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taking stock

how we grow up in the kitchen

lately i have been thinking a lot about the way each of us learns to cook. when it comes to formal technique, i’m fairly lazy; i was lucky to learn most of what i know about cooking basics from my father, who was very methodical. in a sense, i received a lot of formal training without realizing it.

my father went back to cooking school in his sixties, to the cambridge school of culinary arts in boston, massachusetts. from what i can tell, most of the stuff he learned he already knew, but he started throwing around terms such as mise en place more frequently [which means, in essence, to prepare your components before beginning to cook], and he would often prattle on about the properties of eggs. i think if anything, the formal education just gave him more confidence in what he already knew, and imparted a bit of the science for which he would have otherwise been befuddled.

historically, cooking is something that is passed down through generations, and the invention of the recipe has changed that. we pass down recipes, but not necessarily technique. in the melting pot that is our culture, cooking tradition is hard to come by; there is something to be said for the way in which we individually, culturally, and as families go about running our own kitchens. the way my father cooked was by his own design; it was not necessarily reflective of how my grandmother cooked. my grandmother on my mother’s side, however, had a way about her kitchen that was simple, but wholly integrated… and it centered around stock.

since my mother was a kid, my grandmother always, always had a small pot of stock simmering on the back of the stove. it was fundamental to the way she not only cooked, but lived. a good stock, whether it be chicken, beef, or fish, is the most widely used, basic element in cooking. my grandmother’s stock permeated every home they occupied; if i close my eyes i can still smell it. my mother told me that when they came home from school and the stock was dry, that they knew to add water. my grandmother would literally leave it on all day, even if she left. she would turn it off at night, then turn it back on in the morning. leftover bones, poaching liquid, vegetable trimmings… everything went in, and everything came out of, the stock on the back of the stove. i am reminded of other kitchen rituals, whether it’s a sourdough starter for bread, or the annual process of sowing and harvesting a garden; for many the kitchen ritual, the ritual of being fed and feeding, goes beyond a recipe card. until recently, lists of ingredients, or rules, were handed down without measurements or procedure; you were either a competent cook, or not.

in my home now, virtually everything i cook that has a bone ends up in a stock pot. it’s not one continual stock, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be someday. nothing tastes like a rich, homemade stock, and to have one available all the time is amazing. i think about my grandmother every time i make stock, even if it was my father who taught me the fundamentals.

there are many kinds of stock, prepared different ways, and used for different things. there are a few basic stocks of french origin that are the building blocks of most cuisine. however, on a home scale, there is just the continual using of what you have to make more; it’s not just handy, it’s economy. a stock can take on many permeations, but basically it is:

– some form of a mirepoix [varying ratios of diced carrot, onion, and celery] either cooked gently or browned in butter or oil
bones [sometimes browned in the oven, sometimes not…]
water, and
– a bouquet garni [a sachet of parsley (i use stems), bay leaf, peppercorns, often garlic, and sometimes an herb such as thyme]

it should simmer but never boil [to stay clear]. it should use no cruciferous vegetables, my mother reminded me [cabbage, broccoli, etc…]. it should always be on the back burner. it should be a fundamental, continual part of your kitchen ritual. and you should teach your children.

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welcome to lambaste

welcome to lambaste.

i’m slowly working my way towards a food point of view, defining and documenting my own kitchen rituals. my goal is to create meals and cook using a combination of simple methods and principles, rather than relying on recipes all of the time. most of the food prepared here is not based on a recipe, but classic techniques that provide infinite possibilities once understood.

please let me know if you have questions about anything you see or try.

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