Currently viewing the tag: "The Supermarket Gourmet"

by Buck Reed

Eight Food-Related Things We Learned During Lockdown

(1) Starting a garden was probably a good idea. The timing of the lockdown could not have come at a better time to start a traditional Victory Garden to supply food for you and your family. At least plant a Toilet Paper Tree.

(2) The cook rules the household. The paycheck may pay the bills but, putting the food on the table is a valued skill. Plus, if you do the cooking, surely you can get someone to do the dishes.

(3) Takeout is a poor substitute for restaurant service. Getting takeout may be a convenience but, sitting at a table and having waitstaff take care of you is a lovely experience. It is quite possibly the closest most of us will feel to being a king.  

(4) If they are essential workers, then tip them like they are. Good service should be appreciated, and although a thank you or a please might be a good start, the person taking care of you needs to pay the rent.

(5) Cooking for you and your family will save you money. Cooking for yourself is a great money saver, and once you learn to manage your shopping and organize your pantry, you can save money when you need it most.

(6) Making something everyone will enjoy is a daunting task. Creating a meal everyone will enjoy can seem impossible sometimes, but a jar of peanut butter and jelly might solve the problem.

(7) You can make cooking a family affair. Getting your family excited about a meal can be as simple as just mentioning that it’s Taco Night in the dining room or getting everyone in on making pizza. 

(8) Making a special meal for someone can be a great way to mark an occasion. Rewarding a good report card with something as simple as their favorite meatloaf is a great way to create excitement for almost anyone. Even the smallest victory can be marked with a family favorite.

by Buck Reed

Boosting Your Immunity

Given the state of the world today and the unusual circumstances our health is going through—not just here, but all over the world—I think it is important to remember that there is more we can do as individuals to keep ourselves and those around us safe than the government will ever be able to do. To avoid this current health threat, and any other pandemically inclined virus, we can help keep it in check by avoiding groups, washing our hands, covering our cough, and stop licking doorknobs. Also, it might help if you strengthen your immune system with a change in diet.

First of all, I am not a doctor. So, any information put out here should be backed up with a doctor’s consultation. Always defer to a doctor over a chef-turned-food-writer.

When building a good immune system, we want to look at vitamins. Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system, followed by vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. But, the king is vitamin C, which is one of the biggest immune-system boosters of all. In fact, a lack of vitamin C can even make you more prone to getting sick. Getting these vitamins into your diet may well help you keep fit and give you peace of mind as those around you lose theirs.

Getting enough vitamin D is also important. Getting regular sun exposure is the most natural way to get enough vitamin D. And, as all good dieticians will tell you, you should limit your sugar intake. Too much sugar is an immunity destroyer.

Another good habit we can incorporate into our daily routine is to get enough sleep—six to eight hours, minimum—will help your immune system.

As far as foods, try incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your diet. Studies show that shiitake, Cordyceps, reishi, and maitake mushrooms are known for possessing some of the most powerful immune-supporting compounds in nature.

Yogurt is good for replenishing probiotics. Look for a label that says “live and active cultures.”
Garlic is an easy way to add an immunity booster into your cooking. Garlic contains allicin, which is known to combat viruses and bacteria.

Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, which our body cannot produce on our own. A daily dose of vitamin C helps to produce white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infection.

Shellfish is high in zinc and helps produce white blood cells. It’s recommended that we get two servings a week; however, too much can lead to problems within the immune system.

Being aware of what we eat and how we take care of ourselves may not help us in the current crisis; it takes time to build an immunity system. But, perhaps we can start today, so we are ready for the next one.

“R” is for Oysters

by Buck Reed

We have all heard and lived by various culinary rules/myths in our adventures in the kitchen. Cold water will come to boil faster than hot water, marinating meats makes them tender, and you should always rinse your chicken before cooking. Just for the record, the first two statements are false, and the third is neither right nor wrong. There are just as many reasons to rinse your chicken as not to. And, then, there is this one: only eat oysters in the months with an “R” in them. Clearly, at one time, this was sound advice, but it is no longer true today.

First, “R” is for: modern Refrigeration methods. Before we invented a method of making ice and keeping food cold, oyster consumption was at the mercy of the weather. Having oysters sitting on the dock in the hot summer sun was not ideal conditions for health safety and keeping them at peak flavor. Harvesting oysters from cold waters and keeping them cold was a major way to keep oysters fresh, plump, and tasty.

Then there was the next “R”: Reproduction. Most oysters reproduce in the summer months when the waters are warm. Unfortunately, a spawning oyster isn’t as plump or sweet as a benign oyster. Fortunately, most oysters are raised on farms and are actually bred to not reproduce. Think seedless watermelons, and you get the right idea.

“R” is also for Red tide algae. In the summer months, warmer water promotes the growth of algae, which can introduce toxins into the waters that oysters live. Although farm-raised oysters solve this problem easily enough, monitoring the waters of wild-caught oysters ensures only safe oysters are brought to market.

Following a few simple rules when purchasing and handling oysters will also go a long way toward keeping you safe while enjoying oysters all 12 months of the year. First, only buy oysters from a reliable source. Plan upon consuming your oysters as soon as possible. You can help keep your oysters safe by storing them in a bowl, covered with a towel or newspaper, and placing the bowl in the refrigerator. Check your oysters to make sure they are still alive before consuming raw. They are dead if the shell is open and the oyster cannot keep it shut. You do not know what killed the oyster, so you are better off to discard it.

Given today’s modern oyster industry technique, you can forget the final “R,” which is Risk. As in, you will have little risk when eating oysters whenever you wish.

by Buck Reed

What is life without whimsy? Adding a bit of fun into your everyday activities might just brighten the dreary month of February.

So, take a few moments to review the various days of February and let the National Food Boards dictate what you are going to eat on a given day. How can you not love a country where even tartar sauce gets its own day, which is February 28 this year. To help you remember next year, it is always on the first day of Lent.

Right off, the entire month of February is claimed by avocados, bananas, dry beans, fresh berries, cherries, and grapefruit, as well as star fruit. Snack foods, canned foods, hot breakfast foods, and great American pies are also celebrated. Also, take some time to observe National Fiber Focus Month.

We start out the month with National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on the February 1. Try pairing yours with your favorite pancakes or French toast. Pretty sure ham and eggs are not going to work here. If you do not want to go to that much trouble, just sprinkle it with cereal. If you decide to skip it, then you can always have baked Alaska on the same day.

From the first to the seventh, we celebrate Solo Diners Eat Out Week, which is a little sad for those of us who practice that every time we go out. At least we can all enjoy National Pizza Bake Off Week during the second week. That one we can practice in the privacy of our own home.

The biggest conflict of the month is that National Girl Scout Cookie Weekend falls on the same week as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, February 23-29. Poor planning on someone’s part, but, fortunately, the rest of the month is uneventful. Even National Cream Filled Chocolate Day falls on St. Valentine’s Day, which shows a pretty impressive thought process. Unfortunately, Surf and Turf Day isn’t until February 29.

For those inclined to actually prepare something, February 4 is National Homemade Soup Day. The 6th is Chop Stick Day, so you have time to brush up on your skills. The second Monday, February 10, is designated Oatmeal Monday, and the 9th is National Bagels and Lox Day.

For baked goods, we have National Carrot Cake Day on February 3, National Cherry Pie Day on February 20, National Sticky Bun Day on February 21, and National Banana Bread Day on February 23. And, if you find yourself in Canada on February 24, do not forget National Cupcake Day.

You might want to drop into IHOP for National Pancake Day on February 25. Since they made it up, I am certain they have some kind of marketing scheme where you get a pancake with your meal.

I think one important aspect of the observance of these holidays is not to let ourselves get too carried away in the celebration. Let’s not start too early with the shopping, and, for goodness sake, let’s make sure we get our decorations down in a reasonable amount of time. We do not need any Charlie Brown specials or Black Friday situations developing around National Plum Pudding Day, which is on February 12. Hopefully, if the Grinch steals that day, he might do us all a favor and just keep it.

by Buck Reed

New Year, New Cooking

So, here we are again; we made it to a new year. And, if we can put politics behind us, we can go about the business of forgetting the past and looking forward to a new year. All we really have to do is make a proper New Year’s resolution.

Most people make the mistake of making their resolution too strenuous. We won’t talk about people who make it too easy. The important thing is to make your New Year’s resolution attainable. Instead of saying you are “going to cook every day,” which is a noble goal, try something like “becoming a better cook.” Assess your current skill-set and find a skill or some skills that will add to your culinary prowess.

Here are a few ideas of some skills I think every good cook should have.

Knife skills. Every good cook has a special relationship with their knives. Learning how to keep them sharp and storing them is a good start. After that, you should get comfortable holding your knives correctly and using them to make uniform cuts.

Make soup. Don’t learn how to make just one soup, but learn the techniques it takes to make any kind of soup. Making soups will help you experiment and use new ingredients, as well as help you to learn how to bring out the flavor in your finished dish.

Learn a new way to cook eggs. A chef’s hat, called a toque, has a hundred folds in it to represent the number of ways a cook can prepare an egg. Start with making a perfect omelet and work your way around the toque.

Cooking with a cast iron skillet. Although cast iron skillets seem to be challenging to deal with, once you get them set up, they can be a joy to work with. They are great for pan-frying, roasting, and even putting a new spin on your baking. The good news is that once you get your skillet seasoned, it is easily maintained with a minimum of work.

Bake a cake from scratch.  Taking the time to measure each ingredient for a cake carefully, and then mixing it all together correctly, can seem a tedious task, but it can teach you valuable skills. After that, learn how to decorate the cake without a pastry bag. Think of all the occasions you could use a made-from-scratch cake.

Prepare a hot breakfast. Preparing a morning meal in a timely manner can be an impressive skill for all sorts of situations (enough said).

Becoming a good cook isn’t about finding the perfect recipe, but rather mastering the techniques and expanding on those techniques to create good food.

If you put a little time and effort into enhancing your culinary prowess, it could be a tasty year.

by Buck Reed

Onions, A Layer of Flavors

All over the world, almost every cuisine is defined not only by the types of food they eat, but how they prepare them. Of the many different ingredients used throughout the world, the one that seems to find its way to everyone’s table is the onion.

Although essential in cooking, sometimes onions get a bad rap. As far as bad breath that is caused by onions, well, that is temporary; and, let’s face it, if you are not willing to kiss someone with onion breath, did you ever really love them in the first place? As a chef, and not a relationship specialist, I say you can actually find room in your life for onions and the stinky breath they bring to the people you love. Hopefully, only one will fade with time. And, like most relationships, onions can bring tears to your eyes, but can also be avoided.

Onions pack a punch of flavor, as well as a lot of nutritional value, coupled with a low calorie content. They provide potassium and vitamin C, as well as being an antioxidant and antibacterial.

Although there are literally hundreds of onions used in cooking today, here is a quick guide to six common onions found in every grocery store and how to use them.

White Onions

High in water content, these onions are mild in flavor and are good raw in salads, salsas, wraps, and sandwiches. To add another dimension to them, try pickling them.

Yellow Onions

Yellow onions (also known as cooking or Spanish onions) have a pungent flavor that are not good raw but are best when cooked into soups or stews, and really shine when they are caramelized.

Shallots

A staple of French cuisine, these small, elongated onions have a unique, mild flavor that is good raw as well as chopped and cooked in a saute and stir fry. Caramelized shallots can also add a unique flavor to your dish.

Red Onion

This purple fleshed onion is pretty and works best raw in sandwiches, wraps, and burgers. They can also be used in quick cooking methods.

Green Onions

Green onions (also known as scallions) come in two parts: the long green stem that is chopped and eaten raw and the white bulbous part that should be cooked. For a real treat, try grilling these onions whole and serving as a side dish.

Sweet Onions

A sweet onion is a variety of onion that is not pungent and actually tastes sweet. There are several types, but Vidalia is the most popular. These are very mild onions in flavor and are best eaten raw.

You may find that most recipes don’t specify what type of onion they call for in the recipe. While using any onion in your recipe won’t necessarily ruin your dish, using the best onion for the recipe your cooking will definitely make your food taste better. Purchasing and using the best onion for the specific type of dish you are preparing is a great way to step up your culinary game.

by Buck Reed

Apple Season

Although apples are now readily available year-round because of the voodoo science has provided for us, we tend to look at apple season as being in November. This is because, traditionally, apple picking starts in July and, depending on the climate, ends about now. So, November is when we take the last of the apples and start the traditional work of preserving them into apple butter or sauce or prepping them for storage for the winter.

This time of year, apples are traditionally sorted and then wrapped in paper before placing them in a crate or basket and storing them in the cellar where it was cool enough to keep the apples from spoiling. The paper was used to keep a bad apple from coming into contact with the others and ruining the rest. As the Osmonds taught us, one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. Is there nothing a 1970’s Mormon family pop group cannot teach us?

Today, apples are picked before they are ripe and stored in rooms with higher levels of carbon dioxide to keep them from ripening. When the apples are needed for sale, the room is flooded with oxygen and the apples ripen naturally. And, if they need the apples sooner, ethylene gas is used to super ripen the fruit. This method ensures that we will have fresh, crisp apples all year round.

 This modern method also ensures that apples do not lose any of their nutritional value, which, of course, we all know “an apple a day will keep the doctor away.” One apple has about 95 calories and provides a good source for soluble fiber, which will help lower your cholesterol as well as blood pressure and risk of stroke.

Eating an apple with the skin will also provide ursolic acid, which will activate a calorie burn in the body and help fight obesity. Although apples do contain carbs, which can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, the fiber in apples can actually help stabilize sugar levels in diabetics.

Since we now know apples are good for you and they are readily available all through the year, why not cook with them more?

Baking with apples is a no-brainer. Apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple crisp, and of course, the all-American dessert, Apple pie, easily come to mind. But why not change it up with something different like a new spice or seasoning. I am finding ground cardamom to be a nice new ingredient to add to my baked products and would encourage anyone looking for something new to give it a go. Of course, baked or sautéed apples would make a fine side dish to almost any entree, and adding sliced apples to a stir fry might add a pleasing surprise. If you have a food dehydrator, slice the apples thin and make some apple chips for a quick snack.

With an ingredient packed with so much nutritional value and an all-year availability, why not keep a bag in the pantry?

Challenge yourself to eat one apple a day and give the doctor the day off.

by Buck Reed

If you were to make a list of iconic American dishes, you would find meatloaf nestled somewhere between hot dogs and apple crisp. A staple in almost every Yankee Doodle kitchen, meatloaf has been put through the grinder as our country went through its trials and tribulations. From Tuesday night dinner to the Blue Plate Special, meatloaf has been following us throughout history.

Meatloaf finds its roots as far back as the 5th century in Apicius, which is the oldest collection of recipes written in Rome. This recipe called for meat scraps to be mixed with fruit, nuts and seasonings. After that almost every cuisine adopted some form of finely chopped meats mixed with a form of bread or grains and bound together with milk and eggs. It was an excellent way to use up scrap meat as well as leftovers of all sorts. More importantly, it gave us a dish that helped us use up underutilized parts of the animals we relied on for sustenance and stretched a limited amount of protein into a full meal.

In America, it was the Germans who brought the idea of a meat starch mixture to the Colonial era in the form of scrapple, The first recorded recipe for the meatloaf we eat today was in the late 1870s and called for any cold meat you had around mixed with bread soaked with milk and eggs and salt, pepper and onions. But this meatloaf was strictly for breakfast, not dinner. By the 1890s meat production hit high gear and ground beef was available to every household. Although meatloaf gained a major foothold in America, it was quickly surpassed by that new up and comer—the hamburger. We Americans do love throwing over yesterdays star for a younger, prettier one.

The Depression made meatloaf, with its time-tested ability to stretch a limited amount of meat into a meal for everyone, even more popular. In 1958, a sensible time that gave us movies like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and songs like Volare, we got a cook book called 365 ways to Cook Ground Beef which included over 70 recipes for meatloaf. How sensible they were remained to be seen as some called for the addition of mashed bananas and peach halves filled with ketchup. By this time, packaged ground meat was available in almost every market.

My personal brush with greatness did cross once with this dish in the form of a meatloaf sandwich, which was grilled leftover slices finished with barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s) and provolone cheese on a Kaiser roll. Proving the rule that simple is good, I got a spontaneous standing ovation for that one. Which shows that even an everyday standby might yet become a superstar dish.

If you want to tell me about your meatloaf experience or have an idea for an article, please send me a note at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

In cooking, there is a hierarchy of dishes, cuisines, and ingredients that most everyone can agree on. But, like most things in life, the simple pleasures are the best pleasures of life. For this reason, I suspect that the biscuit gets the entire month of September to itself.

Good bread is a staple at any meal, but a warm, tasty biscuit can take the spotlight anytime. Biscuits are relatively easy to make compared with bread. Once you learn to make them, they can actually be the most wonderful afterthought you can add to any meal. Good people cook, the best people bake, and I am not even sure you can consider yourself a good person if you can’t make a biscuit. All the great literary characters in Western novels made biscuits, and most considered it a higher calling. Augustus McCrae wouldn’t let anyone besides himself make the morning biscuits.

So, why a whole month dedicated to biscuits? I would suspect because even if it actually has a mixing method named after it—the biscuit mixing method— there are actually a number of ways to create a biscuit. Taking 30 days to explore and experiment with these methods may actually seem like a short time to dedicate to this undertaking. The ingredients are simple enough: flour, fat, salt, and liquid mixed together in the proper proportions, order, and technique, will yield a good biscuit. Of course, like with most simple things, you can complicate them with the addition of other ingredients. Cheese, ham, bacon, and fresh herbs can be added to make a unique addition to flavor. During the Civil War when flour was at a shortage, they made biscuits with sweet potatoes. And like most things made out of necessity, they soon found their way into our repertoire because they are just that tasty. 

The idea is not so much what you can do with a biscuit, but what a biscuit can do for you. Because they can be made so quickly, they have saved me on several occasions. Once, when the bread didn’t quite work out due to bad yeast, we threw together a cheddar biscuit just in time to save the meal. Another time, when the dessert wasn’t cutting it—and you gotta have dessert—a biscuit became strawberry shortcake. We do not use the word fail on the cruise ships.

A quick breakfast sandwich, an accompaniment at tea, an essential in biscuits and gravy, and a necessity for any stew, are just a few of the many uses for biscuits. In fact, you can make a biscuit every day this month and you might not have to serve them the same way twice. Try it!

And, if you want to talk about memorable, I would wager almost everyone can remember the best biscuit they ever had and who made it for them.

by Buck Reed

Stir Fry Guidelines

Stir-frying is a great way to prepare a quick main course or meal. These dishes are low in fat and taste fresh, and the textures are very appealing. However, getting them to turn out right can be a little challenging. Using the following guidelines and practice can help.

Equipment

Wok

A heavy skillet can do the job properly; you really should investigate purchasing a wok. The design of the wok helps to distribute the heat, which is needed to cook the ingredients properly and evenly. This shape also keeps the oil from splattering, and it prevents the contents from spilling over the sides as you stir or toss them. A wok can work well as a regular fry pan or even a deep fryer.

Wooden Spoons

Use wooden spoons to keep your ingredients moving in your wok. Using two of them will also help you pick up and turn the ingredients.

Ingredients

Oil

You will need an oil with a high “smoke point,” that is, one that you can heat to a high temperature without it burning. Peanut, sesame, safflower, vegetable, and even olive oil or a combination of any two, will make excellent choices. NEVER use butter or margarine as these will not work well under the kind of heat that you need to generate.

Vegetables

Choose vegetables that are fresh, and clean them under warm water. Cut each vegetable into the same size pieces so they will cook uniformly. Some canned vegetables are acceptable, such as water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, but try to stick to fresh whenever possible.

Meat

Most any kind of meat, poultry, or seafood can work well. Cut into a uniform size.

Preparation

Be Ready With All Ingredients

Since this is a very quick cooking method, make sure all of your ingredients are prepared and ready to go into the pan.

You will not have time to find that one essential ingredient as your stir fry burns away.

What to Add First and Last

First, add the oil to your heated wok. Pour it in so that it covers the sides. After the oil heats, add any aromatic ingredients: onions, garlic, ginger. These will help flavor the oil and transfer that flavor to the rest of your dish. Stir them around a few seconds, but do not allow them to burn.

Then, progressively add the other ingredients, starting with the ingredients that require the longest cooking time. Meats or poultry would probably be your first choice, as you will want to get a fast sear on them before they start to cook.

If you are cooking seafood, such as shrimp and scallops, you may want to sear them and cook them most of the way, then remove them. Add them back to the stir fry towards the end to heat them back up and finish cooking them.

Then, denser vegetables like carrots and celery should go into the wok, followed by softer things such as green beans, zucchini, and bell peppers. Then, you’ll want to add leafy vegetables, like spinach, near the end of the cooking time. Also, this is a good time to add any canned vegetables or nuts you may be using.

Finally, add any sauces or flavorings that the recipe requires, and, in some cases, thicken with corn starch. As you are cooking and adding your ingredients, use your wooden spoon to toss and stir them. You want to get every part of the stir fry into contact with the base as evenly as possible, so they cook properly.

All kinds of ingredients are good for stir fry, so do not be afraid to experiment. You can make a different one each time, experimenting with different sauces and vegetables and meats.

If you follow the guidelines and practice often, you will soon be making stir fry dishes that you and your family will thoroughly enjoy.

by Buck Reed

The Charge of the Kitchen Brigade

When professional culinarians think about the chefs who shaped the structure, we labor our professional lives under one name that always seems to come up: Auguste Escoffier. Often described as not only the chef of kings, but the king of chefs as well, he spent a great deal of his career standardizing and defining how a professional kitchen should work. He didn’t invent cooking, but he did write the book that defined how the various dishes and their accompanying elements should be prepared. Le Guide Culinaire was, and still is, the book almost all chefs call the Bible. But more important to the chefs of present, he developed the brigade system that most successful fine dining restaurants follow today.

First, we have the line. This is where the various stations are “lined up” and the food is prepared and plated up before they are sent to the guests. Each station is staffed by a specific line cook who is trained and prepared to produce a specific dish or a part of dish to be plated for the guest.

The cooks working in the kitchen are given a designation that defines their training level, as well as their status in the pecking order in the kitchen. The head honcho is the Executive Chef and is responsible for the overall operation of the kitchen. He is directly assisted by the Kitchen Manager and the Sous Chef. The Sous Chef oversees the various people under him to make sure the are ready on a daily basis. The Kitchen Manager is responsible for logistics, making sure there is enough product in house and that the kitchen is clean and safe to work in. Under them is the Chef de Partie or the Line Cooks. They make sure their station on the line is ready for their shift. And, finally, there are the Commis Chefs. They assist the line cooks with prep.

In larger kitchens, the Chef de Partie can further be defined by a specialty position. For instance, the person in charge of cold appetizers is called the Garde Manager. Poissonier would be responsible for the fish dishes and the Rotisseur would cook the meats. Saucier oversees the production of sauces, and the side dishes are prepared by the Entremetier. Of course, the steak might be the sizzle, but it is the Pâtissier or pastry chef that gets all the glory. The Expeditor brings it all together, making sure everyone is working on the same order and then getting it on the plate correctly before it goes out to the guest.

Even if a restaurant doesn’t have enough personnel to fill all these positions, the work is still divided up and organized in such a way to keep the food consistent. Most importantly, the brigade system keeps the work flowing and keeps everyone—kitchen staff, servers, and guests—relatively sane.

by Buck Reed

Cheese and bacon are arguably the top two ingredients used to enhance a dish, and, not wanting to take anything away from bacon, I would say cheese has the upper hand. There are basically three types of cheeses: soft, hard, and bleu cheeses. Shown in the chart (below) are the different steps needed to make cheese. For each kind of cheese, these steps are treated differently, and for some cheeses, whole steps are eliminated.

With as many different types of cheese made today, as well as their availability, it is easy to see why it is so popular all over the world. Seeking out different dishes with cheese is an easy way to try varieties that are new to you.

Culinary Misappropriation

by Buck Reed

In this PC-dominated world that we are being drawn into like a fly into a spider web, we are soon going to be devoured by our own selves. Like a snake eating its own tail, we will soon find our culinary diversity disappearing. It’s not so much how it began, but the scary part is where it will end?

Take the Portland, Oregon, controversy. Two ladies went to Mexico and picked the brains of almost every person in Puerto Nuevo who had ever made or even eaten a burrito to crack the code of making an authentic dish. Armed with this knowledge, they went home and spent money on building a restaurant and spent time making their recipes good enough to produce a faithful rendition of this wonderful Mexican dish. They found some success and took a great deal of joy and pride in what they were serving. However, it was pointed out that the ladies were Caucasian and did not have the cultural right to make money from the traditions of another culture. Forget that they were making wonderful food or that they spent all that time educating themselves on a tortilla wrapped around wonderful ingredients and served with sauces. They could very well be offending the very people they are trying to emulate. Right now, you can find a list on Google of restaurants located in Portland that serve ethnic foods that are owned by white people.

We are not talking Taco Bell here, which any Mexican will tell you is not authentic Mexican food. Hard shell tacos are not found on menus in their country, and chimichangas and nachos are a no-go as well. It’s great late-night food after a night of drinking, but do not call it Mexican food.

Chinese restaurants are guilty of Americanization as well. General Tsao was a real person who brutally brought down a revolution in ancient China for the emperor, but his chicken dish is a dish made in America for Americans. And don’t go to Beijing looking for chop suey; you might do better to look in New York, where it is said to have been created. Even in England, the land of spotted dick, the national dish is Chinese, with Indian bringing up a very close second.  

There are more than a few Caucasian chefs who are making a mark by serving authentic Mexican dishes, even one named Chef of the Year, who is being called out for misappropriation.  Who is making what and profiting from it should not be the point. In the big picture, we should be rating a restaurant by whether the food and service is good. I believe that a restaurant should be a welcoming place and should give good service to everyone, even people you do not agree with politically. Making lists that assign blame that may or may not exist sound a bit Draconian to me. And the thought that a popular establishment that is someone’s favorite might close seems a bit sad to me.

Cook Like a Man

by Buck Reed

I heard a story of a woman who started her career at sixteen at a popular chain restaurant, and after working her way up the ladder, was passed over for CEO. Not to be beaten, her next move was to seek out and obtain the head position in a rival company. Then she went on to buy out the first chain restaurant, just like boys do it. Women have come a long way, from housewife to CEOs, professional sports, and most every profession that was reserved for the men. I saw a girl driving a fork lift today and it didn’t even faze me. So, if the women abandoned the kitchen, why is it a surprise that men have taken it over? For the purpose of this article and admittedly my complete lack of knowledge of such things, let’s just work with the basics of the stereotypes. I will not be able to cite studies and I don’t have time to get a degree in Gender Studies. My apologies ahead of time.

Men do not ask for directions. Now, this might make you late for your appointment, but this trait actually makes men very good cooks. They do not need recipes to produce delicious meals on the fly. Give a man a limited number of ingredients and you might be surprised at the clever way he is able to produce something to eat.

Men like to figure things out. From the engine of a ’69 Nova to the latest fishing reel, men enjoy taking things apart and figuring out how they work. The male of our species has a solid need to understand how and why things work. So, in cooking, instead of memorizing recipes, men try to understand the ingredients and mastering the methods needed to prepare them.

Men want women to be proud of what they have done. Why do you think young men ride their bikes off cliffs or jump skateboards over oil fires? To get girls to notice them. Kinda makes the whole motorcycle thing make sense now, doesn’t it? Men are willing to produce a perfect souffle or roast a pig if he can get the approval of that one woman or as many women as possible, depending on the man. Heck, if mastodons still roamed the plains, menfolk would not only be hunting them down, but also cooking them whole and serving it to their 800 friends with the perfect sampling of their signature sauce.

Where women cook out of a sense of love for whoever they are cooking for, men feel it is a task that must be mastered and want to be admired for it. It is why we do not stop at meat loaf but go on to working out pate en croute. We men now want to not only cook the bacon, but also cure it and smoke it ourselves. For better or for worse, if you have a man learning to cook, you are just going to have to get used to tasting the same sauce over and over again.

by Buck Reed

If you were not lucky enough to learn the art of cooking from your mother or, even better, your grandmother, all is not lost. It really is never too late to practice and obtain the skills needed to use the most important room in your home.

There are a number of outlets here in Frederick County that offer a glimpse into the culinary world. Frederick Community College offers classes to both professional and novice cooks who are looking to expand their cooking chops. The Department of Parks and Recreation also offers classes for kids, adults, and couples. Both offer a delicious experience in a relaxed professional atmosphere.

But what about learning to cook from a book? Can you gain the finesse needed to become a skilled cook between the pages of a cookbook? I would say no. I do not care what current culinary superstar wrote the book, there is no way you will be able to pick up every single idea they have about cooking. I do believe that if you read a successful, chef’s words you can develop your own philosophy on cooking. You may eventually be able to duplicate their signature dish as well and, given time, you my even be able to make some subtle changes to the dish to make it your own.

If you are working from a book you need to concentrate on the techniques that the chef/writer is working with and duplicate and perfect them. Then, you need to concentrate on getting your flavors down. All this takes time and effort, and there is no shortcut. Nobody is born or wakes up one day with the skills and knowledge it takes to be a great cook. You must practice. You must taste new dishes and try to figure out what ingredients and techniques were used to obtain their results.

Which brings us to the internet. Right now, there is no shortage of videos, blogs, and even websites promising a complete set of cooking courses that promise to make you a culinary icon, if not in your kitchen then in your own mind. As soon as I run out of ideas for this article, I promise I will start working on my own website, promising the same lofty goals. And given my experience, it is very easy for me to say that I can learn something from almost all of these outlets. But, if you do not have the basics down, it might be very difficult for you to gain any benefit from these sources.

Cooking is made up of a great deal of science; you can glimpse that science from a book to some extent, but the rest of it is art. And art is pain and understanding and calls upon us to open our minds to new ideas. Finding the right source of instruction that would suit you is something you will have to seek out yourself.

by Buck Reed

The Year of Beer

When people would ask me where I am from, I usually responded with Frederick County, where brewers walk like gods on earth. It would have been difficult to argue my statement about our county in the past, but now it would be almost impossible. As the United States grew into the brewing revolution, our county can brag that we were right there at the forefront. We have a number of craft breweries, where you can get delicious craft beer made practically in your own neighborhood: a Brew On Premise shop, which was one of the first to offer anyone over twenty-one the opportunity to walk in off the streets and learn the art of brewing your own beer; a homebrew club with over one hundred members; and more than a few restaurants with a beer-centric theme. What better way to celebrate our love of brew than to have a glass of well-crafted beer. The only dilemma is what to drink and when. So, in 2019, if you want to know what to drink, here is a guide to international, American, and local beer celebration days.

Starting off the list is International Beer Day, which is celebrated on September 28, and which also coincides with Sir Arthur Guinness’s birthday. Perhaps the world’s favorite stout should be in your glass.

International Stout Day is observed on the first Thursday of November.

International India Pale Ale day can see you drinking a glass of hoppy goodness on August first. 

In Belgium, where beer is a way of life, they celebrate beer with a weekend of drinking, music, and shows. Held in Brussels on September 6-8, and with over four hundred beers in the mix, is it any wonder there is a movement to extend the festivities to a two-week event?

Not to be outdone, British Beer Day is June 15 and boasts the motto “Cheers for Beers!” And of course, they too would like to extend the affair to a one-week celebration. My thought is that there is someone on the tourist board pushing these initiatives.

In the United States, National American Beer Day is celebrated on October 27, but National Beer Month is in July. If you drink a beer sometime in this timeframe, I am certain you can consider yourself covered, but in case you miss those, National Drink a Beer Day is September 28. Funny, I thought every day was National Drink a Beer Day.

On the homebrew front, we have National Homebrew Day, which is observed the first Saturday of May. If more than one homebrewer gets together to make a beer, it is called a Big Brew Event. Our local club, Frederick’s Original Ale Makers (FOAM), gets together for the event, and if you ask nice, you might be allowed to crash the event.

Finally, we have the Big Kahuna of all beer drinking events: Oktoberfest. In Munich, they hold the mother of all beer bashes from September 26 through October 6, where copious amounts of food are washed down with oversized steins of German beer, all while singing drinking songs at the top of your lungs. Can’t make it to Munich? Frederick has more than a few of our own Oktoberfest celebrations. The Rotary Club holds theirs the weekend of September 27-28, and really shouldn’t be missed by anyone. And, better late than never, the Oktoberfest at Schifferstadt is held on October 19-20.

If you really need an excuse to enjoy a beer, by all means use these or any other beer-inspired holidays to enjoy a glass of craft beer goodness. And maybe you can say a little prayer in the name of St. Arnold, the patron saint of beer who we celebrate on July 18.

Need a recipe or an idea for any of these Beer Day Celebrations, drop me an e-mail at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

Holiday Baking

Most cooks believe good baking is nothing more than accurately measuring the ingredients, mixing them up, and throwing the finished product in the oven. And, of course, those of us who do bake know these people are wrong in this belief. Armed with nothing more than a good recipe and a few ingredients, these people are like kamikazes; they may get the results they want, but it probably won’t work out too well for them along the way.

What most people who bake do realize is that baking takes a mastery of a few basic mixing methods, along with some special techniques and a little finesse. Like anything worth doing well in this world, good baking takes a little knowledge and practice. Until you get these techniques down, you will need to practice. Bake sales, parties, picnics, any excuse you can come up with, is a good time to try your hand on what might become your signature holiday sweet.

Next is getting organized. Of course, you will need a clean kitchen with the equipment you need in easy reach. Make sure the equipment you don’t need is put away or temporarily taken out of the kitchen. If you are working in batches, then get a system down where you can do the different steps at the same time.

Make a list of the ingredients and how much you will need. Purchasing extra isn’t a problem if you can properly store it and it has along shelf life; think flour and sugar over eggs and milk. Purchasing bigger lots or packages can save you money, but only if you can use most of them up completely.

Coming up with an idea of what you want to bake depends on your comfort level. It also depends on the reasons you are baking. If you are making holiday gifts, you might want to make cookies, while others might want to make a quick bread. If you are entertaining, a cake or some pies might fit the bill. Or, if you are going to party or dinner at someone else’s home, you might want to throw together a yule log cake or a bread pudding. Feeling bold? Try a Panettone (an Italian type of sweet bread loaf, originally from Milan), if you think you can manage the yeast-raised Italian confection. It even has a great story to go with it.

Another idea that can make the right statement is making fudge. For the novice fudge maker, you must have your act together tight. There are more than a few steps, but only three or four must be done with any real accuracy. Cooking sugar to a candy stage is not for the faint of heart, but once you get it down, you may well find it could become your signature dish that you can whip up with little or no effort.

A final thought is that you may not need to bake something at all. Try your hand at measuring and make a signature baking mix you can put in a jar, decorate, and add a recipe for the recipient to bake it up for themselves. There just might be something to this measuring thing.

Baking something up for someone takes time and effort, but if done with love and care, it can brighten someone’s holiday.

Need a recipe or idea for any of these holiday ideas, drop me an email at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com. Otherwise, have a great holiday.

Get Out of the Thanksgiving Box

by Buck Reed

If Thanksgiving is a celebration or thanks for the bounty of the season, then why do we limit the foods we eat to the same thing every year? Why not add a dish or two to your table? A new dish might add a little pizzazz to your holiday and get you into the mood for a fabulous fall. Just don’t mess with the turkey or screw up the gravy.

Keep the traditional stuffing next to the turkey, but maybe think about adding another bread-based dish to your meal: bread pudding. It’s easy to add a bread pudding with pumpkin or maybe cranberries or apples to your dessert table, so take the plunge and give a savory bread pudding a try. Make a standard custard and pour it over some stale bread cubes laced with onions and filled with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, or cooked and mashed winter squash. With a little imagination, you can put a grand spin to this idea.

Another dish that could make its way as a new tradition is roasted apples stuffed with sausage. Let’s face it, “anything” and sausage is welcome on my plate. Also, consider roasted Brussel sprouts or cauliflower to add a different flavor. For the beer lovers on your guest list, try a beer and bacon vinaigrette drizzled on your roasted vegetables.

Maybe a great corn dish could find its way to your home. Corn bread (yawn) is a good start, but spoon bread is another southern favorite, or perhaps a corn soufflé or pudding could be an elegant, yet easy, dish to prepare. Don’t overlook grits, as you can add to them almost anything to transform them into a fantastic side dish. Or take a lagniappe from our Cajun friends and try corn Maque Coux.

Maybe you want to finish your meal with a bang. Got an ice cream machine collecting dust? Break it out and try your hand at making a pumpkin or cranberry ice cream. Or make a cheese cake with a cranberry curd. If we are pushing cranberries away from being a mere side dish next to turkey, let’s try a cranberry pecan trifle or a parfait featuring this berry. A sweet potato cake with spiced whipped cream might even break you out of the cranberry funk I just put you in. Note to self: Cranberry Funk would be a great name for a band.

You don’t have to make an extraordinary effort to add another dish. Perhaps you can make something that can be set up a few days in advance, or better, put your slow cooker or grill to work for you. Ladies, what better way is there to get the man in your life involved than to have him fire up the grill? For especially large families that require more than one turkey, perhaps a grilled turkey could fit the bill.

With a little planning and some thinking outside the box, you can perhaps add a little spark to an otherwise dim holiday meal. Heck, forget outside the box, step out of it and kick it away. Or if you really want to be different, head to the local Chinese restaurant for some Peking turkey.

Need a recipe for any of these Thanksgiving ideas drop me an email at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com. Otherwise have a great holiday.

by Buck Reed

Burgers: The King of Sandwiches

Burgers hold a special place in the hearts of Americans. Whatever way you stack them, they definitely have the numbers on their side. With nearly 50 billion consumed a year, this means we eat about three burgers a week, and about 60 percent of all sandwiches ordered are, in fact, some sort of burger. As far as celebrities, we all know a character named J. Wellington Whimpey, who will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. A not so well known celebrity is 100-pound-competitive-eater Molly Schuler, who holds the world’s record for fastest burger eater, consuming seven burgers in 1 minute 53 seconds. In case you were worried that she was walking away hungry, that included a 20-ounce Coke and side of fries.

As far as who invented the burger, it wasn’t a clown named Ronald. Most credit Fletcher Davis, who owned a lunch counter in Athens, Texas. In the early 1800s, he served a fried ground beef patty between two pieces of bread with mustard and a slice of Bermuda onion, and a pickle on the side. McDonald’s reopened, after closing its first restaurant in 1948, with a hamburger that cost 15 cents and for 4 cents more you could have it with cheese. Today, I have seen people drop a nickel and a dime on the ground and not even bother to pick it up. The McDonald’s menu included nine items, and they were known for speed and consistency.

Today, a burger with the works is dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle, along with a variety of condiments, and is available in any moderately priced restaurant. And, of course, anywhere they offer a burger, you can always get it with a slice of American cheese melted on top, thank you very much. Fancier joints might even offer you a choice of the kind of cheese you would like on your burger, ranging from cheddar to Swiss, as well as almost any other kind that you can imagine. As far as condiments, the basics are ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, but you can also opt for barbeque sauce, salsa, Thousand Island dressing, bleu cheese dressing, guacamole, or just about anything the chef can imagine. My own Bistro Burger included bistro sauce, which was barbeque sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

In this day and age, everyone seems to be reinventing the burger. Some are looking back to the days when burgers were served with a fried egg on top. Right now, it is chic to come up with a cool name and then come up with the toppings for a unique burger. Like the Big Kahuna might have a grilled slice of fresh pineapple and barbeque sauce on it, or a southwest burger might have salsa, avocado, and a slice of cheddar cheese. Thinking outside the box, some chefs are adding thick-cut fried onion rings to their burger creations. Not stopping there, we are now finding menus that offer fried mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers on their burger creations. Onion jam and bacon jam are actually making some appearances that are adding a decadent panache to our burgers.

Let’s not forget the bun. I believe a sandwich is only as good as the bread it is served on, and a good burger is no exception. You can still do well with the cheap hamburger buns that are sold in any grocery bread aisle; but don’t overlook a good Kaiser roll, club roll, or even brioche roll. Now, they are even offering a good Hawaiian bread style roll to add a new dimension to your burger. Start with good bread and you can’t go wrong here.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. You never really know where the next big burger idea will come from. And who knows, you might even become famous…at least in the world of burgers.

Eggs By the Numbers

by Buck Reed

As popular as eggs are, each person in the United States eats about 270 per year. That still adds up to a $10 billion a year business that employs 125,000 full-time employees. That is certainly something to crow about.

As far as purchasing eggs for you and your family, free-range chicken eggs are better than mass-produced eggs. Free-range chicken eggs can cost 2-3 times more than those found in the supermarket, but are worth every penny in terms of flavor and freshness. A chicken who scratches out at least part of her nutrition from the backyard will produce a better egg. Scientifically speaking, happy chickens make better eggs. There is a ton of data to support this.

As far as the culinary world, eggs are an essential part of our world. A chef’s hat has a multitude of folds, each one representing a different way they can cook an egg. Omelets, scrambled, or fried are just a few of the many ways we can enjoy eggs every morning. In baking, eggs have an important function in stabilizing finished products, making them firm. As an ingredient, they also add richness and nutrition to everything they touch. This little miracle ingredient could be the most important part of any cook’s or baker’s repertoire.

As far as eating eggs safely, they have a dubious reputation. For every study that says they are good for you, someone will fund a study that says they are bad for you. To some extent, it is about the money. You won’t see the Egg Council fund a study saying eggs are dangerous to your health nor the Big Time Cereal corporations fund a study that says eggs are the wonder food for nutrition. That being said, you should monitor your health and eat eggs in moderation.

Eggs are best eaten fresh. The best way to determine freshness is to put them in a pot of water and see if they float. If they do float, they are old and should be discarded. The white or albumen part should have two distinct parts, described as thick and thin. After it is cracked the thick part surrounding the yolk should actually stand up looking like a mountain. As it ages, the thick albumen becomes thinner.

No matter how you eat your eggs, you should take the time to prepare them well. Just in case they really are super bad for you, you may as well make sure you enjoy them.

by Buck Reed

In An Organized Kitchen

In culinary school, we were told a story about a chef in France who worked for the king of France in the days of old. It seems that during one of the parties the chef had prepared for the king, they had run out of food, devastating the chef and his reputation. So, when the next party was planned and the food was delivered, the chef noted that there wasn’t going to be enough to feed all the guests again. Not realizing that there was another cart of food on its way, he became distraught and eventually committed suicide, not wanting to face the humiliation of another ruined party. The moral that I took from this story was that you better get organized or you will get “run over” in the highway that is the professional culinary world.

A natural talent of most successful chefs is definitely found in organization. In my time, I have found that Lutece and McDonalds, both successful restaurants have this in common. If you look in their walk-in refrigerators, you will find that everything is neatly organized and put away the same way every single day. There is no guessing if you are out of something or not. There is no searching for a box that is out of place. Hide and seek is not a favorite game of any chef. Now we have computers to help us with our planning. A Point of Sale (POS) is a system that helps organize the wait staff’s orders into tickets that help the cooks prepare the food for service. But that is only one small part of what this program can do. If properly set up, POS can keep track of your entire food inventory, helping you with ordering, food cost, and even tracking theft. It can also give you a history of what happened in the past, and help you predict what might happen in the future. Knowing how much of a certain appetizer or entrée you sold last weekend, or the same time last year, can give you a great jump on deciding how much you should prep this weekend.

Fortunately for home cooks such as yourself, you do not need a $10,000 computer system to get organized. Keeping your kitchen and pantry organized will make shopping easier. And, an organized kitchen is just easier to keep clean. Making lists before you go out to the grocery store is a help, but like most of us, you may be shopping for sales or, even better, something that is in-season. Trying to shop in such a way that you will know what you want to cook for the rest of week is a challenge in itself. But, real cooks seem to make it work out. It is almost as if we do it without even thinking about it.

by Buck Reed

Articles I Probaby Won’t  Be Writing This Month

First off, let me say the internet is a wonderful tool. At no time in the history of the world has information been so readily available for anyone who has access to it. Not only can we find out the current number of aardvarks at the zoo in Cleveland, Ohio, but we can also find out what Sally Scofield of New Banger, Maine, thinks of her neighbor’s blueberry crumble if the old dear decides she wants us to know. And one thing I know about Sally, she loves to share these things.

Looking up facts can be a tricky endeavor on the internet, and unless Snopes starts verifying the actual number of vegans there are on the planet, you pretty much must rely on what your fellow bloggers are saying. But if you are two days from deadline and need an idea on what to write about, the internet might be helpful. You can read through a few articles that seem to be trending and try to get an idea there. What you do not want to do is go on Facebook and get into your Learning Chef page and ask them for ideas.

The Learning Chef page is a pretty good one as far as sites go. It is made up of both professional and amateur cooks, looking to improve their art by sharing ideas as well as information. Unlike most pages for pro chefs, it doesn’t degrade into rants of self-important line cooks complaining about the know-nothing owners and the uncouth customers who just don’t understand how much Parmesan foam is going to make your dish a hit. The customers have Yelp to rant, and we have Facebook pages to retaliate. These guys are usually good with ideas and criticism and that is why I had no problem asking them for ideas. And they are good ideas, but just not for me.

One aspiring chef wanted me to write an article that would explain the life of a line cook and the trials they deal with on a daily basis. I rejected this idea immediately, under the notion that I do not want this to become a rage page for something that I decided a long time ago I wanted to do. The fact that someone didn’t like my specialty dish doesn’t change any of that. You think your life is hard, try doing it on the cruise ships. The fact that it is hard doesn’t mean I love it any less.

The next suggestion was a treatise on cooking your next meal in the dishwasher or under the hood of your car on the drive home. I can’t really do 500 words on “don’t do that.”

One girl wanted me to write about being a female in a professional kitchen. Until I go the Bruce Jenner route, I really have no frame of reference for this material.

Many suggested I write about Anthony Bourdain. It is a topical subject, but I never really related to his. He was an angry man who had a lot of demons. His story is a good example of no matter how much success or riches you might have in life, if you do not conquer your demons, that success is not going to help you much.

I did get a few ideas that might work, and you might see them here soon if I can flesh them out. But I would like to hear your ideas for this column. Please write to me at RGuyInTheKitchen@aol.com. I promise if I reject them, I will not dedicate an article to them.

by Buck Reed

Chili Nation

The exact origins of chili are muddled at best. The only sure thing is that it is an American dish that is only made in Mexico for tourists. In most Mexican culture, chili con carne is considered a vile dish served and eaten in the United States, from California to New York. So, I do not believe anyone would dispute our claim that this is an American dish.

Chili can find its origins all the way back to the 1600s, where a nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain, said she ministered to the American Indians, who never even met her. She never left Spain, but it is said that she would go into lifeless trances for days, in which she claims she brought spiritual guidance to a faraway land. The Indians of North America called her spirit “The lady in Blue.” She is credited with being the first person to write out a recipe using antelope meat, onions, spices, chilis, and tomatoes. Every great dish should have a mystical element in its history. If we only could have worked in how Excalibur was used to chop the meat in the first chili.

Chili eventually found it’s way to the New World, and firmly found its place in the cattle drives of the 1850s. Dried beef was mixed with dried chilis and spices and formed into bricks that could easily travel and be rehydrated into a hot meal on the long drives. By the 1860s, the Texas penal system adopted chili to feed the inmates a cheap meal. Criminals would actually rate a jail house by the quality of the chili they served.

By the 1880s, Latino women would sell bowls of homemade chili, kept warm over mesquite fires from brightly colored carts. These women were dubbed “Chili Queens” and were considered a must-have for both a quick lunch or a late-night meal after a night of drinking. By the 1930s, they were put out of business due to poor health standards. A resurgence of the Chili Queens started in the 1980s, when San Antonio began doing historic reenactments, with a festival dedicated to them held in May.

The Chili Queens were quickly replaced by chili houses all through Texas, as well as the surrounding states. As this was the Depression, nearly every town had an establishment, and chili, being a cheap dish to produce, got many people through the hardest times. In these one-room houses, with little more than a counter and some stools, a bowl of chili was served with all the crackers you could eat.

Cincinnati made its mark on chili in 1922, when Athanas Kiradjieff, also known as Tom, made a chili with Greek spices and served it over spaghetti. Five-way chili is served layered with cheese, onions, and kidney beans, and served with a side of hot dogs.

If you want proof that Chicago is the home of dirty politics, you can look no further than its treatment of chili and its origins. First, they spell it with two “L’s” to more closely resemble Illinois. And in a shameful and immoral move, Illinois State Senator Karen Harasa introduced Resolution No. 89 in the Illinois General Assembly, which proclaimed Illinois to be known as “The Chilli Capital of the Civilized World.” Texans are still pretty angry about that one.

by Buck Reed

Food Trends – 2018 Update

So, here we find ourselves in May 2018. A full third of the year gone. Let’s take a moment to see how we are doing so far. Food enthusiasts made several predictions as to how we would be cooking today, what new ingredients we would be embracing and how we would be using them. So, let’s take a moment to see how we are doing.

One of the big trends of last year was avocados and, as an ingredient it has carried over into this year as well. I have one online friend who is looking into using them as a healthy fat in his homemade sausage. I do not want to discourage him, and I hope he finds his key to fame and fortune with this or any other ideas he may come up with. Joining the avocado this year was supposed to be the jackfruit as well as an expansion of coconut products. I have yet to see a jackfruit in the stores, but coconut products are trendy and are gluten free and could be used as both sugar and flour in baked goods.

One service that is drifting up is the prepackaged meal kits. Everything for your recipe is delivered to your front door. All the ingredients are premeasured and ready to be mixed and cooked by you. Many are marketed as getting you and your family back together and cooking together. There are more than a few companies offering this service and many want you to enter into a subscription service.

Another popular idea was to get you out of the grocery stores and get you into growing your own food. With the promise of fresher and more nutritious food at a better price, people are going out of their way to make growing their own food a reality. Be prepared for the condescending stories of these wannabe farmers as they tell you how hard they worked to save $10 on those tomatoes on their salad.

Along with the gardening trend is the buy local movement that everyone is embracing. Many restaurants and stores are advertising local produce. It feeds into the idea that local ingredients are fresher and since they didn’t travel by teamster from far away lands, they have a lower impact on the environment.

One product hitting the shelves soon is geared toward the consumer who is not concerned about their health or general wellbeing. Cookie butter is now found in many specialty stores and is bound to bring some joy to your culinary life. If it catches on half as well as I think, it will probably lead to Senate hearings, which seems to be another trend in 2018. Hopefully 2019 will be more palatable.

The Supermarket Gourmet

by Buck Reed

What is cheating exactly? In life, we are taught not to drive on the shoulder to avoid a traffic jam. But who is to say that you shouldn’t do that? Why can’t we just ignore the rules, throw caution to the wind, and just save ourselves some time and keep moving forward? Because some things are just wrong. The culinary world is no different. There are just some things you do not do, and there are some things that are just not that bad.

Take Yankee pot roast. I have a crock pot of it going right now. I could make it from scratch, but I opted for the Lipton Onion Soup recipe. This recipe is so standard for this dish that they don’t even print the recipe on the box anymore. Sure, I can take the time to purchase all the ingredients, measure them out and prepare it from scratch. But what would be the point. Lipton makes a product that not only makes an okay soup, but a really good pot roast as well. I would go so far as to say a better pot roast than one made from scratch. Clearly, no one is going to culinary jail over this dish.

Is it cheating if it makes a better dish or is it a question of having the time we save for something else. Sometimes, we must take the time to learn how to properly utilize a product in order to use it to make things not only easier, but better as well. That goes for working dishes made from scratch, as well as using a short cut.

For instance, take box cake mixes. There are a lot of mixes that make cakes, but they are seldom as good as ones baked from scratch. But, if we take a little time and do a little research, we will find several ideas that can kick that mix up a few notches. Try adding an extra egg to the mix and using mayonnaise instead of vegetable oil. Also try substituting milk for the water, or even better, if you are making a chocolate cake, use coffee or cola. Adding a couple of dollops of sour cream will help make your cake moist. For the price of a few extra ingredients, you can have a significantly better product.

Short cuts are no different than lining your pans with aluminum foil before you turn them into a mess. If you learn how to properly use short cuts, you might find yourself cooking more often.  And if these ideas do save you a little time, use it to look up some ideas for your next short cut.

What is your culinary cheat/shortcut? Is there a product that comes in a box that helps you in the kitchen? Let me know at rguyinthekitchen@aol.com.