| Musings |

The Gourmet Life

The kids have grown up and have developed more sophisticated tastes… along with the rest of the world

Maybe that little rectangular container of mustard powder is the cause. The container I take out every Erev Pesach when I clean out the spice rack, dust off, and then put right back… for years. Maybe it’s because my kids won’t eat anything with specks, dots, spots, or other unidentifiable ingredients mixed in.

Whatever the root cause, I’ve been unusually resistant to the (not-so) recent craze-turned-trend of restaurant-quality, gourmet home cooking. I’m the typical late-adopter. By the time I finally caught on to Craisins in salad, the masses had moved on to mango and hearts of palm.

I tended to read recipes for the entertainment value and marvel at all the outlandish ingredients they called for. Then I’d go ahead and prep our dinner of plain baked potatoes and grilled chicken — knowing that at least this was one combination the kids would eat without complaint.

I recently attended a wedding. The first 20 minutes of dinner conversation revolved around trying to identify what we were eating as an appetizer. We finally established that it was farro topped with shredded meat, garnished with tiny potato balls, cubed mango, sprouts, and at least three more mysterious ingredients. I’d always been perfectly happy with those puffed pastry triangles with mushroom sauce.

But clearly, times have changed. The kids have grown up and have developed more sophisticated tastes… along with the rest of the world. And I was starting to feel left behind.

So one day I sat myself down with one of the more popular cookbooks and decided to throw caution to the wind and take a stab at a few of the more interesting recipes with international flair.

The next day I eagerly set off to the local grocery to buy a few key ingredients. For someone who was about to throw her chef’s hat into the fray with only duck sauce and soy sauce on hand, this was an important first step. Here’s a list of what I bought: sriracha sauce, Mu-Shu hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, Dijon mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, and a small bottle of liquid smoke. Apparently I had an awful lot of catching up to do.

The liquid smoke wasn’t actually called for in any of the recipes, but it sounded so exotic, I half expected that when I opened it, a genie would pop out of the bottle and offer me three wishes. At just $2.50, it was the deal of the day. What I discovered is that gourmet shopping can quickly add up ($27.96!). Aside from the monetary investment, I had to dedicate an entire shelf of prime refrigerator real estate to these… can I call them condiments?

I shuddered to think what a well-equipped chef’s refrigerator looked like. Was there any room left in there for the food once it’s cooked? The professionals must keep a separate refrigerator for ingredients alone. Either that, or every item they cook goes directly from oven to table (which isn’t even possible on a three-day Yom Tov) and everything turned out so perfect there were no leftovers to store. Ever. Riiiight.

All this reminded me of the Pesach a few years back when a few neighbors were kvetching about Pesach recipes that called for a teaspoon of kosher-for-Passover imitation soy sauce or pseudo mustard or some similar one-and-done ingredient. You useed a teaspoon in one recipe and that’s it. It’s not like you had the space or even wanted to keep these kosher-for-Passover ingredients around after Pesach.

Our plan was to set up a small lockbox, like the mailboxes you see on the curb in suburbia, and stash a bunch of shelf-stable Pesach essentials in it. This way we could all access whatever we needed without knocking on doors at 3 a.m. (Why is that always the hour when you discover you’re short one essential ingredient?)

For the record, this plan never did pan out. But we’re still talking about divvying up the purchase of the more expensive Pesachdig ingredients amongst us and distributing a list of just who has what.

Back to my foray into the world of

21st-century-gourmet home cooking. There’s really not much to tell. I made one or two of those Julia Child-worthy (you see what decade I’m holding in) dishes with mixed results. The exotic ingredients lent them a certain gourmet flair. And some of the kids even tolerated them. But honestly, we’re all just as happy with meals that come in much lower on the Kitchen Patchkeh Scale.

On the plus side, I discovered a few recipes that work their magic with simple ingredients even I always have on hand. (Winner: London Broil with garlic, oil, soy sauce, ketchup, black pepper, and dried oregano.)

So for now, I think I’ll leave the gourmet cooking to the pros. Yesterday I noticed the sriracha sauce wasn’t even opened yet. And I’m still looking for a recipe that uses liquid smoke.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 776)

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