Friday, August 04, 2006

Towards Eating Better
Quality Ingredients

There are a lot of cooking shows on TV. And books, plenty of cook books. I think people think they can eat better if they learn to cook better. I am also pretty sure that cooking can be improved. Often to cook better, takes just a bit of improvement, a little knife technique, pans just a bit hotter, leaving things alone long enough for crust; seasoning... Still, the improved cooking only goes so far. Eating better means more than better cooking.

Restaurants cook well. Even at Jimmy Johns, they know how to cook. Restaurants cook in ways you cannot. They have mis en place, which is another way of saying they have a lot of time to prepare, to slice evenly, fix stocks, and make things easier to cook. Restaurants also have technology, not the least the paco jets and odd contraptions of the avante garde. I mean true convection ovens and 1800 degree broilers and big ass pots (which really aint so hi-tech but makes a difference). The home cook who reads all the books and watches all the shows can only get so far. Or ask yourself, does it really matter that the people at Cheesecake Factory know how to cook. The home cook, however, has a secret weapon, the tomato.

If you eat out today or tomorrow or any day next week, look at the tomato. Does it seem like a tomato. Like a tomato you could get. Like a tomato you would eat? Long story short, quality ingredients are available to the home cook, especially in ways not very available at restaurant eating. If you seek out and obtain quality ingredients, you will eat well. This is our weapon; our source for great eating.

Some quality ingredients are easily accessible and add little cost. Trader Joe's sells outstanding estate olive oil for no more than average EVOO costs. Or take butter, is there any product that can be so good, add so much, with so little added cost? Some times it takes a bit more money and some times it takes a lot more money to obtain quality ingredients. Farmer's market stuff, from eggs to fruits to vegetables cost more, but it's not that much more. On the other hand, prime-aged steaks cost a lot more money than Jewel Angus. Some quality ingredients are too expensive or barely available to the home cook, think caviar of foie gras. Seafood, especially here in Chicago, I would argue, it is nearly impossible to get true quality seafood at home. All this means, cater your diet, your menus towards what you can get and what you want to pay.

Quality ingredients are not difficult to find or afford. Taste the difference. Eat better by making the effort to get quality ingredients.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Towards Eating Better

About sometime in 2001 I began posting reports on restaurants on the Internets. One reason I had a lot to say about restaurants is that I ate out a lot. I still eat out a lot, but not nearly as much. One of the reasons I eat more at home, is that I have really grown to enjoy how we are eating (at home). So, I thought I would share some reasons why our home eating has become so enjoyable.

Now, the forthcoming posts will surely reveal no secrets, and some of the ideas may have been worked a bit already at this site--do you know about eating local? Moreover, I fear I will sound banal and rather dorky, but I'll give it a try. Many, nay most of the things to be presented may be done or known, like you need VI to tell ya, but maybe, maybe I'll provoke an idea or two. Maybe, maybe there will be a few aha moments that will add pleasure to your meals. For these are not about big changes or cooking tips: hey cut the vegetables uniformly so they cook evenly. They are about marginal changes, changes at the fringes. Details, things that can be done at home a lot easier that can change a meal.

I risk the fool for another reason. I believe that one of the problems Americans have with food, and with the resulting food related illnesses, is the fact that we do not eat organically and naturally and for pleasure and enjoyment. And while I think organic/natural in a Euell Gibbons meets Whole Foods is good (very good), I'm not talking about that. I mean eating in a way that is natural to the flow of life and family, that fits into schedules yet is not a slave to schedules. Think of the patterns of traditional Spanish eating, to take something seemingly extreme, yet this way of eating developed to fit with the Spanish climate. Natural, I mean cooking and eating with the foodstuffs around, in season, again as you find in other cuisine's. I believe the way these other peoples approach food and eating is the primary reason they are healthier than us and surely look a lot better.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Eat Local
Local Pride

There are many, many great reasons to eat local. I fully believe in the environmental, political, biological and economical reasons to eat local, but even if you don't, you should eat local if you enjoy eating. Now, at times, I feel I am trusting my instinct, or even worse, blind faith, when it comes to endorsing local products. Through various circumstances, I've had non-local cherries and nectarines and corn this summer, and I know, well for the most part, the stuff sucked when compared to farmer's market stuff, but for the most part I have no real sample population to fully know that my local food is, in fact, better. Which is why I appreciate a bit of national love.

First, there's our hot dogs. A few weeks ago, I was watching the new American Eats show on the History channel, and I was surprised to learn that 95% of hot dogs eaten nationwide were skinless. My daughter, in one of those proud papa moments that makes it worthwhile to be a papa, immediately recognized that she was firmly in that 5%, eating pretty much only skinned or real hot dogs. And now comes Michael Rulhman in this month's Gourmet to confirm. He declares Vienna the best commercial hot dog in the country. Take that!

Then, there's our cheese and dairy. Via Eating L.A., I got the results of the latest American Cheese Society competition (pdf). Sure, Cabot of Vermont took the top prize, but the list of winners is loitered with local purveyors: Upland, Rothkase, Carr Valley, of course, but also Leelanau of Michigan and Trader's Creamery (yeah, that yoghurt is the best); there are many more Wisconsin cheese guys. My friends at Brunkow got an award for they cheese spread and I expect next year, they will get a few more awards with their new cheeses. Crave Brothers Farmstead, Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Hook's Cheese, Mount Sterling, and Blue Mont Dairy were other winners from Wisconsin.

When you eat local, you have the chance to eat some of the best food. Fer sure.