Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Monkey See?

(Culinary School Entry, San Antonio Texas)

One of the best ways I know to learn something new is to watch it done first by somebody else who already knows how. I am not alone in this - for decades doctors, surgeons especially, have been trained in this fashion by what is called the "see one, do one, teach one" methodology.

This goes for good cooks as well. You hear it a lot whenever chefs are interviewed about how they got started. They eventually will talk about early memories of tying an apron on and standing on a chair to help their beloved Momma prepare...whatever. Jacques Pepin inspired a run of croissant and Nutella afternoon snacks around here years ago after my daughter and I heard him waxing rhapsodic about coming home from school to a warmed croissant with "choclat eenside.".

Unfortunately my Mom was not a cooking enthusiast. Between my Dad's chronic problems with gastric ulcers, back in the day when ulcers were attributed to types of food eaten as opposed to a bacterial source, and her own problems with an inability to taste salt as the result of an ear surgery? She simply was never very motivated in the kitchen.

She loved feeding us, don't get me wrong. She just didn't like cooking very much. So while I learned how to be an outstanding hunter/gatherer in terms of locating sources for delicious things to eat by watching her, I didn't learn much about cooking food. Thus the store purchased croissants with Nutella run previously mentioned. Jacque's Mom baked the croissants - I bought them and reheated them. Like my Mom would have done. Tomato, tomahto....

But I have always aspired to be a good cook on my own. To make wonderful things for my family to eat, not just to buy them. I wanted to be a cook like some of the good friends I have made through the years. You know the type - always inviting folks over to eat, happy, relaxed in the kitchen, throwing food and fun and friends together seemingly effortlessly, resulting in amazing meals, creating both warm memories and strong friendships.

I learned two of my favorite recipes watching just such a friend of mine who is an inspired cook. She rarely uses recipes - she simply knows how a certain dish is put together and after years of preparing them she is experienced and confident enough to wing it. I envy her confidence, but in that totally good way. I use my strong desire to be more like her as impetus to overcome my other strong desire not to make a fool out of myself as a grown person, especially not in the KITCHEN of all places, in order to keep stretching my culinary skills.

I learned how to make chicken enchiladas helping my friend make them some two decades ago, and although I wrote that up into recipe format to send off to school with both my kids, it is simply a dish I now "know" how to make. And I am deeply indebted to my friend for sharing that with me. It is one of many bonds we have. Or, to crib directly from the latest episode of "Top Chef" - an (ahem!), Common Thread.Then there is the television. Watching cooking videos is nothing new. As far back as 1963, when Julia Child tootled her first "Bonjour!" on PBS, I have been watching other people cooking on a screen and apparently, even when I wasn't fully aware of it, learning from them all along. Now with an entire network of food and cooking shows, and other "reality" chef competitions to stoke the fire, it is easier to watch other people cooking than it is to find time to actually COOK. Much less, eat.

Still, watching somebody cook on my computer is a bit of a novelty for me, and one of my favorite sources of "here is how you make it" videos is Whole Foods "The Secret Ingredient" series. They are on their second host now, Scott #2 I call him since I can't remember the new guy's last name, and just recently I was pleased to see Rick Bayless of La Frontera Grill fame on my very own computer showing us all how to make Roasted Tomato Soup with Poblano Strips, or as those of us closer to the border would say, Sopa de Jitomate y Rajas.One of the throwaway comments in the video - the kind I love to hear and hopefully recall when useful - is that the usual suggestion of placing roasted peppers in a plastic bag to soften the skin prior to peeling can be a drawback if you are wanting any texture to remain in the pepper. Chef Bayless explained the residual heat inside the plastic bag will stay high long enough to further cook the pepper to the extent that it will completely soften. If that is what you are after, fine, but if not? He suggests placing the peppers in a bowl with a towel over the top and waiting until they are cool enough to handle.

I just love knowing arcana like that. It makes me feel, well, ever so much more "cheffy". I can all but see that toque sitting in place on my head.Now I am anxiously awaiting the advent of our own home grown tomatoes so I can give this recipe a try. With any luck, it will taste as good as it looked on my computer screen, and I will have a new recipe in my repertoire. Hell, I might even invite some folks over and let them help me make it!

Title: Whole Foods Market : Recipes : Sopa de Jitomate y Rajas Date: Wed Apr 30 2008
URL: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/secretingredient/soup_tomatopoblanos.html
Sopa de Jitomate y Rajas (Roasted Tomato Soup with Poblanos, Oregano and Fresh Cheese)
Guest Chef: Rick Bayless

Makes about 8 cups, serving 6

2 1/2 pounds (5 medium-large round or 15 to 20 medium plum) ripe tomatoes
1 pound (6 medium-large) fresh poblano chiles
1 tablespoon. vegetable oil
1 large white onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
6 cups high-quality beef broth
Salt, about 1 teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the broth
8 ounces. queso fresco or pressed salted farmer’s cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, about 2 cups
Preheat broiler to high. Roast whole tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until the skins are blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and broil the other side. (Or roast tomatoes over a gas flame on the stove.) Allow to cool. Peel over a bowl to collect all the juices; discard peels. Pull out core of tomato, discard. Place tomatoes and their juices in a food processor or blender, and process to a coarse puree. Set aside.

Roast chiles directly over a gas flame or 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning occasionally until blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about 10 minutes for broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes. Peel, pull out the stem and seed pod, then rinse very briefly to remove bits of skin and seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch wide strips.

In a medium-size (4-quart) pot heat the oil over medium to medium-high, then add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until nicely browned but still a little crunchy, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and oregano, toss a minute longer, then stir in roasted chiles and heat through. Add tomato puree to the rajas and cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until very thick and reduced, about 7 minutes. Stir in broth, partially cover and simmer over medium-low for 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt. Serve the soup in warm bowls, topped with cubes of queso fresco.

Advance Preparation: The soup can be made a day or two in advance, but don’t simmer it for the 30 minutes. Then, when reheating, cook the soup enough to blend the flavors, season with salt and serve with the cheese.

Copyright 2000–2003. Whole Foods Market IP, L.P.

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