Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Smitten by Bittman

I don’t stock a large library of cookbooks. I learned several years ago that I was more intrigued by recipes from varied sources such as the Food Network, food blogs, Los Angeles Times’ Food Section, Bon Appetit, Cuisine At Home, or Sur la Table cooking classes. I’ve even clipped recipes from food ads.

I file them in 15 separate folders with labels such as Fish/Seafood, Lamb/Pork/Veal, Pasta/Rice, Sauces/Seasonings/Stock, and other staples like Chicken, Beef, Soups, Salads/Dressings, and Vegetables. I also have a Miscellaneous file for, well, miscellaneous. Every year I survey the folders; circular-filing those recipes I haven’t used in some time, no longer inspire, or are so food-stained they are illegible. (A well-seasoned recipe is almost edible.)

Using a few recipes from a $30.00 cookbook is not a great ROI (return on investment).

The one cookbook I reference most often is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Mark, know as The Minimalist, is a guy’s cook. He, reputedly, does most of his work out of his Manhattan apartment’s minimalist kitchen. His recipes are quite accessible, and you don’t need to drive 50 miles to a specialty store or have something shipped from Sri Lanka.

I have several Emeril Lagasse recipes but he could be called a Maximumist. The man uses LOTS of ingredients, and equipment. I often need a nap in-between preparation steps.

When you do come across an ingredient, either foreign to you or requiring you to pay for foreign shipping, I have two suggestions. First, buy a book such as Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon and Ron Herbst. I find it indispensable. It lists more than 6,700 foodie terms, describing cooking techniques, herbs, spices, ingredients, etc.

Another option is, The Cook’s Thesaurus. Type in the unfamiliar term and the site gives you options without requiring you to learn several other languages.

Mark, a frequent guest on The Today Show, writes a blog for the New York Times – I recommend it. You will find it linked on the right side of this blog’s opening page under About Me.

But even Bitten is smitten by the cookbook bug; touting 50 cookbooks he cannot live without. Trust me, you can live without them.

I wonder where he keeps them in his minimalist kitchen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Job Titles

Over my previous-life-career my business cards listed many titles. When I left business I vowed to never ever be a card carrier again. Then I got these hair-brained book-writing ideas and once again it seemed I needed something for identification purposes. Flashing my driver’s license at conferences or informal gatherings isn’t in the cards. Besides, there is always that mug shot worthy of a police station line-up.

My current business card reads: Writer, Domestic Engineer, Kept Man. But I wear many titles in my Domestic Engineer Guy role. Just to list a few:

· Man of the House
· Don of the Domicile
· Dean of Dishes
· Executive Chef
· Manager of Toilet Maintenance
· Vice President of Marketing
· Lord of the Laundry
· House Stud
· Vice President of Finance
· Sommelier
· Baron of the Barbecue
· Zen master of the Iron

One title that warrants more time than I bargained for is Executive Assistant to my ATM. Those honey-do lists that used to be reserved for weekends, now stretch 24/7, and entail much more than traditional projects. PJ is constantly asking me to remind her to do such things as:

Check her email
Buy a sympathy or birthday card
Take her prescriptions
Call a friend (hers)
Schedule her hair appointment

The other time-consuming title is Social Secretary. Actually I’ve worn that hat most of our marriage. I am simply better organized. All friends and family social events, anniversaries, birthdays, vacation/weekend scheduling, planning, and executing are mine to remember.

We are timeshare owners and just returned from an exchange week in Carmel, CA. What helped sell us on timeshares were the kitchens. We pack in the food and rarely eat out. This past trip I not only made all of the arrangements but I selected a week’s worth of recipes, made two separate lists (1) stuff to bring that we already owned, and (2) stuff to buy. I think this is called advance planning. When it comes time to load the car I have filled four large boxes as well as a cooler on wheels.

PJ just has to be packed and primped by departure time. She begins the packing three days in advance. I pack in 15 minutes.

Seems like a fair distribution of duties to me.

Oh yes, another title: Chauffeur. The movie will called Driving Ms PJ.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Returning to Normal*

I suspect I’m one of the luckier ones – only a four-pound gain over the holidaze. Consider it like a glaze - as temporary and absorbing as what you use to marinate meats.

If I were to lay out all of my recipes prepared over two weeks I suspect I’d be astounded by the quantities of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, broth/stock, cream, and store-bought breads. These bad boys metastasize and attach to your arteries and intestines like Spackle.

I’m not in denial about the adult beverage intake I just refuse to think about it.

My cooking clothing gained some weight, too. But it was a tasty gain. (Guy’s still struggle with that splatter-guard (apron) thing.)

We throw caution and calories to the wind during holidays, going from once-a-week desserts to every night – from once-a-week appetizers to every night – from two portions per plate to three - from once-a-month baked (or bought) snacks to 2-3 temptations per day.

If you’re like my household, Santa isn’t the only annual visitor. Say hello to the Cold Family. Guests usually come bearing gifts, including germs. There should be a new rule – guests can only cross your threshold after they’ve been cleared by the CDC (Center for Disease Control). The cold endemic precludes any visits to LA Fitness to fend off encroaching pounds.

Last Monday was cold Turkey time, and not just the leftovers. The offending recipes were drowned in a vat of holiday grease. If any of the calorie-laden leftovers had not been consumed, they were tossed. (I found some week-old mashed potatoes this morning.) I whipped up some fresh Basil Oil Dressing (see previous blog about Basil) for the regular rigueur of salads. Seasonings replace sauces, though vodka remained the preferred sauce of the day. The bread bin was emptied. Desserts will return to their regularly scheduled birthdays. The third plated item returns to Friday and Saturday nights. Snacks are banned, other than the ones PJ sneaks at work, or when I’m not looking.

Just to make the ladies fume, after three days (and two gym visits) my four-pound holiday bonus was eradicated. Women hate guys for that, even while preferring us studly. But it also might have something to do with that snack sneaking – a habit stuffed into their genes, and jeans.

Drum roll please – introducing an occasional feature of the Domestic Engineer Guy Blog – the Male Moron Award. In reviewing all of the recent candidates, it was pretty easy to settle on the first occasional honoree – Heath Campbell. Heath (no doubt not named after the Heath Bar) said that he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because (based on a Yahoo News story) “no one else in the world would have that name.” Heath boy – there is a reason that quote is true.

The Saudi judge who told an eight-year-old girl that she could not divorce her 58-year-old husband came in a close second. The girl’s 58-year-old husband takes the bronze.

Check out future blogs for some recession-survival tips, even if they verge on depressing. It will be a while before we create our new normal.

If you have a Male Moron nominee, or a survival tip, weigh in - after you’ve lost that holidaze glaze.

* Not Normal, IL