Friday, January 30, 2009

The Meaning of a Meal

When someone asks you to share a meal with you, what are they really asking of you?

What do you think?

Before the nightclub, designer drugs and Entourage, society used meals as a focal point to gather and commune. A meal can mean love. A meal can mean long laughs. It can mean surprise, disappointment, lust or even heartache. It means support, it means sustenance. But most of all, it means time. A meal can mean hours, and it can mean a moment. A meal is the most socially dynamic event in any person’s life, but yet no attention has ever been paid to the intangible nutritional values.

To its most primal core, a meal provides us with sustenance in all forms the human needs. Protein gives us the building blocks for muscles to grow. Fruits and vegetables give us the requisite vitamins to aide in our health and strength. Starches give us the fuel to face another day. A balanced meal, according to the food pyramid, can give us all the tangible inputs to sustain human existence.

But one thing ignored in the guide to health was the intangible benefits of food. Sitting down for a meal means more than just consumption of calories. It means consciously taking time out of your schedule, whether it’s a long formal dinner, or just a quick run to McDonalds, to spend with a special person. Whether it’s a business person aiming to close that next big deal, or a newlywed couple celebrating their first night on honeymoon, people use meal time to pause and focus on some particular topic. Human beings all need to eat. One of the most powerful historic images of the power of a meal continues to be the Christian image of The Last Supper. If Jesus could find time to break bread with those whom he loved so dearly so near to his prophesized demise, can we not take time out to share a meal with those around us, loved and unloved?

No one has quantified the health benefits of a good conversation with friends. Or how about the antioxidants produced when your mother cooked your favorite meal after the big game when you were a child. But the next time you sit down to your meal, whether in a restaurant or at home, be sure to season your dining table with the healthiest of ingredients – good people and positive energy.

To your health!

-The UE

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Urbane Adventure - Brooklyn Food Tour

Friends, Fans and the Epicurious,

It’s that time again! I would like to extend an invitation to join me and the dedicated food fans of my blog to tour parts of the Brooklyn borough. For those uninitiated, there are vast amounts of food and culture in various parts of Brooklyn, and to not visit while living in the city would be a disservice to your palette.

If you are interested, please let me know. As those who have attended in the past can tell you, it promises to be filling and fun.

Date: Saturday, February 7, 2009
Time: 3pm (tentative)
Location: To Be Determined

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Monday, January 5, 2009

A Lesson Before Dining: Chapter 2

This week’s lesson covered some of America’s favorites - frying and sauce making. The participants met at the test kitchen, unplugged the smoke detector, and got to work. The menu was pretty robust, covering a southern classic, Fried Chicken with Country Gravy and Cheese Grits, and a twist on an Italian classic, Salmon Croquettes on a Bed of Spaghetti with Homemade Tomato Sauce. The beautiful thing about these two dishes is they encompass so many transferable chef skills. For example, making croquettes requires the same breading, egging, and chilling time as any good burger or meatball would. And making country gravy requires you to understand deglazing, reducing and thickening, which is requisite for many pan sauces. It was a meal of creativity, of patience, and of overcoming fears (have you ever been scalded by hot grease?!) In the end, the meal was spectacular enough to change people’s perspectives on fish dishes and fried chicken. Mmmm Mmmm!!!!

Below is a recount of the participants’ experiences:

The UE said…I hate frying. HATE it. So when designing the coursework, naturally I had to add a unit sizzling food in inches of hot liquid fat that could burn the paint off the space shuttle. Being burned by grease is something I do not like and do not seek, as I constantly attempt dishes that require little to no pan frying. Alas, if I am to ascend to the gilded ranks of the imperial chefs, I must learn to fry some good meats. So I stepped up to the plate with long sleeves and a confident gait. We chopped and breaded and dredged and plopped. Soon, the meats were sizzling, and I was excited. I hadn’t historically had much success frying foods, but this felt different. I could feel it coming in the air.

We started making tomato sauce, which is always enjoyable. I have made tomato sauce before, and the key I think is slow loving. Let the tomatoes have time to meet the herbs. Give the garlic space to flirt with the shallots. Soon you will have a velvety sauce that melts in your mouth.

The chicken and croquettes were fantastico! Some tips I learned from observation of my friends helped this batch come out better. First – bake the chicken, either before or after frying. You don’t need to let the grease cook the meat, it will just make it unhealthy and soggy. Fry to a golden crisp and then bake. Second – use a lid! My biggest folly in frying had always been open air frying. If you close the lid, it will fry safely and trap heat, helping the process. Just be wary the steam on the lid doesn’t drip into the grease when you take it off, else it will spatter the grease.

Lou said…KFC and Popeye’s make it look simple, but frying chicken is no easy feat. I was much more comfortable skinning and preparing the chicken this time around, but I was scared of the frying process. After hearing horror stories about people being burned by grease and kitchen grease fires, I made sure to stand back any time the chicken made the slightest sound in the frying pot. The efforts paid off in the end, but I’m definitely not comfortable enough to fry anything by myself. One of the highlights of week two was creating the spaghetti sauce from scratch (I’m becoming much more confident with the knife and chopping and mincing—finally!). I’m glad to have cheese grits in my arsenal; I had never tasted them before, but they seem like a quick way to supplement a meal. The salmon croquets were fairly simple to make and delicious to taste and the two dinner wines added to the total presentation/experience. The best part was seeing our tasting guest go back for seconds and depart with a smile on his face…. Mission complete.

Fried Chicken
Country Gravy
Cheese Grits
Salmon Croquettes
Homemade Tomato Sauce

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