Man-cooking

This is definitely not ME! Paying close attention to recipes is not in my playbook…

Why do I feel so damned Pharrell Williams “HAPPY” when I’m cooking up a storm in the kitchen? Even if the kitchen isn’t “a room without a roof“?

What kind of a real man eschews the world of sliding under cars to manhandle greasy gaskets, or watching blood-spattered UFC supermen, to “perform” on the stage of culinary arts?

I think I must be what you would call gastrosexual.

Cooking and food – as we all know –  is really a metaphor for the warm and soft, fuzzy aspects of our lives.

Food provides calories, but isn’t just sustenance, would you agree?

Food means sharing, friendship, family, love, sex, laughter, discussion.

Throw a bottle or two of wine into the equation and it also means political arguments, RAUCOUS laughter, louder talk, dysfunctional families, wine goggles, raunchy sloppy sex.

dinner-argument

A typical Sunday night at my house…

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Sometime during the 1980’s I remember a great heated discussion in the (now defunct) Canadian back-to-the-earth magazine Harrowsmith about the cover photo of a woman holding a hot steaming loaf of bread, fresh from the oven.

The blush and shiny glow in her cheeks hinted to some readers of a post-orgasmic flush and maybe even a hot-and-ready yeasty bun in her own personal oven.

To naive little me, it looked like a woman proudly offering up a beautiful loaf of bread, but I’ll admit that sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar. Yes, once again, sex rules the media, and it’s everywhere.

Switching to the movies, one of my favourite “family” cooking scenes from cinema comes from none other than big John Candy and little Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck.

Whenever my kids are home and I’m stirring and chopping away in the kitchen, inevitably, one of them will whisper the classic line loudly, “Dad’s cooking our garbage“.

Now you might prefer the more serious-toned Julie and Julia for your film cooking chops. This is all well and good but makes cooking and cuisine a job to be wrestled into an organized round of beginning, middle, and end.

DING, the round is over … the recipe has been followed exactly … there, done!

Damn, forgive me. I keep getting sidetracked from the message I’m here to talk about today.

Which is … that I have a different approach to edible art.

The Alternate Zen of Cooking

Aside from the obvious connections between cooking food and family and love in its various forms … for me, cooking also means musical themes, and exploration and travel.

How so, you ask?

Cooking can be regimented and stiff, or, if you’re like me, free-form like jazz.

I know that for some, food preparation is a rote symphony – you measure every quarter note and 1/4 cup to the T… you place every rest and teaspoon in its perfect momentary place. The cuisinary maestro is to be strictly adhered to for the music and vittles to sound and taste so sweet. This is fine, I suppose.

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In Marrakesh, Morocco, Karina ensures I measure everything for a Tagine dish just so …

I was told by Karina, my cooking guide in Morocco this spring to:

 Respect the Recipe”

Bahhhh… I want to play my cooking-style like uplifting jazz, using a recipe only as a guideline where a list of ingredients is important but amounts vary from time to time, and my imagination allowed to summon up a flavour that I favour on that day.

More lemon today, more ginger tomorrow, less oregano and cumin this time around. Maybe quinoa in place of rice.

Cooking is like playing in the sandbox with the kids, it’s fun and learning all mixed together in an agreeable mess.

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Lugme, a delightful Cusco friend, stacks our freshly-baked guinea pigs into a container for the short walk back home from the community oven … a tasty Peruvian delicacy…

A wonderful bonus of today’s connected world is the availability of ingredients from every region of the world, all of the time.

Any day of the week, I can choose to eat Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Peruvian, French, Spanish, Caribbean, Hawaiian, or whatever style of food you can name with one quick visit to the local supermarket.

Is this a great world, or what?

I can hear you already. You might believe strongly in the 100-Mile Diet.  I get it. I want the local grower to do well too. But, I figure that the peasant farmer in Quillabamba, Peru or Wenchang, China or Ladysmith, South Africa deserves a livelihood as much as my friendly orchardist down the road. I support both. ‘Nuff politics, OK?

Even if I’m not travelling, cooking transports me to other worlds and exotic locales.

A special meal is like catching a plane and taking a vacation in your own home – a STEAK’ation if you will.

We can create recipe sex in our own homes where Thai meets Italian meets Brazilian and an incredible taste explodes for us like an atomic bomb in our mouths.

But at some point I grow tired of staring at the map on the wall and making dishes from afar.

The true measure of great cooking, eating, and enjoyment is to settle in the dust of the region where that food originated.

Just put a forkful (or chapati-full, or chopstick-full) of locally-cooked, flavour-laden food where the street sounds and smells encircle you … music floating on the evening air… then close your eyes and absorb all that surrounds you.

Here, I’ll take you on a short cooking-style trip right now… hang on… it won’t take a lot of your time or money!

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Oscar showing us Spanish-language students in Cusco how to prepare “Ahi de Gallina”.

I’ll throw a great little Peruvian peanut-chicken stew recipe at you here from my Cusco, Peru master-chef amigo Oscar? Listen for the pan flutes playing through the thin, cool Andean air.

Oscar makes lovely gourmet-style meals for large groups using only a 2 burner propane-fired hotplate. Try this in your own kitchen and feel free to adjust the amounts.

Ahi de Gallina (Serves 6 – Oscar gave this recipe to me in Spanish, but I’ll make it a bit easier with translation)

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 100 g white cheese (mozzarella or cheddar or monterey jack)
  • 1 1/2 onions
  • 4 aji peppers (any small hot pepper will do)
  • 1/4 litre milk
  • 50 g roasted, ground peanuts
  •  150 g chicken stock
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 150 g water crackers
  • 4 garlic cloves

Preparation:

  • Boil the chicken breasts in 2 litres water with a clove of garlic, some salt and pepper for 15 minutes
  • Drain the broth but reserve 1 litre of the cooking liquid and hand shred the chicken into small strands
  • Chop 1 onion, garlic and peppers into small pieces (remove and discard seeds from hot peppers)
  • In a large frying pan on medium heat, saute the chopped vegetables in a small splash of oil, add salt and pepper to taste
  • After a few minutes, add the milk slowly in equal portions to the crushed water crackers
  • Add cubed cheese, the peanuts, and the chicken broth and stir for a minute
  • Pour the entire mixture into a blender and liquify until smooth
  • Cut the remaining half onion into julienne strips and add to the frying pan and saute for a minute before adding in the blender mix and the shredded chicken
  • Stir over heat until it reaches the boil point and add more milk or broth for a smooth consistency
  • Serve over rice or potato, accompanied by olives and hard boiled eggs

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Now when I travel, I want to spend time in the company of local cooks and learn their magic with local traditions and foodstuffs. Few things in life bring us more warmly, more peacefully, together than cooking and sharing a meal.

And I’m just at the start of this journey. Morocco, Peru, Spain, Cuba, China, even Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories of Canada … the list will grow and recipe sex will make the spicy ambience of life a bit richer.

So it might seem crazy what I’m gonna say but I’m just gonna put on my Pharrell cooking hat and keep pirouetting and gyrating my Happy-dance as I blend the fusionary, culinary, provisionary, sometimes flavourful, sometimes disastrous kitchen concoctions and dream my way to the furthest corners of the world.

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