What I’ve Been Up To, Photo Edition (with links!)

July 21, 2013

Vitruvian DharmaHello all!  Yes, I’ve been out of touch for a while, but don’t worry: I haven’t forgotten you.  I have been insanely busy (such is the life of an actor with a day job) and have spent a lot of time going from work straight to rehearsal, straight to bed.  Let’s not forget about the importance of sleep, after all.  I have, also, been wrestling with a number of issues in my personal life, and have made some progress on those fronts.  I’m looking forward to a possible shift into a different job at the same company that will offer me a bit more flexibility, but, more importantly, will make me happier and less stressed out.  All of that, of course, means I will have more time and energy to devote to projects like this one.  Everyone wins!  Yay!

At any rate, I wanted to check in and write a little something.  I’ve got some formal recipes coming up, but in the meantime, I’ll be offering a food porn gallery of stuff I’ve been cooking since last we visited, and offering a few thoughts on the pictures that, hopefully, will help all of you improve in your own kitchens.

Speaking of self-improvement (which, as you know, is a favorite topic of mine), the other thing that’s been keeping me busy is self-development through games.  Anyone interested in language acquisition should check out Duolingo, which makes a social game out of language study while also translating books and the internet for free.  Anyone interested in cultivating resilience and general well-being should visit SuperBetter, which game-ifies self-improvement more generally by making a sort of RPG of your own life.  Complete with “quests,” activities based on scientific research into resiliency (your ability to bounce back from hardship, and a predictor of satisfaction with life), you can set your own goals and improve across physical, mental, emotional, and social categories.  Awesome stuff.

Without further ado, here are some photos (courtesy of Vani, except for the last one).  Click them to see larger versions.

Thai Scrambled Eggs with ginger, garlic, cilanto, sriracha

Thai Scrambled Eggs with ginger, garlic, cilanto, sriracha

Close up!

Close up!

Steak and Broccoli with Bagna Cauda, Shaved Parm

Steak and Broccoli with Bagna Cauda, Shaved Parm

Ginger Salmon and Asparagus with Summer Squash Crudo and Exploded Tomatoes

Tomato-Sage Frittata

Tomato-Sage Frittata

Close up

Close up

A steak cooked on a Weber Smokey Joe

A steak cooked on a Weber Smokey Joe

So those first three photos are all about presentation.  Before you start to cook anything, think about where that dish is headed.  How do you want it to look on the plate?  If I had cooked the cilantro and sriracha into the eggs from the beginning, rather than adding them at the end, it would be a single, boring-looking color, and it would be particularly ugly because the red and green would essentially have melded to make brown.  That’s an important plating idea to remember: keep complimentary colors separate until plating, if you can, or you’re going to end up with something that, no matter how tasty it is, looks ugly.

The second point with the eggs is to notice the precision involved in the sriracha.  Get some bottles with thin squirt tips (fortunately, sriracha comes in such a bottle, but you can buy them at a kitchen store or even a drug store).  The narrow tips allow you to apply the sauce in designs, as well as to control how much ends up on the plate.

The final point on plating here refers to the steak dish and the salmon dish.  Think about shapes, both visually, and in terms of how they’ll hit your tongue.  Think about the balance of flavors and textures in the whole plate, and in each component separately.  The Parmesan strips look nice and architectural, but also, they’re very thin, and they’re paired with the steak on purpose.  Combined with the bagna calda, the parm would make things too salty.  Paired with the steak, it’s just right.  The strips were cut super thin with a vegetable peeler to make sure they don’t overpower, and, additionally, there is just enough parmesan to have a little bit with each bite of steak.

As for the frittata, I think the take away there is that frittata is awesome.  But seriously, it’s a good way to use up any odds and ends you might have and not know what to do with.  Here, I made an Italian-flavored frittata with chopped up tomatoes, ground sage, leftover chicken from dinner the night before, and some shaved, wine-soaked Italian cheese from Trader Joe’s.  But really, with a little thought, you can throw whatever you have left over into a frittata, hit it with some appropriate seasonings/herbs/spices, and you have breakfast on the table in no time.  And they look pretty.

Finally, a thought on the grilled steak: information and technique trump equipment.  For those not familiar with the Weber Smokey Joe, it looks a lot like the classic Weber grill, but it’s about a foot across.  It has no insulation to speak of, and has trouble maintaining a steady temperature, but, as you can see, I was still able to cook a perfect medium-rare steak on it.  So yes, I have a mediocre grill, but I also have an outstanding thermocouple-style thermometer that gives live readings (what the temperature is right now).  Temperature is, by far, the most accurate way to evaluate done-ness of food, so cooking with a thermometer, even a basic one, is better than guessing at done-ness from cook time.  With good enough information (like the thermocouple’s live reading), you can even see how fast the outside of the food is cooking compared to the inside, and adjust your heat and method accordingly.  You will get better results with good information and technique, no matter your equipment, than you will get with fancy equipment and no information/technique.  Knowledge is power, so cook smart out there.

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