It’s always surprising to both Yes!Chef! and me when people sing such high praises for Yes!Chef!’s food. Yes, his food is quite tasty, but it is usually simple food. But we frequently hear things such as, “This is the best chicken I have ever had,” and “What did you put on this to make it so flavorful?” (answer is usually salt), or “What can I do to make my food taste like this?” and finally, “Will you adopt me?”
Yes!Chef! is usually guided by three things when he cooks: 1) Best/freshest possible product as close as possible to it’s natural state (he doesn’t slaughter his own chickens, but you know what I mean)
2)Strict attention to detail and process when he’s cooking,
and 3)Simple methods of preparation (even though sometimes the preparation/cooking time is time consuming.)
The final item really goes-without-saying: it has to appeal to his tastiness meter. In other words, he doesn’t want to make it if it doesn’t sound good to him.
I ran across an interesting article about Pantry items that every kitchen must have to make Low-Budget meals. Here it is if you want to read it over at The Kitchn blog: 10 Low-Budget Items Everyone Should Have. I realize these are Low Budget items, but I would probably not have “cans of tuna” or bananas on any list of “must haves”. Although Yes!Chef! likes bananas (I’m not real crazy about them), he won’t touch canned tuna, so I’m equally sure that item would not be on his list. Remind me to tell you about the time I made Tuna Casserole for him shortly after we were married. Suffice it to say that I never made it again.
It got me to thinking about what Yes!Chef! considers “must haves” in the kitchen in order to make flavorful food. So, I asked him what his top ten items are. At first he shrugged as if he had never thought about it. Then we had this conversation:
Y!C!: Salt and Pepper.
Y!C!: Oh, and carrots, celery and onions to make a good mirepoix.
Me: That’s all?
Me: Salt and pepper and mirepoix?
Y!C!: Probably chicken stock base and sugar and flour.
Me: I think most people probably have sugar and flour.
Y!C!: Oh, right. (thinks for a minute and looks around the kitchen.)
Y!C!: How many items have you written down.
Me: What ingredients do you always have on hand or that you always make sure you get at Costco?
Even more silence
Y!C!: Peanut butter.
Me: Peanut butter?
Y!C!: For breakfast. (he smiles because he likes peanut butter toast in the morning. It’s his favorite. )
Here’s his list of must haves as far as I could pry out of him.
- Kosher Salt and pepper
- onions, carrots and celery (for mirepoix)
- tomatoes in season or if not, canned tomatoes and paste
- chicken and beef base (we use Better than Bouillon)
- Red Pepper flakes/Ground Chipotle Pepper/Sriracha or something else with a kick
- olive oil
- acid, such as limes, lemons or vinegar
- Parmesan Cheese
and peanut butter (for his breakfast)
Now understand that not many of these things will make a meal very well by themselves (well, you might be able to cobble a meal together with these things, but I wouldn’t try.) But, add some fresh vegetables and/or some good chicken/beef/pork and you can make a tasty meal. Most of our weeknight meals are put together on the fly by Yes!Chef! using these items and meat that he purchased on sale.
Yes!Chef! used bottled barbecue sauce on the above chicken after he grilled it. Before grilling, he seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a kick of spice. The Sprouts were roasted in the oven with salt, pepper and olive oil. Simple and flavorful.
In order to save money, Y!C! usually purchases large quantities at Costco. We always have frozen whole chickens and chicken thighs and legs in the freezer. We usually have some sort of frozen fish in the freezer. He buys pork shoulders and large pieces of beef to grind his own sausage and hamburger. And, if we run out of these things, he will whip up bacon and eggs for dinner. Bacon and eggs are good anytime.
Yes!Chef! and I have a theory that many people have never tasted food the way it is supposed to taste when it is properly seasoned and properly cooked. And this is why many people who have tasted his food are so impressed with the flavor. We have all watched the cooking shows such as “Restaurant Impossible” and “Kitchen Nightmares”. These restaurants are failing because of bad food. They may also have a dated or dirty restaurant and bad service, but the biggest issue is always the food. The owners always say that their food is wonderful and everybody loves their food. If so, where are the patrons? It’s always about the food. And their food is bad.
Then there are home cooks in such shows as “Worst Cooks in America”. They have no clue how to cook or even how the food is supposed to taste. (Whatever happened to Home Economics in school?)
In all these shows, when the participants are shown how food is supposed to be seasoned and cooked, they are amazed at how wonderfully flavorful food can be. Even the simplest of recipes.
Here’s the secret: find out what good food is supposed to taste like (and you won’t necessarily find that out at a restaurant), learn how to properly season your food before you cook it and cook the food properly (DO NOT OVERCOOK).
Just having the above items in your kitchen will not instantly give you great tasting food. But, with proper use, your food will be more flavorful when you use these items in your cooking.
Now, about those Zombies.
I spied these guys one day when I was driving around somewhere in the middle of California. They were hanging out in the same area where those huge windmills are located. Coincidence? I think not.
I’m here to tell you that Zombies don’t care if their food is seasoned or cooked properly. They do, however, care about how fresh it is.
And here are some homegrown zombies. (My fam.) They are a lot cuter…
Lesson here is obvious: Don’t Be a Zombie. Make tasty food.