Open your eyes and your belly will be happy:
People need to stop being so damn dependent on their sacred ‘Joy of Cooking’ textbook, or their Food & Wine Magazine subscriptions. And while I love watching an episode of Iron Chef America or some other Food Network program, sometimes we ALL need to just turn the TV off, close the cookbooks, and toss out those monthly magazines.
I will be the fist to admit that gaining guidance from professional chefs and following trusted recipes has its place. I have more than my fair share of food-related-reading material. And now the internet plays a huge role in my recipe-research. I am constantly surfing the web searching some cooking site or blog for ideas for my next food-combo; BUT I recently realized that I can find far tastier results by doing a search in REAL LIFE.
The other day, I was visiting my Grandmother. She is over 80 years old and knows how to made a damn good turkey sandwich. Of course anyone can Google ‘turkey sandwich’ and find some perfectly acceptable recipe for how to make this simple meal. But will it be as good as Grand-mom’s? NO. It won’t.
Many people you interact with on a daily basis have amazing cooking skills or at least are black-belts in a few ‘family recipes.’ They have trade-secrets and can give you good advice. These secrets make ordinary meals extraordinary. PLUS, the people you know and have cooked for you, know what YOU like; or at least what you are used to.
So why could I never make a turkey sandwich that tasted as good as Grandmom’s? There had to be some reason her freaking turkey sandwiches were idolized by the whole family. I searched online and read many creative suggestions, but nothing ever tasted as good as what I knew Grandmother what serving. So while visiting Grandmother this past time, I decided to ignore the TV in the background and I did not converse with my cousins. Instead I carefully studied how Grandmother cooks. I asked her many questions which she enthusiastically answered. After a couple of days I learned more than I could possible have learned from any celebrity chef.
Grandmother’s big secret to the perfect turkey sandwich: peeling tomatoes before slicing them and adding them to the sandwich. I am not saying that YOU are going to find that peeled tomatoes suddenly turn your boring sandwich into something to shout about…but for ME, those big juicy PEELED tomatoes stuffed between the bread and meat were both the taste and texture that I was so familiar with. To ME, that is what tasted good and what I knew defined the truly tasty turkey sandwich of my childhood.
So follow the examples set by the people closest to you. Observe, listen and learn from your peers, friends, and the people immediately around you; the people whose food you have been eating for years. You may suddenly realize that you like sandwiches more if they have Miracle Whip instead of mayo, or if the bread is from a certain brand…or even that you like peeled tomatoes.
But peeled tomatoes and a few minor adjustments does not explain why some things just taste simply amazing. The ‘trade secrets’ are just half the reason why Grandmother’s food is so freaking perfect…
People generally like what they know or what they grew up with. That ‘comfort food’ that we are so used to just feels ‘right’ when we stuff our faces with it. Familiar food and recipes have a huge advantage over any stranger-created concoction. As human beings we naturally have certain emotional connections and positive memories attached to what we already know and have experienced. When you sit down in Grandmother’s dinning room to be served a beautiful meal made with love the same way you have done since you were a little kid, then there is more than just a written down recipe you are enjoying. No matter what the cooking is like, the whole occasion is flavored by the associations you have connected with being in that particular place, eating that particular meal, made by that particular person.
So while Grandmother’s years of cooking experience ensures she knows what the proper temperature is to roast a turkey and how to efficiently slice up vegetables, it is the deeply rooted psychological attributes attached to her food that makes it so special. Grand-mom’s grub is served with a side of positive feelings and wonderful associations. The memories and emotions that are delivered with her familiar dishes can only be experienced through the creations her own hands put together and place on her dining room table. ‘Grandmoms love’ can never be replicated in my own kitchen, meaning that my meals will never achieve the psychological attributes she cooks up. So sadly my turkey sandwich will always be lacking, but the peeled tomatoes have helped a bit…