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.