Friday, November 19, 2010

A Recipe-less Life

This sort of goes hand-in-hand with my previous blog posting about Chefs versus Bakers.  The main point being: We Chefs aren't much for following recipes.  While I FULLY intend on writing and publishing many many cookbooks at some point in the future, I guess you could call me a hypocrite in the fact that I probably crack open a cookbook only a handful of times a year.  I believe in teaching people to be creative, don't be intimidated by food, experiment and play until you get the results you like.  Everybody's tastebuds are different.  A teaspoon of salt might not be enough for one, where it is enough to choke another.  So many "students" of mine are so tense while cooking.  They let the food boss them around, instead of telling the food what you want it to do.  I say it all the time, as a student is scraping an omelet off the bottom of a pan or is about to give up as the pizza dough just won't stretch to all the corners of a pan..."YOU are the boss.  YOU are cooking this food, not vise versa.  YOU tell that [dough, omelet, pasta, etc.] what it is going to do for you."  People get so hung up on teaspoons and tablespoons and temperatures and time tables and forget to just relax and enjoy the process and look forward to the result.  Cooking isn't meant to be tiring or stressful, so I try to teach people to live a "Recipe-less" life....even though I come bearing recipes for them. :)

Some of my very best creations have spawned from just looking in my refrigerator, surveying what all is in there, and putting something together.  You know what you like and what you don't like.  You know mushrooms and onions are dynamite together, but mushrooms and apples probably are not.  Rosemary and Thyme in a Meatball?  Absolutely!  Allspice and Nutmeg in a Meatball?  I'd rather eat a McRib. It's all about knowing what you like, knowing what it tastes good with, and doing something to bring them together for a delicious dish.  Forget measuring the salt-  just taste it!  If it needs more salt, add some.  If not, don't.  Throw out your recipes and embrace the fact that cooking is a PERSONAL experience.  You cook for yourself and the people you love.  Now when you start cooking for the President, that's another story!

A prime example:  Yesterday, I made the delicious Chicken and Chorizo Pizza for one of my pre-made meal clients.  (Click for the recipe......contradiction, much?)  Yesterday was also Game Day (ROLL TIDE!) which means SNACKS. :)  I look around my kitchen- I see new potatoes.  In my fridge, I see shredded Mexican Cheese, Sour Cream, Butter, Milk, some sliced Chorizo and a head of Cilantro leftover from the Pizza.  In my spice cabinet- Garlic Salt, Cayenne Pepper, Chili Powder, Adobo.   Hmm.  I normally make Asiago-stuffed New Potatoes for catering functions which taste like mini twice-baked Potatoes.  So I decide to mix them up a bit by making Spicy Cheddar and Chorizo-stuffed New Potatoes!  Cheese + Chorizo + Cilantro + Potatoes = a stellar combination.  See?  It really is that easy.  Par-boil the New Potatoes until they are tender enough to slice in half and hollow out the middles with a melon baller.  Mix the warm middles with some Butter, Sour Cream, a splash of Milk, a handful of shredded Cheese, and a sprinkling of Garlic Salt, Adobo, Cayenne Pepper, and Chili Powder.  The mixture is a beautiful reddish orange from the red spices and the orange cheese.  Crisp up the Chorizo in a skillet or a microwave (just like you would cook Bacon) and crumble it into the potato mixture like Bacon Bits.  Place the mixture in a Ziploc Bag, snip off a corner, and squeeze about a Tablespoon back into the hollowed out Potatoes.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until golden brown and melty.  Top each potato with a Cilantro leaf, and devour.  I dare you to eat just one. 

Give it a try.  Not just this "recipe" in particular, but the entire concept.  Have some fresh spinach, leftover roasted potatoes, diced onion, shredded Cheese?  Sounds like an Omelet to me.  Last night's grilled chicken, a jar of Alfredo sauce, some cooked mushrooms....I see a Pizza.  Leftover Bacon from breakfast, ground beef, tortillas...sounds like someone's having Cheeseburger Quesadillas!  Have some fun in your kitchen today.  You just might surprise yourself with what you can come up with.  :)  Until next time....


The Chef Next Door

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