Saturday, July 11, 2009


Like many foodies, I enjoy watching certain shows on Food Network. One of the ones I never saw until this season was "The Next Food Network Star." To be perfectly honest, I don't think any of the contestants this season has any real staying power for a TV show. Somebody will win, obviously, but there's something I find annoying about every contestant, whether it's an over-the-top personality, or simply a too frantic/overly animated on camera presence.

Regardless, I find Bob Tuschman's blog about the show to be interesting. The question he keeps posing is "What is your food philosophy?" It seems to him, and to me, that some of the contestants simply don't have one. That got me thinking about what my own food philosophy is. The answer: unless you're entertaining company, keep it simple, stupid.

For instance, today I made a really simple, refreshing salad using fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and basil from my own garden. Other than adding half a small Vidalia onion, which I don't grow, I simply dressed it with a little oil and some lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Peel and dice the cucumber, dice the tomatoes and onion, toss it all together with salt, pepper, the oil and lemon juice, and a chiffonade of basil. How easy could that be?

Another example is the lemon quick bread I made a few weeks ago. I didn't have zucchini or bananas, but had plenty of lemon juice. Like all quick breads, it's just a batter bread that uses baking powder and baking soda for leavening. I used two half sized loaf tins, instead of a regular sized one. It's a little tangy (and is supposed to be that way), but is great with butter and apricot jam. The original James Beard recipe called for butter, but I was out of it. I substituted canola oil, and it worked out beautifully, although I wouldn't dare try that with anything other than a quick bread.

A third example is a pot of soup I made last month. We were out of a lot of staples, but rummaging around in the fridge and pantry, we had a huge onion, celery, macaroni, a bag of pinto beans, bay leaves, dried oregano, cans of diced tomatoes, bread crumbs, eggs, some frozen ground beef, and some beef broth. I didn't follow a recipe, but the result was pretty tasty, and went over really well with the rest of my household. I'd never in my life made meatballs before I made that soup, but they were probably the tastiest part of the whole thing. Yes, it was "comfort food." Still, it was fairly light compared to a chowder or bisque.

Taste, taste, taste, as you go along, and correct the seasonings at the end, if necessary. If it doesn't taste good to you, chances are really high that it won't taste good to anyone else. That, and don't get stuck in a rut with nothing but comfort food or Asian inspired marinades for that pork tenderloin or flank steak in your repertoire. There's a place for those, but they do get boring after a while.

Desserts aren't really my thing, because I seldom have any desire to eat them, but I can still make a mean cheesecake, carrot cake with buttercream frosting, angel food cake, or pavlova from scratch. None of those are complicated. The only difference I find with baking bread or desserts vs. just cooking dinner, is that I actually take the time to measure the ingredients reasonably accurately, rather than simply winging it.

Granted, when rolling out pie crust or kneading yeast rising bread dough, it can take a little more flour than you might think you need, on the board, depending on the humidity in your house at the time you make it. So what? That's par for the course.

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