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Welcome to 100 Miles, an exploration of sustaining life by going no further away than 100 miles to gather the things we need to live. This web log is my journal of food-based experiences, memories, thoughts, and recipes. I hope you enjoy reading it. To subscribe, so as not to miss each new edition, please enter your email address.

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      Published in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook - WINNER

      Honest Cooking

      April 30, 2011

      Image from iStockphoto.com

      Image from iStockphoto.com

      No, not Honest Cooking, the new food news website I’m writing for but as in do I suck as a cook?  I think so all the time!  I really shouldn’t because I have both professional training and experience in restaurant kitchens.  I’ve also been cooking since I was in my late teens (37 years).  As my regular readers know I recently decided to (re)embrace my inner chef so I started this “food” blog.  This means I’ve been cooking more than I had been.  Cooking nicer meals, using exceptional ingredients, focusing on getting it right.  So when it goes wrong — and it goes wrong a lot — it really stings.  When I cooked in restaurants I never attained the title of “chef” but I can I say I was a “cook.” Meaning I know my way around a professional kitchen and certainly a home kitchen.

      Things I Have Trouble With

      Over-salting.  I guess I have a heavy hand.  I’m always surprised when I taste the dish and it’s too salty.  Happens too often.  Overdoing it may be part of my nature in general.  Guess I need to keep it in check.  Meat temperature.  I used to be able to determine meat temperature by touch.  Poking at a piece of cooking meat with my index finger to test for rare, medium rare, well-done.  I get it right two out of three times.  Recipes and cookbooks.  I tend to be too reliant.  There’s nothing wrong with using cookbooks and recipes but I’m not good at pulling away from them.  I could stand to be more spontaneous.  More willing to make substitutions.  I do cook a lot of meals not using cookbooks or recipes.  I have my own dishes I’ve made up but I still default to cookbooks and recipes more often than not.  Robert, the man I share most of my meals with, likes when I cook without using cookbooks or recipes.  Other recent mishaps: overcooked meat, or poultry; burned food either on the stove top, or in the oven.  I’d like to blame it on the stove and oven but I doubt they’re the culprits.  Since we’re passing blame: a lot of recipes don’t work.  Be careful when using recipes off the Internet.  I’ve found a number of those I’ve tried patently don’t work (and led to many of my cooking mishaps).  I’ve even found cookbook recipes with missing ingredients.

      A Non-Perfect Cook?

      The issue here, the reason I’m so hard on myself, is that I’m a perfectionist (for you astrologers out there I’m a Virgo, the sign of the nitpicky-perfectionist).  I’m afraid of my cooking not being perfect.  In fact it’s so bad that I don’t have people over because I’m afraid I’ll screw it up (it’s happened).  It’s a cook’s version of stage fright.  I’m supposed to be this skilled, knowledgeable cook, but what if I’m not?  How could I ever live that down?  Throw into the mix eating out, having professionals cook for me, which only makes doing it myself even more challenging.  I  then think that I can’t cook that well, or how can I ever rise to their heights?  I make comparisons.  I’m being a bit over-dramatic here but you get the point.  The bottom line is cooking well is a skilled craft, and it takes a lot to perfect the craft.  Home cooking regularly absolutely helps; no doubt.  It is truly about practice, practice, practice — and more practice.

      A Rusty Period

      My reasons for writing this are to fess up; to admit my own cooking shortcomings.  I also suspect that there are others out there like me so I wanted to share my fears, mishaps, and concerns.  You’re not alone.  I do know that making mistakes is a big part of cooking, and that it happens often even to the best cooks.  I also know that I have to learn to stop expecting perfection so I can learn from my mistakes, move on and try, try again.  I keep telling myself I’m just going through a rusty period.  But a two year rusty period?  When will it be over?  The answer to that is: never.

      Spaghetti, Please!

      I recently made a very spontaneous red sauce for pasta because I wanted to replicate a dish we often ate when I was growing up: Spaghetti.  To us the word “spaghetti” was about the whole dish not just the noodle.  My mother made it with hamburger, canned tomato sauce, dried herbs, and we always ate with spaghetti (I never knew there were other pasta shapes until I left home).  The one I made was very different but still satisfied that yen for childhood flavors.

      Red Sauce for Pasta

      This recipe is meant as a template.  Please alter, add, remove, adapt as you see fit based on your own tastes and ingredients at hand.  The ingredients, quantities, and methods are also loose suggestions.  (You may substitute homemade sauce in lieu of canned.)  Be as spontaneous as possible!

      Serves

      2 – 4

      Preparation Time

      1 hour

      Ingredients

      1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced

      1 onion, sliced

      4 cloves garlic, chopped

      2- 4 Tbs olive oil

      1/2 lb. ground beef

      1/2 lb. ground pork

      *2 – 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

      *1 – 6 oz. can tomato paste

      1 tsp herbes de Provence, or your herb(s) of choice

      Salt & pepper, to taste

      *or equivalent in homemade sauce

      Method

      Sauté the onions and garlic in 2 Tbs olive oil in a medium sized sauté, or frying pan.  When the onions and garlic are cooked, opaque in color, about 4 minutes of cooking time, add the mushrooms.  Add more olive oil if necessary.   Sauté the mushrooms until well-cooked, about 5- 7 minutes.  In a separate medium sized sauté, or frying pan start cooking the beef and the sausage together.  You can add a small amount of olive oil at the start of cooking.  Once the meat is cooked, add the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, the herbs, and the onion and mushroom mixture and stir together well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Let the sauce cook over low heat for 15 – 20 minutes.  Serve over your choice of pasta, or refrigerate or freeze to use later.

      Print Recipe

      100 Miles Shout Outs! Local events, mini-reviews, and mentions of things happening in the world of food:

      #1 – Honest Cooking ~ I’m now a Contributing Writer to the new online food magazine Honest Cooking.  My most recent story is “L.A. – Grilled Cheese Invitational 2011.”  I’ll be writing several pieces a month about the L.A. food scene.

      #2 – Los Angeles ~ Sunday, May 15, 1 pm – 5 pm, ~ Taste of the Eastside 2011, an all-star regional tasting event with a diverse array of Eastside restaurants at Barnsdall Art Park.

      My Status:  Enjoying the gradual arrival of spring in So Cal and the new spring produce: artichokes, asparagus, and the tail end of winter produce: amazing citrus, kale, collard greens.  Continuing to blog, cook, and eat.

      Upcoming Posts: More on my great-grandmother’s garden, and my California childhood.  A visit and tour of Ojai Valley citrus grower Friend’s Ranch. More The Local Reports. Cookbook Reviews: Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig, and Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

      6 Comments on “Honest Cooking”

      1. Yes to those stage fright issues. And does everyone make YOU choose the restaurant every time you go out?

        But I think it’s important to remember (and I try to remind myself this) to trust your instincts when cooking. Even if Food & Wine says to put in 1 cup of milk, if it looks like waaaay too much for the recipe, don’t do it! That’s where the skill and the practice and the years of repetition come in handy. :)

      2. robert g. says:

        So far so good! Love being your personal ‘guinea pig.’ Tonight’s Pasta Pomodoro was so right on that I’m stealing that recipe!

      3. Casey: Thanks for backing me up. And yes, I do get “you the choose restaurant for us please” often. Thanks for the reminder to trust my instincts — something important for all cooks to remember.

        Robert: Thanks,as always! I’m so glad you don’t mind being my personal guinea pig (you’re pretty good at it if I haven’t told you).

      4. Tammy says:

        Oh, for me it comes down to two things: I have the impression I lack inventiveness, that I’m too often making the same recipes ad nauseum, and that I get innattentive about things in the oven or on the stovetop. I hate overdoing or burning things–can’t stand the waste, smell, or disappointed expressions of everyone else. And yet it continues to happen every so often.

        Sigh. There’s always room for improvement…making a regular habit of using a timer would be a good start.

      5. Tammy says:

        Oh, and despite years of cooking, I still sometimes have real trouble orchestrating the preparation of multiple courses so that they arrive hot and in a timely fashion at the table.

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