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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You Can Never Have Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

There’s an old saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth. It can also be worded as having too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. Of course, I have no idea how you can connect Cleveland Major League Baseball to Kansas City professional football and relate that to cooking.

That was a joke…. Never mind.

Bad jokes aside, the idea that you need to have a small amount of management and an ample amount of direct reports is the idea behind those sayings. In other words, too many people in charge leads to discourse among how to best serve the project. But this isn’t about business, this is about actual food. This is about literally having too many cooks in the kitchen and I say, so be it. The more the merrier.

As my waistline will attest, I do have a small love of food, but will leave its preparation up to the experts. I am otherwise pretty useless in the kitchen. I am constantly reminded how I screwed up beans and weenies in a can. What did I know? I was trying to make it better. I was a bartender. We experiment, sometimes. [crickets] For the smallest part, I think my wife would just be happy if I remember to put stuff back in the fridge. Small steps, right?

But theOver the years, I have gotten better at it and on occasion I will even do some of the cooking. I’ll make French Toast, chili, grill dead animals and can make a pretty decent scrambled egg. However, in my life I have known many great cooks and I stand by the mantra that having too many cooks can never be a bad thing.

More than one cook can split up the workload. Just last night, my wife and father-in-law tackled kitchen prep inside while I manned the grill, outside. We had some leftovers from a birthday party cookout that consisted of a three beans and bacon dish, sausage stuffed banana peppers, hot dogs and hamburgers, which were reheated and pasta salad and fried green tomatoes, which were fresh. Now, as a grill warrior I am constantly working to improve how I can grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and steak and I have found that nothing bothers me more than having dried out burgers from putting them back on the grill. So, here’s a little tip for anyone who has left over hamburgers and wants to cook them up the next day.

There is an awesome spice made by McCormick called Grill Mates. I already love their Montreal Steak Seasoning one for…um steak. Whenever I get some steak for grilling, I use a combination of the Montreal Steak Seasoning and Meat Tenderizer before it gets on the grill and the add some black pepper once it’s close to being done. They also make a hamburger spice which is ‘effing awesome. But it also works if you are reheating burgers as well. Depending on the number of burgers you are using, grab a brownie or cake pan and add some beef broth, I use Swanson, and the Grill Mates Burger Spice. Put your burgers in and cover it with foil. Put it on the grill and just let it simmer. The burgers stay juicy and moist and the added flavor from the spice is kick ass. The beef broth idea came from my mom, another great cook.

So, while I’m standing outside watching meat cook, my father-in-law is inside slicing up green tomatoes, coating them with salt, pepper, and flour and frying them up. While he’s doing that, my wife is mixing up pasta salad and heating up the peppers and beans. Teamwork y’all. Yet, this was mostly food that was already made ahead of time. What about the food that needs to actually be cooked?

While I am primarily biased towards my own family’s cooking there were few things I would actually eat and didn’t leave my comfort zone all that much. For instance, before I met my wife I had hardly ever considered putting brown sugar into spaghetti sauce. I also did not eat chili before my father-in-law made me an addict. Now, I make it using his recipe and it is one of my favorites. Salad consisting of apples, raisins, walnuts and mayonnaise? No thank you… until I met my wife. Now, I could eat a whole bowl of Waldorf Salad, by myself.

Sadly, we are down one awesome cook this year. Dinner is bittersweet as my wife is beginning to learn how to cook all the dishes, her mother was so good at, in a trial by fire method. I will say that she’s nailed broccoli cheese soup. That was always something she had trouble getting her mother to make the way she liked it. Our gold standard was Ruby Tuesday’s but we don’t have one around here anymore. Holiday cooking will be equal doses of sweet and sour as that was always a favorite time of year for my mother-in-law’s cooking. Sure I had some of the best sweet potato casserole and stuffing at my family’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve belonged to my wife’s family. Without the matriarch at the helm we will all have to figure out how to pull off some of the more excellent fare we’ve been used to.

To be fair to my wife, she had been taking on the duties of cooking for Halloween and New Year’s Eve ever since we moved into our home in 2004. But she always had an extra cook in the kitchen to help out and I know there will be times that she’ll unknowingly reach for the phone to call her mom. For her it was life and family. For me it was work. Her mom and I worked together and, up until last year, we’d email each other throughout the day about stuff. She had retired almost a year before she died and every day I’d relate some new tale of the office to her because she understood the culture. Like my wife reaching for the phone to ask for advice on how to make something in the kitchen I still have times where I wish I could email her or call her to tell he about the latest event. But we will move on, eventually, I guess.

Even though I am not one of the many cooks that should be in the kitchen, I still think we need to recognize that these holiday meals, that we loved so much, need to continue in her honor. I’d even be willing to learn how to cook some of them in order to keep up the tradition. I don’t think it’s an attempt to move on and forget someone who made a huge impact on our lives… and my gut. I think it’s a chance to honor that person’s memory by continuing what they did so well, if only as much as our expertise will allow. There will, of course, be some recipes and styles that will be lost because we didn’t take the time to get all the information before she passed. We had no idea it was going to happen. But we’ll experiment and test and try new things and along the way we may discover new ideas to pass on to our child and her eventual family. Well, I hope so. There’s just so many ways you can serve a slice of cheese and ketchup, which seems to be her favorite meal. Honestly, she doesn’t know what she’s missing, except the weight I’ve put on since I met her mother. What can I say? I love cooking and the cooks who cook so well.

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