The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Hey, beginner in the kitchen! Be assured of one thing: It’s easier than it seems.
The image of the man in the kitchen, the just-starter-outer who requires books with titles like “How to Boil Water” and “Stand Facing the Stove” is that of a good-natured but innocent doofus straddling a line between the suave, under-control master of every crank on every piece of kitchen equipment, the guy who knows just how much ground superfine mustard is required to penetrate the fish he’s coating, and of the over-his-head fool who merely wants whatever’s he’s cooking to stay on the plate, and not poison him.
Listen, my brother. I was once where you are. Effective cooking is no more than figuring out what you want, assembling the pieces and joining the pieces.
Assuming you accept that, note how cooking is thus like carpentry, welding, furniture building, gardening or any number of things you’ve likely already done.
Needless to say things get learned as one passes from the “You cook the food, I eat the food” delineation of domestic roles to “We can do this easily, together” that so impresses women these days (I have no idea what impresses women, never have, but this seems to work). And if you’re involved in cooking to please no one but yourself, well, no one but yourself is qualified to assess your genius.
Get yourself some appropriate knives and other kitchen implements, and a good stock of spices in little jars, and you’re ready to eat and live like a prince (treat the aforementioned items as you would the purchase of tools and hardware at Home Depot, and you’re on your way).
The great chef Jerry Seinfeld once commented that cinnamon should be on every restaurant table, next to the salt and pepper. Whenever something tastes better than expected, it’s probably because cinnamon has been added.
He’s right. Shake a little cinnamon into coffee or tea, onto a fish, into coleslaw, and the quality of life suddenly goes through the roof.
I would add horseradish sauce to the list, the pureed, bottled white version (“puree” is French for “mashed up into paste”, incidentally). Not to the cinnamon, to the list. Horseradish is pungent, harsh, looks like an ugly root when it comes out of the ground because that’s what it is, and a little goes a long way, but throw a half-spoonful into mashed potatoes and suddenly the sky is bluer, the grass is greener and the beer is colder. It’s that useful.
If horseradish makes you think of the term “yuck” in neon lettering, your experience likely includes an overdose. Use it sparingly.
One of the joys of kitchen life is creating stuff out of scratch, and again, it’s often easier than it seems. Ever go out and order the shrimp cocktail? Probably not much. That stuff is expensive, but be aware a frozen bag of good-sized shrimp, offering about eight applications of fancy shrimp cocktail, can be had for about ten dollars.
Thaw the number you need by throwing them in a bowl of water, with running water drizzling into it (about twenty minutes). Now you need cocktail sauce: mix up horseradish, ketchup, a squirt of lemon juice, and splashes of three spices that begin with “c” (refer to those little jars you bought): cayenne pepper, chili powder and chives. Too intense? Add more ketchup. Not intense enough? More spices, or more horseradish.
Dry off the thawed shrimp. Arrange them, and the bowl of sauce, into something you consider pleasing presentation. Dive in, and live like the czar and czarina of Russia.
Working on a fish dinner? Forgot the tartar sauce? Forget those little plastic packets from McDonalds. Tartar sauce is nothing more than mayonnaise, sweet relish and a little pepper, all mixed up. Funny how nobody tells you this stuff.
An important element in the kitchen lifestyle is safety. Beyond a friendly notice not to screw around with your knife collection, you have to be on duty whenever heat is applied to anything. Do not walk away from the stove or any oven; you’re not rebuilding a lawn mower engine on a workbench, you’re changing the chemical composition of what you’re about to ingest, by means of raising its temperature. Angle the television in such a sway that you can see it from the kitchen. You want to enjoy a meal, not run around disabling screeching smoke detectors while looking for a sponge and a mop.
Let’s get back to horseradish, the backbone of some remarkable cuisine. You won’t believe how good Polish sausage and sushi can be, together. It’s largely because each has an accompanying element, horseradish, to apply some punch. In Polish, horseradish is “chrzan.” In Japanese it’s “wasabi.” Get a small load of sushi, some of Polish sausage sliced about sushi-sized (boil it first), smear some chrzan and some wasabi on the plate, and dig in. You’ll feel like Mr. Kaga, that guy whose satisfied bite into a green pepper begins the “Iron Chef” television program.
After a few months of this sort of living, I have concluded the best cheeseburgers on earth can be found at ... my house. I know how to prepare steak by searing it first, then throwing it and its cast-iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes. You should try the Manhattan cocktail I devised.
It is no different from building a model airplane or a knock-down table. You simply add your own touches. You’re a fabricator and an artist, and every meal comes off like a perfectly restored ‘57 Chevy, not to mention that you’ve stopped feeling hungry. That’s got to count for something.
Contributor Ed Adamczyk is an expert on eating, a dedicated amateur in cooking and has never once relied on the Kenmore Volunteer Fire Department. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.