How we became interested in cooking.
As one of 5 boys with busy parents, I learned how to cook simple things – make ham barbecue like Isaly’s, grill a steak, cook a hamburger. It was a matter of survival among the ravenous horde. Then Barbara (aka Beez) and I got married and she learned to cook well. One day, to surprise her on her birthday, I went through one of her cookbooks and found a recipe for Steak Diane and another for chocolate cake. The steak turned out well. The chocolate cake looked like Rocky after his first fight with Apollo Creed, but it tasted pretty good. And Beez smiled, which made me interested in cooking more often.
The next step was a great night at our old house on O’Hara Manor Drive. The Donahues and, I think the Murrays and Slavishes came over for dinner. Having little idea what I was doing, I grilled lamb Greek-style, with garlic, rosemary and wine and, mostly by chance, it was stunningly good. My friends congratulated me and, being an attention-craver, I was hooked.
Beez has lamented, to one and all, the amount of boxed macaroni and cheese, ball-park franks and toaster-strudel we fed the boys. I maintain that since they are both several inches taller than I am, it must have been okay. But we certainly have come a long way since those days – as has American cooking and our attitude to food in general. The various cooking shows on television – the great, loopy-voiced Julia Child, the prancing Galloping Gourmet, the energetic Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Giada, Ina Garten, et. al. have made a huge difference. In our own development, the Silver Palate cook books, Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires, Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s books, and Tony Bourdain’s irreverent attitude have played a big part. But most of what we have learned has come from trial and error. The number of mistakes – undercooked or overcooked meats, grainy cakes, inedible breads and pizzas – has been staggering. We could have put the entire army of ISIS in the hospital had we been able to serve them all our failures at one time. But we kept cooking and now we’re pretty good. We have also learned a lot about ingredients, cooking implements, planning a large dinner and organizing well enough to actually enjoy the dinner with our guests. This blog is simply a way of recording that.
But our appreciation of food – our reason for cooking – derives from our delight in feeding and entertaining family and friends. And the other purpose of this blog is to share our experiences with them. We’ll also be sharing some of our traveling and restaurant experiences. And, finally, we hope to hear about where they’ve been and what they’ve eaten and cooked. We hope that they’ll share that through this web-site.
Naming the blog
The blog was originally to be called “Psycho Chef.” Here is how that name arose:
As we tackled the basics of cooking techniques and how to work with traditional and fresh ingredients, I developed a passion for cooking and eating which outpaced Beez’s. I became the go-to chef not only for summer grilling but for weekend feasts. And as my ambition grew, I tackled more difficult recipes and techniques, learned how to butcher chickens, bake bread, make cheese, etc.
However, being a weekend-warrior cook, my time was limited. I couldn’t really begin preparing for a big menu until Friday night at the earliest, and usually not until Saturday morning. And there were still work obligations on the weekend, as well as chores around the house, meeting with family and friends (though that often occurred around dinner now), Church, sporting events, exercise, etc. Under these circumstances, my focus during the limited time I had to shop and cook became, let’s just say, intense, and Beez took to calling me “Psycho Chef.” Forget the Hitchcock movie, “Psycho Chef” has nothing to do with harassing people who are showering, but is based on a certain sharp tone that, I am told, emerges when I am in full cooking mode. Who knew diners were so thin-skinned?
So why is the blog named “What We Cooked Last Week?” Perhaps, we thought, “Psycho Chef” is not the best title for a cooking blog that you might want normal people to read (and the domain name was taken). And, now that I am taking my meds regularly, “What We Cooked Last Week,” seems a better fit.
Deep Dish – 2 other things that hooked me on cooking. (Possibly more than you wanted to know)
I’ve noted above that Beez’s appreciation of my first steps in cooking and my friends enjoyment of an early experiment got me hooked. But as I think back, it was my Mother and Father who really got me started, and my little brothers who, in spite of their being continual irritants, were my first appreciators.
Grilling steak – a lesson from my Dad. Dad travelled and, even when home, after a long day at the office or on the road, liked to relax with a martini while I started the charcoal and grilled the steaks (almost always New York Strips) under his direction. He taught me how to season the meat and to finish it with a pat of butter. Whenever I cook a steak, I’m trying to recapture that memory from my youth.
Ham barbecue – I helped my mother make this simple but voluminous and tasty dinner (she had 5 boys to feed). It begins simply enough with a lot of what Pittsburghers call “Chipped Ham.” The secret was to take the time to separate the thin, veil-like slivers of ham before immersing them in the barbecue sauce, so that you got a light, fully flavored mixture instead of gooey clumps. Making the sauce and fiddling with the balance of vinegar and pepper (more), dry mustard and ketchup gave me the feeling that the resulting concoction was my own invention.