Posts

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Letting Others Cook for You

Sometimes it’s hard letting others cook for you, especially when you’re a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice. It has been a pretty rough month for us. I spent a total of 12 days in the hospital, and our baby girl was in the NICU for 14 days. We are finally home and enjoying the sleepless nights and the inevitable routine that comes with having a newborn. Yes, we’re actually enjoying it! After watching our tiny baby being poked, prodded, and stuck in an incubator for two weeks, her cries are as sweet as honey.

Sometimes it's hard letting others cook for you, especially when you're a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice.

My mom flew in from Mexico to help out and she has graciously been taking care of all of our meals and other household duties. After almost 2 weeks of hospital food I welcomed my mom’s cooking with open arms. There’s only one problem, my mom is a little out of practice when it comes to cooking. She did cook for us when we were little, but once my dad opened the restaurant there was no longer a need to cook at home, growing up we ate most of our meals there.

I find that a lot of people are intimidated when they find themselves cooking for two food professionals, but honestly, you shouldn’t be. Do we have high standards when it comes to food? Of course we do, but all of us food professionals have something in common, we love to eat. This means we love to eat anything and everything, or we’ll try it at least once. Also, most of us have some manners and won’t really tell you your food sucks, unless you ask for our honest opinion, which would then sound something like this: ” The chicken was slightly over cooked, I like my rice with a bit more salt, and I prefer vegetables on the crunchy side.”

Sometimes it's hard letting others cook for you, especially when you're a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice.

 

Sometimes it can be hard letting others cook for you, because it means giving up control. It means that the carrots won’t be cut into perfect small dice, and the beef won’t be cooked exactly the way you like it. However, I think that we, more than most, know first hand all the work that goes into cooking and are able to recognize and appreciate a good meal when we taste one. That’s why I am so grateful for my mom and her cooking. Even though she might be a little rusty in the cooking department, the love and care she is putting into our meals is something not easily replicated, even if it’s something as simple and comforting as chicken soup.

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Making Hospital Food Look Good

This is my 6th day in the hospital. My water broke on Monday and I’m stuck here until this little one is born. It was a bit scary at first, but now we’ve kind of settled into a hospital routine. I miss my family terribly, but I’m trying to keep busy.

While stuck in the hospital, what other choice does a professional cook have than making hospital food look good with a little bit of help.

Can we talk about hospital food please? I have to say the food here is not that bad, but the options are limited and a lot of it is processed food, canned peaches, boxed mashed potatoes, and stuff like that. It’s funny how it takes something like this to happen so you can appreciate the things you have at home. I don’t cook fancy or complicated meals all the time, but almost everything is done from scratch, and boy does that make a difference!

While stuck in the hospital, what other choice does a professional cook have than making hospital food look good with a little bit of help.

Since I have all this time on my hands I’m making hospital food look good. It’s amazing what a little food styling and editing can do! Hopefully we’ll be out of here soon with a healthy baby girl and a renewed motivation for cooking good, healthy, and fresh food for our family. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

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Three Kings Day (Dia de Reyes)

Today is the last day of Christmas. Also known as the feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings Day or Dia de Reyes. In Mexico, as I had mentioned before, this means that children receive gifts from the Reyes Magos (Magi) instead of Santa. Traditionally the children leave a note for the Magi in their shoes, the night before, and place them under the Christmas tree or outside. The Magi respond by bringing them gifts the following morning, just as they brought gifts to the Christ child.

Living on the border, our traditions are a mixture of Mexican and American customs. This being said, as a child Santa brought most of our gifts on Christmas, and the Reyes Magos filled our stockings with treats and small toys on Jan 6th.

Also on this day, an anise and orange scented dough is baked in the form of a crown, and topped with dried and candied fruits to make the Rosca de Reyes( King Cake). The fruit is meant to represent the crown´s jewels, and inside the bread is hidden a small figurine of baby Jesus. The lucky person to find baby Jesus in their piece of bread is designated to bring tamales on  Feb. 2nd to the Feast of the Candelaria, but that´s another story.

The rosca is usually served with hot chocolate and eaten at any time of the day or all day! One of the candied fruits used to top the rosca is called acitrón. Acitrón is made from a species of cactus, also know as biznaga, only found in Mexico. The candy is made by extracting the pulp from the cacti, cutting it into blocks, and cooking it in a simple syrup. The result is an opaque sugary block, firm to the touch, but soft and juicy on the inside. It is commercially sold in red and green tinted blocks or cut into strips. Acitrón is widely used in Mexican Cuisine, thus depleting the population of the cacti used to make this candy. Why am I telling you this?? I don´t think many people know this, especially Mexicans. So if you do eat a rosca today, please eat the acitrón and enjoy what surely is a true jewel of Mexican Gastronomy.

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Cooking without Recipes

I think all us have that one friend who’s cooking is so good, they know it, you know it, and they just make it look so easy, but when you ask them  for the recipe they reply, almost smirkingly, “Oh I don’t use recipes, good cooks don’t need recipes.” Now you feel awful, you live off recipes, you spend hours looking at recipes, planning your meals and orchestrating your next project. Well, I disagree. While good cooks may not be held hostage by recipes, they certainly do need them.

A good cook doesn’t let a recipe hold them back, and they’re not afraid to improvise, but how do you think cooks learn from each other? It is impossible to be an expert in every kind of cuisine. It is impossible, even after years of experience to have infinite knowledge of all things food. It is a craft that continuously changes, yet stays true to the basic techniques taught by the French masters of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Chefs rely on recipes to establish consistency in their restaurants. Otherwise, the flavor and appearance of the dishes would vary according to the cook. Recipes are essential to transmitting the chef’s vision from raw ingredients to the finished dish served to the guest. The only way the ego-driven line cooks will ever cook something the same way twice is with a recipe. Recipes are also essential to determining food cost of each particular menu item.

All the chefs I know have a massive cookbook collections. Why? They learn new techniques, look to them for inspiration, and of course admiration. What about the home cook? The problem with home cooks is that they sometimes can’t tell a good recipe from a bad one. Most home cooks look online to find their recipes, it’s easy and convenient, and some sites even make a shopping list for you and print the recipes to various sizes. There are a lot of good recipe sites and blogs out there, but there are also a lot of bad ones.

To be a good cook, is cooking without recipes necessary? Do chefs use recipes? How can I learn to cook without them.

Cooking Without Recipes: The Nitty Gritty

I have an OK cookbook collection. Now, I rely mostly on the public library to check out the books I can’t afford to buy. The one I use the most is The Flavor Bible, which ironically is not a cookbook in the traditional sense. It has no recipes; it is merely a list of ingredients. Below each ingredient is a list of the foods that best complement it, when the ingredient is in season, the cooking techniques that best work for that particular ingredient, and examples of flavor combinations used by renowned chefs. The book gives you the resources necessary to use your knowledge of cooking to develop your own style and creativity, without using somebody else’s recipe. A book you must have is Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. In it you will learn all the basic formulas or ratios and techniques that will allow you to start cooking without recipes.

If you’re looking for recipes online try: Epicurious for recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, Simply Recipes for detailed recipes with pictures for almost every step, Steamy Kitchen for creative recipes with an Asian touch and great photos, for Mexican recipes visit Pati’s Mexican Table, and finally for dessert try David Lebovitz.

If you are going to use somebody else’s recipe, please give them credit for it, nobody will think less of you because of it.