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Posts tagged ‘cooking’

Tomatoes, Mayonnaise, and the Unknown

In the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting pretty heavily with my diet. As I may have mentioned, for all that I love to cook and work with food, I’m a pretty picky eater. I hate cheese, most milk products, almost every kind of sauce or topping, and sandwiches.

I have a bad habit of taking sandwiches apart. I take the meat off the bread so the bread won’t get soggy, I remove any type of condiment that may have been slathered on it, I take off the lettuce and tomato to eat separates (if at all) and by the end of the process my sandwich is barely recognizable.

Wasn’t I disappointed last week when the alcohol peer educators event I went to served sandwiches. But if I learned anything from my trip to Israel in December, it’s that if I enjoyed a falafel with everything on it, then there was no way I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a sandwich.

The poison I chose was one part tuna, one part roast beef. And though I have made it a point in my life to not eat tuna with bread, this was delicious. I still removed the tomato, but the bread was not soggy, the tuna did not overwhelm me with a fishy taste, and the mayonnaise was a perfect compliment. I eat tuna at my grandfather’s house, and I eat it without bread or crackers while I try not to imagine how much mayonnaise he uses to make it taste good. Enjoying a tuna sandwich was a big deal.

I was equally surprised by the roast beef. I left the tomato on this time–trying to be as adventurous as possible after my first success with the tuna–and even though the top was coated in mayonnaise, I enjoyed it as a part of the whole.

Tomato included, my opinions of sandwiches have been altered. This might not be breaking news, but it’s a step for any picky eater to learn that you might be wrong about what goes well together. And especially for a chef or a baker, it’s always a good idea to change up what you eat. It keeps your diet fresh, but also tips you off to what you can be doing in your own kitchen.

Bread Tips Anyone?

Would any of you be willing to give me advice on making bread? I am continuously disappointed with store-bought breads. Even organic breads with whole wheat or whole grains always seem insubstantial, quite possibly because the slices are incredibly thin. I know thick sliced bread is available, but it would be difficult to find and not cost effective. I want to be comfortable making my own bread. Not to sell, but to have for my family.

I’ve made bread before. Most notably I’ve made challah bread (traditional braided Jewish bread made for Friday night Shabbat dinners) and it’s come out pretty legitimate. Still I consistently find I have recurring problems when I bake bread.

1) The dough does not rise.

I use the correct amount of yeast and I let the dough rise (for both the first and, if required, second risings) by placing it in a greased bowl in a powered off oven. I cover the dough with a towel and place it above a bowl of warm water.  Still the dough doesn’t always rise. Am I doing something fundamentally wrong?

A book I have on bread recipes says that salt will kill the yeast if you’re not careful, but  I am not experienced enough with making bread to be able to tell how to add the salt without killing the yeast.

Any advice?

2) My other problem is the bread goes stale within 2 or 3 days.

I don’t use any preservatives, mold-inhibitors, or other chemical concoctions to keep my products fresh. Unfortunately, not knowing any natural preservatives is a severe hindrance for making bread. Ideally bread should be baked fresh each day, but who really has that much time? It would be a tremendous help to know a natural way to preserve bread because I understand that bread does go stale and that it’s normal especially for home made breads.

Because I make my own honey roasted peanut butter (more on this to follow in future blogs) I want to find a good honey whole wheat bread recipe and work from there on my yeast-bread journeys. In the near future I want to be comfortable making home made breads and eventually my own recipes. Any advice you can give will be a great help although be advised I do not have a bread machine and so I’m literally making everything by hand. I look forward to hearing from you!

The audacity of a chef

I can call myself a baker and feel good about it. I do not feel as if I’m giving myself some  honor I don’t yet deserve by saying that I bake.  Now, what I can’t call myself is a chef. I know that in professional kitchens there is a hierarchy of who’s the chef and what each person’s job is, and by no means am I expecting to earn that kind of a title.

At my college I work in the kitchen and my family has a difficult time understanding exactly what I do there because it falls somewhere in between all the subcategories of the overarching theme of COOKING.

Unfortunately I do not get to bake in the kitchen. I am not employed by the baker and so don’t even get to go near the flour, sugar, or any of the ingredients that are near to my heart. I work for a chef, but due to safety reasons (at least I assume it’s due to safety reasons) I’m not allowed to work the stoves, the ovens, or the steamers.

So, what exactly do I do? I am not cooking and I am not baking. I do prep work. I cut vegetables of pretty much any kind imaginable, place bacon and turkey sausage on trays, and occasionally cut real sausage. This is not to degrade the work of someone who does prep and I love being able to work in the kitchen because otherwise I would be even farther away from stoves and everything else I adore.

At the same time, no one I speak to understands what I do. It’s kind of funny how there’s a hierarchy within the kitchen (chef, sous chef, etc) and yet people who don’t work in kitchens place that hierarchy on those who do.  There’s still an illusion that if you work in food services and are not the chef then it’s equivalent to working at McDonald’s. And maybe that’s just my perception of the reactions of a few of my family members  when I explained my work, but how else can I explain prep work except the un-glamorous “I cut vegetables” which does not make me a chef. Still, my work puts me in a position to work with food and that’s what counts.  I am still a baker even though I don’t have the opportunity to bake at school. I’ve never been able to call myself a chef.

I can liken the baker:chef analogy to the written word. As a writer, mainly in fiction and non-fiction, I call myself a writer, but I don’t have the audacity to call myself a poet. This is the same way that I know the territory of baking and the same way I know the nuances of fiction, but I’m stepping onto unfamiliar grounds when I cook or write poetry. I’m not bad at either, but it’s not where I’m most comfortable.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a chef, but until then I’m happy being a baker with a foot in the cooking department of prep work. Any education in food is a good one.