Thursday, April 19, 2007
Everlasting Gobstopper Land
So, I've been thinking.
Bad start. Nothing good can come of this.
Why do I find cooking and baking so much fun?
Well, I dunno. Seriously.
OK, what "do" I know?
I know that I look forward to it.
I know that my sister immediately recognized on Christmas Eve at 10pm when I was making homemade cookies that baking "de-stresses me."
OK, that's a start.
So, any patterns? Yeah.
My motivation for cooking and baking isn't always because I want to eat the food.
It's about textures - creating them - searing, whipping, chiffanade-ing. (Yes, I verbed it. Sue me.)
About smells - again, searing, sweating, sautéing. Broiling the vinegary top of a meatloaf or charring tomato paste for baked beans and suddenly filling your kitchen with the aroma of a campfire.
It's the tasting sensation. Simmering a bit of cinnamon in a red sauce and tasting a whole new level of flavor. (Oooh, I "know" that taste! - and with it comes the instant memory of walking in my Aunt's front door with the knowledge that dinner would be fabulous.) Taste. Mixing a bit of roasted pepper into cream cheese and feeling that little kick on the tongue. Immediately the kick of capsaisin is soothed by the milky fatty cheese - and I reach for another helping to feel that bite again.
It's about slicing an onion with a sharp knife and meeting such little resistance that it's as though the onion itself wants to become part of the meal. Dicing - nice and uniform - on a good day. Making a brunoise of carrots, celery and onion and then making a consommé as an afterthought - just to give the tiny veggie cubes their own spotlight.
And, that brings us to the visual. It's the diced colors. I find myself buying orange and yellow bell peppers when I don't even like their taste. (I don't hate them either.) Their color accentuates, pops, hell - they GLOW - and it amazes me. And, their texture does offer something, too.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the science. You see, until I understood what the heat was doing to the food, it all came out the same - bland and boring. Perhaps well seasoned, yet still "bland," well, in my mind, at a molecular level. No texture, no levels of flavor. I made tomato sauce and that's exactly what it was - saucey tomatoes. Isn't that what the commercials tell us is good? But, adding a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes and seems to hide some bitterness. Deglazing - with wine no less - brings out even more flavor. Then reaching for the add-ins, not only oregano but basil, other herbs, even some chiles or red pepper flakes if the mood strikes me.
The sizzle. The best part of science for me, so far, is the sizzle - the searing. It's the extra crunchy bacon. The brown bits of brown butter on the bottom of that beautiful steak. The yummy lip-smacking goodness that heat and fat and sugars create. It's about putting the meat in a hot pan and letting it be. Putting down the tongs. Don't move it until it wants to be moved. When the Maillard reaction has turned the tenderloin into tasty goodness, the seared meat will release itself from the pan. BTW, anthropomorphism tastes mighty fine with carmelized onions. :)
OK, one more, I lied.
It's about the biology. I used to fear meat because I would buy an expensive cut, cook it and it would taste like meatloaf - bad mealy meatloaf. I didn't get it. It's all about muscles and knowing which ones did heavy work. Realizing that tender cuts of meat can take simple pan searing. But, that the most flavorful mouth-watering meals sometimes come from the least expensive cuts. Braised low and slow...in a flavorful liquid...till their connective tissue yields and their collagen converts to gelatin. Gooey, tender, juicy. Where was I?
I haven't said, "It's about grabbing a big dish, devouring it and feeling full." Many people have asked how I can be cooking and baking every night, yet not be gaining any weight. I think it's because I'm not eating a lot of the food.
Sure, I'm eating some. Freezing some. Giving lots of the test batches away. But, the total experience of the "making" part is satiating. It's a meal for the senses while all I've had is a taste spoon or three of the meal.
The kitchen is a brave new world now - with all the colors, sights, and sizzles to make Willy Wonka proud. Yep, meet my new kitchen - Everlasting Gobstopper Land. Welcome to my world.
Posted by Dana @ Cooking At Cafe D at 2:02 PM