succeeded every single time I’ve been there, are Jacob’s Pickles and Maison Pickle (they happen to be owned by the same people, they must really have great taste). Beyond their delicious southern food and amazing cocktails, I always walk out of every experience at either establishment remembering how well the food paired with the music. I always find it delightful when I feel the need to ask my server what song is playing because I have to add it to my playlist. Better yet, when I go back and don’t hear the same playlist again and again, its always nice to know that seasonal eating can pertain to more than just the ingredients. I could write essays about how much I love each of these restaurants and if you’re ever in the city you should absolutely go because they achieve and often forgotten and ill-ascribed goal, the holy trinity of food, cocktails, and music.

 

Eat well and jam out piggies.

Revelations

What Do You Want From Food?

Eat beautiful things, become a beautiful thing.

I’ve clearly eaten alot of pork *oink oink*

But anyways, in the new year I’ve chosen to (and think we all ought to) focus on what we want out of our food. My greatest goal from food is joy because I live to eat, I don’t eat to live. Secondly sustenance, but there are a myriad of things you can come to expect from your food. I consume a heinous amount of tea often with rose petals and rose hips because I expect hydration, and to turn into a rose. Citrus (specifically lemons) I eat because they prompt my metabolism to forgive my sins and because they are delicious. Textures amongst all my number of foods are important to me because it’s not just what food does to the tongue but how food feels on the tongue. To sum this up, I want those of you who read this blog to both trust your own intuition in preparing your food but also to have a personalized “must” list of what your food should give you.

I’m considering going vegan for Lent, not because I am against eating meat (though I do have many grievances with the meat industry) but because I’ve decided I want a greater non-meat flavored production from my food. Obviously, my health is of consideration as well and I constantly ask if my brain is informing my food decisions or my heart (the metaphor is flipped on its head here, my brain wants chocolate and burgers and fries each day, my heart or better yet my arteries, just ask for sweet relief). This reflection calls for self-awareness and constant probing. When I was 21 I wanted my food to make me skinny (an honest to God pipe dream), at 22 I wanted my food to remind me of home, at 23 I want to strengthen my good habits and broaden my scope.

In my craft as a wannabe chef, I find I’m constantly attempting to return to simplicity like my father or Ina Garten (I love you goddess). In the States, it is quite difficult to be simplistic while also being shocked by depth of flavor. Not to harp on France but…depth of flavor is easily available in all things there. As they move away from a vintage system, the States is fortunately hopping towards said system and farmer’s markets with real food and depth of flavor is approaching. It’s quite easy to taste the essence of beef, or pork, or lamb. But our conception of vegetables and fruits has become greatly misconstrued due to our current food system. I expect my food to clear the haze.

I don’t expect each of you to write an opus like this on what you expect from your food and why, but I would like to hear your expectations. Food is just behind air and water on what we require to survive, so why not be clear about what you want from it? Let me know, or tell me I’m too ~dramatic~.

 

Be good and eat with expectations, piggies.

Revelations

Chill on Netflix

So I spent the holidays in France and my heart is still there so bear with my American melancholy tinged writing. I learned a great lot about food while I was on the other side of the ocean and almost as much about appreciating it. My newfound learnings brought me to a realization, appreciating food often means eating without distraction.

How often do you prepare yourself (or others) a meal, sit down, get cozy, then turn on the tv to provide yourself with some mealtime entertainment? Meals have become the side dish to the greater mind suck that is watching tv. Have you ever had the feeling of finishing an episode and being pulled in so many different directions that you cannot remember the plot or the meal? I was raised on family dinner each weeknight, which meant no tv, no phones, and maybe a nice sprinkling of jazz radio in the background, if my parents were so moved. Having gone to college, moved out of my parents home, and heavily invested in my wifi and tv (I can’t afford net neutrality and neither can you) I’ve realized how nice it is to return back to those days when phones and tv weren’t allowed at the table. When the only thing to pair with your sparkling wine was sparkling conversation. And even if you do end up talking about tv, you’ve removed yourself from mindlessly staring at the screen while you don’t remark at the flavors of your food.

I’ll give you that when eating alone it would be a sad scene to curl up and listen to jazz. But, let’s not just leave restaurant table manners at the restaurant, when eating in groups let’s actually participate instead of turning on your favorite show and cutting off conversation. I’m mostly dragging myself here, as I cannot tell you the last time I had guests over and didn’t turn on the tv for their own and my entertainment, instead of regaling them with tales of my life and superior wit (I can’t drag myself completely).

Anyways, let meals be meals, and let tv watching be paired with wine, snacks, and ice cream. In 2018, I’m hoping to maintain my focus on food and give it the attention it deserves (like you ought to to this blog #plug).

 

Let’s live our best lives piggies, and focus our attention.

Revelations

Playing with Your Food

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At my age, and probably far before it, playing with your food is frowned upon. However, there is a massive market for toys that allow you the joy of playing with your food and creating strange concoctions that you can then gleefully partake in. I have to say my participation within this market has always been full of vigor but most often led to disappointment. Though I do believe that these toys are great as stepping stones for kids to get into cooking and to exert power over their own meals (muahaha).

Yes, I had an Easy Bake oven. In fact, I had two. The first I got Christmas morning probably when I was 6 years old. It was the original pink, white, and purple, and I could not wait to open it. So much so, that my brother and I disobeyed our parents orders to wait for them to put it together and decided we knew how to screw in a lightbulb. Or so we thought. We (probably me, I will take the blame) installed the bulb incorrectly and in trying to take it out it shattered. If you know anything about Easy Bake ovens you know the lightbulb is the most important part and that every other piece is just superfluous nonsense. So, in fact, I never used it. Fast forward a few years and I had somehow coerced my parents into buying me an Easy Bake Real Meal oven and I was thrilled. Not only could I bake all the sugary delights my heart desired, but I could also make mac and cheese and pizzas. DELICIOUS. Or so I thought. The dry brittle creations that came out of that oven were so horrid that I don’t think I even finished the food packs that came with it and I turned to my very real oven and made myself a snack.

Though I knew the food that came out of these machines could never compare to what came out of my oven, I had an obsession (shoutout to marketing companies of the late 90’s/early 2000’s, you had me hooked). The presentation always seemed so simple “just add water” “in 90 seconds” “you can do it all on your own” that even as I matured I still found those vintage toys kitschy and sweet. For many people, they were the first to introduction to creating their own food and perhaps one of the most important steps towards becoming an independent adult. I transitioned directly from these toys to the kitchen and a happy life making dry brittle food by my own hands (lol jk its delicious). Often what these toys were able to highlight was the process. You can put a plate of food in front of anyone and often they will not appreciate it as much as the chef, the one who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into your bechamel (haha ew). Think of the home cook who puts a plate in front of their unappreciative spouse or children and is greeted with “ew” and “I don’t like this” or “God can we order takeout?” These are blows to the ego for sure but they result because of a lack of respect for the process. These toys showed so many children across the globe that their caretaker was actually taking care to prepare their meals. I got a Baskin Robbins homemade popsicle set as a gift when I was 5 or 6. The goal was to mix up different flavored powders with cream or water then churn the popsicle molds through ice cold water. My father and I spent at least 3 hours at the kitchen table and still ended up with runny ice cream that wouldn’t adhere to the popsicle stick. However, I don’t think I’ve ever complained about the homemade ice cream my grandmother makes each year, nor the hundreds or thousands of meals my father has made me (except for split pea soup, that is not for me).

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I recall afternoons baking with my younger cousin (a notoriously picky and vocal eater) and seeing his appreciation for food grow before my eyes. Allowing him to prepare his own food gave him respect for the effort and an a treat by the end of the day. As a crowning achievement, I’ve never heard him complain about my food. All of this is to say: yes, the product from these toys will most likely be disgusting. I’ve included pictures of my recent foray into food toys with Kracie Popin Cookin’s Ramen set. Yet I have to say, the product was a flavor I hope to forget, but the way there was pretty fun. It still amuses me to play with my food and I think there is still so much to learn when it comes to cooking, that is ALL in the process and not at all in the end.

Sometimes, you just gotta trust the journey.

And throw up the product.

 

Play well piggies.

Revelations

Kitchen Tapes: Dessert Course

So I’m not doing a Lunch Course because lunch is either a re-heated leftover or a sandwich and you don’t need a playlist for that. But dessert. Aah dessert. God’s favorite meal. A true delight to the senses. And no matter your opinions on dessert, whether it should be sugary sweet or a mellow bitter build to a slightly sweet finish; I think we can all agree on one thing: sugary sweet pop hits are the soundtrack to every dessert. What better pairing? Sweet music to add to your sweet meal, and you can even throw in some pop songs with hidden meanings if you want that bit of mystery. Check below for my favorite songs to cook dessert to. Feel free to rifle through all of the playlists and send me suggestions to cook to, a good chef is always updating their repertoire of course.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/alvailes/playlist/0wiUg7WME1UUYDEbwHCyyv

Revelations

Kitchen Tapes: Breakfast Course

Contrary to popular belief, breakfast is the time you want slow R&B crooners to help you sway while you scramble your eggs. When voices should wrap around you like cigar smoke while your tea warms you and your bacon stirs you.

I told you, late luxurious breakfasts are my religion, and the hymns of this religion are a necessary form of praise. Breakfast for me begets smoother, richer tones, something soft yet bitter all the same. For dinner, everything is a rush, even when you’re making a fourteen-hour stew EVERYTHING is a rush as you build and make your plate and dine at a decent hour and serve your friends and go to bed. But breakfast, breakfast gives you the time to relax, it gives you the time to have time. Wake up at noon, eat breakfast at 4pm, sip the last of your tea at 5:00 and then go out on the town for dinner (I have just described my perfect day).

Here’s my soundtrack to that perfect “morning” of my perfect day.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/alvailes/playlist/3rWId9Dyx7q3MZWFAQRaW6