Sunday, January 9, 2011

Advice for the New Year: It's that K.I.S.S. strategy

While it seems as if we're farther along in this new year, it's really been a mere 24 days. So, while advice to get us going in the new year seems misplaced on this 24th day, if you're like me and most of the people I know, you're still struggling with bringing order to your new year. Here is my symbolic offering to get you going.

In the world of food--the cooking, the writing, the devloping of recipes and presentation, the eating--things can get whipped up into a plated mess pretty quickly. In the hands of experienced cooks, a multitude of ingredients can dazzle our taste buds, but even wizards of cookery sometimes get carried away. A food magazine article describing potato froth comes to mind.

With the new year, we all have an opportunity for a fresh start. Buddhists say to 'begin here', and others have said similar things about how that first step is the most important. Perhaps, then, those of us with the responsibility for cooking should try the K.I.S.S. strategy--Keep It Simple Stupid! But, even going for something simple requires a strategy and a degree of patience and skill.

For my first meal of the year, I prepared two fried eggs and grits.

No fancy sauces, breads or spreads, only pure and simple cooking and pure and simple flavours. Perhaps my mind took me to the simplicity of these foods because of the ever-present complexity in my life these last few months; perhaps I did it purposefully, or perhaps my taste buds wanted that simplicity, after the feasting of the holiday season.

Whatever the reason, I can assure you that, just as in everything else in life, simplicity in cooking requires planning, patience and an experienced hand—an artist’s touch. Just for grits? Yes, grits don’t all taste the same. First, you must season them in the cooking—not afterwards—or they’ll always be lacking in flavour. Secondly, I have found that preparing them with milk does make a huge difference in how creamy they cook up. Finally, stir continuously once you add the grits to the milk and always cook them a little longer than asked for in the recipe. Somehow, that little bit of extra cooking and stirring allows the grits enough time to really plump up and absorb just that extra bit of liquid—that’s what makes them feel so loving as they come to rest on your tongue! Of course, just as any good cook does, I do have a little secret; add a good bit of real butter at the end and allow it to melt into and coat those sweet and comforting grits. Aaaah!!!!

Okay, okay, the grits need extra care and attention, but not the eggs, surely! Yes, the eggs, too. Not everyone can artfully prepare a fried egg. In my judgment, the white should be cooked solid with a very crispy, lacy halo all the way around the edge and even underneath. Now, if you carefully ladle the fat over the top of the egg, the yolk will develop a lovely white cover and the inside will be setting on the first layer and soft as melted caramel in the deepest part. Aha--see, not as easy as you thought! Then there’s the argument about what type of fat to use. Certainly not margarine. Olive oil is lovely in so many things, but not for this, and I know that a lot of people like to use bacon fat, but for me it overwhelms the egg. To my way of thinking, there is no other way—only pure butter will do. The flavour of pure butter, especially unsalted, is creamy and comforting and rich but simple, all at the same time. So, for comfort and simplicity, butter is the best choice and it also browns quickly enough so that the afore-mentioned “crispy halo” is just the right shade of golden-brown.

The only thing that's missing is a piece of toast to dip into that golden-orange egg yolk.

That’s it, my symbolic start for this New Year. May the symbolism rise to the heavens as a prayer for a little more ease in my life and yours. Let us hope.
© 2011 Despina Panagakos Yeargin