"The Author-Preneur with Something To Say That You'll Love To Read."

Technique + Ergonomics

The need for simple instruction in kitchen technique, ergonomics, and practice is something that all of us share.  Someone always has a new tidbit that we can learn from.  I hold this value dear, particularly when it comes to training others.

I like to periodically pull the staff aside at the kitchen and teach them something about what goes into the work we are doing or the food we are producing.  Whether it is building a roux, or layering flavor in a soup,  it is all vital.  Sometimes it is simple to show them the cleaning power that tomato sauce has on metal.  There is always something to teach or learn.

You need to find a good source for new technique data/information.  Where are you going to turn.  I highly recommend Mollie Katzen's videos online at: http://get-cooking.answerstv.com/AnswersTV/index.aspx  You really need to see these!

You should also take a look at Chef Jacob Burton's videocast series and listen to his podcasts.  He is also highly recommened.  You can find him at: http://freeculinaryschool.com/  The videocasts are half way down the page on the left...also on youtube under is name.

Establishing these connections and these places to go is establishing listening posts.  Listening posts are vital to helping us grow into who we are and can become.  Listening Posts article, by TJM.



Inovation Drives the Use of Leftovers

For those of you who are running a kitchen for a restaurant or some venue of the hospitality industry, you know how maddening waste can be.  As the manager you are trying to maintain some level fiscal integrity and not waste, but you must always have enough on hand.

This is the same in the home kitchen.  You prepare enough food for the table at hand and then everyone's eating habits that day are different than the last time you prepared the same meal.  Arrrgh!

Taking some innovation into your own hands can help save the bottom line.  You can manage to stretch those leftovers into another meal if you do it right.

We end up with a lot of leftover rolls, bread, bagels, and buns in the course of a week.  It took about ten minutes to find a recipe on-line that would help us to alleviate this waste, use the bread products, and delight our guests.

I found a French toast casserole on-line that calls for the use of diced breads.  Mixing the bread all together so one tray of French toast is not all bagels, or all buns.  I save leftover bread stuffs in a big clear bag, and keep it in the freezer for our casserole day.  It is really a good recipe and has the hallmark taste of become a flagship dish.  It is just leftovers.

Soups are the same way.  I save all our leftovers of meat and vegetables.  If I have a ton of bacon, then I make a tomato basil bisque with bacon.  A lot of vegetables, then it is vegetarian vegetable.  Roast beef in abundance makes a nice beef barley.  On and on it goes.

Start taking stock of what seems to be leftover the most and then develop one or two recipes that will call for the use of these items.  Remember to make it sumptuous.  Since it is leftover, go the extra mile and order some fresh herbs or spices for its recreation.  You are already saving a bundle by the fact that its cost was consumed some other day.

Think this is just plain silly.  It is how the Caesar Salad was invented.  Check out its story - HERE.



A Little Zest Never Killed Anyone

Adding a little zest to the standardized menu routines that we fall into can liven them up.  Either because of time or money we find ourselves falling into routines not only in food habits but all of life.  Constraints sneak into life and can limit us or make us feel limited to the point that we reach out for the familiar and the known and so we repeat things in order to keep them safe.

Safety is important.  But, it does not mean that we cannot add some simple zest to the familiar and the safe and enhance them.  This goes for well traveled routes on the highway, and also for our simple cup of coffee in the morning.  All of our safe routines can be simply enhanced to enrich, enliven and ennoble our lives.

Let's just look at zest itself.  What was originally just the edition of some scrapings of the peel of an orange or lemon (or actually a larger "piece" of the peel) has become adding something to something else to enhance or liven it up.  Actually lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit are all zest-able.  But, there are other things we can do to zest the simple and mundane.

A pinch of cardamom goes a long way to bring depth and texture to a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, warm milk or tea.  Think of all of the masala made available in the Indian diet and cuisine.  These masalas are the zest-ifiers of food.  In some cases used to remove the tang of too old food, but in others, to drawl out the rich and robust nuances hidden in food.

So, today, use either some cardamom or some traditional citrus zest to pick up the hidden-ness and safety of some item that is a regular part of your diet and routine.  Make something that is usual into something that is sumptuous.  It really does not take much.  I am going to zest some orange into my coffee and throw a pinch of cardamom in - to boot.



The Whole Setting is So Critical

The whole setting is so critical.  I spent time with the kitchen staff yesterday talking about our mission statement.  The camp kitchen has its own mission statement: "to nourish the kingdom of God, one disciple at a time."

I shared with them how nourishment is a thing for our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our souls...not just our bellies.  We are constantly picking up nutrients from all of life.  We don't just get nutrients from food.  We get them from conversation, ambiance, smells, sights, sounds.  These things all sustain us.

This means that we need to pay attention to the way the dining hall looks because it impacts mental and emotional nourishment while dining.  We take things in through more than just our mouths.  The staff understood.

I am reminded of the hospice work I did.  It was common for me to share with families that when their loved one stopped eating, this did not mean they were not being nourished.  Their nourishment was coming from the presence of those who visited, from their words, from the sights and sounds and smells around them.

Think about your homes, too.  How is the environment where you eat nourishing you? Do you have candles burning to scent the air and provide a flickering change in the lighting.  Can you dim the lights so you can take the harshness out of your seeing and the harshness out of the day by gradually introducing nighttime.  Are their calming sounds, sights, and scents?

Folks don't think about it too much, but the dimming of the day slows us down.  I turn a lot of lights off around the house at night, not just to save energy, but to bring the energy level down slowly.  Doing this at our tables helps us introduce a calming and evening effect.  Think about it, as darkness ensues don't you recognize a shift in consciousness and mentation.  Thinking often becomes more serious at the days end.  All the deep conversations that happen around the table and couch are not just a result of the Cabernet, the evening has this effect on us.

How is your dining room or eating area decorated?  Do you have artwork around, or pictures of some kind?  What are they of, are they familiar and soothing?  These are all things to think about when you think about food.  The best gourmet meals in the world would be less enjoyable in and among a seething mound of piles and work papers.  Is there music?

How seriously have you set the scene and the mood in the room where you will take nourishment?  It can make all the difference.  Start by checking out the artwork of David Lance Goines or Mollie Katzen.  Both have wonderful styles that would add pause and dignity to your dining space.  Get a nice tablecloth and a candle or two.  How about some quiet music?

It really does make a difference.  The whole setting is so critical.



check out Mollie's art Mollie Katzen

A Nice Warm Chai, Please!

I gotta say, "chai has become a favorite here at the camp".  Both the summer folks and the off season retreat guests love chai.  It, like any good tea, has steeped its way into the hearts and minds, and palates of Americans.  It is pretty much the gift of the cafes that have popped up all over the place.  You name it, Starbucks, Seattle Coffee, Buck County Coffee, they all serve a chai.  It is that bookstore/cafe culture that has spawned the love of chai.

It is long overdue!  Make sure you check out the "sweets" recipes in Yamuna Devi's book, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.  If you are gonna drink chai, you best use it to chase some great Indian sweets.  That will give you the full effect of chai.

My first introduction to chai was as a wake up beverage at an ashram in New York.  When on retreat, we would wake up at 4 or 5 and head to the main hall for a nice tall glass of chai.  It got you going and it warmed you up fast.

Then it was in for some chanting and meditation.  Not too much chai, though, as you didn't want to have to break off in the middle of your meditation.

There are a couple of key ingredients that you will want to play with to get the exact flavor down that you like.  I make it in 10 gallon recipes, so I won't give you my ingredient measurements.  But I will tell you what I use and you can do the homework.

Start with fresh ginger.  Grate it and put it in some cheesecloth, unless you are going to strain the chai.  Add some cardamom.  I use the whole pods.  I crack them open and put hulls and seeds in all at once.  Again, either cheese cloth or strain the chai at the end.  Cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.  I tend to lean heavy on the cinnamon. I like a warming chai.

I use any one of a number of dark, strong teas.  I brew all of this together in one pot and leave it on the stove for at least 45 minutes.

After it is finished brewing, I add sugar to taste (good and sweet for the kids) sometimes honey.  And, the final item is half-and half.  Don't use powdered ginger unless you don't like the inner warmth provided by fresh grated.  Remember there is a difference in taste between using milk and or cream, so be sure you know what you are looking for.

Enjoy it folks!



Chili Today - Hot Tamale

Chili - a food with a thousand faces.  Aside from the countless meat or meatless varieties, there are a myriad of colors and flavors.  It really is a food group of its own.  I have whole cook books with just chili recipes.  Some have up to 500 varieties.  Wow.

There are a few ingredients that I want to chat about that make the difference in any chili.

First is corn.  Adding corn flour, meal, or chips to your chili not only makes the flavor fuller and more robust, it can tighten up your chili.  It is really the roux of chili.  I use corn chips or taco shells here at the camp.  They crumble nicely and I always have a ton on hand.  When we serve nachos or tacos, I save the remaining corn chips or shells.  I dump them in a big bag and freeze them.  They will stay for a while like this.

Second is garlic.  Always use fresh grated or crushed.  Fresh minced if you must.  Stay away from the powders - always.

Cumin.  Add it in conjunction with your chili powders.  If you make a batch of Mollie Katsen's Veggie Chili you will get a real good idea of how this spice works in chili.  Then use that as a base of understanding for all your meat chilis.  There are other Moosewood recipes that capitalize on this fine spice, too.

This triumvirate will add some stability to any of your favorite chili recipes.  I also feel cilantro is a must for chili, but have been met with a lot of resistance from campers and guests.  This taste has not permeated American Cuisine yet.  But, someday.  Until then, I tend to add it to my own chili after cooking.  For guests, I add it to sour cream for them to use as a garnish.




Quiche Me in the Morning...then just walk away

Quiches are fun.  Think of the varieties of quiches that can be had.  Start with the thought that most quiches are just an egg and cheese pie with other stuff thrown in.  Then, ask the question: "What do I want to throw in?"  That includes a huge array of vegetables and a vast array of meats.  The combinations are endless.  Then, there is the whole question of, what cheese or cheeses compliment the vegetables and or meat you have selected?

Wow.  What a selection.  Add to that that you can eat a quiche for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack - hot or room temperature (I am not a fan of cold quiche - but some are).

At a recent retreat I served a bacon and cheddar quiche, a sausage and extra sharp quiche, and a broccoli and cheddar quiche for breakfast.  The kitchen staff stand at the line to attend to the immediate needs of the guests.  I tend to hang back - in the kitchen - and listen to what people are asking or saying to each other.  It helps me to gather input from the guests, without them knowing I am getting the info.

This one man said, "What the heck is that?"  When the reply, "Quiche" was given, he responded, "For BREAKFAST?"  Turns out he had never had quiche for breakfast.  He made it a point to find me (he did not know I had heard his response) and tell me that he had never had quiche for breakfast, but that it made sense, and it was GOOD!  Sometimes we gotta step out of the comfort zone.

Six eggs and a half a cup of milk or cream will cover the liquid for a 9" crust.  But, plan your crust, and your fillings and cheese carefully.  You need to play with how much you will add.  Sometimes the cheese dominates my quiche, sometimes the asparagus.  It all depends.  Put the cheese into the bottom of the quiche, add some guts, and then pile the rest (and majority of the cheese) on the top.  Drill a hole in the center of the cheese with your fingers and slowly, ever so slowly, pour in the egg/cream mixture.

Lots of folks don't like to put too much "spice" into their quiche.  All my quiches have garlic, sea salt, and coarse pepper - varying measures.  I blend it right into the egg/cream mixture so it spreads out in the pouring. Don't forget dill, basil and rosemary are great herbs - especially fresh - for the majority of quiches.  In some cases tarragon and sage are also a hit.

As with any other food - PLAY AROUND WITH YOUR RECIPE.  Ain't no fun if you don't experiment.



Mirepoix + Roux

Earlier in this blog we discussed Mirepoix (classic mix of diced onions (1 cup), diced carrots (1/2 c.), and diced celery (1/2 c.) sauteed in butter).  http://tjm-fathertomscafe.blogspot.com/2009/12/mirepoix-sensational-beginning.html

Today, while making a beef stew for the camp guests, I decided to blend two traditional food preparations.   I made the mirepoix first, sauteing it in one pound of butter.  When it was good and soft (since I wanted the vegetables for the layered taste - not vegetable content), I stirred in the 4 cups of flour.  I added 1 cup of wine and then moved the whole thing over (once the embellished roux had cooled) into the braising pan with the beef.

Wow...did it simmer into a fine stew.

Check out Chef Jacob's awesome little Roux Video on You Tube .  As with all of his other videos and podcast it is informative and brings cooking within everyone's' reach.  Wander over to www.freeculinaryschool.com to see the full array of services he offers.