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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.

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.