Monday, March 31, 2008


So I wanted to say something about cookbooks. I don’t use them. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing wrong with them. From time to time, I can even be found perusing the cooking section of the book store. But that’s not what I wanted to write about. A cookbook made me realize I was a “foodie” long before “foodie” was a term (my spell check still underlines it- You try).

It was circa 1993 and I was a nurse working night shift in an Emergency Room in Clearwater, Florida. I didn’t know the night crew very well because I was new to that shift. At Christmas time, we did a name draw for gifts. Because I didn’t know folks very well, I assumed there was little known about me as well. So, the morning came for the exchange. We’d finished our shift and headed out to our favorite breakfast place for eggs and Bloody Mary’s (night shift folks are bizarre). I’m embarrassed to say that I have no recollection of what I purchased or who I purchased it for. I do recall Sharon reaching across the table and handing me MY gift. Sharon was an interesting gal. She was always grumpy I thought. I don’t recall seeing her smile much. She was one of the night charge nurses which meant that she was my supervisor when we worked together. She tended to have an authoritarian approach to being in charge. So, I figured as she handed me my gift it would be as generic as it could be: a picture frame, a knick knack, a nice pen. I could see beyond the wrapping that it was a paperback book. Hey, that’s a nice thought. I hoped it was a spy novel because Clancy was really a hot author at the time.

I was so surprised to see “The Frugal Gourmet” by Jeff Smith. How did she know? I don’t recall putting THAT out there. This was the early 90’s. Cooking wasn’t cool. I don’t remember telling anyone that the first TV shows I set my VCR to record after learning how was The Frugal Gourmet on PBS. After all, I had just gotten out of the Army. I was a combat veteran. I was cool. If I tried to contain my excitement, I think I did a poor job.

When I got home that day, I read that book cover to cover. Not only were there recipes but there were stories about the food. This was the first exposure I had ever had to seeing anything like this. To this day there are 3 recipes I can think of from that book that I can make with my eyes closed: Lamb and eggplant, Chicken thighs with scallions and Chicken Picatta (to this day the BEST Chicken Picatta recipe I have ever tasted).

Now for those of you who don’t know, there is a bit of a disclaimer. Mr. Smith, a former Methodist Minister who passed away in 2004, became mired in controversy some years after my gift exchange. He was accused of sexual improprieties with men that he supervised while he was a pastor. A small bit of research tonight revealed that there were never any criminal charges prosecuted but there were several out of court settlements. After that, Mr. Smith disappeared from the public eye until his death.

I can’t excuse poor behavior if that’s what he did but that snapshot in time revealed to me that I had somehow revealed to others that I was a cook. Just an amateur with no skills or equipment, but a cook. From that moment on, I was quite open about my love to cook, entertain and learn about food.

I wanted to talk a bit about the Fannie Farmer Cookbook as well but I have droned on too long already. It was not quite as significant but it had a place that is worth mentioning. I’ll do that next time. I promise to keep it shorter.

Worth noting: Tonight’s meal was a disaster. I say that because I don’t want to give the impression that every venture is a masterpiece. Fortunately, I was the only participant. I tried a Thai inspired stir fry that involved Coconut Milk and Cilantro. I felt like it was a gooey flop. Ahhhhh… but from the ashes, this Phoenix will rise. I’m sure I learned something. Perhaps I should have referred to a cookbook.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Entire recipe to follow

Here's the Duck and Smoked Gouada Ravioli assmbly line from this morning. I sent this pic off to someone today who commented that it looked delicious except for the foot in the pic. Amazing what some people see. I guess I'm going to have to become a food photographer too.

Hello and Welcome

I am so excited to be starting a blog. Forgive me because I don’t know all of the etiquette but I will try to stay within the rules (like the internet has many rules). Still, I want to attract a certain type of person to this blog so I’ll wait till later to test my boundaries.

So what’s this new guy to the scene got to say about food that hasn’t been said by many better qualified persons? Hmmm … that’s a great question. I’m not sure my answer will cause my new blog to get many hits but I do have an answer. You see, I want the average guy’s view to be out there a little bigger; a little stronger. I want to take my experiences and passion and shout VERY loudly about how fantastic the celebration of food is in my life. This all started as a simple enjoyment almost 20 years ago and has slowly (very slowly) crept into the fiber of my being. I can’t remember the 1st real nirvana moment but I do remember a few snippets along the way. I realized girls really dug it if a guy cooked for them. OK, this was a huge deal in my early years. Then as relationships turned to family life (those are complex stories that we’ll explore later), I enjoyed having large numbers of people in my house for the holidays. I adored the praises offered over the meals (I was not one of the “my 1st Turkey was a nightmare” crowd). I think I made my 1st large scale successful holiday meal one Easter with little or no help (I liked it that way- and still do). I recall Lamb AND Turkey. Of course, back then every meal was strict to the recipes because my skills were… well… weak. I haven’t followed a recipe (except for baked goods) in at least 5 years, maybe longer. Recipes aren’t rules, they’re suggestions. More on that later. Well that Easter meal was an instant hit and it was sometime around then that cooking and food was an official hobby of mine.

Yeah, I’m just a guy who gets up and goes to work each day. I’m not a chef or a writer or a critic (In fact, I’d be a terrible critic because I like most things I eat). There is one thing about me that stands out and gives just the slightest qualification (OK a stretch but humor me). I travel. I travel a lot. I eat. I eat a lot (shhhh, my doctor just saw my cholesterol and has presented me with the paperwork for a repeat test). Therefore I eat out a lot. Last year I spent about 42 weeks on the road and I’ve indulged different food styles from coast to coast and in several other countries. I have meticulously searched for the best (which is rarely the most expensive) restaurant finds around the country in my travels. After most of these adventures, which sadly are mostly alone, I call the one other “foodie” in my life to share my palate pleasures: my mother. She indulges my description of these gastronomic encounters. She is my food confidant.

The next meager qualification I have is experience. Over the years, I have treated cooking magazines and various cookbooks as textbooks. I don’t just read them. I picture the complexity of ingredients, the potential substitutions and the story I want to tell with my variation. I treat cooking TV shows (which are on most of my waking hours while I’m home), as a classroom. It is not rare for me to see something that one of my favorite TV chefs has made then run to the store to try to recreate my version at once.

Lastly and most importantly, I realized recently that I now see professional chef creations and think to myself, “Wow, this is good but here’s what I would have done to make it even better”. Now while that sounds arrogant and perhaps it is, to me it’s just a sign of the evolution from a novice, to a seasoned food and cooking lover. My last challenge will be to put my thoughts into this blog regularly and make it have meaning for the reader. Hopefully that will be true. Today’s homemade culinary excursion was Duck and Smoked Gouda Ravioli in a Brown Butter with Crispy Sage (Recipe will be available soon).

Well… goodbye for now. My next segment will be about cookbooks and how they can be used as fantastic tools. I really want to write about the 2 cookbooks that meant the most to me as I was breaking from RAS (Recipe Adherence Syndrome).

OH… I forgot!!!! Most importantly!!!! This site will eventually share many recipes so feel free to send me any favorites.

Chow Bella