General cooking tips and rumination
2 pounds minced beef
4 onions chopped
4 carrots chopped
4 celery chopped
3/4 pound mushrooms chopped
1 sweet green pepper chopped
1 sweet yellow pepper chopped
2 larges cans tomatoes crushes
1 larges cans tomatoes
2 cans concentated tomatoes pasted
2 oz double concentated tomatoes pasted
3 bay leaves
6 chile de arbol
2 tbs honey
4 tbs dried parsley
4 tbs dried sweet basil
4 tbs dried oregano
4 tbs dried thyme
2 tbs dried mustard
4 garlics minced fine
1/2 cup olive oil
1. Cooks meat & olives oil
2. Melt onions & garlics
3. Put ingredient in larges pot
4. Cook very low simmmer open for 3-4 hours
5 Sausage Cheese Lit’l Smokies
2 tbs Cheese Italian Truffle
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp Chives
Olive Oil Spray
Hawaiian Black Salt
1. Chopped sausage.
2. Olive oil, eggs, sausage, cheese, basil, chives, peppercorn and salt.
3. With a fork whisk the eggs gently until you have a smooth homogeneous mixture.
4. In a frying pan on a medium fire the olive oil spray.
5. 2 minutes scrambles eggs.
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The heat wave that has hit central Mexico in the past week has debilitated us completely. People think about Mexico as a very hot place with beaches and jungles, but actually here in the center of the country the average temperature is nice and pleasant all year long without any extremes of heat and cold. You have to remember that the center of Mexico is a very high altitude plateau and that Mexico City is at around 7500 feet and where we live is closer to 8200 feet. We even have an active volcano within 25 miles that is close to 18000 feet, the PopocatÃ©petl. Thus we are accustomed to temperatures in the mid-70’s at midday almost all year long, and when it raises to over 90F our systems do not cope with it. I am from Quebec where I was used to extremes of temperature from -45F in the winter to over 95F and humid in the summer, but after living here for over 7 years you lose your adaptation to those extremes.
What does that has to do with inspiration? I have been cooking since I was a little kid when I started baking cookies with my grandmother when I was probably 4-5 years old. Being in a kitchen are amongst some of my earliest memory, and I have a sense of piece and accomplishment when I am working in the kitchen. I am used to the extreme heat of a working kitchen, but when I sit in my office trying to accomplish some work, concentrate on something, or plan what we will eat next and it is over 95F like it is now, my inspiration dies instantly with my transpiration. When you are in the eat of the kitchen you have a task and a goal, and you concentrate to reach it no matter how uncomfortable you get. Here in the office I am slowly dripping bit by bit to the floor, and creating a big puddle under my chair.
Yesterday we did not publish a Daily Express column as Normita was out at a school event with our nieces, and she had something to eat there. It was so hot that I did not even eat anything as I was not hungry. When Normita returned we decided to wait until it cooled down at night and see what we would eat. By 9pm we finally relented and went to eat something and she had the little bit of leftover chicken salad, and I had cold leftover rice from earlier in the week or last weekend. We had a few bites and that was it.
We both woke up starving and had some of the nice banana bread I baked earlier in the week and a nice grapefruit. Now it is getting late again and I have no real inspiration to prepare anything. The heat is not helping, but the fact that it is so hot up here that we do not have the energy to drive down the hill to the store where it must be over 110F in the sun is killing my creativity. Since we did not go shopping we have nothing fresh in the refrigerator. I looked around in there for inspiration earlier, and found a large moldy onion that was starting to sprout, a few old tomatoes, some limp radishes, and some potatoes. Not a great source of inspiration for a great meal.
As I am sitting here I am wondering what I will finally prepare and at least I do not have to prepare a “Menu du Jour” for a restaurant today, as I would simply tell people that the kitchen is closed for the day. I am sure I will figure out something in time. Normita is currently in the shower to refresh herself and I will go do the same soon. After that, refreshed, I am sure that the inspiration will come. Even just thinking of cooling down is helping a bit.
Let’s see… Since I have nothing fresh except those tomatoes, what could I do with them? If they are still firm and nice maybe just a simple tomato salad. Sliced ice-cold tomatoes with some fresh basil, bits and pieces of nuts, some olives, cheese, a sprinkling of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and whatever else the inspiration brings when I get into the kitchen.
See? It was not that difficult. When I cook for ourselves or invent new recipes I let inspiration direct me. Cooking for others is a different thing as some experiments are better left behind the kitchen’s door. Do you hear that, young chefs of the world who are dying to cook something different? There are some reasons that after thousands and thousands of years that some things are not combined in strange ways that are not pleasant. Probably millions of chef trying to do something different tried those combination and found out it did not work, and left it at that…
Sorry about the digression, I did not want to turn this into a rant. Getting back to the title of this post, I found my inspiration just by focusing on this post and letting my mind drift away from the heat, and something interesting came out of it and hopefully the tomatoes in the fridge will be nice enough for what I have roughly planned for them. If not I will be mighty disappointed and there will probably be another post about it…
One last word, as strange as this may sound I actually just planned today’s meal as I was writing this using a technique I developed when I was still a kid. It is somewhat related to directed dreaming, where you focus your mind on something and let your subconscious work the details out. It is a great method to find inspiration and also to find solutions to complex problems. I normally do it very differently, but since I wanted to post about finding inspiration I decided to try the method in finding a solution to my dilemma while I posted about it. It did work remarkably well and if people are interested in hearing more about this technique please let me know and I will elaborate more.
Until then, the shower awaits me and after that it will be the kitchen…
I finally managed to cook those pieces of suadero on the barbecue earlier today. My aim was to have something nice and very tender to eat, but it did not turn out as planned. The meat became very though and chewy from the dry cooking, even though it had marinated for 2 days. The main reason is that the meat has a membrane that just tenses up and that was too thick to crisp well. Also the texture of the meat once cooked was not as expected. It looked like something like arrachera, bavette, or flank which has long fibers, but it really does not. I should have inspected it better before marinating it, but since I was too tired at the time it is my lost.
The taste was fantastic as the cut of meat is very tasty and with the added flavoring of the marinate it tasted very good. The meal looked great, and the side dishes were perfect for it. If it was not for the chewiness of the meat it would have been a great meal. Here is a look at the plated dish.
Looking back at it I should have slow cooked it over moist eat or cooked it until it was very crisp. The stringy texture would probably go either way. I will see what I can do if I buy some again. I was tempted by the cheap price, and I got what I paid for. A big contrast with the nice pork we bought cheaply at the same place as it turned out great.
Since my motto is to learn something new each day, then I will not go to bed stupid tonight as I learned how not too cook suadero! Like in science there are no bad experiments in cooking, just some that yield unexpected results. No I have to go take something for the heartburn…
I have been wondering about something since last night, and that makes me reflect a lot on many things, to the point of making me somewhat unproductive today. I know that I am not chronologically young anymore, but I still feel like I am young deep down inside me, even though some morning my body reminds me that I am not still in my teens. I have been wondering all day if experience still counts for something in today’s society…
This thought was triggered by watching some cooking show on TV last night. There was not much of anything decent on TV and I was zapping through the channels trying to find something interesting to watch. I came across a cooking show that I had seen advertised on one of the Latin American cooking channels we get on cable, but never actually watched. It was a restaurant based reality show where some young chef, that showed his lack of experience in the way he was running the place and also the attitude of a spoiled kid, was confronted with running a busy restaurant short on staff. This attitude is not entirely related to age, as I know people much older than me that exhibit the same personality traits. What came next is what really floored me when this kid in his mid 20’s, who could not be out of cooking school that long, came on camera and boasted "When I was a young chef". I could not help commenting to Normita that I probably have socks older than that kid, and how long could he have been cooking professionally to say something like that. If while in his mid 20’s he is considering himself an ‘Old Timer’ what will he consider himself to be in 20-30 years?
This led me to do some serious thinking about what my outlook on life was when I was that age. I clearly remember that, like most people that age, I thought that I knew better than most people my own age, and a lot of older people, but I also remember that I had, and still have a lot of respect for the opinion of people who had done something longer than I had and accumulated a lot of experience. It all comes down to one of my pet peeves of all time, my long-standing lamenting that the old apprentice system of yore is gone, and there is no way for people to learn a trade that takes years to master, as most people want results now without the need to learn it the old fashioned way. I have worked with my hands all of my life, and I know that many skills are beyond what I can do with the time I have to practice them. I also know that if you want to be good at something you have to have some talent, but the most important thing is practice, and practice, and practice, and some more practice.
Back to the cooking world where somebody used to apprentice for years before moving up in the kitchen hierarchy, we now have kids that goes for a few weeks to a few months in a famous kitchen, and move on to another one to improve their resumÃ©, and that they want to be cooking stars a few short years after they get interested in the trade. This lead to what I saw yesterday on TV when a 25 year old ‘Old Timer’ has is own cooking show on TV, plainly shows that he cannot handle the job at hand, that of running a restaurant’s kitchen, and even worse does not even demonstrate good manual skill at the basic prep work for the dishes he demonstrates. The later is a trait that you see often nowadays on cooking show, and I assume that they do not teach basic techniques in cooking school anymore, or worse that they do, but most people do not bother learning and practicing them properly.
I guess that I am ranting again and boring you all, and that what was supposed to be a very short post is turning into a long one, but I firmly believe that experience and basic skills takes time to learn, and that there are no shortcuts to attain them both. I noticed the same trend in my professional life as a programmer, is that there are so many new things to learn that people are more interested in the technology itself, than in making thing actually do something very well, without the need of the latest technology.
A word of advise to anybody passing by here from an ‘Old Timer’ at many things including life, no matter what your goals are in life, no matter what subject you really feel deeply interested in, please take some time developing the basic skills to achieve your goals. It both takes time and a lot of practice, but when you finally grow up and are finally getting a bit of real life experience under your collar, you will learn to appreciate the fact that you actually KNOW a lot more about the subject at hand than a lot of your contemporaries, and one day you will also learn to be proud of that in itself. By the way, this also applies to people my age, as we are never too old to learn anything new, and experience, no matter how old you are to start with, takes a long time to accumulate. As they would say today, knowledge and experience rules!
On the July 27 will be Normita’s birthday and since on the first time we met, when she visited Canada back in 1998, I brought her on a picnic, I decided to make a nice picnic for her and a few of her friends next Saturday. I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to picnics. In my book a picnic should be made with some nice cold food, some nice wines, and preferably served by your staff from a huge wicker basket from the back of your Rolls, but since we have neither staff nor a Rolls Royce, we will have to settle for doing it ourselves out of a cooler and a big plastic bin, from the back of our little VW Lupo.
In the past we normally stuck to two types of picnics, the active ones where we either drove somewhere with all the stuff, or cycled somewhere with a more restricted lunch and no wine, or drove somewhere with the ATV with a decent spread. The other type, and some of my favorites, was the lazy ones we did on our pontoon boat on the lake. We only had to bring whatever we wanted from the house down to the boat, and then lazily putter around the lake for hours at the slowest speed the boat could manage, while listening to nice music on the boat’s stereo, and enjoying the view.
On the more active picnics we normally brought a more restricted menu, normally either sandwiches, or cold cuts, some nice fruits and cheeses, with some nice bread. Of course, depending on how we got to the picnic site, we would bring some wine or juices. One of our favorite ways of doing those types of picnics was the cycling picnics. When we were living in the mountains in QuÃ©bec, we used to cycle regularly from late spring to early fall. There is a stunningly beautiful bicycle track that they built on a reclaimed train track. It goes from MontrÃ©al to Mont-Laurier a few hundred kilometers north. During the week we normally drove to the track where it passed near the village we lived, and cycled to the next village and back. On weekends we would drive to St-Jovite and park there, then cycle either towards Mont-Tremblant, or towards St-Faustin. The ride to St-Faustin was our favorite for picnics, as it was uphill all the way, but we stopped before arriving at the village at a nice ‘pisciculture’ where they raised various species of trout. They had a great picnic area with nice tables in the shade under huge pine trees, and after a hearty meal we could race back downhill to the car without having to exert ourselves too much. We normally brought lighter stuff, from a simple sandwich to some sushi from the supermarket, whatever could conveniently fit in our handlebar bags.
The boat picnics were normally more involved and fancy. We would prepare quite a spread with some nice caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon, small cold water shrimps from Matane, some cheeses from a runny Epoisse to a nice piece of Stilton, assorted cold cuts, and whatever else we fancied. Of course we would probably have a nice cold glass of Fino Sherry like my favorite La Ina, then follow up with some champagne or some other variety of sparkling wine, and maybe a robust red or a port for the end of the meal. The usual peasant fare…
Last weekend we went to Xochimilco, the famous floating gardens at the south of the city, and it reminded me a lot of the days living at the lake. The ‘trajineras’, the long flat bottomed boats that evolved from the traditional indigenous wooden canoes used to navigate the canals, are designed with a long table down the middle, and you can bring your food for a picnic, and also buy food from various sellers in other ‘trajineras’. We did not eat there last weekend, but we plan to go back eventually and bring a nice picnic spread with us. Some pictures of our day in Xochimilco are posted at The Sassquatch’s Lair.
I will not go into the exact menu for next weekend’s picnic as I want to keep it somewhat of a surprise (don’t worry I will post the recipes next week), but I will go a bit into the planning of it.
This time I might forego my normal traditionalist ways and make a hot course for the picnic, as Normita gave me a nice little portable gas grill for my birthday last year, and I have not had a chance of really using it.
The first step was to find a place to have the picnic. Although there are some places with picnic areas in various parks throughout the city, and we can also have a picnic anywhere we can put a blanket down, I felt that we should go a bit more toward the periphery of the city, even if it is just to get a bit of fresh air as a relief to the pollution. I looked around a bit and found a few promising places, and we might just go to some national park at the south of the city called ‘El Ajusco’. It is in and around a mountain peak that towers over the valley, and abounds with hiking trails and picnic areas. Hopefully the place will be worth it, and if the pollution level is down, the views should be stunning.
Next on the list is what to bring with us. In Canada we have a nice wicker picnic basket with all the basics we needed for picnics. Of course it is in storage over there with the rest of our things, so it is not of much help to us now. Yesterday, while we were doing our groceries, we had decided to pick up paper plates and plastic cutlery and glasses, but we both never liked eating out of those. We were looking around the store and we came across some nice very cheap plastic dinnerware sets for 4, and cheap cutlery sets. The total cost was not very much more than a few sets of the disposable stuff, so we splurged and invested in a 4 place setting with cutlery and picked up a few plastic glasses and a serving tray. We also picked up a big plastic bin with a locking lid where we can store everything, and we already cleaned and packed it up with our new stuff. Other essentials we will add are some clothe napkins, a roll of paper towels, salt and pepper shakers, some wine glasses wrapped in dish clothes, a tablecloth, a blanket, some serving tools, a carving knife, a paring knife, and let’s not forget the most important a champagne bottle stopper and a corkscrew.
Since I planned the meal to be a little more formal than the typical picnic, I decided to plan it like a regular meal, with some starters including some patÃ© and salad, followed by a cold soup. The main course will be cooked on the spot, but the side dishes will be prepared ahead and reheated to simplify my life. The main goal is to make it as easy to prepare and to eat, with most food already cut into pieces so that you can easily hold your plate in one hand and eat with the other. I also want to bring some dessert, but I have not had any inspiration yet on something that would be nice and easily served at a picnic. I am sure that the week will bring some inspiration.