Friday, December 31, 2010

Look what's around us

I get asked a lot of questions about food, I'm considered a radical and I get into trouble and upset some people because of my big mouth, however, if I wasn't honest then I would be lying to myself.  So I comment on where I will and won't eat out, what I think of corporate pizzas and cheap chocolate, without hesitation.  After being told I'm a snob, I usually get asked lots of questions about what I cook and how I do it.

I cook from what I have in the fridge without a recipe.  Cooking from raw materials in your fridge is all about knowledge of techniques and ingredients.  As I have said before, North Americans have lost the ability to even make a simple soup from scratch.  Cooking is a very easy skill to gain, easy to improve and easy to practice.  Think about it, we eat 2-5 meals a day, that's 14-35 meals a week, 58-140 meals a month.  That's a lot of practice.  I think if we have a core set of "tricks" then you can have a multitude of palate pleasing meals.  Keep in mind, that not all experiments work out (I always have oatmeal on hand...).  One of my favourite cookbooks is the Joy of Cooking.  It's a perfect reference book on all sorts of things.  

Let's take soup, it's not rocket science.  Take the method of making soup - your veg, your liquid, your meat, your seasoning and your flavours.  Easy - take a butternut squash, peel and cubed.  Roast it in the oven, mash it, add garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and chicken stock to make the desired consistency - add a nice ciabatta from your local bakery and voila - dinner in 45 minutes with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. 

The squash puree before adding the chicken stock, you can add to risotto rice and voila - squash risotto, or just mash the roasted squash in your food processor with garlic and ginger, serve as a side with steak - easy!  Three dishes from a handful of stuff I bet we all have in our fridge.

I also get a lot of questions from people who have the opportunity to charter boats in the Caribbean in the wintertime.  They think they have to eat like here.  The way we eat in a cold climate is much different in a hot one!  First rule, I promise you don't need to eat half the amount of calories.  Second rule, I promise you don't have to have 3 square meals a day, grazing through the late morning, early afternoon will keep you satisfied.

Breakfast is easy, fresh local fruit - like a banana, toast with peanut butter or whatever the locals like on their toast (sea grape jam rocks!) and a coffee with some rum -  Voila.  Graze throughout the day on fresh coconut meat, a coconut water drink with some rum (I sense a theme here), fruit, nuts, maybe a brioche from the bakery in town.  Dinner - see what is at the local market - fish, collard greens and even a tray of Caribbean style mac n' cheese.  You can make a stew with coconut milk, okra, leafy greens, fresh fruit and once the stew is ready, just pop in fresh chunks of local fish.  Voila!  Dessert - rum of course.  Throw out your ideas of an appetizer, formal dessert, stuffing your face.  Enjoy the experience of new flavours, a new culture and new and old friends sitting in the cockpit, the food is secondary!

Just look around you, we have a lot to eat, and we're lucky.  Ask the locals what to cook, how to cook it.  Go to the markets with a pen and paper, take notes.  That's what Paul and I do when we are on vacation, we've even purchased fish from the fireman on Little Cayman and from the fisherman on the boat launch on Cayman Brac.  I've cooked a whole fish wrapped in foil slathered with local mangos, limes, butter, rum and coconut and just slapped it down on the table with 2 forks and just enjoyed every single bite - no fancy silverware or even plates!  A good coconut water and rum drink to wash it all down - perfect.

If we look what is on hand, what is available seasonally and ask; cooking is easy.  If you don't know any cooking techniques or tricks, take classes.  What you learn in cooking classes you will have forever, knowledge is power.  Invest in your health - take more cooking classes.

Here's my favourite way to serve fish:

Serves 1

1 large piece of foil
1 fennel bulb - julienne (you can also use okra, green beans etc.)
1 carrot - julienne
1 clove garlic - fine chop
1 shallot - julienne
glug of olive oil
glug of white wine (or rum)
salt and pepper
caraway or nutmeg

Place all veg in one half of the foil, glug the veg with the olive oil and white wine.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and caraway (or chili powder or curry powder).  Place fish fillet over the pile of goodness.  Fold the foil over the entire pile, seal the edges.  Put in 400 F oven for 20 minutes.  Remove, tear open foil and voila - dinner with no effort.  You can do this on the bbq or grill, just put a cookie sheet on the grill, do not put the fish packet directly on the grill as the veg will burn.

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