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Zoethe

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Style [Nov. 4th, 2011|02:07 pm]
Zoethe
Ferrett and I both cook, and we're both serviceably mediocre at it. I don't mean that as either self-denigration or false modesty. We can both put a meal on the table that others will appreciate and enjoy, but we are not MasterChef quality by a long stretch. There's nothing wrong with being a serviceably mediocre cook: those of us lucky enough to have mothers who attained that level of ability were often the subject of great jealousy for those kids whose moms were terrible cooks.

And there are lots of terrible cooks out there. My paternal grandmother, lovely woman that she was, was a nightmare in the kitchen. My mother would threaten us with having to eat at Gramma's if we didn't behave. I remember actually bursting into tears more than once when I realized that we were staying at Gramma's for dinner. Here's how bad she was: the family were farmers, and when the itinerant workers came through for harvest season, they would bring their own lunches rather than eat the free meal provided from Gramma's kitchen.

So I am aware of how much better a cook I am than that. But I'm also aware that compared to some of our local friends my skills are still rudimentary, and their skills don't even begin to comprehend the skills of an actual sous chef. It's a large scale, and one on which I would like to move up. But I don't currently have the time or attention to devote to lots of kitchen practice, so my improvement is piecemeal at best. As is Ferrett's, his time being even more occupied than mine.

One of the things we've both noticed his how different our cooking styles are. Ferrett cooks like a classical pianist. Sight reading, he can pick his way through a piece tolerably well on the first try, improving with each replaying. In the kitchen, Ferrett follows recipes carefully, scanning through cookbooks, writing detailed shopping lists, reviewing the recipe before starting to cook, and producing very tasty results. But he really needs that sheet music, that recipe, in front of him.

Whereas I tend to cook like jazz. I'm familiar with the tune, and can drop a sweet little riff into it and come up with something out of nothing. Most of my time, my approach to the cooking is "let's see what's in the fridge that I can throw together into a meal." I keep the basics handy, grab the leftover bits of something else, and it comes together into something pretty edible most of the time.

Neither of these approaches is superior, and they both have their drawbacks. Ferrett makes some tasty, interesting food when he has planned for it, but if he doesn't have a preplanned meal shopped for, he's pretty lost in the kitchen. I can look in the fridge and see that we have an apple, a carrot, some anchovies and a pound of leftover chicken and think up a dish that will pull it all together, but left to my own devices I tend to buy the same basics over and over and we end up with meals that are kind of indistinguishable from each other.

But the really cool thing? These two cooking styles blend into an amazing synthesis. If Ferrett buys ingredients for a dish, there are often leftovers of those ingredients. Or sometimes he buys stuff to cook and then for some reason loses interest in cooking that dish. The combination of those two facts means that when I open the fridge to figure out something freeform, there are lots more choices available and I am encouraged to get more creative.

I suspect that as we go along, our personal styles will remain strong. He will always be the one looking for more unusual recipes and I will always be the one buying spontaneously and making it up as I go along. But I'm also certain that the two of us will continue to complement each other, our contrasting styles giving depth to each others dishes.

Hey, baby, let's make some beautiful music together. And then eat it for dinner.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/784828.html?mode=reply:
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-11-04 06:22 pm (UTC)
Ferrett and I both cook, and we're both serviceably mediocre at it.

Heh. Good description of my level. Looking at images of the curry you made you're above my level of serviceable though.

I'm more like jazz with classical training. Give me an initial recipe and I'll vaguely follow the directions (mostly by forgetting or improvising too early), but over the years it evolves into something where extras can be tossed in and spices can be modified on the fly. It still tastes like a failure to me now and then, but usually what comes out is sufficiently tasty, and sometimes it is awesome. And, hey, when someone cooks for/with you, it improves the taste by about 20%.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 06:32 pm (UTC)
I will do the same, following a recipe mostly the first time, eventually turning it into my own. At this point, I don't even use a recipe for my weekly bread baking.

But that makes me lazy, and I keep making the same bread instead of trying something new. I have to fight the rut of competency!
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[User Picture]From: alumiere
2011-11-04 06:53 pm (UTC)
I tend to cook more like your jazz influenced style. But my primary (who can make a few things if I walk him through them) likes to pull recipes offline, and we both like cooking shows, so I get a lot of let's try this. And we'll pick up ingredients and mix and match them with our own personal tastes and allergies (not much heat, no soy, no fish/seafood, onions are OK for flavor but I cannot stand the texture, etc) and experiment from there.

My go-to flavor profile is Greek/Mediterranean, but in the last few weeks we've also had a chili, a mash-up of a couple of different tomato soup recipes, a berbere Ethiopian chicken, an attempt at tandori that didn't work so well, and my first and second versions of potatoes dauphinoise. Master chef is the bomb for making me think about new foods or flavor combinations - I think my next project is going to be learning how to make a good pizza crust from scratch if we can find a baking stone or tile that will fit into our joke of a 50's oven.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 07:53 pm (UTC)
We tend to like the competition type of cooking show rather than the how-to types, but Food Network Online is a great source of recipes.

I would like a better stone than I have, now that I have a wonderful oven.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 07:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: lawchicky
2011-11-04 07:51 pm (UTC)
So funny that you wrote about cooking this way. My approach is entirely down the middle from yours and ferrets. If I want to cook a new dish, I'll look into a couple of different recipes on how the dish is made and then take elements of each of them that I like and muddle my way into my own recipe. My mom always said "if you use good ingredients, you will eat good food," which I find mostly true.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 07:55 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting style, too!
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[User Picture]From: alexmegami
2011-11-04 07:52 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely a classical pianist, although I keep trying Rachmaninoff when I should probably be sticking to Beethoven for a while yet...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 07:56 pm (UTC)
aw, go for it. Else what is a heaven for?
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[User Picture]From: rialian
2011-11-04 08:11 pm (UTC)
===(chuckles) My cooking has grown out of a "oh, frig...they are throwing in notes and instruments that really are meant to cause severe harm again"...(allergies like soy suck).

===I mean, if I WANTED to eat "Industrial Sludge in G sideminor with a broken-glass Armonica and bowl-disruptor dogwistles", I would...were that my choice. (grins)

===My cooking style is "ok, what do I have, what is a recipe, let us look at 6 more, and see what the underlying feel is...and go with that.
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-11-04 09:06 pm (UTC)
Industrial Sludge in G sideminor with a broken-glass Armonica and bowl-disruptor dogwistles

LMAO
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-11-04 09:06 pm (UTC)
See, while I've never had the pleasure of eating in your kitchen, when I read your cooking posts, I feel mediocre. I never had anybody teach me anything about the kitchen or keeping house - except that adult living class (which was dumb and almost useless) I took my senior year of high school. What I know, I've learned by trial and error, chasing things down on the Internet -- thank the gods for the Internet, for it is holy, and without it, we would probably starve and I wouldn't know how to organize or clean anything.

People think I exaggerate, but I'm not. My grandmother wouldn't allow me into her kitchen except to eat or when I needed a table larger than my desk for homework (you know, sometimes you gotta spread out!). I could go in and get a snack or a bowl of cereal or a glass or water/tea, but that's as far as she'd ever let me go. Her mother on the other hand, had me doing dishes at three (I had to stand in a chair) and I was baking cobblers and yeast breads on my own by five (which sadly I can't do any more due to lack of practice and patience).

The workers coming to your grandmother's farm with their own lunches literally made me lol. That's fantastic. (and horrible! LOL)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 10:12 pm (UTC)
I remember learning to make chocolate chip cookies and what a painfully slow and patient experience that was. I had one home ec class that had three weeks of cooking. But I got my first immersion into cooking the year my mother left us with dad. I was in 8th grade and pretty much all that stood between my family and a life of peanut butter sandwiches. I remember planning for and cooking a whole Christmas dinner myself that year, and my grandparents coming to stay with us. I made sure that we had presents for them, and for my little sisters and brother and dad. I was very proud of myself.

We were reunited with Mom the next year, and I did a fair amount of the cooking after that, having gained much hands-on experience. It was a weird time in my life, but I learned many things.
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[User Picture]From: jennythe_reader
2011-11-04 09:27 pm (UTC)
Most of my cooking is closer to Ferrets than yours: the first time I make a dish I follow the recipe religiously. Then when I eat it I think about how it works and how it doesn't, and come up with a couple of ways I could make it better next time. I note one of them on the recipe, and then try it the next time. Repeat until the orginal recipe is so marked up that it isn't really legible any more. Then I copy my version into my personal cookbook. I can't decide how to describe that in a musical analogy. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 10:17 pm (UTC)
It's Mozart writing variations on a theme from Haydn. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: unmutual
2011-11-04 11:16 pm (UTC)
I learned a *lot* about cooking from watching the cooking shows on the "Create" channel of public television. They're not commercialized at all, and most of them are really great. Especially Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen and Jacques Pepin. Those shows give you the little tips and tricks that bring your cooking skills up three levels.

For example, my Italian husband was a firm believer in the pot of "sawss" that simmered all day long on the stove. One tip from ATK and now we can make a sauce in less than an hour that's better than the all-day sauce, and as a bonus there's no risk of burning the bottom of the pan (which happened to our last batch, totally ruining it).

Instead of just saying "put the butter in the pan, then do X with Y," they say awesome things like "melt the butter in the pan, and just after it stops bubbling but before it starts to turn brown, do X with Y."

Love love love. And now I love cooking even more, even if some of my more hurried meals end up being things like, oh, peanut butter and graham crackers. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-04 11:28 pm (UTC)
I do like America's Test Kitchen. And my subscription to Cooks Illustrated. Even if I don't cook the whole recipe all the time, I learn so many tips.
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-11-05 12:15 am (UTC)
My hubby learned cooking from his Italian mother and grandmother. He has a sense of what combos work and cooks and bakes fantastic stuff. He can 'wing it' and I don't think we've ever had a bad result (though I can't do heat and some meals have made my tongue hurt).

I had an Irish Mom and Dad that did meat, potatoes and two veg. The only spices were cinnamon (for toast or cookies) and salt and pepper (used most sparingly). It took me many, many years before I could 'try' things in the kitchen beyond the basics or a recipe, but I'm getting there!

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-05 05:42 am (UTC)
My childhood kitchen was much like yours, though it got better in later years. Mom did make spaghetti and chili, but there was much pot roast and meatloaf.

And Swanson TV Dinners. We ate those on a chillingly regular basis.
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[User Picture]From: cynic51
2011-11-05 02:17 am (UTC)

The lady doth protest too much

I'd say your food is much, much better than serviceably mediocre.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-05 05:47 am (UTC)

Re: The lady doth protest too much

You're just saying that so I'll feed you more. ;-)

(thank you!)
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From: anonymousalex
2011-11-05 03:17 pm (UTC)
I know I'm only going by pictures and the occasional comment, but the word "mediocre" bothers me here. Possibly because its connotations of low quality clash with "serviceable," at least in my mind. Had you said "serviceably middling" I would be okay with it (and probably give myself the same rating).

On a side note, if you don't like recipes with cream-of-whatever soup as a base, learn to make what cream-of-whatever soup was put in recipes to replace: bechamel sauce (or something based on it). I am getting it down in the context of macaroni and cheese. It's taken me 3 or 4 tries, only one of which broke, but once you have a feel for it, it's not difficult.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-05 05:21 pm (UTC)
I have been making bechamel sauce since I was in junior high. It definitely is a good substitute for cream of...soups, but lots of those recipes go on to other canned or scary ingredients. And none of them tend to fall into the category of healthy. So I try to keep them minimized.

I do make a hell of a macaroni and cheese, though.

And middling is probably the better word.
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[User Picture]From: labelleizzy
2011-11-06 12:10 am (UTC)
we *totally* cook like jazz in this house. Works well for us. I'ma point my hubby here, I think he'll like this piece.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-06 03:15 pm (UTC)
Hi, Liz's hubby!!
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From: simulated_knave
2011-11-06 01:04 am (UTC)
I *love* the last line of this post. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-06 03:13 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks.
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[User Picture]From: libco
2011-11-08 08:03 pm (UTC)
So I have a question? When you cook, is your food delicious?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 08:20 pm (UTC)
With the exception of the occasional disaster, yes, it's quite tasty.
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