Why I cook

I love to cook. As a child I was fascinated by Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet”, who was having a blast cooking fabulous dishes. My first self assigned topic in public speaking was “How to make a pumpkin pie”, which was also an exercise in editing, covering the process from raw pumpkin to finished pie in ten minutes.

From that experience I gained an appreciation of nourishment. It felt good to have other people enjoy something that I made, there was more to feeding people than just satisfying their hunger. Today, most of what I make is for the mind, thoughts to induce cogitation, but I had the opportunity to cook for a gathering over the weekend and came away well nourished. I once worked at a winery, and would make lunches for the staff on the weekends. I was single, and there was no way I could cook the proportions I had when I had been married for myself, so I’d make a dish of chicken enchiladas and bring it to work. When we had a “bucket party”, a party after bottling where we would drink the left over wine from the processing buckets, I brought marinated chicken for the grill. I was invited to every function after that, “as long as I brought ‘that’ chicken”.

Over the weekend a friend held a Cinco de Mayo party. Actually a Cuarto de Mayo party, Saturday was a better evening to stay up all night. Princeton being the culturally diverse community it is, there were guests from France, although I’m not certain they were aware we were celebrating the defeat of French forces by the Mexicans at the battle of Puebla.

I made Enchiladas con Mole, which must have been popular as both pans were clean rather quickly. Being a vegetarian, converting my old meat based recipes has been interesting, and in fact for a block party a few years back I didn’t even try. My chili just doesn’t work without meat, I use about six pounds (I’ve included that recipe below) and there were no leftovers. I spent six years adjusting that recipe to win the approval of my late wife, who was a chef. The enchiladas last weekend were a blend of rice, corn, peppers and other vegetables with cheese wrapped in flour tortillas baked in a mole sauce. But what to do when someone asks for the recipe? I made it up with what was in the kitchen, measuring ingredients based on what looked like a good blend. It got me to thinking of the various styles of cooking and I realized that my techniques have always been intuitive.

When I was younger I would add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to tuna salad. My mother did her best to encourage my experimentation, but it was clear she didn’t care for many of my creations. Recently, as I started working on Indian cuisine, I was amazed at the similarities of spices to some of my old concoctions. I had been making Marsala variants, but for the wrong audience. The word “audience” resonated for a bit, and the idea that cooking is a performance. The brulee isn’t the best part of Creme Brulee, and although I spend a good deal of time making interesting custards, the best part is the torch (well, the Chai Creme Brulee did get great reviews).

Food is entertainment when it is prepared properly, and I love to entertain. Emma used to say “First you eat with your eyes”, and once I got past the vision of teeth in the orbital cavities I came to appreciate the concept. Food excites all of the senses. It should appeal visually, not only the colours but the overall presentation of the dish. The scent should be noticeable from a distance, I had scampi in garlic in a little place in Nuevo  Vallarta and could smell the garlic in the air before the server entered the room. Sounds contribute to the experience, “selling the sizzle and not the steak” is a common phrase. Textures, both to the fork and mouth, can make or break a dish. Taste shouldn’t even need a mention, and the remaining sense, imagination, brings the experience, the performance, together.

When I met my wife, I was a little apprehensive about cooking for her family. Call it “performance anxiety”. She’s vegetarian, but will eat seafood. Her daughter is vegetarian, but very picky about which vegetables she will eat. Her son is an unapologetic carnivore. Dinner was a challenge, and as I embraced vegetarianism I put together some interesting dishes that worked with meat on the side, and everyone was happy. Now that it’s just the two of us, I’m back to making smaller quantities, so eggplant rollatini is no longer on the menu and I don’t get as creative as I used to. There’s really no excuse for that. Feeding my wife is a source of joy, why hold back?

The Recipes:

Vegetarian Enchiladas con Mole, 2 pans, one spicy one mild.

One jar Mole sauce (I prefer Dona Maria)

8oz Monterrey Jack cheese, grated fine.

About 20 Flour Tortillas (8-10 inch)

1 cup frozen corn

1 can black beans

1 or 2 Bell peppers (I prefer bright colours, red, orange, yellow)

1 bunch Cilantro

1 cup (dry) rice (I like the mixed wild rice)

3 Green Onions

1 Lime

3-5 mushrooms

12 oz. Soft Soy Chorizo (unless you’re a carnivore, then use the real thing)

2 large glass baking pans.

Start the rice.

In a dutch oven, warm the mole sauce over a very low flame, stirring regularly. The directions on the jar suggest a dilution of five parts water, I prefer seven. You will need a bottle opener to pry the top off of the jar.

Dice the green onions, mushrooms, cilantro, and peppers. Rinse the corn, shaking excess water from the colander. Remove the pulp from the lime and dice it finely (the pulp).

Heat oven to 400f

Fork cooked rice into a large bowl. Add the corn and mix with a slotted spoon. Rinse the beans and add them, mixing with the slotted spoon. Add the remaining vegetables, mixing until uniform. Add the grated cheese slowly, mixing it in evenly.

Place a couple of ladles of mole sauce in a glass baking pan (mine is about 9X15). Place a handful of the filling mix at the edge of a tortilla and roll it into an enchilada. place the enchiladas seam down in the pan, loosely against each other. When filled, place a few ladles of sauce over the enchiladas, leaving no dry surfaces.

Mix the chorizo with the remaining filling, prepare another pan with these enchiladas. This will be the spicy pan.

Cover pans with aluminum foil, and bake for thirty minutes.

You of course can alter the recipe, adding chilies, red onion, or anything else to the filling, A protein like cooked shrimp or chicken, shredded, would probably work also. Any left over filling would be nice in stuffed peppers, so don’t hold back, fill the bowl.

Stir fried chili

Items marked with * are 1/2/3 ingredients. 1x for mild, 2x for spicy, 3x for fiery

1 lb ground beef
1 lb beef tenderloin
1 lb pork loin
1 lb chicken breast
1 lb Italian sausage
1 lb slab bacon

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 19 oz can black beans

1 lg red onion diced coarsely
* fresh jalapeno pepper diced finely
* fresh habanero pepper diced finely
1 lg red bell pepper diced coarsely
1 head garlic, cloved and cleaned
1 medium piece of ginger

Chili powder
Dry Mustard
Brown sugar
Tabasco chipotle sauce

Peanut oil


We’re going to stir fry each meat separately. Prepare each meat by cutting into approximately 1/4 inch cubes, crumble ground beef, remove skin and crumble sausage. Toss each meat with 1* tablespoon cumin and 2* tablespoons chili powder.

Stir Fry:

In large wok place two tablespoons peanut oil, two thin slices of ginger, and 1 crushed clove of garlic. Heat until garlic starts to turn golden. Add one meat and brown all surfaces. Remove ginger, put meat into large stockpot (cooked meat is stored together), clean wok and repeat with next meat. Bacon will render a lot of fat, cook until cubes are crispy.

Take a nap.

In the large stock pot, add tomatoes, beans, peppers, and onion to the meat. Slice remaining garlic paper thin and add.

Place pot on very low heat and stir every few minutes. While stirring, add the following spices:

4* tablespoons chili powder, 2* tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon Rosemary, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3* tablespoons Tabasco Chipotle sauce, 1 teaspoon salt.

Cook, covered, at very low heat for three to four hours (or until the onions disappear) stirring every 15 minutes. Adjust spices to taste.

Remove from heat, remove cover, stir every half hour while cooling.

Refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Depending on number of servings, you can heat the entire pot or just the amount you need for the meal. Remainder can be frozen, but don’t be hasty, there may be no left overs.

Heat slowly over very low heat stirring frequently.

Serve with grated cheddar cheese and side of cornbread.


3 comments on “Why I cook

  1. Mari Collier says:

    I discovered long ago that cooking/baking was a science; in other words, chemistry. I have my own pumpkin pie recipe and it takes far longer than ten minutes. If I had the same shortening as my mother did, it would taste exactly like the old time pies even when the pumpkin come out of a can. My husband grew up in Arizona. His mind set for chili was red chili peppers (I once grew ours), beef, onions, garlic, and salt cooked for hours until blended and thick. I once had someone of Mexican descent ask where I had learned to make Mexican chili. Now that I’m alone, I do not cook in the amount I once did except on the holidays and even that is less as the family is smaller. The aroma from the kitchen says it all. No, this once upon a time farm girl will never be a vegetarian.


    • kblakecash says:

      There is more to cooking than the science of chemistry, as Carla Hall would say, you have to cook with love. My Sister in law has a doctorate in chemistry, and she was one of the worst cooks I have ever known ;~)

      Yes, “true” chili has no beans.


      • Mari Collier says:

        It is still a form of chemistry. I used to wonder how my mother’s cakes could be so awful & her fruit pies so wonderful. Then as I grew older I realized Mama operated on the theory that sugar kills. She used the wrong volume of sugar (dry ingredients) to the liquid. The fruit pies were made with fruit from the garden or orchard. The crust was made with lard she had rendered. As for cooking with love, of course, but if you do not use the right volume of liquid vs. the dry ingredients, no amount of love is going to make the chemistry right.


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