Currently viewing the tag: "The Supermarket Gourmet"

by Buck Reed

What Did The Queen Eat?

If a person eats well and enjoys their meals, one might consider themselves royalty. Although there are many differences between the way you live your life and how the royal family lives theirs, you might look at how Queen Elizabeth II dined at her table and wonder just how different people are.

First of all, we are talking about her regular daily eating habits here. Obviously, state functions are filled with over-the-top food prepared in numerous courses by “artisan” chefs we commoners can only dream of. Yes, I have cooked for Presidents and various governors and even baseball team owners, but nowhere in my mind do I believe I have the skills to prepare or even stand in the kitchen of one of these functions. And although she ate very simply on a daily basis, she still had the same talented people in the kitchen preparing her daily meals.

Anyone who knew the Queen could tell you she enjoyed a cocktail almost daily made with gin. In fact, her various homes in Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House produced their own gins made from ingredients grown in the gardens there. Her two main cocktails were a Gin Martini and Gin and Dubonnet. Maybe that’s why she lived so long.

Queen Elizabeth started each day with Earl Grey Tea which she sipped with milk, no sugar. She is credited with helping keep it the fifth most popular tea in the world and is most certainly associated with being the choice of royalty because of her affection for it. She also enjoyed the tea with a breakfast of toast with marmalade.

Queen Elizabeth also observed the British tradition of Afternoon Tea and enjoyed tea cookies, scones with jam and clotted cream as well as tea sandwiches. Her Majesty’s favorite sandwiches were made with cream cheese and smoked salmon and served with the crust removed. It might be a good time to see if your kids are in line to be the next monarch of the British Empire, Charles III cannot last forever!

A well-known sportswoman most of her life, Queen Elizabeth was fond of venison, wild game birds and other game. She often dined on a hamburger made with venison. For the most part she enjoyed these evening meals with a simple vegetable and almost never had a starch served with her meal. She was not keen on garlic or dishes made with too much onion.

As far as snacks, she carried the same purse with her all the time which was large enough to hold her Penny Jam-style sandwich. This was a simple sandwich made with butter and jam.

At the end of dinner, she never skipped dessert, after all she was Queen. Her favorite dessert was Tea Biscuit Cake which was always available at her table. This was tea biscuits crushed and bound together with a ganache made with eggs and covered with chocolate. The recipe is easy enough if you want to give it a go.

We all marvel at her extraordinary life, taking and serving office since she was 14, her service during WWII (she actually drove a truck for the war effort), serving under, over, or with (I don’t know how it worked) 15 prime ministers and 14 presidents and cannot help but wonder how she kept the whole Royalty phenomenon moving into modern times. But how she lived her everyday life should be made note of as well.

by Buck Reed

Raw Fish

Nearly every culture that eats seafood lays claim to a fish dish that is not put to a traditional cooking method that involves the use of heat. Many of these dishes are embedded into the culture and were perfected centuries ago, so certainly, with so much practice, there are rules and customs involved in their preparation. Unless you want to put some study and practice into a dish, it might be better to leave these dishes to the experts.

Here is a list of dishes that are served raw or cured for your consideration:

Sushi Sushi — Sushi is one of the more popular and well-known dishes that can contain raw fish. It’s often served on or wrapped in a special rice from Japan and seaweed.

Sashimi — Also from Japan, this dish can be considered deconstructed sushi.

Ceviche — This is a raw fresh fish dish from Peru that is marinated in citrus juice, usually lime, and served with onions, aji peppers, and coriander or cilantro. The lime juice actually cures the fish, rendering it safe to eat.

Crudo — This Italian dish is raw fish dressed with olive oil, salt, and whole pieces of citrus fruit. This is a refreshing dish, usually served as a starter or appetizer and is well known for being light and palate-cleansing.

Gravlax — This Nordic dish is made by curing salmon with salt, sugar, and dill. It is then sliced very thin and served with a mustard and dill sauce with bread as an appetizer.

Poke — This Hawaiian salad is made with raw fish, traditionally made with Skipjack tuna or octopus. Although it went through many changes over time, it is now served as an appetizer or meal, dressed with green onions, soy sauce, seaweed, and sesame oil. It can also be found on the menu with a variety of elaborate sauces and dressings.

Koi Pla — This salad from Thailand has finely chopped or minced fish, finished in a spicy sauce. This dish is very popular in Thai culture but is considered very dangerous for its transmission of pathogens.

 Obviously, there are some precautions that must be observed when considering ordering and consuming raw fish. People with compromised immune systems should take this into consideration when eating raw or undercooked foods, in general. Pregnancy is another issue in this undertaking. Also consider the establishment that is preparing the dish for you. Assuming they know what they are doing, could be a mistake (think gas station sushi or a McCrudo Happy Meal)!

But do not let this deter you from taking a leap of faith and trying something you thought was exotic and new. These dishes have been around for long enough that anyone who claims to know what they are doing probably does.

Did you like this article? Do you have a favorite raw fish dish or an idea for an article? If so, tell me about it at RGuyInTheKitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

Too Many Tomatoes

If you are an amateur gardener, you know the joy of planting and tending to a plant that will provide you with something to eat. Just the idea that you tilled the soil and tended the plant yourself makes the fruits and vegetables from your garden taste so much better than anything you can buy in the store. However, the two words that will haunt you will happen if you do this long enough: bumper crop (an unusually abundant harvest from a particular crop). Sometimes, the gods smile down on you, the planets align, and your hard work yields far more of something from your garden that you find just too overwhelming a task to consume it all. That’s when you need to exercise your cooking muscles and expand that creative mind to use up all of what you planted in your garden, which I believe this year—as in most years—is tomatoes. Tomatoes are the most popular and number one grown vegetable in the world.

So, what to do with all those tomatoes that will appear this August. Let’s start with underripe tomatoes or what is referred to as green tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes is everyone’s go-to, and even have a book, play, and movie by the same name. Just harvest a few green tomatoes from the vine, clean them, and slice them thick or thin. Then, dredge them in seasoned flour, butter, milk, and some kind of crumb. I like Zatarain’s, but any seasoned bread crumb or corn meal, or combination of the two will do. Pan fry them until crisp and the tomato is cooked through (cooking time depends on how thick you cut the tomato). Once done, it makes an excellent appetizer or side dish to any entrée. Also, use them on your next sandwich and you will see why it is a favorite.

Next, there are soups. Obviously, cream of tomato is at the top of the list, and it is easy enough to make. Just get the seasoning correct and you are home free. Also consider gazpacho, which is begging for all of your excess peppers, zucchini, squash, and herbs to pair with your tomatoes, resulting in  a delicious, fresh cold soup for the hot days of August.

Salsa is another gardener’s favorite and can be served throughout the year in a variety of meals. Start with fresh salsa for your grilled fish or chicken recipes. Cooked salsas are also perfect for freezing, for when you need a reminder in the cold months of how good a horticulturist you are.

Now is the time to break out that dehydrator you got from your aunt as a wedding present and work its magic on your harvest. Slice the tomatoes and follow the manufacturer’s instructions till the tomatoes are dry but still flexible. Keep in a plastic bag and freeze until needed. These go great in salads, sauces, or just eat them like candy.

Okay, I did make a prediction about your crop this year. And even though it looks like I went out on a limb, you have to trust me. If you keep sticking plants in the dirt, you will get to a year you have way too much of something. You can try to give some of it away, and people will be grateful, but making good use of your produce is really what a good cook would do.

by Buck Reed

Taco Time

Tacos are a popular street food of Mexico. Although given their slow start since first eaten in the 18th century, they have reached worldwide popularity in a relatively short time. No doubt that there are plenty of restaurants, fast-food establishments, and even food trucks that offer tacos on their menu of various degrees of quality. Let’s face it, we all have our favorites. Given the taco’s popularity, there never was a trending food that screamed out louder: “Make me in your kitchen, too!!” And, given the easy skill set to make this dish, you can make tacos a part of your weekly menu plan.

First, you start with the tortilla, the flat vessel that is used to make this handheld delight a possibility. Choose a soft-shell corn or flour tortilla, or choose a more American crispy corn tortilla already folded for your convenience. You can heat them in the oven to warm them up a bit, or you can wrap the soft shells in a damp towel and them microwave for a short time.

Next are the fillings. Traditional fillings include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, beans, seafood, vegetables, cheese, or almost anything that comes to your mind. Here is where leftovers can be put to great use with a little planning ahead. If you are lighting the grill this weekend, think about adding a pork butt to the fire and cook like you would for pulled pork. Add some Mexican spices and maybe some grilled pineapple to round it out. You now have a pretty good base for a taco night down the line, calling it Al Pastor Tacos (fancy, isn’t it?)! You can also make it in the crockpot with very good results.

Then, you will need condiments. You can make this as complicated as you like and can include shredded lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, salsas, cole slaw, taco sauces, peppers, onions—the list can be as vast as your imagination, so go wild. Just make sure your condiments match your fillings. For instance, a fish or shrimp taco goes great with a slaw made with cilantro and finished with a taco sauce—this is one of my favorites. Or, think about mashed sweet potatoes with a pork or turkey taco, or use it as a base for a vegetarian taco. Taco time means permission to get that creative mojo working. And, yes, Mojo Sauce is a great condiment for taco night.

When you are in the Taco Zone, thinking outside the box is a natural place to find yourself. Why not a breakfast taco with eggs and condiments of your choice. Hopefully, at this point you can imagine some of your own. And, breakfast-on-the-go might be just what we need to get this economy going. We cannot expect the White House to come up with all the ideas, can we?

Tacos may not be all-American, but they have all the ideals of what we need to make our country great. They are versatile, easily accepted by everyone, can be made to suit all tastes, and easy to make and serve. What is more American than that?

Did you like this article? Do you make tacos at home? Write and let me know or let me know if you have an idea for an article at Rguyinthekitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

Vegetables On The Grill

Summertime means it is time to get out of the kitchen and start cooking outdoors, that is get out of the kitchen once you prep all the food for the grill. Steaks, ribs, burgers, and leg of lamb are easily the stars of the glorious stage that is flame, but don’t overlook the supporting cast of side dishes. Now is the time to think about vegetables on the grill.

Right off, grilling vegetables is a fantastic method of preparing them. The heat from a grill will give them an enriched flavor that other cooking methods cannot duplicate. The higher heat will also quickly caramelize the natural sugars in veggies giving them a pleasing flavor. It is not uncommon for someone who turns their noses up to eggplant or zucchini to appreciate them when served off the grill.

First, we have the easy vegetables, corn on the cob and potatoes are the more common vegetables you will find at a cookout. Corn is an easy preparation, just pull back the husk remove the silk tie it back up in the husk and soak in water over night. Potatoes you need to scrub them clean poke with a fork in a few places and wrap in foil. You can do make this work with a baking potato or go wild and work it the same way with a sweet potato. It will also help if you have a fancy but simple compound butter to serve it with. Like most cooking the experience is in the details.

Another great vegetable that screams summer freshness is spring or green onions. Like most vegetables, this dish can be propelled to culinary greatness by a marinade. “Propelled to culinary greatness”…..I am such a hack! Just mix some olive oil with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic, and some herbs. Place the marinade over the vegetable, cover and refrigerate at least overnight.

Then there are the smaller vegetables, sliced peppers, mushrooms, yellow squash, and zucchini. Most people will try to thread these on a skewer, but I prefer a grill basket. Just drain the marinade off and toss them around in the heated basket till they are done. This also works well with shrimp and such. If you are going to use skewers it is better to thread them on two skewers. You will be able to turn them easier and you may have fewer pieces falling off in a sacrifice to the grill gods.

Preparing extra vegetables for the grill is never a bad idea either. You can plan whole meals around these morsels. They can be added to pasta or salad dishes, or you can build a soup out of them.

But my all-time favorite is eggplant. Once marinated and grilled it is a whole new flavor for your plate that most will find very pleasing. I always grill extra to make caponata, a Sicilian dish made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, peppers, capers, garlic, and herbs. Recook them quickly with those ingredients and keep in a covered jar in your refrigerator.

Pull them out and add them to any Italian style cold sandwich you are making. It is a game changer for any antipasti plate you might want to make down the road.

By all means, put more than a little effort into your steak or other proteins you plan to serve but do not think of the vegetables as a throw away dish. As with most things a little bit of attention here could make you the neighborhood grill master or mistress.

Tips for Using Salt

by Buck Reed

Properly seasoning your dish can be the difference between a memorable meal and one you will never forget! I know from experience, that if you serve one mistake from the kitchen, they will never let you forget. Learning to use salt properly is a good start to adding flavor to your table.

Unseasoned salt has an endless shelf life. Seasoned salts should be kept tightly capped and used within one year. Humidity and moisture will cause salt to clump and stick together. Adding 10-12 grains of raw rice to the shaker will absorb the moisture and keep the salt flowing freely.

For soups and sauces that have a long simmering time, go easy on the salt in the beginning, keeping in mind that the liquid will reduce and intensify the salt flavor. Over-salted soups or sauces can be fixed by: adding unsalted liquid to dilute it; tossing in a peeled, quartered potato for 15 minutes (discard the potato); can often be helped with the addition of a little cream, brown sugar, or vinegar; adding a bit of unsalted, cooked white rice, pureed with water or broth to a thin paste can also help cure oversalted soups or stews.

Salt pulls liquid out of vegetables, which is good for cucumbers and eggplant in some dishes. If you plan on adding salt to boiling water for pasta or vegetables, wait until the water boils before adding it. Salted water can corrode the inside surface of a pot. The addition of salt to vegetables and pasta results in a firmer texture.

Vegetables naturally high in sodium include beets, kale, chard, celery, spinach, dandelion greens, carrots, endive, corn, and artichokes.

Salt helps develop gluten, which gives the bread structure. Usually, the small amount used in bread, as compared with serving size, is not worth omitting the salt.

A salted hot/warm dish will not taste as salty when cold because chilling dims salty flavors.

Seafood is high in sodium, so use salt sparingly. Also, adding salt will toughen shellfish. When to salt meat before cooking causes more then a bit of debate. Some chefs salt their meats up to 24 hours before cooking, and others will not salt until just before cooking. Substitute one tablespoon coarse or Kosher salt for two teaspoons table salt.

There are several types of salts available to the home cook and each has its uses: Iodized salt (a.k.a. table salt because it is often kept and used at the dining table). This is salt that is mined from the earth and then refined and mixed with iodine; Sea salt is salt from the sea. When seawater dries up in tidal pools, it leaves salty residue, which is collected and used as table salt; Kosher salt has a coarser texture and has no iodine content or any other additives; Pickling salt doesn’t have any additives to keep it from clumping, so it’s easier to dissolve, even though it’s coarse. This type of salt is used for preserving and canning; Himalayan pink salt is a course, pink colored salt, mined in Pakistan. This is one of the purest forms of salt and is usually used as a garnish or finishing salt in fine dining; Smoked salt is made by smoking salt over applewood or hickory wood under the salt, so the salt soaks up all of the flavors. This is great for a smoky flavor for food on the barbeque; Fleur De Sel translates from French as “flower of salt.” This is a very rare type of salt that is harvested in Britain. It has a delicate salt flavor and is used in fine dining to finish dishes.

The Shape of Pasta

by Buck Reed

Italian pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, just as the people who eat them do. The shapes and sizes are not only regional, but also reflect greatly on the regional ingredients used in the dishes they help create. You will find stuffed pastas all over the country but, in the north, you will find raviolis stuffed with butternut squash and served with a butter sage sauce; whereas further south, you will find them stuffed with meats and vegetables and paired with a tomato sauce.

The following is a basic idea of some various pasta shapes, as well as where they are from and how they are used.

Penne, Campania: Classic shaped pasta Penne means “pen” or “quill,” which describe the shape as a tube cut on a slant to look like a writing instrument. Like most tubular pastas, these go great in baked dishes or thicker sauces that are not chunky.

Rigatoni, Lazio: Lazio is home to meat, so it stands to reason that this larger version of Penne with ridges would pair very well with sauces loaded with chunks of chopped meat (also great as a baked pasta dish).

Ziti, Sicily: Ziti is tube-shaped like Penne and works great in baked dishes, and since it is often produced with ridges, works well with thick, meaty sauces that the chunks of meat latch onto the pasta.

Orecchiette, Puglia: Puglia is well known for olive oil, so it stands to reason this ear-shaped pasta easily holds onto sauces based on this oil. It is often prepared with sauce of broccoli rabe, chilis, and olive oil.

Gigli, Tuscany: Home to Florence, this pasta is shaped like a lily, which is the emblem of this city. Its ruffled edges make it perfect for holding onto thick, creamy sauces. It should be noted this is one of the newer pasta shapes and is just now gaining in popularity.

Farfalle, Lombardy: In the United States, we call it a “bow tie,” but in Italy, its name comes from the Italian word for butterfly or “farfalle.” This pasta works well in soups and salads, and served with smooth sauces as there are no ridges or crevices for chunks to latch onto.

Bucatini, Lazio: Bucatini is a close relative of spaghetti, long and thin, but unlike its cousin, it is hollow inside. It has a versatility that makes it a great partner to almost any sauce it is matched with.

It is not so much memorizing the different pasta shapes and then knowing how to prepare and serve them in the correct way. Like anything else in life, it is a matter of knowing what you are looking up, the information you need to find, and using that information to get the results you want. Taking it a step further, you will be able to create a new sauce using totally different ingredients and then working backwards to find the correct pasta to serve your new creation with. Look at you…getting all creative in your kitchen!

by Buck Reed

Price Conscious Kitchen

No doubt, unless you are super rich, we all feel the crush of inflation and supply problems. Future historians will decide whose fault it is, but regardless, we must change our purchasing and eating habits. Case in point, if your favorite cereal isn’t on the shelves for three weeks, when it comes back, you may just buy the only two boxes left. Yes, I am a cereal hoarder. And not to toot my own horn, I have mostly been talking about this situation for almost my whole tenure as the Super Market Gourmet. So, this is it, hopefully my last article on the subject of saving money in the kitchen. I wouldn’t count on it, but let’s live in hope.

Okay, right off, we must change our shopping habits. I am a big proponent of just going to the market and letting the food speak to us on what we should create on our stoves and in our ovens. Arriving at the store with a plan is an important notion, and planning your meals may be the difference between eating well and throwing away your hard-earned money. That doesn’t mean we cannot be flexible, and given the unavailability of some ingredients, it will be important that we are. But once you have a plan, stick to it. One of the goals is to keep yourself from going shopping too often.

 Buy foods that have a purpose. For instance, if you are going to cook a meal, make sure everyone will actually eat it. Also, there is the topic of leftovers. We cannot let extra meat loaf just sit in the fridge for a week before we throw it away. Brown bagging a meat loaf sandwich will stretch your food dollar a bit, yet can get a little tedious. A two- or three-week menu rotation might make it a little easier for you and creativity can help. Try turning it into Meat Loaf Parmesan or making a hash out of it. I heard about Meat Loaf Parmesan in a movie, and it works on the premise that if you put enough tomato sauce and cheese on anything, you can eat it. Try and think about what you like to eat and how you can repurpose it into something else you like to eat. I make a great meatloaf or cheeseburger soup. Email me and I will send the recipe.

Watch out for foods that are extravagant, but do not seem to be. Number one on the list is crumbs. That’s bread crumbs, graham cracker crumbs, cookie crumbs…you name it. All they are doing is taking a whole food and grinding it into crumbs. It seems to be an easy enough task, but if you do the math, you will find they are charging you 5 to 10 times more for the convenience.

Another idea is Peasant Soup. This soup is simply a combination of whatever you have in the kitchen and get rid of it in a soup. Ingredients include, but are not limited to, broth; milk or half and half; any frozen or fresh half bag of veggies you have; onions; celery; carrots; pasta, potatoes, or rice (or all three); half a jar of spaghetti sauce; herbs of choice; as well as any kind of leftover meat chopped. Just call it soupe paysanne and say it is French.

 Did you enjoy this article, need a recipe, or have a question or idea, please contact me at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com.

A New Year In The Kitchen

by Buck Reed

So, we made it through another year, and just in time, because the new one is starting. Maybe you got everything accomplished that you wanted and maybe you didn’t. No judgement from me. It is for you to decide if you are worthy to move on. But, whether you do, the new year is coming anyway. Since we all have been busy, distracted, or otherwise preoccupied, it is understandable if you did not come up with a resolution for 2022. Don’t fear, as always, I am here to help.

I suggest you make a short list of dishes, techniques, or cuisines you want to learn or master in the upcoming year. Think of the food you or your family like to eat or want to try and write it out. If you are ambitious, you can try for one for every month of the year. Here are a few ideas and a few thoughts on how to accomplish them.

Make a Soup Meal — This could be a great project for those long winter days. Just find a good chowder or seafood idea and bump it up to the next level. This could turn into a wonderful winter warmer.

Make Valentine’s Day Dinner for Someone — Let’s face it, going out to a restaurant on this holiday can be a drag on the night and on your wallet. But, with a little study, practice, and work you could create a meal that will dazzle the love of your life. At the very least, you should get points for trying. Don’t forget the flowers.

Learn to Make Pizza – Everyone likes pizza, and you will need relatively little equipment and to master a few techniques to get this one checked off. Learning how to correctly make the dough can be challenging, but once you get the yeast to behave properly, you have it. The best part is, once you master the yeast, there are numerous baked goods that will work for you. Get creative with your toppings.

Work with Seafood — This one might push you out of your comfort zone, but what is living without a little peril? This is where a little studying and finesse will need to be employed. Just have a little faith in your abilities and give it your best shot.

Make a Dessert — There are cake people and there are pie people, and you should not try to change either of them. We won’t mention pudding people. Just pick your favorite, and, well…you know what to do.

Master a Cuisine — If I were to pick a favorite, I might pick Latin American. It has a rich history and an underappreciated diversity.

Step Up Your Grill Game — Here is one for a summer meal. Try a new ingredient on the grill. If you want easy, try grilled scallions as a side dish (it’s a game-changer). Or, if you feel like swaggering, put a couple of whole fish over the fire.

Given the circumstances of the last couple of years, cooking at home is an option everyone should seriously consider. With the increase in the cost of going out to eat and the availability of certain ingredients, it would be fitting for us all to not only cook more of our own meals, but also learn to do it well. 

by Buck Reed

Pork Chops

Form Follows Function

Chop: a thick slice of meat, especially pork or lamb, adjacent to and often including a rib.

For four-plus years, I have been writing this column, and more often than not, I have talked about learning your cuts of meat. Mostly, because different cuts of meat require different cooking methods to get the best results. And, just as I think I am finished with this line of thinking, someone gives me a meal from the crock pot with the totally wrong cut of meat in it. I can only hope they will read this article. The term “pork chop” is a marketing term. That means the butcher can take any cut of pork and label it as a pork chop. Right now, there are about six different cuts of pork that can legitimately be labeled as chops. They are all good cuts of meat, and they all can make a dent in your wallet. So, it stands to reason that learning to recognize them and mastering the cooking method for each one is well worth your time.

Rib Chop AKA Bone-In Ribeye Chop, Rib End Cut

This is the Cadillac of chops. Cut from the lower loin, it is expensive, but easy to cook. Treat it like a good steak, and cook it hot and fast. Pan roasted, broiled, or grilled works well with this cut.

Center Cut Loin Chop AKA Porterhouse Chop, Top Loin Chop

Like the porterhouse beef steak,  this cut is made up with the loin and the tenderloin divided by a bone down the middle. It can be tricky to cook, as the loin and tenderloin cook differently from each other. Look for a thicker cut, brine if desired, lightly season, and cook it hot and fast. Pan roasted, broiled, or grilled works well with this cut.

Loin Chop AKA Pork Loin End Chop

This cut can be compared to the T-bone steak. Cut from the upper loin, it has the bone shaped like a “T,” with a large loin and little to no tenderloin. This chop will benefit from the use of a brine. It can be cooked the same as the center cut loin chop but can also be breaded and pan-fried, which would be my favorite.

Sirloin Chop AKA Sirloin Steak

Cut from below the loin section, it is easy to see that it is different cuts of meat held together by connective tissue. When preparing this chop, it is best to use a marinade or brine to give it flavor, as well as to break down those connective tissues. Another method may be to pound it gently with a meat mallet, bread it, and pan-fry it. Yet, your best bet is to simply braise this chop.

Boneless Loin Chop AKA America’s Cut, New York Chop

This is the chop from the loin without the bone and is very lean. This is your choice if you are interested in a stuffed chop. Marinading will also give you good results.

Shoulder Chop, Also Known as Blade Chop, Pork Shoulder Steak

This chop is cut from the shoulder or Boston Butt. Loaded with connective tissue, this is a tough cut of meat and is best marinated and/or braised.

If you have any questions about the chop you are purchasing, ask the butcher to help you. Also, if you are going to brine or marinate your chop, choose or modify your recipe to use little or no salt to keep your chop from drying out. As with everything in life, the culinary arts can be enhanced with a little research and applying your knowledge to the task.

by Buck Reed

Bread: Will It Kill You?

I get it. There is a segment of the population that could be exposing themselves to a great deal of harm if they eat bread. Or more specifically, to Celiac disease, which is linked to an allergy to gluten. Bread is high in carbs and low in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and the gluten (a protein found in wheat products) in bread may cause health issues for some people.

Those who have Celiac disease must avoid gluten at all costs. Bread is often referred to as the “staff of life” because it is a very basic food that supports life, yet suddenly everyone is now of the mindset that eating bread carries a death sentence. Now, I am not a doctor, but I do have few ideas on the subject, and of course, I am not shy about sharing those thoughts.

First, most bread made in the United States is trash. Most of the ingredients are over-processed, and mass-produced bread has a lot of sugar in it. The sugar increases the shelf life, but most people outside the U.S. think our bread is more like cake.

Making good quality bread is more of an art than a science, and a baker can make a career out of perfecting the product. Everything from the quality of the ingredients to the water is taken into consideration. Even the number of slits cut into the top is well thought out.

In my opinion, if you have decided that eating bread is worth the risk, you should eat better bread wherever possible. Most grocery stores have a bakery that offers some pretty good bread. 

For me, there is only so much you can do with a sandwich. I prefer my luncheon meats sliced thin and my burgers cooked medium with all the usual condiments. After that, the difference between a good sandwich and a great one is the bread. Is the bread fresh? Is it toasted properly? Does the crust possess a good chew? Eating better bread directly improves the way you eat.

Whether you are under a doctor’s order to not eat certain foods or you have decided on your own to not eat certain foods, it is my job as a chef to accommodate your choices. Like I said, I get it, but most don’t. Who ruined it? The person who wants pasta but wants to substitute linguine because they are allergic to penne! That person is crying for help.

by Buck Reed

The Eight Vegetables You Are Not Cooking With

Vegetables are and always have been an important part of our daily dietary needs. They also get a bad rap as being “icky.” Unless they are your favorite, most of the time we don’t give them a second thought. Yet, most of the time, it is a matter of not knowing how to properly prepare them that turns people away from cooking with them.

Eggplant: This member of the nightshade family of vegetables is usually stuck in the Parmesan group, which is a shame. Roasted eggplant can be served as is or can be stuffed. Grilled, it makes a great appetizer,  caponata, that can be eaten with salad greens or added to any Italian sandwich.

Brussels Sprouts: There are many ways to prepare these guys, but the best is probably sliced and roasted. Just drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; roast until well browned and tender.

Turnips: Most people can’t even tell you how a turnip tastes or what they even look like. This root vegetable has a pleasant, bitter flavor,  as well as an underlying sweetness, that works great with roasted meats. I suggest roasting them with your beef or chicken.

Greens: Collard greens are an art form unto themselves but are well worth the effort to learn how to properly prepare them, one healthy way is simply steaming them for five minutes.

Green Tomatoes: Naturally, fried green tomatoes are a part of everyone’s favorite list, but few people actually make them. The secret is to soak the slices in buttermilk and bread them with any good southern-style breading flour. Then, just pan-fry slowly in plenty of oil. The goal is to get the tomatoes cooked through and properly browned on both sides. I would suggest using them in a BLT.

Beets: Roasted beets are an exquisite and unique addition to any meal. Served as a salad, soup, or side dish can brighten and enhance any plate. I also like leftover beets in Red Flannel Hash.

Parsnips: Parsnips look like yellow carrots but pack a punch of flavor. Cooked until tender, they can be smashed and added to mashed potatoes—delicious silky mash. They can also be shredded and added to soups or salads, or you can add them to a potato pancake mix.

Lima Beans: To prepare fresh lima beans, first examine them and discard any with blemishes. Then, soak them overnight in cold water, discarding any beans that float. Discard the water and rinse well. Cover with fresh water and simmer until they are cooked. Use as needed for soups, stews, or as a side dish. I hear good things about succotash!

Let’s face it, vegetables are good for you. They pack an arsenal of vitamins and minerals, and consuming a wide variety of them will only benefit you. Learning to prepare vegetables properly will make them taste better.

by Buck Reed

Summer is for Softshells

The heat and sunshine of summer are here, and in other regions of the world, that might mean a lot of different foods. But here in Maryland, summers aren’t summer without crabs. And we know all different ways to enjoy these local “beautiful swimmers.” Crab cakes, crab dip, crab soup, and even big bushels of steamed crabs are always following the namesake of “Maryland,” because of the blue crab of the Chesapeake Bay. For me, summer doesn’t really start until I have had my first soft shell crab.

Soft shell season traditionally starts with the first full moon in May and shuts down in September, so there is plenty of time. During this time is when they are marketed live and fresh, which is the best time to enjoy them. You can find them frozen in January, but I choose to wait. This is when the crabs are molting their hard shells and sporting a new softer one that stays soft once they are pulled from the water. And some people say there is no God!

If you are purchasing and preparing them yourself, they are easy enough to clean yourself or ask the person behind the counter to do it for you. Just make sure they are alive when you do.

As far as cooking, it is difficult to mess them up. Just do not overcook them. One important trick is to poke a few holes in the legs and claws to allow moisture to escape during cooking otherwise they can be dangerous.

But this might be one of those occasions where you might want to stick to ordering when you are out. But you only have about six weeks to find a place that does soft shells well. So, get started!

by Buck Reed

Cooking With Mushrooms or Fungi

Good food that is not prepared well is not well served. Caviar, venison, and mushrooms are great examples of foods that more than prove this point. If you have ever been served the first two, then it is more than a good chance they were prepared and served properly. But I would wager that you have never had perfectly cooked mushrooms.

Mushrooms are classified as fungi, which means they are not exactly a vegetable, but they are not animal either. The largest organism in the history of the world is credited to a honey mushroom in Malheur National Forest in Oregon and has roots that spread over some 2,600 acres. It is thought to be 8,500 years old, and yes, they are edible.

First, forget the canned or jarred mushrooms. Nutritionally speaking, canned mushrooms are on par with fresh but are extremely high in sodium. Also, the canned variety are woefully lacking in flavor. Do yourself and your tastebuds a favor and stick with fresh mushrooms. They are a bit more work but well worth it.

Common button mushrooms are an excellent inexpensive choice; however, do not overlook the exotic varieties. These mushrooms are readily available and can add a punch of flavor to your dishes. Plus, with a few exceptions, they can all be prepared and cooked the same as the button mushrooms.

To prepare mushrooms for cooking, rinse them quickly but thoroughly under cold water. Make sure to dry them before cutting them into desired pieces. Most mushrooms will need to have their stems removed before cooking. Use the stems to flavor stocks or broths.

At this point, cooking the mushrooms can get tricky but is easily manageable. The goal is to get them well-browned before they release their liquid. We do not want them boiling in their own liquid; instead, we want them to become brown tidbits of earthy flavor that were steamed in their own liquid. Cook the mushrooms separately from the rest of the dish. Cook them in a hot pan with plenty of oil and do not overcrowd the pan. As they release their liquid, your mushrooms will soak up the oil in the pan. About halfway through, you may need to add more oil or, even better, butter to the pan as your mushrooms finish cooking. Finally—this is the most important part—do not stir your mushrooms once you put them in the hot pan. Let them sit and cook until they are well-browned on one side. If you watch them, you will see them get golden around the edges, or you can pick up an individual piece with a set of tongs and peek at it. If it is brown, you can start to stir; if not, put it back.

Once cooked, set the mushrooms aside and continue with the rest of your recipe. You can also cook the mushrooms a day or two ahead and store in a covered container in the refrigerator. It is no doubt a bit more work, but it will improve any dish that calls for mushrooms.

by Buck Reed

The Sauced Savage:

Food On The Go

Everyone has heard the term “The New Normal,” which is coined by scientists and doctors, as well as our political leaders. It is obvious that anyone who is not thinking about how their business will be operating or changing in the extremely near future, will not be in business in the very near future.

One big change in the food service industry is the expansion of food trucks, and Frederick County is keeping up. Of the 3 million food trucks currently operating in the United States, Frederick County has about 74. Given that most are under a year old, it is no surprise that The Sauced Savage is just over a year old.

Food trucks are notorious for having limited menus, which means they can concentrate on doing a few items very well. It means that an entrepreneur can put their passion into their work one meal at a time.

Jason Savage, the owner and operator of The Sauced Savage, had two things going for him. First, before he took on the truck, he worked for the county as a foreman for the Highway Operations. And, second, since his wife’s family has been operating a barbeque food truck for decades, you might say he married into the industry.

Mr. Savage bought his trailer about five years ago, and after modifying it, started working part-time in West Virginia. This put him in a very good position to move in on Frederick County about a year ago when the local government modified the rules on the food truck business. Making the jump to full-time meant leaving a steady paycheck, and although he had a few concerns, he pressed on.

Given that he opened just before the restrictions from the pandemic were in place, Savage has been able to roll with the waves. He even had it worked into his plan to shut down for one or two months if business slowed down, but that did not happen.

Today, he moves his trailer as needed to various spots around the county and works sporting events, festivals, and fundraisers, as well as traditional catering. With the ability to serve up to 4,000 meals a day, they can help with any function anyone might be planning.

Jason has actually been busy enough that he was able to take on some extra help; keeping it in the family, he hired his daughter, Riley Savage. With the warmer weather on the way, they plan on expanding their barbeque menu with pit beef and turkey. I, personally, like what they do with beef brisket with coleslaw, beans, and both traditional and spicy sauces.

For more information, you can follow The Sauced Savage on Facebook or visit their website at www.thesaucedsavage.com.

To book an event, contact The Sauced Savage at 301-418-2642.

Things A Good Cook Should Be Able To Do: 2021 Edition

by Buck Reed

Time to face facts, and the fact is, the times, they are a-changin’. I get the fact that I am old, and we are not going back to what was once considered familiar. I remember sitting at the counter of a popular doughnut franchise and watching freshly made products being served every 30 minutes. Today, this same company now prepares them somewhere else, boxes them up, and ships them to their stores, refrigerated. And, now, these marketing geniuses are offering kits where you must decorate your own doughnut. Unless you are under age 10, do not fall for this. Also, do not make your own pizza or order anything deconstructed in a restaurant. You are paying them, so let them do it for you.

Let us start with the meal kits that are becoming more popular today. These kits are marketed as easy to prepare, time saving, and, most of all, foolproof. They are also expensive, so it is worth your time to learn what is in them as well as more about how the techniques work to put them together and prepare them. My thought is: you paid good money for this kit, and using it as a learning tool is more valuable to you than the actual meal they want you to use it for. Once you have the method down, you can save money by simply purchasing the ingredients yourself. Unless you are allergic to grocery stores, there really is no reason not to do this.

You should be able to read a recipe. But not just read it, understand it, and grasp how it works. The first time you look at a recipe and relate it to another dish you have already made, that is the “aha” moment every good cook does almost naturally. That is when you realize that all cooking is related to some other cooking.

Get coordinated in your kitchen. This means you must get comfortable in what you are doing. When you are preparing a meal, you want to accomplish it with purpose and awareness of how and why you are doing things. Managing your time and organizing your workload is the key to getting coordinated. If you master this, eventually you will want to make a sauté dish with a pan sauce or a stir fry.

To bring it all together, now is the time to learn to cook or expand your knowledge of cooking. No longer do you need to leave your house and spend big money to learn to cook in an overpriced cooking school. Imagine paying $50 to learn how to make an apple pie. Right now, if you desire, you can go online and have a popular dish served at an upscale steakhouse explained in precise detail so that you can produce it yourself. What a time to be alive and cooking.

by Buck Reed

For The Love Of Cheese

It is inevitable. The pandemic will eventually run its course, and the end of social distancing will be near. And sooner or later, you will be hosting a get-together, or better yet, an all-out party. You will need something delicious to eat, delightful to drink, music, ice, and, of course, the inevitable cheese tray.

Now, a cheese tray could be the low hanging fruit of what could be a boring food table. You can phone it in because everybody will grab something from it even if it is run of the mill. But I say, with a little effort and a bit of flair, the cheese tray can be the crowning centerpiece that holds the table together. Dare to be great!

First, get rid of the idea that a cheese tray needs to be just cheese and crackers. Today’s trends are moving toward charcuterie boards, and I say if a trend fits, turn into it. Do not be afraid to add a sliced cured meat to your tray. Salami, mortadella, or prosciutto would make great choices.

Another alternative to “just cheese” is to add a ramekin of olives or nuts to your board. These will add a different texture and flavor to your cheese varieties. Do not forget the fruit. Seedless grapes and strawberries add a bit of color to your tray, as well as a great pairing for your cheeses. Think of pear slices if you are considering a Bleu cheese for your presentation.

Another marvelous addition would be a condiment or two. Honey can be drizzled over your cheese and cracker bite and would be a fantastic pairing. Of course, there is also a spicy or sweet mustard to excite your taste buds. And, if you are thinking about a wedge of brie, you might want to add some fig jam. Trust me, you will not regret it.

Depending on how many guests you are expecting, the number of different cheeses should be between three and six, as less tends to be more. Something familiar like cheddar or Swiss is a good start, followed by something fancier like a Gouda or fontina. Depending on how many types you plan on serving, you might want something more exotic to add like a Limburger or something from the bleu family. If you decide on these, you might want to create a cheese ball, cutting the pungent flavor with cream cheese.

When I was a Garde Manger Chef on the cruise ships, we had to make a cheese tray for happy hour every day. Since modesty left me a long time ago, I can tell you that I was known as the King of the Four-and-a-Half-Minute Cheese Tray. My trick was to always make a border with one kind of sliced cheese and just layer the rest in the middle, with a wedge or two here or there or a cheese ball at the top. I suspect you will not be in as much of a hurry as I was, so you might have the time to place your offerings a bit more carefully. But there is no reason why you cannot become the master of your own cheese tray.

Now, all you have to do is create a dessert they will never forget. Maybe cheesecake.

In Admiration of the Chicken

by Buck Reed

When it comes to our fine-feathered friend, the chicken, I have to admit I am a little biased. I keep about 40-50 chickens in my various coops. I raise them from chicks, feed them, watch over them, and even sing to them. “Close to You” by the Carpenters is a favorite of theirs. I even name them, so it would probably not surprise you to find that, although I eat chicken, I would never be able to eat one of mine. So, I do get a little irked when chefs talk about chicken dishes as being boring. I would turn it around and say boring chefs make boring chicken dishes.

Chickens were domesticated about 7,000-10,000 years ago and were considered a delicacy by the Roman Empire. Although they stuffed and cooked their birds, they were also known for their mashed chicken brain dishes. Some farmers were even known to fatten their chickens with wheat bread soaked in wine. This practice was deemed by the Senate to be a sign of the decadence of the times and rendered the practice to be illegal.

Roosters were bred at this time for fighting in most of the so-called “civilized” world because there was no television in those days. I can assure you that anyone who claims that it is in a rooster’s nature to fight one another, I can tell you that I have ten roosters that are not aggressive to me, anyone who visits, or each other. Only Fred, my Serama rooster, will nip at me if I come home and do not say hello to him or if he wants to be picked up. I feel a rooster, if allowed to do rooster things like protect the flock and help make little chickens, should live a happy life and grow to an old age before dying and becoming a delicious chicken stew called Coq au Vin. I love the dish, but not with my guys.

Okay, this is the point where I realize my article took a turn away from being about great chicken dishes and went toward my experience of raising chickens. This is not an uncommon occurrence. People who raise chickens as pets are mostly like this. We can talk for hours about our tiny backyard companions. We can chat about their health, what we feed them and when, what we put in their water, and how they look like tiny dinosaurs as they run across the grass. They have a great deal of personality, and most chicken owners will tell you the hour or two a day they spend with them is the best part of their day. Oh, yeah, and the eggs are better than anything you can find in a grocery store.

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.