Lessons Learned: Volume I
In the short time that I’ve been writing about this, sometimes arduous, most of the time embarrassing, yet always rewarding journey of becoming a dad who can cook, I’ve developed a pattern; one that consists of simply making a few key notes that sort of capture the essence of the topic, while also providing a little uplifting of the spirit; a kind of “You’re doing great, but remember this, this, and this. You can do this! Now, go get ‘em!” halftime speech, if you will. This has evolved into the “Lessons Learned” section that I now tag onto the end of each post. This section is probably my favorite part of each post. Once I reach this point, it not only signals the end of another (probably too long) post, but it also means that it’s time to step back and take in the experience as a whole. It’s time to make sense of it all; to strengthen the foundation and move on to even better things.The “Lessons” section is just as much for me as it is for anyone reading. It sums up why I started writing on food in the first place. What started for me as a few note cards with little tidbits on them to help me keep from screwing up the next attempt at a meal, ended up spawning this notion that, perhaps, I should share some of this with other folks; folks, like me, who could actually use this information; folks, unlike me, who already have a wealth of knowledge but can offer some advice when they see a guy in need; and folks who couldn’t care less but could use a laugh or two every now and then.So, without further ado, I present Lessons Learned: Vol. I. From An Introduction…
(Not actually a “Lessons Learned” section of a post at this point, but it seems appropriate to add.) I’m not a chef. I’ve never even taken a cooking class, but I’m finding that making good food is actually fairly simple if you know where to start. I’m not sure, but it may be something different for everyone. For me, I’m starting with an idea; an idea that food, like life, is important, but more important is what you DO with it. What am I doing with it? I’m creating those sacred moments with my family, and I’m sharing them with someone else. That’s what changed my mind about food. Maybe it will change yours.
From Chicken Enchiladas
1. I’ve GOT to find a place in town to get some real, authentic, Mexican cheese.
2. Poaching, at least in this case, is good and should be done liberally.
3. Chile peppers in adobo sauce should be used sparingly!
4. And, dawg-gone-it, kids, pay attention in science class!
1. Don’t over process the vegetables, thus making a pulp. It’ll make the meatloaf kind of soggy.
2. I don’t think there could ever be a better way to cook asparagus.
3. Maybe I SHOULD have tried the store-bought breadcrumbs or croutons for this.
4. I would do anything for love, but I won’t cook another bad meatloaf.
1. It’s all about the starch 2. Don’t try to eat undercooked Yukon Gold Potatoes 3. When all else fails, French Onion Soup!
4. It’s STILL fun licking potatoes off of the beaters.
From Panzanella Salad
1. Fresher IS better. 2. Always call the in-laws first to try to save money. 3. I think that I can’t wait to grow an herb garden…full of fresh Basil! 4. Never include farm animals during quiet, memorable moments.
1. “Fast and easy” is not always necessarily synonymous with fast food and will probably still FEEL more “fast and easy” when done at home; or, at least more rewarding, anyway. 2. It is definitely worth the extra money for a really good Mandolin slicer. 3. Don’t eat paint chips; eat some awesome, quick, easy, and obviously MUCH healthier homemade potato chips.
From Chicken Picatta
1. Capers are SO awesome. 2. Keep an eye on the rice. And, for Heaven’s sake, turn it to low or even off after it comes to a boil. 3. Keep an eye on what’s in the oven! And…Did you know that lemons, when burnt to a total crisp actually turn a shade of BLUE? Not saying you should try it…but…well…try it! Totally weird.
Aaaaaannnnnd… 4. No matter what, nothing, not even the best Chicken Picatta in the world, is worth moving another woman into this house. There’s enough commotion as it is. (Sorry, Mo.)
From “Pizza Margherita”
1. If you’re ever in Atlanta, go to Fritti.
2. I really have no clue when it comes to dough. I really need to study up on flour and yeast and stuff.
3. Meridith is right; life IS too short not to eat good pizza. So, fire up the grill, roll out the dough (once you figure out how to make it), and give those testy taste buds something to hold hands and sing about.
1. You don’t have to get on a plane to go enjoy really fine, authentic Mexican Cuisine. 2. This is actually a pretty quick meal to prepare. This’ll be a routine dinner dash for me.3. You don’t have to be in or around the Gulf of Mexico to experience a Hurricane; with a three year old boy around, every season is hurricane season.
1. Taking time with chuck roast is well rewarded.
2. I probably won’t ever by chili powder in a store ever again.
3. Texas may be big on chili, but “It don’t know beans about my “chili con carne y frijoles”.
1. Arugula just does NOT belong on a pizza
2. Weighing flour seems to actually be a key factor in successful baking. (I had figured that it was just some nerdy thing that Alton liked to do, but I actually measured out several cups, and each one was just a bit different; different enough to make just enough of a difference if measuring out more than about a cup for a recipe.) 3. I forgot to put olive oil on the dough as I put it on the grill. I think this would have helped it to develop the crispy exterior for which I’m searching. 4. I need to figure out how to make the dough more— stretchy.5. Obviously, an umbrella is not enough of a defense for the Fresh Market Gnomes. Back to the drawing board.
From “Fish Fry Frenzy”
1. Fried pickles are right up there with your first kiss, the birth of a child, and winning the lottery. 2. So what if farm-raised fish has higher omega 6 content? Just don’t eat it for every single meal, and you’ll probably be ok. Otherwise, go catch your own wild fish, and don’t complain. 3. If you’re worried about it, don’t sweat the added alcohol from the beer. It will all but evaporate during cooking leaving you with an awesome tasting, bubbly, crispy crust.4. I’ve got the itch. Anybody wanna go fishing? Just don’t complain if I eat more fish than I catch.
From “Chicken Pot Pie”
1. Roasting a whole chicken is actually pretty easy. Next step: raising one, killing it, plucking it, degutting it, cleaning it, THEN roasting it. I wonder— if my wife‘s parents have chickens, does that make them my— chickens-in-law? Look out Harwood chicken farm! 2. I can’t wait to make another pie— maybe a sweet one next time. 3. So, if my scheme to lure in fall worked, what in the world am I going to cook to ward off winter?
1. Any time I’m feeling just a little less than patriotic, I think I’ll cook a pumpkin pie. Is there ANYTHING more American? Well, maybe apple pie. Hmmmm….2. It’s good to be King.
From “Meatloaf: Revisited”
1. Meatloaf is a simple dish that should be kept simple. 2. There’s more to tomato paste than meets the eye.3. Why on Earth would anyone enjoy eating couscous?
From “Wingin’ It”
1. Maintain the Oil Temperature 2. “Frank’s. It’s gotta be Frank’s”3. Chickens have wings for one reason: So we can EAT them. Ok, two reasons: to be used as leverage upon proposing to your potential spouse.
From “Cold Turkey”
1. Easy with the lumberjack hands under turkey skin. 2. Don’t trust some “high-falootin’”, high dollar thing just because it says “Food Network” on it. 3. Any bonus is a good bonus; even if…I mean ESPECIALLY if it’s a frozen turkey (and a package of brown and serve rolls. And, oh yeah – we used ‘em).
From “A Toll Tale”
1. Whatever you do, don’t overcook the cookies. It’s better to have them slightly underdone than overdone. And, keep in mind that they’ll firm up quite a bit after they’ve cooled for a while 2. Shouldn’t there be a Ruth Wakefield holiday on the calendar? Well, maybe not according to George Boucher. Well then, can’t we just make it “Boucher / Wakefield day”?3. Never underestimate a mother’s intuitive cooking prowess.
From “Mater Mayhem”
1. If we can grow stuff, ANYONE can! 2. Perhaps staging the garden so that only a certain amount of tomatoes are ripe at one time would be a little more practical.3. Gardening isn’t the easiest work, but it is one of the most rewarding. I think this goes for cooking too.
From “Flat Iron Steak Salad”
1. Cheap meat can be great meat.
2. Fast food does not necessarily have to involve a drive-thru window and another hit on the debit card. 3. If you’re anything like us, and on a fairly tight budget, and even tighter on time, you can easily “iron out” a great meal with a flat iron steak.