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Friday, February 14, 2014

Love & The How To Guide

Valentine's Day, is it real or simply a part of American pop culture? In several Christian religions such as Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox Saint Valentine's Day is an official feast day. History itself is more vague on the whole point, was there really such a person and did he somehow represent love as a virtue?

Legends and mythology often stroll the record books of history hand in hand. J.C Coppers, The Dictionary of Christianity states that Saint Valentine was “a priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succouring persecuted Christians.” In another ancient text, Bede's Martyrology compiled in the 8th Century, states that Saint Valentine was interrogated in person by Roman Emperor Claudius II who offered Saint Valentine a deal. Valentine refused the offer and was executed.

As with all history embellishments appear through the rolling years and facts become points of argument only for scholars. Yet there is no real evidence of any links to St. Valentine's Day and romantic love until Geoffrey Chaucer's poetry in the 14th Century.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules in 1382 and though a modern translation is desperately needed to follow, his words were:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

Translated Chaucer really said, “For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

True it may be arguable whether birds look to mate in February in England but it was the earliest connection to romance and St. Valentine's Day. Today we are bombarded with giant red hearts, a multitude of greeting cards in every price range, and of course the obligatory chocolates. For chefs and restaurants it is a day to turn down the lights, play romantic music and roll out the decorated plates.

Although most of us associate St. Valentine's Day with a Christian leaning, the notion of love and its heady allure is far from copyrighted to St. Valentine. In China February 14th is too close to the Chinese New Year so in Chinese Culture there is an older tradition called 'The Night of Sevens.' Here according to legend, the Cowherd Star and the Weaver Star are normally separated by the Milky Way or the silvery river, but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar. Sort of cute and warming as many legends are, don't you think?

On the other hand, in India's antiquity there was a tradition of adoring Kamadeva, the lord of love, which was exemplified by the erotic carvings in the Khajuraho Group of Monuments, and by the writing of the Kamasutra treaty of lovemaking.

So whether you prefer the Christian martyr, the allure of the stars and the Milky Way, or the Kamasutra how to guide, February 14th resonates with love. Yes there are the flowers, greeting cards, and chocolates, but there is nothing more special than to do it yourself out of love. So try this yourself, for the one you love or simply as a treat for yourself.

Take red and delicious strawberries and some Greek yogurt. Cut the strawberry in half across the middle, don't forget to remove the leafy green first. Place parchment paper or foil onto a plate or cutting board. Whatever you choose has to be flat and of a size that will fit your freezer.

Now place the cut strawberries face down onto the parchment leaving enough room between each one to be able to move a teaspoon around. Using a teaspoon start to spread the yogurt around the strawberry. Cover the whole surface, back and sides, making sure that the coating of the yogurt is thick enough so as to be noticed.

After coating all of the pieces of strawberries on the parchment paper now place them into the freezer. Do not leave them too long in the freezer, 30 to 40 minutes should be sufficient.

Take the coated strawberries out of the freezer as the yogurt sets, trim a little of the yogurt off if needed, place them on a plate to serve as an opening treat to anything your heart desires. You may choose to sprinkle them with some powdered vanilla sugar, or have them as is. The tartness of the Greek yogurt and the juicy sweetness of strawberry can only be enhanced with a glass of champagne.

A final tip, a toothpick will help hold the strawberry in place on the plate as the yogurt is being spread, and Greek yogurt is the best to use as it is thick and will stick to the strawberry although slightly softened ice cream can also to the job well.

Enjoy Valentine's Day, but remember the notion of love itself doesn't need one day of the year only.

Opening Day

Food, the who, the what and the why, such ponderings could lead to interesting conversations. It is irrelevant whether you believe that man was created in the image of God or that it may of taken a few years for the guy to actually straighten up and walk using only his legs. In either case the organic machine we call our body needed fuel, and that fuel was and is food.

Some 2 million years ago Hominids decided it was time to shift away from a diet of nuts and berries and begin the consumption of meat. This may not of been the birth of the medium T-bone as archeological estimates put the invention of cooking at only approximately 250,000 years ago, but still it was a beginning.

As human beings go, searching and refining is a natural course of our evolution. Whether we look for a better way to walk straight, move faster than before, discover the most cost effective killing device, or simply improve on a steak sauce, we are always tinkering with things.

Finally, in 6000 BCE grapes were no longer simple sweet morsels to pop between the pearly whites, but were grown for the production of wine in the Southern Caucasus region. It took sadly another couple of thousand years before the first suds flowed over the rim of a mug. Early evidence of beer is found in a Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing. There is no clarification by either historians or archaeologists whether this was simply a pub ditty or a full on prayer of worship. Regardless, by 3500 BCE beer was being produced in Iran and it took the Germanic and Celtic tribes to spread the amber liquid through Europe by 3000 BCE.

History has proven that the immense complexity of man is woven with a common simplistic thread, and that is our desire to make it better. The 'it' is irrelevant, simply put we are never satisfied. Just look at the changes in what or how we eat. The first big leap was from nuts and berries to steak and ribs, after that the whole culinary world was flung open. Today we choose between a quick take out, a family at the dinner table, or any one of a myriad of restaurants.

The idea of serving passing by customers food first hit a high note in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Here these food pit stops were called Thermopolia and had L-shaped counters in which large storage vessels were sunk containing both hot and cold food. In Pompeii some 158 Thermopolia had been identified by archaeologists across the whole town area. For us in the Western World it was the City of Light, the culinary capital of the world which saw establishments appear around 1765. A soup merchant by the name of Boulanger began to sell the idea of serving the public food without lodging, and voila here we are today, the big yellow M is spreading everywhere.

Although the idea behind Pompeii's Thermopolia was somewhat different, as I am sure it was for Boulanger of Paris, today we have a cornucopia of fast food, semi-fast food and almost fast food establishments booming. On December 12, 1948, Maurice and Richard McDonald, the sons of the original founder of this very American idea, opened the doors to the first McDonald's restaurant in California. Some 66 years later this idea has grown to over 34,000 restaurants worldwide reaching every corner of the globe and almost in every language spoken by civilised man.

It is not only the rise of a massive industry such as fast food that modern society can claim to. Whether your memory is of television before LCD flat screens, or you are more of the mind to travel the internet highway, personality chefs are still there to tantalise. Who can forget Julia Child, or the expertly organised Martha Stewart? Each of these chefs with their perfectly chosen language are able to whip up a frenzy of motivation in the viewer. Watching Jamie Oliver dash around creating a tantalizing dish with his charming accent added as a splash of something, or a pinch of that, makes one ready to fling open all the kitchen cupboards.

Well the doors are open, and what's staring us in the face is a box of Mac & Cheese, as what's wrong with a casserole of pasta and cheese? One of the oldest medieval cookbooks, Liber de Coquina records a recipe for a pasta and cheese casserole, and the first packaged version hit out markets and cupboards in 1937. In a fashion it is an honoured tradition, right? But we should be strong and not give into temptation and convenience, remember the words of Jamie Oliver. Yet Jamie's recipe calls for fresh thyme and that other thing that we do not have.

So we jump into whatever four-wheeled convenience we have parked in the driveway and dash off to the local supermarket. Ah, the convenience of everything we need under one roof. Yet this one roof stop-and-shop enterprise has not reached its 100th birthday. The first supermarket was developed by Vincent Astor, who founded the Astor Market in 1915 at the corner of 95th and Broadway, Manhattan. Vincent believed that people would come from miles around for such a convenience, he was wrong and shut down his operation in 1917. At about the same time another entrepreneur Clarence Saunders developed the concept of a self-service grocery store with his Piggly Wiggly stores. Clarence was a success and after opening the first store in 1916, winning a number of patents, he began to franchise.

Here we are today, convenience is at the centre of all things, and at times we forget that food is also a joy. Its consumption is not only a necessity but a pleasure, and its preparation can be a regular journey of discovery. That in itself is the reason and motivation behind Unleash Your Taste.

I work daily as a chef in a most unusual setting. Each day I prepare food not in a walled kitchen but in front of passing customers, providing ideas and at times detours from intended menus. It is with pleasure and a renewed joy in cooking that I am able to interact with all kinds of people each day. At the same time each and every one of them has an opportunity to pass on their own opinions and ideas, and with this information the links in the chain grow.

Through Unleash Your Taste we will go on journeys, take detours and at times look at where it all began, but always the recipes presented on a weekly basis from my station will appear here. This is a chance to have a glass of wine and a chat, or if you prefer a cup of coffee or tea and exchange ideas or thoughts, after all food is for sharing.

Welcome, pull up a chair and join me.