It’s alive!!!!

Topic: From Melanie

So, looking at my website I see that my last post was on April 30, 2012. Today is January 7, 2015. Whoops.

Since I’ve spoken to you all last I went to Italy, got engaged, got married, graduated from one college and started another and had a baby. So you know, not busy.

Now it’s freezing ass cold and I’m huddled in my little house with my little baby and I am loving cooking when I have some time. And I figured I may as well throw something up on the website since I’m paying for the domain name anyways, right?

When I started this blog I was single, living in a tiny one bedroom apartment, newly sober and working as a cook full-time. Therefore, it made sense to spend three hours cooking dinner every night. Clearly life has changed. I am now obsessed with my crockpot, I really don’t eat meat anymore, I feel like I’m breast-feeding basically nonstop and I’m getting ready to start school again in January.

So, the recipes on here will definitely look different. But the main ideas are the same. Good food, easy to make, not pretentious and delicious. Now we just added quick, healthy, and it would be awesome if they weren’t crazy fattening. But that might be asking too much.

Who knows this might be the only recipe I posted until this kids in high school, we’ll see. Either way, the recipe in getting ready to post is effing delicious!

First chicken noodle soup of the season

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: , ,

Just a quick photo to show I’m not dead or in a cooking depression. Xoxo

 

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The beginning of my garden!

Topic: From Melanie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet tea and summer thoughts…

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: , ,

So if you haven’t noticed, I have been AWOL for a month of so. I’m sorry, life got very busy and fun all of a sudden. Old best friends coming through,  music festivals etc… But the most exciting news (in the way of food) is my new job! I am now a cook at the super amazing restaurant, Chez Liberty. This is the kind of job cooks wait their whole career to find. It’s laid back, my chef is super talented, passionate and fun and the food is orgasmic. I have an amazing crew I work with, and am learning new things literally every day. I can’t wait to share some of what I’m learning with ya’ll. And the best part is that my chef loves The Hedonist Cook and has agreed to be a guest on a video soon. Ya’ll are gonna LOVE him!

Besides all that great stuff, it is hot as hell here in East Tennessee. Today is the first day of summer, and it’s so hot outside I wanted to cry earlier while driving my non air conditioned VW fox across down. If I drank I would get drunk and stay drunk until mid September. Anything to distract me from the heat. But I don’t drink, so I had to come up with another solution. And my solution is sweet tea. Sweet tea is something I discovered when I moved to the South, and it’s one of those things that just doesn’t exist across the mason/Dixon line. In the south, if you ask for tea it will come sweetened unless you request it otherwise. When my dear friend Mickayla, who is a Tennessee native, moved to South Korea she literally panicked at the idea of not having sweet tea for a year. Her parents send her packages of Luzianne on a regular basis, that’s how much it means to her.

When I first moved here I didn’t get it. I mean, it’s just iced tea with a boatload of sugar. But after 2 years here something has changed and I’ve begun to crave sweet tea, especially in the summer. It seems to cool you down better than any other beverage. An ice cold cup of sweet tea in the afternoon makes me feel like there is hope, that I’ll make it through the humidity for one more day. And it makes me feel like a true southerner, which I love. The best part of it? It’s soooo easy to make! Here’s the recipe I use. You can find all sort of recipes with additives to remove any bitterness, as the tannens in tea can give off a bitter taste. But this is how Mickayla taught me to make it, and her word is law when it comes to all things southern. Enjoy!

Sweet Tea

  • water
  • 3 family size tea bags (Luzianne is best, but Lipton works for my non southern friends)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Ice
  • Gallon sized pitcher
  1. Fill a medium size saucepan with water and bring to a rolling boil. (It doesn’t matter exactly how much water. I’d say 4-6 cups)
  2. Remove from heat and steep 3 family sized tea bags in water. Cover with lid or plate and let steep for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Pour in 1 cup sugar and stir until sugar is totally incorporated. (That means no grittiness. It only takes a minute or so.)
  4. Throw away tea bags (be careful, they’re hot!) and pour into a gallon sized container. If it’s glass, be sure to warm the container first with hot tap water so it doesn’t crack. If i’ts plastic don’t melt it, duh!
  5. Fill container with ice and cold water. Cool or serve over ice.

“I heard she’s only a cook…”

Topic: From Melanie

This weekend I heard a comment that someone had made about me. It went, “I heard she’s only a cook. When I’m thirty I’m going to have a really successful job.” My first thought was “Oh the blissful ignorance of youth.” Actually, that’s total bullshit. The first thing I thought was an incredibly mean (but funny) prediction for their future that sounded very similar to the Against Me! song, Thrash Unreal. ”  But anyway, that’s not the point. The point is it got me thinking about my job. Which made me think about my day yesterday.

Last night I decided to make apple dumplings for Thomas, and a friend of his showed up with a girl I don’t really know. As soon as she walked in the kitchen she said, “Oh God, this smells like my Great Aunt’s kitchen. I love it!” It started a conversation where she told me about learning to cook from her Aunt and some of her favorite recipes. I learned more about this girl in the 15 minutes I puttered around the kitchen that I would have over a whole night at the bar.

Then, I got to hear how my friends Great Grandma would always make apple pie on special holidays. You could see by the smile on his face that he was enjoying that memory. It was the most personal comment I’ve heard him make about himself to date. It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

Finally it was time to eat, and it was damn good. The four of us sat outside on the porch, with the twinkly lights and the sound of crickets in the warm evening air. (I know it sounds really dorky, but the South in the spring really is like a movie.)

I didn’t change any lives last night, I’m aware of that. But because of the skills I’ve learned from my job as a cook, I was able to make food for people and get to know them a little better. Cook for someone and you do more than feed them. It’s a way to show a person you value them. That they’re worth taking time out of your day to prepare something for. And you open up the conversation for people to talk about food and the role it has played in their life.  An excuse to talk about a memory that would otherwise seem strange to bring up in casual conversation.

Being a cook is hard work, and you’re not exactly raking in the Benjamins. You sweat, get callouses, cut yourself, constantly burn yourself, get dirty and work your ass off. You can forget going to any party, concert or event that is happening on a Friday or Saturday night. I can only imagine how it looks to someone from the outside. I can see that to most people a job selling insurance or working in a cubicle sounds like a much better way to pay rent.

What an outsider doesn’t understand is the passion that goes into cooking. The creativity, fun, challenge and straight up joy you get when you prepare something kick ass for people. (And I’m not even mentioning the fun you have with the guys  you’re working the line with.) On top of that, you get to take those skills home and share them with your family and friends.

Each day I go to work I do something I love, I learn something new and I feel more confident and competent at my trade. Every day I get to be creative,  spontaneous and work with amazing people that improve the quality of my life.

I’m not sure what other people’s definition of success is, but as far as I’m concerned I feel pretty damn successful….

Ow!

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: ,

Making chicken stock = Awesome!

Flicking above mentioned, boiling hot,  chicken stock in your cleavage as you attempt to stir it = Not Awesome.

This is my life, folks. Just thought you’d like to know that everyone does stupid things in the kitchen once and a while. :)

Getting ready to record my video for tomorrow. Gonna mix it up and make a killer dessert. Get ready, it’s orgasmic….

xoxo

But I don’t wanna cook today!

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: , ,

So Spring is currently taking over East Tennessee. It is so effing beautiful and addicting, it’s almost painful to be inside. If you live in a mild climate it may be hard to understand what it feels like to wake up and not have to scrape ice off your car with a Tom Waits CD while your toes go numb. This has been my reality for months, and I really started to believe it was never going to be warm again. Which would explain why I’ve spent all winter in my cozy kitchen making warm comfort foods. Either that or sitting on my computer, trying to warm my feet on my computer tower while writing about yummy warm food.

Now though, all I want to do is get off work, change into a tank top and drive to a park to lay on the grass and sun myself like a lizard. Being in my kitchen does not seem comforting, it seems stifling. Even sitting on the computer to Facebook stalk or look at pictures of cute freakish animals has lost it’s appeal.

All this is meant to explain why I haven’t posted anything in ages. I feel like I’m putting The Hedonist Cook on the back burner (get it, back-burner?!) and that scares me because I’ve put so much work into getting this going! So today I decided to sit down and edit a video, which I’ll post on Thursday. It’s for Chicken and Dumplings, and it’s so yummy! But I can’t seem to force myself into the kitchen right now, so I’m going to settle for some great food writing to inspire me. I got some new books at the library this week, and I’m looking forward to getting into them and seeing what new info I can learn and share with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll do some videos where I review a food book like on Reading Rainbow. Remember those?

Today I’m starting Animal, Vegetable,  Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m liking it so far, and I just read a quote that summed up one of my main beliefs about food:

Food culture in the United States has long been cast as the property of a privileged class. It is nothing of the kind. Culture is the property of a species.

I could go off on a huge tangent about this, but I think it speaks for itself. So today I’m challenging myself, as well as you. What can you do to take food culture out of your Bon Appetit magazine and bring it into your day to day life? One of my favorite things to do is ask people about their favorite food growing up. I usually hear a story that makes the articles in my fancy food magazines seem totally weak. It’s a way to make a connection with another human being, and it uses our shared food culture to do it. How freaking cool is that?

So hooray for Spring, books, food and the people in our lives. I’m pretty happy with life, what about you?

The keys to becoming a great cook…

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: , , , , ,

So if you’re like me, you’ve probably seen  someone in the kitchen whipping up something awesome, and it seems like they’re not even trying. You see it all the time on those cooking show. Chefs are busting out these crazy dishes and they still have time to push their new line of aprons or saucepans. They never get flustered and everything turns out great.   Then there is the rest of us.  Going in a million directions at once, forgetting ingredients, making a huge mess and stressing ourselves out. So what does that chef on TV  have that most of us don’t? Experience and preparation.

For the most part, cooks make the same food day in and out. It becomes second nature, so it’s possible to have 4 things going on saute at once and still have time to make fun of the servers. (Sorry to any servers out there, but it’s true.) When you watch it happen it seems like chaos, but really it’s just a routine they have down. If you want to be able to make a great dish at short notice, you’re going to need to get good at it. When I want to master a recipe, this is how I go about it.

  1. The first time I make it I follow the recipe exactly, and I never make it for a dinner party. If anything I’ll invite Julia over or I’ll take some to my folks. Those are the three people that love me no matter what, so I’m not stressing out about trying to impress them. When I’m done I write down what worked, what didn’t, and any modifications I think would be good.
  2. Then I make it a second time, within a week or two. This time I invite a couple close friends over and I try it with the changes.
  3. Third time I make it is again within a few weeks. This time I have it down and I can try making it for more people and see how it comes out when I’m under pressure.

You need to do a recipe at least 3 times, in a short period of time, if you want to be comfortable with it. Then you can tuck it away in your mental recipe box as something you know is great and you feel good cooking. No one, not even a professional cook, makes a great dish the first time they do it. Repetition is the key to mastering a craft, especially cooking.

The second part of being a good cook comes from being prepared. In a restaurant there is a whole crew of people that show up at 8am to prep everything. That way, when the cooks come in at 4pm, they have everything they need for the whole dinner shift. If you want to be a great cook you cannot underestimate the importance of prep. Nothing will screw you up more than realizing half way through a recipe that you forgot to measure something, or that you don’t have a necessary spice. This is especially true for those of us who live in apartments and are limited on space.

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the $300 mixer, fifty different cookbooks and magazine subscriptions or the organic bamboo spatula that makes a good cook. It’s the willingness to put in the time and effort to understand what you’re doing.  It may sound like a lot of work, but being a good cook is a craft, like fixing cars or knitting. No one is good at it when they first start, and it takes time and effort to understand it. Just don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t give up! Practice, screw up, have fun and keep trying. You are totally capable of being a bad ass cook, I promise.

My blogging meltdown…

Topic: From Melanie

So, I’m having an existential blog crisis I think. When I launched The Hedonist Cook I said to myself “I’m gonna post something EVERY day, no matter what! It will keep me motivated.” Then after a few weeks a couple days would go by and nothing really inspired me. Or maybe I was inspired, but I was too busy enjoying life to stop and write about it. Or I wanted to spend an entire weekend giggling with a cute boy. These things happen you know. And this little voice would say, “You’re failing! No one is going to look at your blog unless you post every single day!” And all of a sudden, posting to the website started to seem like a chore instead of the wonderfully fun thing it was intended to be.

After a week or so of thought, this is the conclusion I’ve come to:  Why would I want to post crap I don’t care about just to have something new up? My lovely readers are smart enough to notice if I’m posting things I don’t care about. And on top of that, it’s such an un-hedonist way to go about it, you know? It’s not that I’m going to stop working, but I’m cutting myself a little slack. I’ll be posting at least one video a week, every Thursday at 4pm est. In addition, I’m committing to post at least one new recipe a week. Besides that, I’ll write when I feel like it, which tends to be pretty regular when I’m not freaking out about it. (In case you haven’t noticed, me and obligation are not great friends.) The crazy thing is, just admitting all this makes me feel soooo much better, I already want to write again! :)

Whew, thanks for listening to all that… If you feel like it, let me know what you think. Is one video a week enough? And if so, what kind of things do you want to learn to make? Is there some random cooking technique that you’ve heard about but don’t know what it means? Are you dying to find out how to rice a potato? Tell me. I love a challenge, and I love hearing from you guys. It truly makes my whole day. I hope ya’ll are doing good and enjoying the hell out of your life.

xoxo,

Melanie

P.S. My brilliant friend Leo writes a blog about editing, and all I can think of is him reading this and mentally red marking all the errors! Good thing I know he loves me anyway. If  you appreciate humor, intelligence and writing, you should check out his website.

Nostalgia and Food…

Topic: From Melanie | Related topics: , , , , , ,

The worst thing a cook can hear is “My Grandma used to make this recipe, can you make it like that?” I heard this truism last week from my boss. And why is this a bad thing to hear? Because no matter how great you make that caramel cake, or tamale or whatever, it will never make that person happy. Because they’re not looking for something that tastes like their Grandma’s cooking. They’re looking for the feelings associated with the situation they ate that food in.

People do it all the time. We think we miss an ex, we pine for them and think of all the things that make them wonderful. Then we see them and realize they aren’t anything we want. What we miss is feeling loved, or important or something else that relationship brought. Our brains aren’t built to make that distinction though, and so our emotions become totally entwined with the object, and we can’t separate it.

Nothing has a stronger memory than our senses. And since eating is a sensory experience,  it makes sense that we associate a lot of feelings with food. I know this is true for me. When I think about sopapillas, I’m not craving some fried bread with honey. I’m craving the feeling of having a special night with my family as a child. The rare Friday or Saturday night when we stayed up late, Mom cooked (after she had cleaned the whole kitchen from dinner) and we covered the table in sticky honey.  There is not a fried pastry in the world that could match up to that memory.  I made sopapillas for some friends a few weeks back and I was shocked that they didn’t do back-flips as they ate them. They had one or two and were done. It was like we were actually tasting different things.

I think that’s why I love trying new foods. You don’t know what to expect, and it’s all fresh. After that first time, you’ll always have something to reference it to, compare it with. The first time is pure, and you’re tasting it without judgment or expectation. I also love comfort food for the opposite reason. I love having the chance to travel back in time and remember something from the past. It feels magical that the taste of toasted sourdough with butter  takes me back to my grandparents kitchen. I can feel the table, see my Grandma’s delicate hands and smell the dish soap she always used.  My Grandparents have passed away, but because of my memory they’re never gone. And food is one of the ways I keep a link to them.

Maybe this will give some insight to people that don’t get why I talk about food all the time. I’m not talking about food, not really. I’m talking about comfort, and memory, and people and love. It’s a tool that works for me to connect with the world and people in it. If I’ve ever cooked for you, it’s because I care about you. Because I want to make a connection or create a memory with you.  That’s why giving Julia chocolate cake, making lasagna for Thomas or seeing my Mom’s face when she tastes potato soup I made makes me feel so content and happy. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
M. F. K. Fisher