Archives for posts with tag: cooking

Welcome Readers! This is The Infinite Table’s very first guest post and I could not be more excited about it. So read this post and love it!

Gabriel Kussin lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. He is the Membership Coordinator at El Centro Hispano, a Latino advocacy organization and is always searching for new and exciting recipes.

I recently started working at a Latino advocacy organization and the first two questions that my colleagues asked when they discovered my Puerto Rican heritage were, “What can you cook?” and “When will you cook for us?” There was an automatic assumption amongst these Ecuadorians, Mexicans and Colombians that not only could I cook, but I could cook well.

The connection between being Boricua (the indigenous Taino name for Puerto Rico and its inhabitants) and Puerto Rican food is representative of the rich diversity of the Caribbean island. Our music, our people, our landmarks and our food are mixtures of African, Spanish, Taino and, more recently, American influences. In Spanish, Puerto Ricans refer to their cuisine as comida criolla, or literally “Creolefood.” While each Latin American country possesses its own distinct culinary flavor, Puerto Rican food has the greatest range of tastes, styles, ingredients and dishes. Yet even if you are eating chicharronde pollo (a breaded, garlic chicken) or a traditional Puerto Rican Octopus Salad there is something that reminds you of La Isla. You may not be able to describe it, but it will leave you wanting more.

In an attempt to represent that diversity of flavor as well as experimentation that is quintessential to Puerto Rican food and culture as a whole, I decided to make several trademark Puerto Rican dishes withsome small twists: salmon filled pastelillos, or miniaturized empanadas, fried plantains and asopao, a Puerto Rican gumbo.

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I recently moved to a new apartment, and part of moving is getting used to new roommates and exploring a new kitchen. I have spent a lot of time with my new kitchen, particularly baking things like bread and cookies. My roommates are both fantastic. I’ve known Nick since we were 5 years old, so we are pretty used to each other. Becca is a relatively new friend, but she fits in perfectly. The three of us have many things in common, but one of my favorite commonalities is our love of food and cooking. In light of this shared passion, we’ve started Sunday Family Dinners. Each week one of us takes over the kitchen and prepares a meal for everyone. Becca started with fish tacos, Nick made meatballs two ways, and last weekend was finally my turn. Fall always makes me crave butternut squash in any form, so when I saw a recipe for roasted butternut squash in the Times I knew I had to make it. From there I thought backwards to figure out what protein I wanted to serve with my seasonal side dish. Ultimately I decided on a pork roast stuffed with a fruit stuffing.

I had never made a pork roast before, but after I saw my friends’ success with a gigantic turkey, I felt emboldened. That being said, my experience was not without obstacles. My first challenge was frenching the pork loin. I realize that I could have (and probably should have) asked the butcher at the store to do this for me, but I remembered seeing Alton Brown perform this procedure on TV once and he made it look easy. Never mind that he is a celebrity chef, I thought I could do it. What I forgot about is that we currently only have one (not particularly sharp) paring knife and that I actually know nothing about cutting meat. Fortunately in the end, my poor piece of meat looked decent. The cuts weren’t clean, but it looked fairly close to the pictures online.

The second challenge was stuffing my piece of pig. The recipe says to use a long-handled wooden spoon to stuff the meat, as if the loin is a giant mouth, impatient to consume the stuffing. This is not the case. Even though I made the appropriate cuts in both ends and shoved my hands inside to make sure the hole went all the way through, it was a big, gory mess trying to get the stuffing inside the pork. I tried the wooden spoon, a tablespoon, my fingers, a chopstick, etc., but I still had limited success. Ultimately, only the middle two pieces of the finished roast were stuffing-poor, but I’m still curious as to how to stuff it properly.

The last challenge was by far the most irritating. I finally had my meat prepared. I happily popped it in the oven and plopped myself on the couch for a short break. Not five minutes later, our smoke alarm starts going off. Anticipating the disgruntled attitude of this smoke alarm, I hopped on a stool and searched for the battery. After all, it is often better to be proactive. However, I ripped out the battery and the thing continued to wail in my ear. Nick was running around opening windows, Becca was fanning the alarm from below, I was getting more and more cranky. For about twenty minutes we took turns holding a plastic bag around the offending appliance until Nick finally got it to shut up. Eventually a maintenance man came to solve our problem: rip the smoke alarm out of the ceiling and sign a waiver stating that we agreed to this solution. Perhaps not the safest option, but definitely the most quiet.

Finally, we were able to sit down in silence and eat the meal. I was nervous that the meat would be underdone or overdone or otherwise inedible, but I must have had beginners’ luck because it came out PERFECTLY. This leads me to believe that the recipe is idiot-proof and I encourage everyone to try it, because it was delicious. The squash was a great side dish for the pork, and the vinegar in the squash dressing was a perfect compliment to the meal. I love my new apartment and I love my new roommates. Sunday Family Dinners couldn’t make me happier.

Sadly I don’t have pictures because I don’t have a fancy camera that takes pretty pictures (actually I do, it’s just not digital), but check out the recipes after the jump.
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I am a huge fan of Mad Men and had a very mixed reaction to the finale (no spoilers in this post, I promise), so I started poking around the Mad Men website to see what other people thought about the episode. Among other things, I stumbled across this interview with Cara Buono, known as Dr. Faye Miller on the show. One of the questions was about Dr. Faye’s aversion to cooking:

Q: Faye doesn’t cook. What about you?

A: I am the opposite of Faye. I love to cook. I love to cook for myself and my husband and big groups. I find it very relaxing, and I love socializing around a dinner table. Although, it’s funny because Faye always says she wants to get something to eat, so I think she likes to eat. I just think she doesn’t like to cook. So in that way Faye and I are very similar: We both love to eat.

I’m clearly more of a Cara than a Faye, but the question got me thinking about cooking and identity. On the show, Dr. Faye’s dislike of cooking suggests that she is not as domestic as other females; she’s so devoted to her career that she has neither the time nor the interest in making food. Her love of eating out also suggests that she has the sophistication and means to enjoy fine dining, much like the male advertising executives we see in other parts of the show.

In 2010, a love of cooking no longer seem connected to domesticity. Identifying oneself as a cook now has a much different connotation than it did fifty years ago. In fact, with the explosive rise of celebrity chefs and foodie culture, cooking has become its own brand of cool. People have always and will always need to eat, and I love how political, social, and cultural history have left indelible marks on the history of cooking. By looking back at how people used prepare the food they ate, we can discover large issues and find charming details about our past. However, despite the changes in the cultural position of cooking, one thing has remained constant: we still love to eat.

{Read the full interview; images from the Man Med Photo Gallery}

I have two modes of cooking. Sometimes I like finding complicated recipes and following them to a T. I enjoy preparing the mis en place and re-reading the recipe a million times until I almost have it memorized. I love when it turns out perfectly and looks exactly like the picture in the recipe.

And then there are the other times when I am hungry and want to make something on the fly. As satisfying as my anal-recipe-following may be, there is a different and perhaps deeper satisfaction in throwing together a bunch of random things. I don’t measure anything, I don’t go shopping for ingredients. I just root around my refrigerator and pantry and eyeball all the measurements. Completing a complicated recipe only means that you can follow directions. Eyeballing things somehow makes me feel like a capable human being.

Which is why today I saw half a carton of heavy whipping cream in my refrigerator and decided that I absolutely had to make some creamy balsamic sauce and pasta. So I chopped up some garlic, threw it in a pan with olive oil, and added the cream, balsamic vinegar, half a cube of beef Knor, parsley, and salt. I have no idea how much of anything I tossed in there, but it tasted delicious. Which is one of the reasons I love cooking so much. In cooking, as in life, there aren’t always instructions or plans. Sometimes you’re just hungry and need to put together whatever you can find in your kitchen. It won’t always turn out well, but that’s part of the adventure. And it makes your successes taste that much more delicious.