Thursday, February 13, 2014

10 things I am for sure sure about food.

Last Saturday night, as Alton Brown took the stage at the Fox, in St. Louis, he gave us his redone rendition of 10 things he was sure about food.  He complained about the list because he first made it 23 years ago and every day, he thinks of something where he changes it and so, it is never the same list twice.  That list, his ten, have been replaying over and over in my mind as I think of different ones that apply to me and my life.  Some of my 10 things, are the same as one of his and and such, I bet the same as many other chefs around the world.  So, my list, of 10 things that I am for sure sure about food, here we are:

1.  Just a pinch of salt.  Salt is and was always the most important item on Earth.  Wars in Ancient times were fought over salt.  Salt when added to a hot bath can make it hotter before it gets hotter. I know that I have added salt to a humidifier in my children's room, so it can get a hotter point and create steam easier.  When people didn't have salt, or refrigerators, they had to bury their food in the ground, in order to save it.  Salt, allowed people to save and preserve their food without keeping it in a cellar.  Salt is a natural enemy of bacteria.  Salt is used in mouthwashes after dental visits and is even used as an aid in cleaning wounds.  It even was considered to be such a pure thing that Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt in the Bible.  Salt is added to baked goods as it helps to retard the yeast and slow it down.  Salt has a chemical makeup that enables it with the power to pull water.  Chef's add salt to a pan of vegetables in order to pull moisture out and "Sweat" them.  Have you ever salted a driveway before a snow storm?  Have you seen the moisture around each piece of salt?  The salt pulls moisture out of the concrete or blacktop of a driveway.  When salt is added to food, it allows the food to taste more like itself by concentrating the flavor.  This is why salt is added to everything.  Furthermore, salt SHOULD be added to everything.  Remember, just a pinch of salt or even a light sprinkling will do.

2. Taste your food.  You may think or be the best chef in the world, but if you do not taste your food and properly season it (see number 1), then no one will like or even take a second bite of your food.  Taste is often tied to memories and those memories replay when the edible item triggers them.  People would most surely have different memories on whether they had a good hamburger seasoned with salt and pepper versus a bad hamburger that just had ground beef.  Furthermore, a person is more likely to remember when they had that good food that tasted good versus one that tasted bad.  People think of these fond memories and it comforts them: comfort food.  Those nice feelings and memories and most often tied to good tasting food.  No one talks about how they had fond memories of eating hamburgers that tasted like dog food and smelled like manure.  If you prepare any type of food, make sure you taste it at least once.  Anyone, from a professional chef to a home cook needs to know what to change or add to a dish in order to make it the way they want.  If you own a restaurant, make sure that everything you send out is from something you tasted so you know that you are serving only the very best.

3. Food is fun.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that cooking is hard work, alone.  Yes, peeling 20 potatoes and cooking them, ricing them, mixing them with other things to make mashed potatoes is work, but the end result is so much better than the work. Think of it this way: Do you like money?  Does having money enable you to have fun?  Do you work for your money?  Is work fun? (maybe not)  Therefore: the reward from work, lets you have fun.  The same applies to cooking.  No matter how much work you are doing for the food, even if you grow everything and cook it all yourself, it is work.  However, whether it is the joy of tasting and eating or the joy from watching others taste and eat, that work should give you fun.  I like food, I love to eat food.  But even more so, I have fun doing things to food.  I like to try to cook new things and place new combinations together.  I think that is fun.  I like to cook tasty things and give them to people and watch them enjoy the food.  Good food should fill your heart, soul and stomach.  It should make you feel like doing a happy dance.  Food is fun.
4. The best cook in the world is....  When Alton Brown came up on stage to explain a statement, he suggested that "your wife is the best cook in the world".  The idea being that within 6 months of his marriage, he mentioned that his wife might need to add some oregano into some pasta sauce and she was so flustered that she left the kitchen and "didn't come back for 6 months".  Now, while I understand that husbands always tell their wives that they are the best cook in the world, this example doesn't work for me and my wife.  My story is this:  I have been an avid cook, huge fan of cooking, ever since I was a kid.  I was sad when I went to school because they stopped the "home-ec" courses and there wasn't a cooking school to be found in the area.  So, I self taught and learned on my job.  Now, while me wife and I were engaged, she did cook food for me, but when I went to her house, she wasn't allowed to cook, only her mom was.  Now, when we were married, she cooked almost all of the time, as every once in a while I was allowed to cook.  She made a really good pasta sauce and everything she made was honestly really good.  But, when she became pregnant the first time, she obviously didn't cook.  (I personally believe any husband who makes his pregnant wife cook is just being a ;%#.)  So, I took up the reigns and started cooking every night.  I cooked foods for dinner and lunch to take to work.  When my wife had our first child and she was home with him, I still cooked so she could recoop.  Then when she was pregnant again, I kept cooking.  I like to cook and can take criticism about my food if someone doesn't like it or if they do.  That being said, I do believe that the best cook in the world still isn't me.  I think for anyone and all of us, the best cook in the world who is someone who cooks with love.  The last thing you want, as a husband, is the competitiveness by telling your wife that she is the best cook in the world, thus making your mom and mother-in-law and any other females in the family, go complete Cutthroat Kitchen on each other to be better.  

5. Breaking bread is the best welcome ever.  What I mean by that, is that the best way to welcome someone into your family or just your house, is to feed them.  I have been in houses where you enter and stand there, literally, standing around, or sitting around and talking.  I have even been to family events from my past like this.  Nothing lets people relax like the addition of food.  I think the best example of this, is when my family went to Lebanon.  (Going to Ireland was a close second.) In Lebanon, we visited people who were cousins of cousins, didn't speak a lick of English and the only one in our group that spoke Arabic, was my father-in-law, who was from Lebanon.  So, here we are in people's houses, in the middle of no where, not another house as far as the eye can see in either direction and out of no where, someone come sin with a small platter of food.  The hospitality of people in Lebanon simply astounds me.  When Andrew Zimmern goes to Middle East countries on his Bizarre Foods show and you see him go to a random tent in Ethiopia and get treated like a king with a pillow to sit and food to eat, that is how it is in real life.  People know that giving food or at least offering food is a great way to open up and start discussion as well as tell the person who is being offered "I don't know you, but I care enough about your health that you should have a bite," I think.  Think of it as if you ever had one of those grandmothers whom every time you visited would offer you a bite of something or a something to eat.  Always offering in a good natured grandmotherly sort of way.  From as far back as ancient times to stories in the Bible, breaking bread is always something that people do, to bring them together.  Alton Brown suggested that the greatest tool in the kitchen is a kitchen table.  It is that table that brings families together.  I change my statement as such because while a kitchen table is important to bring families together, if you don't have a table, or are without your family, any sharing of food will bring people together.  

6. Organic, gmo, vegan friendly and gluten free are all just names of B.S..  Here are some fun things to know.  First of all, to be labeled by the organic food club, you have to become certified.  That cost will run you anywhere from $200 to over $1,500.  That certification also has to be done every year.  So, you may be a farmer, who has used the same seeds for generations, never used chemical pesticides and even talks nicely to your plants.  But, if you don't pay to be certified, you cannot be organic.  There are many other producers who make food as healthy and even more healthy than "Organic" labeled ones, but they just didn't get the label. The term "GMO" refers to a "genetically modified organism".  The term has lately been considered a derogatory term for Monsanto products.  I have a friend who works at Monsanto and some of the things that he is proud of, that the company has done, is making a seed of rice, that will grow and yield in less water.  What about corn plants that will produce the same amount of corn, no matter the type of climate?  Imagine how famine in the world could disappear.  It isn't a conspiracy, but from what I have seen in science sites, articles and journals, there hasn't been any real proof that a GMO corn kernel, from a GMO grown corn seed and plant, can harm or kill a human being.  If a corn plant has been genetically modified so that it will grow into a mature and vegetable bearing plant with half of the water of a normal one, how will that affect a human?  Will the human be able to drink and survive only on half of the water than a normal person?  Also, in regards to GMO pesticides, most plants have a natural pesticide develop in them, that does harm some insects and not humans.  Vegans are a variety of people of whom I have no understanding.  If you are staying away from ALL animal products because of the harming or injuring of animals, then are you wearing vegan friendly items or using vegan friendly items?  Is your shower soap vegan friendly?  Do you wear or use anything plastic?  Plastic comes from oil, which in turn comes from animals.  What type of car do you drive?  Gasoline comes from animals as well.  Do you wear jewelry?  Is there any shells, elastic or plastic in that as well?  Gluten-free is not an allergy.  There is a real condition where some people who cannot digest Gluten can become sick from it.  But that condition is rare and most likely the people who claim to be gluten free could have something else wrong with them, like diabetes.     

7. Kids will eat what you eat.  My kids do not eat.  We sometimes joke that they grow from photosynthesis.  Yeah, if we go to St. Louis Bread Co. or over to Noodles & Company, they will eat large amounts of food, but it seems everywhere else, that they mostly pick and complain about their food. When I would go out of my way and make extra nutritious things for my wife and she would sit near the kids and eat them, we are always amazed at how my kids will ask if they can have a bite and then sometimes finish off her whole plate.  I never before saw a child so eager to eat some mushrooms or brussel sprouts.  Kids watch what you eat as well.  So, when you give your kids some healthy sandwiches from Quiznos and you are eating a a double quarter-pounder with fries, then they start to wonder why they have to eat healthy and you do not. Like the above example, I have seen that if you want your kids to eat or eat healthy, then you should too.

8. Anyone Can Cook  It not only was the name of a fictional book in the Disney movie :Ratatouille, but it is a motto that I truly believe.  I have seen all manner of people who can cook and you always hear stories about people thrust into situations and then in order to survive, they had to cook.  I think that cooking is the easiest thing to do, now.  When I first started at a restaurant, several years ago, I avoided the cooks line because I was afraid that I was going to screw up something with food.  Well, my manager threw me back there one day to cover a cook who called in and when I started to panic he pulled me aside and showed me a recipe.  We had all of the recipes laminated so they wouldn't get messed up on the line.  He explained it to me straight "you look at what the recipe calls for and put it in and do as it says; an idiot can do it.  Its not rocket science," he said.

So, as simple as it seemed, it just didn't hit until then.  If a recipe calls for a cup of this and 1/8th cup of that, as long as you put the right amounts in, then it will turn out just fine.  That instantly set off a switch and since that day, I have been able to look at about any recipe and make the food.  Because of this, I believe that if you can follow instructions, exactly, you can cook.

9. Always try new foods.  My wife and I have been pushing this ideology since my oldest could eat food.  I grew up in a household in St. Louis which had the same thing for breakfast every day and then the same meal for lunch for school every day and then dinner followed a schedule.  So my mom would cook pot roast for dinner on Monday and then on Tuesday it would be spaghetti and so on, ending with fish sticks on Friday.  It was never real fish and the only idea I ever had of seafood was from Red Lobster.  So, my family, which oddly enough came from a German/Austrian side and a German/Scottish side, didn't do that much in terms of food experimentation or new foods to us, for that matter.  You would probably guess that with those 3 cultures, we would have something new, but no.  My parents were stuck in a cuisine rut and had no interest in trying new foods.  This made it difficult for me, as I was willing to expand my thoughts and palette and I was trying everything I could.  I was trying real seafood, different cultural foods and even strange ingredients.  I tried everything and just like Andrew Zimmern, I will try anything at least twice.  Just as number 7 shows, your kids will be more apt to try new foods, if they watch you try new foods.  If you try something and you do not like it, don't say things like "ewww" or "yuck", because that will give others the predisposition that it is how you describe it; nullifying any want to try it themselves.

10. Foods are holistic.  I took some classes back in 2008, for a degree in Holistic Nutrition.  While it may have seemed like a questionable course and much less a not accredited college, the theory and that little bit of proof and research shows that something that are wrong with us can in fact be treated and cured with food.  It is called holistic nutrition or holistic healing and it is an idea or theory that food can be supplanted for medicine when it comes to healing the body.  Think of the #1 cold remedy: chicken soup.  If you go to a doctor over a cold, they will tell you that there is nothing they can give you.  You can always go to a pharmacy and take some decongestant or ibuprofen or something to help ease pressure if any.  But, people always say to take chicken soup.  The fact is that lately scientists have done the testing and found out that chicken soup, when homemade, is filled with an amino acid that is found in chicken, which helps the body loosen mucus.  Not to mention all of the antioxidants and all sorts of vitamins in the vegetables that are in the soup as well.  What is important to look for and watch, is that every year scientists make a discovery where they find some plant somewhere, which has been shown to help with [blank].  It could be a plant extract that helps treat AIDS or a type of legume that helps fight cancer or something like that.    

So, that is my 10 things.  It took me a week to come up with.

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