A Kitchen on Fire

Okay, this video really tripped me out. I knew you were not supposed to put water on an oil fire but I did not know this is what would happen if you did. The video seems to be some sort of British Public Service announcement. It's short but very powerful. I certainly won't forget what to do if I'm ever in this situation.


Food...Faster, Faster

You used to hear more about microwaves being "dangerous" but now that 90% of US homes have them they are just a given, like having a stove or refrigerator. Remember when they were saying not to stand in front of your microwave while it cooked because it was emitting something dangerous? My non-scientific gut feeling is that something "un-natural" is happening in that metal box, and as convenient as it may be, I don't want to cook my food in it. If you do use a microwave to heat your food up, remember not to use plastic as plastic has been shown to leach toxins, so use glass.

Now, obviously the producers of microwaves are not funding any studies figure out the effects of microwaved food on the food or on those who eat it regularly. There is a good article about some of the research that's been done and what they've found about microwaving food.

I remember getting a Sharp Carousel Microwave as a wedding present in 1982. So I've been using a microwave at least since then. Despite having a Microwave Cookbook I never could get the hang of cooking with it. The food didn't cook evenly and never browned right. The microwave was reduce to warming up leftovers. Nowadays it lives in the basement, unplugged, collecting dust.

The 1.2 BILLION dollar frozen dinner market certainly won't be funding any studies about the dangers associated with microwaving food. Healthy Choice from ConAgra Foods leads the way in the frozen dinner industry. I grew up eating Chicken Pot Pies baked for 45 minutes in those cute little aluminum trays. (The jury is still out on the Alzheimer's/Aluminum link). God I loved those things with their 3 tiny pieces of meat and that yummy top crust. My mother loved them too, after all it was a fairly cheap and easy way to cook for 4 people.

We have Swanson to thank for the TV dinner market. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, in 1953 Swanson overestimated the demand for Thanksgiving Turkeys and ended up with a whopping 520,000 pounds of extra meat on their hands. Long story short, they put it in a compartmentalized tray, linked it to the nation's new TV craze and bammo you've got yourself a TV dinner.

I'm concerned that we feel this rush all the time around food. As a child I used to have to WAIT for dinner to be prepared, didn't you? There just weren't fast food joints on every corner and there wasn't the money available for eating out every night. Marketing plays a big part in making us feel like we don't have time to cook. Maybe the bad economy will help us to spend more time in the kitchen and at the table, reconnecting with food and family.

Can You Afford Organic Food?

This post is for my co-worker, Julie, who told me yesterday that organic food is just too expensive for her to buy. Especially because she has a 13 year old son who eats a lot. I think price is a very legitimate concern and this is a hot political topic. Yes, organic has 40% more nutritious value than conventional and yeah for no chemical cancer causing sprays and so on. But hey, on a social worker's budget I feel her pain! So, my first advise is to buy in season, that is always cheaper. My second piece of advise is to check out the blog MyDailyDiner

Amanda has grocery shopping for *organic* on a *budget* broken down to a science. Look at the right hand column of the blog and scroll down to the section entitled "A Smarter Way to Shop."

It starts with this, "Eating can be expensive. How do I keep my budget between $120-$200/per week, while feeding a family of four only organic, local and seasonal food?
It took practice.
On Friday's, I hit Whole Foods and buy a weeks worth of meat. I buy whatever is on sale. I spend $20 to $30/weekly on meat..."
So, you get the idea. Check out her site and start buying organic.


The Birthing of 9 Chefs

How did this happen? I've been in culinary school for 2 whole weeks now and I haven't posted a thing! So much to tell you about...

The first day of class finally arrived on April 1 for 9 very passionate culinary students. Here we are in our chef garb just this past Saturday, which was the first time we were allowed in the kitchen. As you may remember, I was all worried about the hat. In the end I found the perfect purple and blue striped cotton and hemp hat, even locally made. (I'm the one front and center -- note the hat.)

And just what do they teach in culinary school? Well, we had 5 classes before we were even allowed in the kitchen. There was instruction on kitchen basics like measurements (yes, math conversions--never one of my favorite subjects in school). So you take a recipe that serves 4 and make it serve 45. Believe me those 3 tablespoons become a nightmare. There was also nutrition analysis, macro- and micronutrients, sanitation, and then finally we got into the kitchen to learn knife skills. We were each loaded down with carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, basil, bell peppers, jalepenos, and more. And there was my little cheat sheet of all the cuts--chiffonades, cubes, fine dices, etc.--quickly bloodied by the juice of a strawberry sliced into a decorative fan and by the drippings from a supremed blood orange.

And you should see what Chef Brian Keane did with the bell pepper. I've never seen anything like it. He cut off the top and the bottom. The stem popped right out of the top leaving an impressive ring for garnishing. He then made one vertical cut and opened up the pepper. He took out the ribs and laid the pepper out flat. From there he was able to cut it into even strips. I, for one, was quite impressed by this.

Anyway, as I said we weren't in the kitchen until Saturday but that isn't entirely true as we were allowed in the kitchen to clean it. So class started each day with a lecture, followed by our instructor do a cooking demo, all the while telling us what she was doing. After the demo we each had our assigned tasks for cleaning up. And I mean CLEAN right down to the floor being mopped.

Though we have "guest appearances" by other chefs, our main instructor is Chef Karen Diggs.
She apprenticed with a French chef, she has also opened restuarants in Hong Kong and the US, as well as worked with celebrity chefs on TV. She even worked in a "silent kitchen" at one point. Where apparently you get your orders at the beginning of the shift then no one talks in the kitchen (except for safety). She says this is the ultimate in discipline and focus. She likes us to be on time "because a sense of timing is critical to cooking" and reminded us what her teacher used to say to her was, "A dull knife is a dull mind."

Well, I need to go sharpen my knife and my mind!