Monday, May 31, 2010

Mistakes can be blessings in disguise

So I'm sure all of us can attest to having made boo boos in the kitchen. My latest one involved a traditional Spanish dessert called Creme Catalana. I've made creme brulee a million times and so I wasn't worried about tackling this particular dessert. How hard could it be right?? Wrong. The dessert is basically a recipe for a vanilla custard that, like creme brulee, sets and then the top is bruleed with sugar to create a contrast between creamy and cruncy. Delicious. Well, I did the recipe by the book, tempering the egg yolks properly, straining out any cooked bits of milk and egg and then chilling overnight. Well, next morning I went to look at them to see if they were set and ready to go and what do you know, they were just as liquidy as when I first stuck them in the fridge.

Needless to say, I didn't have time to try it again so I racked my brains to figure out how I could fix them. Only thing I could think of was to stick them in the freezer and see if that would solve the problem. So I transferred them to the freezer and a couple of hours later, sure enough, they were set. I put them back into the fridge and then went on with my day of cooking and cleaning. At about 3pm, 3 hours before dinner, I happened to look in the fridge and noticed that not only had they thawed, but were right back to being liquidy again. Shoot. Now what??

Soooo, I put them right back in the freezer and let them set up again. Now I had to come up with a second alternative plan. My solution was to sell it as a new concept, frozen creme brulee. I wasn't 100% sure this would fly but at this point I had to try. Went forward with the meal. Started off with Goat Cheese and Tapenade Stuffed Tomatoes, Mixed Greens with a Chopped Vegetable and Olive Salad, Paella and the grand finale, the special Cinnamon, Vanilla and Orange Blossom Frozen Creme Brulee. Sounded fancy huh?? I pulled the frozen custards out, which by this point were like ice cream, and let them sit at room temperature for like 10 minutes just to take the chill off a bit. Then I sprinkled the tops with sugar and caramelized the sugar with my blow torch, just like I always do with creme brulee.

Then I thought to myself, "Well, here goes nothing." Off we went, presented the specialty gourmet dessert to our guests and then I went and hid in the kitchen, awaiting the response. The response was a bunch of empty ramekins and a lot of "that was the most unique dessert I have ever eaten." Phew, disaster averted and possibly new menu item added to existing repertoire. Now, question is if I can recreate the disaster cum blessing in disguise. Point is, think quick. Be creative. You never know why things happen the way they do, but I'm a firm believer in karma and also in the concept that sometimes the best things in life come out of what at the time can be perceived of as something awful. I always say to my students, what's the worst thing that can happen in the kitchen? You don't like something and you try again. Big deal. But if you never tried to begin with, you'll never know the pleasure of the experience of both making and eating good food.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eating Mindfully

I know this is going to sound controversial but hear me out. I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they were telling me they loved to eat and that I could probably tell. Now this person is petite, probably 5'2" and maybe 120 lbs soaking wet. However, I do know they like to eat out and dine on gourmet cuisine. I made a comment to her that I have a theory that people who are foodies, who genuinely appreciate good food and the social aspects of dining, tend to be fit. I'm not saying skinny, but fit. They tend to focus on what they put into their bodies and that seems to extend to their whole well being, not just food.

I think this is directly a result of mindfulness. Being mindful of splurging once in a while but doing so consciously, not just simply for the sake of eating to fill some kind of void or because you are bored. They also tend to be midnful of their bodies in terms of working out and taking time to choose their foods wisely. There also seems to be a correlation between those who appreciate good food eating a more diverse diet, rich in not just some of the things we think are bad for us, like butter and cheese, but lots of fruits and vegetables, assembled and prepared delicately and cleverly at the height of their freshness.

Follow the logic here. We always talk about why French people, for example, aren't generally speaking heavy even though they eat what seems to be a very rich diet, drink lots of wine and eat very late at night, which are all "no-no's" according to most of our westernized diet plans. Yet, the diet doesn't seem to reflect the people. Why?? Well, I believe it is about this mindfulness. They are mindful of what they are eating, paying close attention to the flavors and appreciating them. They are mindful of whom they are eating with, usually spending hours over a meal, slowly enjoying what generally ends up being smaller portions than what we consume on a regular basis of richer, more flavorful foods. And they are mindful of the fact that food is both a necessity and a luxury in life. Yes, we all have to eat, but what we choose to eat isn't always a matter of necessity.

Often we choose things that don't nourish us in any way and really don't taste very good. We choose them because they are cheap, abundant and en vogue. I know that commercials and media inundate us with mixed signals about food. While fast food restaurants are pushing the super sized cheap meals, shows like "Biggest Loser" and "Celebrity Fit Club" have marketed every possible kind of supplement to assist us with offsetting the super sized world we live in. It's a dichotomy that is really kind of tragic and really signals a national eating disorder of a huge magnitude.

So, with that said, I challenge you all for the next month to eat mindfully. Pay attention to the choices you make. Decide if you are eating something simply because you saw an ad for it on tv, are bored or are genuinely going to spend the time to appreciate and enjoy the flavors of it. Take time to eat socially, appreciating the communion you can experience by sharing in food and drink. The whole concept of "breaking bread" isn't a new one, but one that may be getting lost in an increasingly busy world. Let your mind and your belly be full of love, passion and good food.