Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ghetto Nerd Working Class Dreams of High-End Eating: I Wish You Well This Thanksgiving as I Cook Beef Bourguignon While Reflecting on a History of Unorthodox Holiday Meals

[Update: I lost my battle with that great foe beef bourguignon today. Again, I am reminded to always follow my own instincts, as opposed to surrendering to a cookbook or the Food Network's dictums. Mr. Beef Bourguignon, I salute you. We will do battle again on Christmas Day.]

I hope that you are all having a nice and restful day. Do something nice for yourselves and for someone less fortunate too.

As an only child with a finicky sense of taste, I was not forced to eat turkey during Thanksgiving.

This choice made for fond memories. For example, two of my favorite Thanksgiving experiences consist of meals at a takeout Chinese restaurant, and an amazing Chicken and pita with fries from the local Greek diner after going bowling with my mother and father. I doubt we would have had that fun if I was not a brat, one usually (but not always) polite, who refused to eat what our hosts had cooked for us. The food was not very good. I suspect my parents were happy that I provided them an excuse to leave early.

While my family is very working class (and barely so), on Thanksgivings past my father would indulge us with beef roast, pork loin, lobster, and other goodies. It was a running joke with my friends who loved to goof on me about the elaborate meals that the DeVega clan--all three of us and our dogs--ate during Thanksgiving and the holidays. And yes, the dogs got to eat the innards from the obligatory turkey or Cornish game hen my mother insisted on eating for dinner.

In those moments when I was getting ribbed by my good friends, I smiled. My internal monologue was a bit more mixed emotionally. Yes, we had some good eating during the holidays. But, my friends families owned their homes, multiple cars, and paid for their kids' college without the latter needing to take out onerous loans. I let the pretense stand for purposes of pride and to respect my father's magnanimity and generosity.

Growing to adulthood means that we have to balance our smiles and cries.

What a person eats is a reflection of who they are. Today, my Thanksgiving meal will consist of beef bourguignon over egg noodles and some obligatory garlic bread. I will be sharing my meal with one other soul who is my professional taster. She is a happy eater, always fair but encouraging, and good with feedback on my efforts at cooking.

My odd sense of taste was/is a blessing and a curse at the holidays (as well as when I am invited over people's homes for dinner, more generally). I am polite and enthusiastic, so I will try just about anything a host prepares--as long as they do not force it on me and insist that I eat more than I would like. As a child, and now an adult, I came to realize that I don't like collard greens, mac and cheese out of the box (unless it is very skillfully prepared...and even then it reminds me of worms or some futuristic Soylent Green type food substitute), or sweet potatoes.

I am also not a fan of holding hands in some forced ceremony of thanks and grace. When in Rome do as the Romans; thus, I offer up something if it is demanded as the price of entry, and being included in a family's tradition.

I will not promise to suppress my laughter if your aunt or grandma starts speaking in tongues at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Yes, this did happen to me once. I was forewarned. It made the moment no less bizarre and hilarious.

[After much experimentation, my version of beef bourguignon uses very little flour, adds more rosemary than thyme, and I have settled on cooking the vegetables and mushrooms in two batches. The first goes into the pot and cooks down over time. The second batch goes in at the end with some extra wine, a whee bit of beef stock if necessary, and a touch of pepper. I buy chuck meat and cut it into large pieces myself. I then brown the meat with bacon fat in an extremely hot iron skillet.]

In total, I have a few dishes that I would compare to anything one could buy at a restaurant. I have many more dishes that are works in progress.

And yes, there are a few which are utter failures every time I endeavor to make them--what is the secret of frying fresh mozzarella? Why is my fried chicken always so meh? Is it that hard to make a fried Puerto Rican style pork sandwich with onions at home? How come I cannot resist the urge to look in the oven, and to monitor my beef bourguignon as it is cooking? I need to monitor the dish to scrape the fond off the bottom of the pot, but I peek too often. Why do I not have a sense of trust!

For those cooks with more talent and experience than me, what are your tips and tricks in the kitchen? Those little touches to a given dish which separate the average from the great, and tricks of the trade that you wish you had known years ago?


Buddy H said...

One thing I learned was to be patient with slow cooking. Keep the pot covered, the stove burner on low, and let everything simmer slowly in its own juices. I had to suppress the urge to turn the burner up high and flash cook everything. Now I know to start cooking hours before I am hungry, let everything take its time on the stove top.

chauncey devega said...

I am trying as we speak. I so want to rush things and keep seasoning! Give me strength Buddy!

Bryan Ortez said...

I'm still pretty novice with things in the kitchen, though I can make a fair variety of foods pretty well. Buddy H said slow it down. I think you just have to get comfortable with it and the only way to do that is to keep doing it.

My fried chicken always comes out bland.

Buddy H said...

Beef bourguignon over egg noodles with garlic bread. Sounds like an excellent thanksgiving feast. Turkey is over rated. A cornish game hen has more flavor, in my opinion.

Every year, I listen to a Thanksgiving prayer, by Bill Burroughs:

chauncey devega said...

What are you doing wrong with the chicken? Marinade? Seasoning? Not using lard or vegetable shortening? Peanut oil is a good substitute too.

chauncey devega said...

My dinner defeated me today. Would have been cheaper to eat out and go to a movie. We learn through struggle.

Bryan Ortez said...

I think it's the seasoning. Maybe the way I batter. I'm not really sure. I can make some great soups as well as a few other items. I surprise myself and my wife sometimes. Still learning. I'm pretty good at making our food supplies stretch.

Bryan Ortez said...

I'm also pretty notorious for glancing at a recipe, then making up whatever I can with what I have. Makes me a bad baker. I always use fresh ingredients though. :)

chauncey devega said...

Absolutely. Cooked in a pressure cooker or crock pot?

chauncey devega said...

I like to add mushrooms in 2 batches. I didn't do that. I also added water w. bouillon instead of beef broth and a little bouillon at the end. I also didn't put in my tablespoon of bbq sauce and A1.

Back to my take on the recipe for me.

Bryan Ortez said...

I was going to say, cooking the vegetables and mushrooms separate is a pretty good idea.

I've never really liked using most bouillon. Broth is better.

If you still have a moment, what kind of onions for the Puerto Rican style pork sandwich? Caramelized? Pickled?

Weird Beard said...

I think being a lover of your spice rack is important. Over the years I have come to know and love cumin, coriander, turmeric, nutmeg, sage, dill, and cayenne along with the customary foursome of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. I am still a noob and fail as oft as I succeed with dishes, but I enjoy the spice rack journey. My first priority with dishes is to get a good flavor happening. Once I get a tasty flavor profile, then I can work on superior texture, cooking methods, side dishes etc. I like to pan fry my chicken with a shawarma inspired seasoning with perhaps some light corn starch as a coating. The skin is crisp like bacon and the flavor is bangin'. If I were you, I may begin by finding a marinade/brine that really does it for your taste buds and infuse that flavor base in the bird before you fry. Once the flavor is there, the rest is details. (you could also throw a little more salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne in the coating mix).

wawoo said...

Cast iron skillet, dutch oven, or crock pot. Have done all to with fine results. Have finished in stove top and finished in oven. Depends on my inclinations and what was available at the time.

physioproffe said...

Dude, I've got motherfucken tons of braising recipes on my blogge, as well as risottos, pastas, and tacos! And yeah, the key to braising meat is that you gotta go low and slow and be patient.

Here's two of my favorite braised dishes:

chauncey devega said...

Dear friend! Where were you in my time of need :) I am going to be studying up on those recipes. What are some other tricks and tips?

kokanee said...

I know I'm a little late to the party (and working backwards) - I had to finish, "12 Years a Slave" before returning.

From :
No Thanks to Thanksgiving

Instead, we should atone for the genocide that was incited — and condoned — by the very men we idolize as our ‘heroic’ founding fathers.

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

Read the rest at: