Me cooking ~~~
This past Monday, my Chinese colleague showed me the food that she cooked on Chinese New Year Day last weekend. Then she told me how she made beef stew. I was intrigued and inspired.
For the last two days, I had a desire to cook! Initially I was going to wait until this weekend, but yesterday, I somehow ended in a grocery store, and ended up walking out of it with some beef. Things sort of just happened, and the assistant next to the cashier neatly packed my beef in a plastic bag, by itself, instead of putting the beef and the carrots in one bag. Premium quality service!
Only two ingredients in my stew. I soaked the beef in milk overnight. Peeled and cut the carrots, sprinkled them with coarse sea salt, and let them sit by themselves in the fridge.
This morning, the carrots tasted quite nice. It’s not salty, but I could definitely taste the sea salt, gently hovering over the surface of the carrots. The texture was not much different, but the carrots were not dry.
I put the two in a slow cooker, and added Herbes de Provence. Slow-cooked at low heat for 10 hours. When I came home at the end of the day, I could smell the warmth of Herbes de Provence wafting up to my nose, saying, “Welcome home! We are ready!”
The smell was very strong, but not offensive. Not like Indian food. After walking out of an Indian kitchen, you can smell the food in your hair, in your clothes, etc. This Herbes de Provence mix that I bought yesterday, had the following herbs: rosemary, marjoram, thyme, savory, basil, lavender, sage.
I don’t know about savory, but the other six herbs are either top or middle notes. So overall, Herbes de Provence compliments the beef, which has a stronger base. If you think of the stew like an orchestra, it has top, middle, and base notes. Very robust.
The two ingredients are like two main singers, one male, one female. The herbs are like little children in the background. Their personality is gentle, but you can definite sense their presence. They contrast the stronger personality of the beef. I used carrots, sort of like a wife to the main singer — the beef. My impression of carrots is that they are very light and feminine, almost fairy-like. On the other hand, beef is very strong and masculine. In my mind, they make a very good couple. And they did have a very happy marriage!
My Chinese colleague used potatoes to make beef stew. She did it differently from me. When she told me how she made her stew, I was intrigued, but I wasn’t too keen on following her recipe. I prefer beef with carrots, because I want the sweetness of the carrots.
A chef to her food is like a teacher to her students. If a teacher is good, she can bring out the talent of her students. If a chef is good, she can bring out the natural flavor of her food.
My Chinese colleague showed me another dish that she made, which had the shrimp sitting on top of the meat ball, which was sitting on top of a shiitake mushroom. She arranged them in that posture, and steamed them. I stared at her food, and then frowned, and then said, “I don’t think your food is talking to each other. They are not interacting.” It’s like three people living in the same house, but they don’t talk to each other.
She said, “No, the juice from the meat ball will drip into the mushroom.”
Okay, two of the three people talk among themselves, but the one sitting above them is an outcast. Seems strange to me.
She then told me, the original recipe was not like that. In the original recipe, the shrimp was supposed to be minced, and then blended into the meat ball. Then that ball sits on top of the mushroom.
I said, “Oh, that makes more sense.”
I have tasted the food of a few people. The way they cook says a lot about their own personality. It’s like looking at an art piece, and understanding certain aspects of the artist.
When I look at my father’s cooking, I have to shake my head. Today, his lettuce was overly salty. How is that even possible? If the chef is talking to the food, how is it even possible that he will over-season his food? It’s like the students walk out of the classroom without learning anything from the teacher. Lack of connection.
On top of being overly salty, the garlic was under-cooked. It was like eating raw garlic. I could feel the burning sensation of the garlic in my mouth and my throat. How can someone cook garlic without actually cooking garlic?
I like to use indirect heat and low heat. It’s like the difference between fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs. The former is harsh while the latter is gentle.
Stew, by its very nature, is a gentle dish, because it is cooked slowly. My core essence is very gentle and subtle, so I naturally would incline toward food wit a gentle personality, although I don’t mind a very strong and bold ingredient such as beef, as long as it is also handled very gently.
One time, my relative used a kind of Chinese cooker to make congee for me. That cooker doesn’t use a lot of heat. It is designed to trap heat so well that you only have to heat the cooker, then you take it off the stove, and let it sit for half a day, and then the food in it will be cooked like a slow cooker. Congee is a kind of dish that requires slow cooking for at least an hour, preferably longer. I like to eat congee. But when my relative made congee with the Chinese cooker for me, I almost puked. That is not even an exaggeration. It was absolutely disgusting. The food tasted dead. No prana. I could not taste one bit of life force in the congee. Nor could I taste fire. 一点火候都没。
My relative said it tasted good. I thought, “Wow, you must be really dead inside.” How can someone not be able to taste that the food is absolutely dead, unless she is also dead?
Every food ingredient has some life force in them. Unless you are talking about a package of biscuits that has been sitting on the shelf for a long time. When we eat food, we are essentially eating the life force that is contained in the food. For a chef to not sense the life force, nevermind to discern the different nuances of the life force in different foods, is like a teacher not knowing the subject she is teaching.
I rarely cook. When I do, it’s usually very simple dishes. I like fresh, premium, pure, natural ingredients. I like to be able to taste the natural flavor of the food, rather than cover it with many strong spices, which is like having a girlfriend but telling her that she needs to wear a lot of makeup because you don’t like how she looks. I like my food to talk to me. I want to know their personality. Some food shows different personalities in different settings. I am intrigued by their versatility, and like to play with them.
Sometimes I look at some foods in the grocery store, and think, “I don’t know you. I don’t know what to do with you.” Then I walk away. And there are other foods, for whom I know their personalities, either through my parents’ cooking or what not, but I don’t like them. “I know you, but I don’t like you.”
I have trouble following a recipe 100%. I can start with a recipe, but what I cook will end up being at least 50% different from the recipe. So in general, I don’t use recipes. I start with an idea. Then the idea will take shape. Cooking requires a lot of judgment. In every single one of those judgment, you reveal a little bit about yourself; more specifically, your subconscious self. When I am unsure whether to add more or less of something. I just place my awareness on the food, and then I get impression, feeling, etc. Usually my feeling is right.
By seeing how different people cook, what they like to cook, what utensils they like to cook with, etc., you can actually see a lot about their personality. If you have a wife whose cooking you don’t like, you most likely cannot change the way she cooks, because by doing so, you would have to change her personality. ^_^