Heaven knows I’m not a Food Network cook; I make good-tasting meals that are mostly healthy (ok, ok, I DO go under the health radar sometimes and make homemade mac and cheese or lemon bars). I also love to bake, and love transforming a recipe on paper to a delicious meal on a plate.
That said, I have fallen deeply in love with the Food Network. I am hooked on the contests such as Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, Master Chef and Junior Master Chef, All-Star Academy, Cake Wars, Dinner Impossible, Food Fight, Iron Chef, Kids Baking Championship, The Great British Baking Show (I absolutely LOVE this one!), and Worst Cooks in America (love this; it makes me feel a tiny bit superior), and I am continually discovering more.
What I particularly like is the kind of people who love all aspects of food; searching out the ingredients, putting those ingredients together and transforming them to a fabulous meal. Even the plating of the food fascinates me, like watching someone painstakingly develop a beautiful sauce that they can drizzle on the food and decorate the plate. It is theater at its best.
“Food construction” has become an art form. Recently I watched a young woman sear a gorgeous piece of salmon with Thai seasonings, and plate it with with a white truffle risotto arranged around the salmon like lace, and dotted with perfect rubies of pomegranate seeds. She had also braised some beautiful asparagus spears with butter, white wine and cracked peppercorns, the stalks stacked perfectly on the side of the plate and finished off with a strip of roasted yellow pepper wrapped like a ribbon. Pure performance art!
I have become fascinated with what I call the ‘upper level’ of cooking; that is, building flavors, experimenting with what looks like diverse ingredients but that turn out great together, and also appreciating good knife work; that is, doing all that fast chopping and not cutting off your fingers.
I have also learned some great cookery terms such as:
- Chiffonade: a preparation of finely sliced or shredded leafy vegetables or herbs.
- Blanching: involves plunging a food into boiling water for a few seconds and then rinsing it under cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Poaching: cooking a food submerged in water that is just under the boiling point, or simmering.
- Daube: a stew consisting of a single piece of meat such as a shoulder or joint. The meat is stewed in a rich, wine laden broth with herbs and vegetables. The broth is then thickened, reduced and served with the slices of meat and accompanying vegetables. (I have always made my pot roast this way and never knew the correct term!)
- Coulis: a thick sauce made of puréed fruit or vegetables.
- Deglazing: to dissolve the thin glaze of juices and brown bits on the surface of a pan in which food has been fried, sauteed or roasted. To do this, add liquid and stir and scrape over high heat, thereby adding flavor to the liquid for use as a sauce. Wine, stock, and vinegar are common deglazing liquids.
- Blackening: a way of cooking meat in which you coat it generously with pepper and other spices. Then the meat is seared to lock in the flavor and produce a meat that is crisp on the outside, but moist and tender on the inside. This is an especially popular technique to use when cooking fish or chicken.
- Jacquarding: the process of poking holes into the muscle of meat in order to tenderize.
But what amazes me the most about the cooking contests; i.e., making a full entree in 30 minutes–is this: they do all this without recipes! I would be lost without directions. My own cookbooks are liberally sprinkled with stains, grains of flour and spices, and I’ve penned in observations and comments such as: “Ick–this is terrible; don’t make it again!” or “add red wine instead of beef broth; it’s much better!” or “do not add cooked bacon to the chowder; just chop it and sprinkle it on when the chowder is served. Otherwise the chowder will be full of limp greasy strips of tasteless flabby bacon.”
However, my love of cooking doesn’t inspire me to take on something as elaborate as homemade croissants. Oh, I’ve seen them made, I’ve read the recipes, but frankly I’m not up to that challenge. (And it’s not like Gordon Ramsey is screaming in my ear to make them.) There is a wonderful bakery in town that makes the absolute best croissants (ham and cheese, chocolate (heavenly!!), raspberry and almond). They are flaky and tender and melt in your mouth. They are seriously a slice of Heaven.
In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, when a person dies and goes to Heaven, a smiling angel hands them a perfect warm chocolate croissant. Now wouldn’t that just be worth the trip?