Lately I’ve been trying to cook dinner, and after years of working during the dinner hour this has been an interesting transition. Sometimes I stop in the afternoon and can’t believe it’s time to eat again. I could live happily on cold cereal (a habit that goes back to my childhood), but there are other members of my household who are not so enthusiastic about cereal – even for breakfast, much less dinner.
So lately I make something simple – pasta, a roast chicken, curried rice – and then walk away. I ask my chef husband to try it and adjust it if he sees fit. Then I occupy myself with a different task and spy on what he does. Here are a few observations on how Robert improves on what I have cooked for dinner:
He almost always adds salt. Often he will ask if I added salt to the water for rice or pasta (I often forget) which I have learned cannot be compensated for by adding more at the end of the cooking process. Chefs use a lot of salt – it simply makes food taste better. I have no response to those who are trying to reduce their salt intake, except that I’m sorry, because salt makes almost everything better.
There is nothing like a stick of butter to smooth out a sauce for pasta or bacon drippings in mashed potatoes. We all know fat tastes good, but you may be suprised by just how much chefs use to get that delicious taste. The reason why mashed potatoes taste so good at nice restaurants is that potatoes fall behind butter and cream in the proportion used. I take comfort in arguments in the book “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan that animal fats are preferred to the trans fats found in processed food. (This book is a great read.)
When a dish just isn’t quite right and you don’t know why, it often needs a bit of acid to perk up the flavors. Robert will often add just a bit of vinegar to a dish (sherry vinegar is his favorite multi-purpose grab) or a squeeze of lemon. Too much will overwhelm, but a tad can transform.
A bit of finely chopped nuts can give the textural note that makes a dish interesting and delicous. Robert often uses nuts for rice dishes (like peanuts), pasta (like pinenuts), and salad (like almonds). Sprinkling them on the top of a finished plate makes all the difference.
I suppose that I will learn to incorporate these observations into my daily cooking, but then I would miss watching Robert in the kitchen, which as many of you know, is a great thing to behold.