Of the two most joyful meals to cook over an open fire, choosing one over the other is always the same gut wrenching dilemma. For if you favor one, the other will surely stew in a fit of jealousy and next time you cook it, be prepared — for revenge is sweet and chooses its moment to strike, whether in confab with local weather systems like winds from nowhere, a sudden shower, or mysteriously misplaced kindling — or the coincidental malfunction of a refrigerator door left unhinged and dangling overnight, and now what sarcastically seeps out is the ring of skank from questionable clams within. For there is a lot in life that we mortals will never understand. After all, it’s a thin line. Although one thing I have learned over the years for sure: do not fuck with the kitchen gods.
Whether the job site is your back patio, a roof top, a local park or anywhere in the great outdoors, you go through the same rigmarole: should I choose chicken or should I use fish? If you go with chicken, you’re making Arroz con Pollo. If you use fish, you’re making Paella. Continue reading “Arroz con Pollo”→
A surprisingly broad range of skills is required to cook successfully in a professional kitchen. Your most crucial tool is not, as many would assume, your knife: it’s your body. For a start, you need a good set of oiled knees. Then, you need a reliably sharp back: one you don’t have to constantly watch over and hone. You need a set of feet that won’t let you down. You need them to kick walk-in cooler and oven doors closed, because your hands are always busy working overtime, balancing pans of sizzling flesh in hot oil, or filthy from gouging out glops of congealed fat from the corners of a forgotten roasting pan.
You need a pair of arms long enough to grapple a 32 quart stock pot full of steaming liquid and bones. Needless to say, you need your hands, and they better be good, and fingers nimble as a raccoon’s. You got to move with the grace of a dancer and you’ve got to balance a solid head on those exhausted shoulders. Stamina is key. A sarcastic disposition comes in handy. It helps if you are under forty— and it helps if you can cook. Continue reading “Eggplant Rillettes”→
I’ve never been big on holidays. I dislike them immensely. It’s a phobia I acquired — like a bad taste in my mouth — from working impossibly long hours, especially on holidays, in the restaurant trade for such a large slice of my life. Customers — would come in on holidays, often with family members, out of obligation, or from out of town — were always double, like extra supersize needy. Suppliers were frequently under-staffed and under-stocked, making deliveries extra stressful. Staff was grumpy, hung over, or, in jail. One night 3 of my cooks were busted for smoking a joint in the alley behind the restaurant by 2 cops on mountain bikes. Fortunately, it was late and we had just closed. After they were taken to be processed and then released 3 hours later, I insisted they come back and clean up the kitchen. It was the night before Memorial day. I still shudder when it comes around. Of course in these Colorado high times, that scenario would no longer apply. Nowadays, maybe you could share your stash with the cops? Continue reading “Our Memorial Day”→
I read an article last week by Timothy Egan, in the NYT, about, “short-cutting life’s essentials.” It was titled The One Minute life. For some reason I kept reading it as The One-Minute Lunch— as I happened to be making mine as I read— it took less than a minute to prepare, which is probably quicker than opening, mixing and sucking down a serving of powdered soylent.
When I was a kid, for three or four summers in a row, my parents took us on holiday for the month of August to a giant old country house outside of Cobh, in County Cork. It belonged to a friend of my father’s. The ground floor was a giant stone slab polished with age. There was no bedding, kitchen equipment or electricity provided. Still for my parents, it was a free holiday away from the bustle of Dublin and for us kids it was like heaven beside a stony shore.
The amount of stuff we took— it was like getting ready for a siege — the roof-rack piled high with roped down blankets, sheets and pillows; the car stuffed to the gills with jams and jellies, butter and cheese, pots and pans, candles, cutlery, sardines and lots of cabbage.
For we were off for a month and the old house had little to offer in the way of kitchen equipment except for a propane stove, a sink with cold running water and a white enamel table which looked like it was salvaged from an army hospital.
And we were a mere throwing distance from the sea; a beautifully protected cove perfect for kids wanting to hone their stone skipping and periwinkle gathering skills. The month passed and it felt like a week.
Most afternoons I veered towards the kitchen where my mother was busy with supper. It was a plain whitewashed affair with the table stationed up against the wall. The light was provided by the window, which was adequate in August as it’s still light in Ireland at 9pm. She of course did all the cooking. I helped with peeling potatoes, always potatoes, but I also learned how to prepare her red cabbage, German style.
Before I was born, you see, my parents lived in Glasgow for a while after the war, and their little flat had a shared kitchen. It was shared with Herr and Frau Kulak, a German couple. What they were doing in Scotland I’ve no idea — I seem to remember he might have been an engineer — but anyway, on a Skype call to my dad I asked if he remembered her.
“I’ll never forget her,” he said. “She was a cross between a demon and a dynamo. She scoured the kitchen every day until it glistened and shined, and she insisted your mother did the same. And she insisted your mother learn how to make her red cabbage of which she was very proud.
And so it happened that I learned from Frau Kulak through the medium of my mother how to prepare German red cabbage. I think I was 13. It think it was 1966. I think she called it, Rotkohl.
Frau Kulak and my mother used grated apple, some kind of vinegar and brown sugar. I like dried cranberries, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup. By all means, try it with grated apple, or use currants, raisins or dried cherries. Red wine vinegar works well instead of apple cider. You can add a few cloves or coriander seeds instead of juniper berries. Some folks add a sprinkle of flour; I don’t think it’s necessary.
It’s a simple dish, but, it can take a little time depending on how you cut the cabbage and of course, it needs to cook a while. A lot of recipes call for two hours, but I like the fresh flavor and brightness that one hour yields. Experiment. Go easy on the sweet and the sour. Too much of either and you will not succeed. Add these in small amounts and please, taste as you go.
Olive, coconut oil, butter or bacon fat.
1 medium onion finely diced
A medium red cabbage quartered, cored, and sliced or minced either by hand or shredded in a food processor.
A scant handful of dried Cranberries.
A decent splash of apple cider vinegar.
A smaller splash of maple syrup.
1/4-1/2 cup of water.
5 or 6 juniper berries.
Salt and black pepper to taste.
Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with fat.
Add the onion and sauté gently without browning until soft.
Add the cabbage and everything else.
Cover with tight-fitting lid and cook at a low simmer for an hour or more. Check along the way and add water if necessary. It should be moist, a little bit crunchy and a little bit soft and it should glisten and shine like Frau Kulak’s floor.