Saturday, June 2, 2012

The pleasures of learning to cook

Learning how to cook is all about reading about flavors, trying new things, failing sometimes.  It's about watching the Food Network and being confused, a lot.  It's about learning of new fruits, the perilous art of fileting a fish, or taking the skin off of a giant pork shoulder with a chef's knife, without cutting yourself.  It's about reading cookbooks before you go to bed at night, dreaming about when you'll finally have enough extra cash for the next level of wonderful adventures in your kitchen (mine?  a dutch oven.  then after I leave grad school and hopefully have a kitchen of a larger size, a set of really nice saute pans). 

I discovered in my efforts to fit everything into my freezer last week a forgotten container of roasted red peppers from last fall.  I stuck them in the fridge to defrost, thinking I could make a red pepper hummus or something.  Upon seeing the mush, I quickly nixed the idea and started running through other ways I'd seen people use peppers.  And then I thought about my absolute favorite summer soup, Serious Eats' wonderful gazpacho.  You see, I am nuts about this gazpacho.  And the month of summer tomatoes here in the northeast, I eat it, oh, probably four or five times a week.  It's that good.  (and if you're checking out the recipe and gasping at the amount of olive oil, no you don't need quite that much, but you do need some.  There are flavor compounds in tomatoes and other veggies that are soluble in oil, not in water, and you need some fats there to make it extra delicious.  And, yes, you have to strain it.  Yes, it's work, but it is so worth it). 

So - I put the peppers and their juices in a pot, added some bread cubes, some salt and pepper, and pureed it with my stick blender.  I strained it through my sieve, tried a spoonful, and boy, was I ever pleased as punch with myself.   Being able to do something like this, have an ingredient that I need to use, make something up, and have it actually taste great?  That's what I've been trying to do for the past three years.  I think I can now actually call myself a good cook. 

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