Restaurant Experiences · Uncategorized

Preserving a Foundation for Living

(A reprint from the original The Gourmandista blog — July 3, 2006)

A couple of weeks ago, hubby and I spent a long weekend in Sarasota, Florida, to celebrate our anniversary and to re-live my childhood vacations to the Gulf coast. During my childhood vacations and re-lived as an adult, we discovered the small Amish community of Pinecraft Village. We ate at two Amish-style restaurants, Sugar & Spice and Yoder’s, and bought some home-style goodies at Troyer’s Dutch Heritage (very commercialized, but very tasty bakery items). In the weeks since, I’ve thought not only about the Amish style of cooking but also their sense of community.

The Amish are, of course, known for their practice of living in today with methods of the past and without our modern conveniences (such as electricity and automobiles). They also are known for coming together as a community to help each other, such as the practice of building a barn in a day. And while the men are building the barn and setting the foundation for the farm and cultivation of life, the women maintain the sustenance and cook a simple yet delicious lunch for all to enjoy together.

Inspired by the Amish community spirit and homemade goodness, this past weekend I made and processed in a water bath a few jars of spicy-citrus blueberry marmalade, blueberry jam, apple pie filling, and no-sugar-added strawberry preserves. And, since jam and preserves should not be eaten alone, I also made some blueberry and strawberry muffins. As hubby and I stared at the kitchen table filled with baked and canned goods, we knew that the only thing we had left to do was share. So we made up gift baskets and paid a few visits to new neighbors and old friends.

After this experience, I am in complete agreement with Nigella Lawson who said the following regarding home canning in How to be a Domestic Goddess:

There are few things that make us feel so positively domestic as putting food in store. “Putting up,” it always used to be called, the canning and preserving of the fruits and vegetables presently in glut but soon to disappear. Life’s not quite like that now, but I do preserve fruits and pickle vegetables for the simple reason that I love doing it. I feel I’m putting down roots, laying down a part of the foundation for living.

Next weekend. . . I’ll put down some more roots, make some Amish apple butter and homemade bread, and see if I can find someone in need of an Amish pick-me-up to lay the foundation of a new formed friendship.

Cooking Technique · Uncategorized

Imitation Isn’t the Sincerest Form of Flattery–It’s the Best Way to Learn Technique

(A reprint from my original The Gourmandista blog–originally posted on May 4, 2006).

When art students learn technique, they are required to imitate the great masters. It is in the process of imitating the master that the young artist becomes more experienced and learns to develop his or her own techniques while establishing a firm artistic foundation. Indeed, during our last trip to Paris, hubby and I saw art students copying masterful paintings in the Louvre. Their paintings looked exactly like the originals and their technique had obviously been perfected. So too, do good cooks copy the dishes of masters or at least of good restaurants. It is through imitating those who are good at what we want to be able to do that we can learn how to do new things well and get ideas for improving the things we already do well, including but not limited to: plating, food combinations, the importance of combining textures, food color combinations, service techniques, creating ambiance, unusual food combinations, table settings, napkin folding, the balance of dominant and recessive flavoring, etc.

Many times, it’s through another’s success at creativity that I get inspired to be bolder and more creative in my own food combinations and experiments. One of my favorite things to do is to go to a restaurant, eat a great meal or dish, and then recreate the dish or meal at home. When I’m served a great dish, I eat it more slowly and try to distinguish each individual flavor comprising the completed dish. Once I figure out what is in the dish, I can go home and experiment with different techniques and recipes. I especially like to recreate dishes that creatively combine different foods and spices. And, even when my dish at home does not come out quite like the one I ate at the restaurant, sometimes I end up creating new dishes, or if it’s a failure, I end up learning from the mistake. Either way, I end up adding new dishes, methods, and techniques to my repertoire and continuing my cooking education.

The other night for dinner when I got home I decided not to prepare the salmon and decided instead to make omelets. I remembered a great omelet I had in San Francisco a few years ago while on a business trip at a small café off of Nob Hill. I told hubby that I would make him an omelet but that he needed to allow me to add anything I wanted to it. It’s amazing how even after three years of marriage and one year of dating, all the while eating my cooking, hubby still doubts me when I combine foods he’s not used to having combined. I imitated the Nob Hill dish and made a delicious brie and apple omelet, one even the doubting Thomas could not deny.

The omelet was easy. I just sautéed peeled, thinly sliced apples in butter until soft. Then added the apples to a beaten egg, milk, salt and pepper mixture in the pan. And just before turning the omelet when done cooking, I add slices of brie, folded the omelet, pressed down to help melt the brie and VOILÀ, the omelet was complete. It brought back memories of riding the trolley cart up and down the Hill, walking along the wharf, photographing the seals, eating chocolate at Ghirardelli, and just taking in the ambiance of a great city.