What Makes a Cook Good?

Our motto at My Kosher Kitchen @ COR is to provide culinary education to help good cooks become great. Therefore it has occurred to me to ask what is the definition of a good cook?

So I reached out to some members of my Kitchen Cabinet*, an advisory board comprised of those of you who are passionate about cooking, and posed the question.

I was rewarded with a rich array of responses that offer food for thought in examining reasons for fighting the good fight.

One said “a good cook is an honest cook”. Another fleshed that thought out by saying “someone who respects and enhances the natural flavours of the food”, which, I think, frankly speaking, is a pretty good place to start. Maybe an honest cook is also someone who is honest with themselves about why they cook. (They keep on coming back hungry is sometimes as introspective a reason as I can give.)

“Healthful foods that taste great” was a weigh in, and also that “presentation is a big component, as is the effort it may take to put together a meal”. One response suggests that an objective test of a good cook is whether their “recipes are being copied and used in other people’s kitchens”. I find it interesting to think that with such a proliferation of cookbooks in print, people actually seem to be cooking less. Maybe the desire to transmit a recipe needs to be preceeded by someone, dear, making it for you. (It’s been said that, sadly, most people’s experience of Jewish life these days is compared to reading a menu, rather than the experience of dining.)

And the last word goes to Denise Levin who hints at the transformation of a good cook into great. She writes that it’s developing the mindset that elevates a lowly ingredient, like a potato, into a gift from Above that nourishes and delights that makes a cook great. It’s the appreciation of “this gift of love, that when a good cook uses it, can transform that potato into a gourmet dish”.

While we’re on the theme of potatoes, a great cook I know, wrote in and asked for the Potato Kugel
recipe I make for Shabbos, after sharing that it was the one and the same recipe from which our Chanuka latkes are made.

Next week, with your permission, I’d like to continue the discussion of what makes a good cook great.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

*With thanks to Rabbi Yisroel Roll for this endearing term.

Fish; True Soul Food.

In our previous class, Pasta, Fish and Legumes, we discussed several different ways to cook fish. Not different recipes, but a variety of methods such as baking, poaching and frying.

We also discussed the requirement of fins and scales that designate a fish as kosher.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote that scales “represent the quality of integrity, which protects us from the many pitfalls that life presents. A man of integrity will not deceive his customers, in spite of the financial profits involved…Integrity means that one has absolute standards of right and wrong and is committed to a morality that transcends one’s moods and desires.”

Fins represent ambition. “A healthy sense of ambition…propels us to fulfill our dreams and leave our unique imprint on the world.”

“While integrity is fundamental, ambition is also important. The Torah teaches us that it is not enough to maintain our own integrity; we must also have a positive effect on the world.”

It is also interesting to note that in the medical website, http://www.medicine-plants.com, they write; “kosher dietary laws prohibit the eating of fish without both scales and fins. Clearly their Lawgiver knew something that has taken scientists years to discover. Now we know that fish with scales and fins are equipped with a digestive system that prevents the absorption of poisons and toxins into their flesh from the waters they call home…lobster and crabs are crustaceans and are a part of the arthropod family, which include caterpillars, cockroaches and spiders.”

Definitely food for thought.

Fish is so delicious and so good for you, I wonder why I don’t serve it more often. Why not try this recipe for Braised Whitefish with Chickpeas, a lovely and simple way to enjoy a healthy, flavourful dinner.

Shabbat shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Feelings of Latke Inadequacy

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I am positive that your inbox is inundated with recipes celebrating the humble potato latke.

How to make the perfect potato pancake is featured in newspapers, magazines and the internet and is offered up as a way to enhance the joy experienced at Hanuka.  And of course we all want to come up with the newest, healthiest, tastiest version?  It has become a delicious way to connect us to the excitement of the holiday.

And so, the question that begs to be asked is why do I feel that last year’s recipe isn’t good enough?  Why do I feel the need to try something new?  Was I dissatisfied with last year’s latke?

If I answer, that trying something new is fun and that nobody really likes the same old same old, that may be a fair response.  But when something as delicious as a fried crunch coating a pillowy soft cream of onion-y potatoes and eggs comes along once a year, why would I want to mess with that?

I shudder to think of the real reason.  Feelings of latke inadequacy.

It has taken me decades to come to terms with it, but now that it is out in the open, I feel much better.  In fact, by admitting that in the quest of the perfect latke, I have deluded myself and cruelly teased dear family and friends, I have come to a realization.

And by way of repentance, I will give them what they want.  I will forswear hiding any secret grated squashes.  No roasted roots snuck in.  Just potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, salt and pepper fashioned into patties lowered into is-it-hot-enough-for-you oil fried to a golden brown with porcupine like shreds crisped into place for that first bite.

Slather on the sour cream or applesauce and the flavour juxtaposition is sublime.

It took me a few years to realize the blatant truth, but it is that my latke recipe is none other than the potato kugel recipe I make every Shabbos, only fried into pancakes.

And that truly is my take away lesson from Hanuka.

When I think that what I’m already doing isn’t good enough, stop, think and appreciate how already outstanding is my effort and, just maybe, a small little something extra will suffice.

The two tips that I want to share with you to turn your kugel into the most satisfying latkes are;

  • to make sure that your oil is at the right temperature for frying, and
  • to wash your grated potatoes very well (in at least 2 changes of water) which removes the starch.

In demonstration of the values of a kosher kitchen, I know some dedicated homemakers who dry this potato starch to use at Pesach.

Whatever method you use to create your Hanuka magic for family and friends, pause and take a (grease filled) moment to appreciate the memories that you are creating.  And realize that by waiting a whole year for such a grand treat builds great anticipation from the expectation of something so wonderful.

Shabbat shalom and Hanuka Sameach,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada