The Mad Chef

One man's search for sanity through the creation of tasty vittles

Monday, July 31, 2006

The End

OK, it's official:

I suck.

I give up, just can't stick to it. It was fun for a while, but the world (or the 4 people who ever actually read this thing) doesn't really need or want to hear my incoherent ramblings about food anyway. I used to be able to sneak these in between work projects, but the projects just get bigger and there's too little free time outside of work anyway. Thanks to anyone who actually found this interesting and read it, but I obviously don't have it in me to maintain the writing. Fun while it lasted, but now it's time to sign off for good.

-the mad something-or-other

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rebirth, Part 1

Alright, one more try. I love food too much to let this die, so I'm giving it one more shot.

I got a little worn down there for a while, started to lose some of the love. I found myself overcomplicating my food in a futile attempt to spark my inspiration, throwing everything out there like a network producer adding a new child character in a desperate attempt to save his floundering family sitcom. And, like adding Leonardo DiCaprio to "Growing Pains", even my cumin-coriander-fenugreek-fennel-pepper-some more crap I found in the spice drawer-paprika rubbed chicken thighs just weren't the right answer. I had to take a step back.

I've preached the simplicity mantra before, but I don't think I had ever completely bought into it myself. So I started writing down my recipe ideas before I cooked them, just to see what they looked like on paper. If it was something that would wear me out just from reading it on a restaurant menu, I scrapped it. Or, at least, I trimmed it down. I started building formulas for how to construct a recipe, with building blocks like aromatics, herbs, and acids like citrus or vinegar. Ingredients had to serve a purpose, not just to be in the recipe so I could say "Look how fancy I am!" A lot of the "bad" (which I place in quotes because they were not actually unpleasant to eat, but because they could have been much better if I had a clear sense of purpose in preparing them) recipes came about because I had very little time and thought that I could make up for it by piling on the flavors. I know better than that, and I knew better at the time. I think that is a large part of why I grew so frustrated. I was doing things that I knew wouldn't work out, I was just hoping that they would.

I started my rebirth by working on pasta dishes. Pasta is a staple in our house, we buy it in 6# packages at Costco. It's cheap, cooks quickly, and it plays well with others. Of course, I'm discussing dry pasta here. Fresh pasta is an entirely different conversation, one that I'm quite honestly not skilled enough to approach at this time. Just a disclaimer, I don't want to commit culinary heresy here.

Anyway, I wrote down a page of pasta combinations that could all be prepared in the time it took for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. A simple formula, they all needed an acid, an herb, garlic (which is a pretty safe assumption, if I cooked it, there's probably garlic in there), and something for body, often a vegetable of some kind (roasted red peppers, sauteed asparagus, tomato, arugula, etc). A cheese if appropriate, which it usually was. These weren't hard and fast rules, they could bend, but the point was that there needed to be a reason to add another ingredient. If it wouldn't really bring anything to the dish, why is it there? Too many flavors confuse the palate, and they just add extra work for the cook. Now, granted, I was happy to grant a special dispensation to the bacon so that it could join the crispy sauteed asparagus and shallots, balsamic vinegar, and fontina cheese, it just belonged there. But wilted spinach? It wouldn't conflict, but it doesn't really add anything either. You get the picture. . .

Anyway, this has potential to go on for a while, so I'm going to break it up. Don't want to burn out on my first day back, plus this gives me material for tomorrow. Until then.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I Didn't Want to Love You. . .

OK, I've added a new cooking show to my list of personal favorites: Ham on the Street. My lovely and talented wife was laughing out loud with me yesterday while we watched the episode about hot dogs, just freaking brilliant stuff going on here. It may not change your life, culinarily speaking, but it will certainly make you think about the food you eat and consider some new possibilities.

After trying to describe the show to my her, I realized that it's almost impossible to do it justice. I'm not even going to try here, you just have to watch it for yourself. Fortunately the Food Network is pimping it pretty hard right now, so they're re-running the two (so far) new episodes all the time. Just check the link for the schedule, you'll be glad you did.

Conveniently enough, they've got the new episodes scheduled for Wednesday nights at 10:30, just after the Professor. I'd make his name a link to his new website, but there's not very much going on there at the moment. Sounds like they've got some pretty cool stuff planned, but it's been "planned" for a while now. Then again, I have no room to mock anyone for slacking on their website/blog. Either way, the link in the sidebar still goes there.

I'm very much looking forward to the new episode this Wednesday, the theme is "Insomniac Cuisine." Since I've had two decent nights' sleep out of the past 8, it speaks to me. I had a little piece planned for today about a nice "culinary heritage" moment I had last week, but it's going to have to wait for me to get some damn rest. The quality of this post should help clarify the reasoning for that. . .maybe tomorrow, I'll resort to warm milk and muscle relaxers if I have to. . .

Friday, January 20, 2006

That Worked

Hee, hee, hee. . .chicken good.
Clarified a few tablespoons of butter with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and two fresh bay leaves in the pan, let it simmer until all the solids sunk to the bottom. Then mixed that with fresh ground pepper and the juice of one freakishly large Meyer lemon, and injected that liquid love all throughout the chicken. I may have gotten a little carried away with it, but it was goooooood.
I zested the lemon, then minced the zest together with olive oil and garlic. A little salt and pepper, then rubbed that all over the bird. Good stuff, very good stuff.
This injector has a lot of potential, I believe I may just be cracking the surface here. I also haven't slept in about 5 days, so I'm believing a lot of things right now. Not really sure why, no extra stress or anything. I've just been staring at the ceiling all night long, and pondering food. . .
The pondering did inspire me for dinner last night, I still had the white meat left from the chicken. I cubed it up, and made a cilantro cream sauce with it for some penne. Carmelized a small onion, deglazed with a little wine, then worked in the chicken and cilantro with 6 fiery little Arribibi Gusano chiles from the freezer. Good times, very good times. . .just had it again for lunch, but cream sauces never reheat that well.
Tonight I slack with take-out, though, I've got to sleep eventually. Herbal tea, some warm milk, and perhaps a sharp blow to the head should do the trick quite nicely. . .see you on the other side.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tastes Like. . .

Chicken. That's what's on the menu for tonight.
I have a pretty comfortable method for roasting chicken, always happy with the results. I brine it overnight (or more), then I rub it down with olive oil, some combo of herbs and spices, and usually a little citrus juice or vinegar. If there's some of the slather left over, I pour it into the cavitiy.
I give it an initial blast of heat (usually a 500º oven, ~15-20 minutes) to crisp up the skin, then drop the oven to 350º and let it ride until my probe thermometer says the internal temp is 165º. I let it rest ~15 minutes, then we dig in. It works well, always juicy and flavorful, and I can make the sides while it's in the oven. I always enjoy it, even on a weeknight it's not a stressful meal to prepare. . .so why am I feeling compelled to screw with it?
I lay awake in bed last night, contemplating a variation on my old standby chicken. A variation perhaps, invovlving the marinade injector that a friend gave me over Thanksgiving. . .
Pondering what a roast chicken would taste like if its meat were injected with a combination of melted butter and Meyer lemon juice, perhaps infused with garlic and fresh bay leaves, and then left to soak up that goodness before going into the oven. And, what if I just wasn't able to help myself, so the slather on the chicken was garlic and the zest from that same Meyer lemon?
Could that be worth a betrayal of my roast chicken that has stood by me for so long? Could I ever be true to that recipe again after a one-night stand with this exotic temptress?

We'll find out tonight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

One More Try. . .

This is it. If I can't keep this thing going, I'll have to put it out of its misery. My last try was a little naive, I was still holding down 2 full-time positions within my department at the time. They finally hired a replacement for my old job, so I should (theoretically) be back in the saddle again now. We'll see. . .
So many new discoveries since I've been away, so much to write about. I've discovered the magical Middle-Eastern spice sumac, the wonders of roasted, ground chicory root in much more than coffee, and I am now the proud owner of a food dehydrator. This is going to be fun. Jerky is first in the queue, but it's wide open from there. Anyway, I'll try and take baby steps for now, but I miss writing here. Even if only 3 people were ever reading it to begin with. . .

As Tom Petty sang from my stereo this morning, "Oooh Oohoohoohoooh/I keep crawling back to you."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Meat. . .You'll Be a Chili, Soon

Ain't that purdy?