A Road Map to Your Culinary Destination
Electronic GPS devices were big sellers for the past two holiday seasons and many cars now have them as standard features. In this article, my friend Chef Todd Mohr explains how recipes, like GPS devices, can sometimes lead you to dead ends and you'll need to depend on your basic cooking skills to get you to your destination.
The Art of Nutritional Cooking and Your GPS
by Chef Todd Mohr
Moments before a recent event at Savor Hospitality, I received a phone call from a guest trying to find our facility. "I entered it into my GPS, followed the directions to 815 West Chatham Street, and you're not here!" they said. "We must have moved the building," I thought to myself.
Your GPS can be a guide, but we've all been sent to a dead end by a GPS or Mapquest. To really find your destination, you still need to use your basic underlying knowledge of driving and operating an automobile. You still need to recognize landmarks and know whether you're heading north, south, toward, or away from your destination. Blindly trusting your GPS is like having complete faith in the written recipe. Recipes can be a road map to your culinary destination but can have similar flaws and shortcomings to GPS.
Get Back to the Basics
Especially at this time or year, people strive for healthier cooking and eating styles. Most often, people complain to me that they "can't find a good low-fat recipe" when it's not the recipe directions they need. The basic cooking method is the basis of all healthy cooking, regardless of the recipe or ingredients.
Many of my family's hand-me-down recipes start with an entire stick of butter for sauté. That's why Grandma's chicken was so buttery; it had almost 160 grams of fat in the bottom of the pan! The fat in a basic sauté method is there as a conductor of heat. One tablespoon of canola or olive oil will help brown a chicken breast on the stovetop equally and 8 tablespoons of butter for much less fat. Skim milk will make a white sauce just as well as heavy cream when you've followed the correct procedure for making a pan sauce or roux.
Rather than peer into your GPS for a destination or search for a recipe to reduce calories in your cooking, think of the journey instead. Think about the landmarks you'll see, be aware of north or south, cook with your senses, feeling the heat of the pan, add oil until convection, waive to neighbors as you pass, and brown your chicken breast in as little fat as possible, turn right when you see the railroad tracks, use skim milk to deglaze the pan, add fresh vegetables, plate the chicken and sauce over rice instead of sour cream mashed potatoes, and honk your horn when you pull into the driveway. Enjoy the journey of using basic cooking methods in a healthy manner, along with your past knowledge and exploration of new ingredients, and your arrival will be that much better.
January Inspiration - "They should never know about that stick of butter."
At The Cooking School, students often recall how their Mother, Grandmother, Grandfather or other relative long ago introduced them to cooking. With each item they prepare, they remember the person's and place's smells and tastes. Too often, recipes and procedures are lost with the loss of the procedure or recipe holder.
If you have favorite recipes from long ago, be thankful. Honor your family heritage by updating a few with your new cooking knowledge and the world of ingredients now available. A stick of butter can be changed to a tablespoon of olive oil.
Perhaps the Macaroni and Cheese you've been eating since 1970 can be made with skim milk and sharper cheese so you won't need as much. Even the Apple Pie filling can be thickened with cornstarch, omitting some of the butter that past generations spackled on top of the lattice.
This month, find an old favorite recipe and update it with new ingredients, procedures, or seasonings. Strive to use some of the nutritional information and worldwide items new to us since 1970, and create a new family heirloom recipe. Your children and their children will benefit from never even knowing how to use an entire stick of butter to sauté chicken.