A darkness lay upon the land.
Theaters were filled with silence, "The Silence of the Lambs"; a future governor of California was shaping his anti-crime platform in "Terminator 2:Judgment Day". Music was desperate, R.E.M had Lost its Religion, and an upright, lucid Paula Abdul climbed the charts with "Rush, Rush". Technology could not save us, cell phones were actually the size of, well, phones.
It was 1991. The horror, the horror.
Little did we know, the worst was yet to come. Out of the Pacific Northwest came a relentless, merciless beast, forcing us all to speak in tongues and crushing anyone fool hardy enough to stand in its way.
In a simpler time, the 80's, you could walk into a restaurant, diner, donut shop or bakery and order a cup of coffee. It would take you a few seconds and cost you a few cents. You could have your coffee one of four ways: black, with cream, with sugar, with cream and sugar (a regular). You could have it in two sizes, regular or large.
That would all change. Soon we were all entering the Church of St. Arabica, approaching its caffeinated altar and beseeching its high priest for dispensation. The barista, arms flailing, transformed water and grounds into elixir. But only if we chanted the right way. "I'd like a grande,double shot, non-fat, no foam, decaf latte. No forget that, make it a vente vanilla frappucino, or no,no how about a macchiato." "Of course, that'll be $3.00 please."
Ah, for the days of coffee, black, and two crullers.
Well crablings, the point of that introduction was to show you that you can quickly learn and apply a few words of a foreign language. Good, because today's lesson is in French. We're going to learn one phrase and one word that are key to any good cooking experience.
First, in French it's mirepoix (mere-poo-wa), in Italian it's soffritto, in Portuguese it's refogado, in English it's chopped onion, celery and carrots. French cooks call it the holy trinity; it is the base flavor for most gravies, sauces, stews and soups. The standard ratio is two parts onion, one part celery and one part carrot. The vegetables will be either sauteed in butter or roasted in the pan with the meat. When roasting, be careful not to overcrowd the pan. You'll end up steaming the vegetables instead of caramelizing (browning) them. Brown is good, brown means that you've brought out the natural sugars in the mirepoix, brown means flavor. Caramelized vegetables and a nice roast puts you 95% of the way to great gravy. Get comfortable with mirepoix, we're going to use it a lot.
Our French phrase of the day is "mise en place" (meez-un-plas), French translation, "set-in-place". My translation, "making sure you've got all your s**t together, including all the food (cleaned and prepped), spices, pots, pans, and utensils ready to go and within arm's reach before you actually start cooking". This is one of the major keys to success in the kitchen.
Most meals are won or lost during the preparation phase. I've ruined more than a few dinners because I had to go rooting around for a spice or last minute addition that I couldn't find at a critical moment. If everything is cut, cleaned and measured out before you start, all you have to worry about is the actual cooking. Chinese cooking is probably the best example of mise-en-place in action. All the work is in the prep, after that it only takes a minute or two of high heat to make a great flavorful meal.
Crabby Homework Assignment: Before you prepare your next dinner, I want you to measure out everything you're going to need. I want you to lay out whatever pots, pans, spatulas, tongs or cooking utensils you're going to use. I want it all within a half step of where you're going to cook. Then, when everything is in place, check the time and start cooking, check the time again when you're finished. I think you'll be surprised how little time it actually takes to cook a meal.
OK crablings, next time we're making a quick soup, until then, just remember, you can do it, you can cook.