Everyday Gourmet12/24/08

What I remembered this year

Dec. 24, 2008

By Kim Dannies

There has been an alarming increase in the things I know nothing about. It seems the more I learn about food and cooking the more I realize how little I know. And now that I’ve seen the other side of 50, the little bit I know, I can’t always remember when I need it. I hate my brain.

At least I remembered to keep notes for this column — little tips and techniques that helped to make me a better eater and cook in 2008. I’m sharing these morsels in the hopes that somebody out there will help me to remember them, and treat me someday with a sweet kernel of knowledge.

First, a subject near and dear to my waistline: the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. This past summer The New York Times revealed the critical element to creating truly epic chocolate chips cookies (July 9, 2008). In the interest of sound reporting, I experimented — several times, in fact — and concur with their findings. The dough is markedly more complex and delicious (with a finer crumb) when refrigerated 24 to 36 hours prior to baking.

A burlesque of happiness: perfectly poached eggs smashed over crispy French fries, (Don’t forget the sea salt.)

Shrimp, my favorite food, now gets a sprinkle of sugar before searing in a pan of hot olive oil. Why? The shrimp quickly turn a gorgeous copper color, while remaining plump and succulent. How come? The Maillard reaction, the chemical reaction between a protein and a reducing sugar in heat (it’s the same thing that happens when you make toast).

I fervently wish that it weren’t true, but it’s a fact: as baby boomers age, not only does the memory fade, but so do the taste buds. Yikes! Can pureed prunes be far behind? Don’t panic, the food industry is on the taste case — it’s no coincidence there are so many spicy rubs and salsas on menus today. At home, try using red pepper flakes instead of ground pepper in recipes. I use a 1-to-4 ratio when substituting the hot stuff.

The paradox of globalization: I went halfway around the world to eat authentic Lebanese food this summer, and discovered that my childhood auntie, Sandy O’Brien, cooks it better. Remember to seek out ethnic flavors right in your own town. There are great cooks just waiting to share their taste treasures with your adventurous palate.

Menu Tongue Twisters: galangal plant (or Blue Ginger) is a root used in Pan-Asian cuisine. It resembles ginger, but it is more hot and peppery in taste. Sriracha, a common condiment in Asian restaurants, is the generic name for Thai-style hot sauce. The sauce is made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It makes a mean dipping sauce when mixed with mayo — go for it, Boomers!

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.