Today is my birthday and in years past I have posted omnibus albums:
So many birthdays !! In fact, if you divide the current world population by 365 you end up with just over 19 million people with birthdays today, so we should all get together and have a party one of these years – I’ll cook. I’ve met quite a few people who share my birthday – usually discovered in odd ways. I know 2 people who were born on the same day in the same year. Others include the father of a former girlfriend, an MRI technician (who spotted my dob on the admitting form), and my sister’s son. That’s a weird one. I got a call from her when I was living in Chapel Hill, NC, in 1976. She was in the hospital in New York, having just given birth. She named him Vincent without realizing it’s van Gogh’s birthday. I returned the favor in 1991 when my son was born on her daughter’s birthday – October 12. Well . . . technically it was my wife who did the honors.
Given this is – supposedly – a foodie blog here are some pix of birthdays past:
And . . . this year – so far.
If you are paying attention you will have noticed that I have just added a tab – CHAMELEON COOK to this blog. For the mo you will see “coming soon” but that will change, starting now. I have an idea for a cookbook that has no recipes in it, but, instead, talks about the underlying principles of certain dishes – and how you can play around with them. The thing is that experienced cooks rarely use recipes. With baking you have to be a bit more strict because with cakes, for example, quantities matter. But even with baking you can experiment. For example, I am making a cake for my birthday and I will likely add apples or mangos to the main cake dough before baking. You can always add fruit and nuts (up to a point), change the spices and flavorings, and so forth. That’s the art of being a good cook. The artistry lies in imagination and experience – and a good cookbook, in my oh-so-humble estimation, talks more about the kinds of procedures to follow (in personal detail), and the result to look for, rather than just giving a list of ingredients, and bald instructions. The best recipes give options, but you do not have to stop there. Let’s start with a fav of mine – cock-a-leekie soup.
Cock-a-leekie is a Scots classic soup that I have mentioned before. There is no need for a recipe, and I have never given one in the normal sense of what a recipe looks like. You need 1 chicken, 2 leeks, chicken stock, and the basic idea. I make this soup every Christmas Eve (because my papa did when I was a boy), but I also make it any time that I feel in the mood. My underlying (mental) recipe is: place a chicken in a big pot, cover with chicken stock, bring to a simmer, then add the chopped green parts of the leeks (well scrubbed). I also add loads of freshly ground black pepper. I simmer the soup for about 40 minutes, so that that chicken is barely cooked. I want it juicy. I take the chicken out of the pot as soon as I think it is cooked, and let it cool a little – just enough to handle. Then I pull off the meat with my fingers and break it up into bite-sized pieces (no knives). I keep the pot on the stove on a simmer and add the white parts of the leeks, cut in chunks, into the simmering stock. I continue to simmer for about 10 minutes, add the chicken meat to warm through, and serve in deep bowls with crusty bread. Simple, hearty, and tasty. Now ring some changes.
All you have for the basic recipe is two main ingredients – chicken and leeks, plus stock. Easiest change, to start with, is to use another poultry besides chicken. I’ve made duck-a-leekie, quail-a-leekie, and turk-a-leekie. With turkey you don’t want to simmer a whole turkey – even a small one – but you can easily find turkey parts, the same weight as a chicken. Use any poultry you care to: Cornish game hen, goose, pheasant. With expensive birds I tend to use leftovers, rather than a whole bird. You get the idea. But we are just getting started. Instead of one poultry choose 2 or 3 in a mix.
Supposedly Scots cooks added prunes to cock-a-leekie. I have seen this in recipes all the time, but I don’t know if this is traditional or some invented tradition. I have never done it, nor did my father who was as Scots as the day is long. But there are plenty of additions you can make. For example, you can add some diced potato, which makes a blend of potato and leek soup and cock-a-leekie. You can even add mashed potato to make a potage – very old fashioned. I would not want to add certain root vegetables, such as carrots, because I think their flavor would overwhelm the leeks and make it more like ordinary chicken soup. But I have added diced salsify and Jerusalem artichoke that are relatively mild in flavor, yet add some extra body. I also add a diced onion to the cooking broth once in a while to make the onion family component a bit more complex.
There is no need to stop at poultry either. Pork-a-leekie, lamb-a-leekie etc. all work. You are going to have to cook the meats much longer than poultry to have a tender product, but the basic idea of the recipe is the same. The main thing is not to alter absolutely everything, or you lose sight of the original product. If you change the chicken for beef, and the leeks for onions, you have beef stew.
I will add more ideas to the CHAMELEON COOK tab over time, but this gets us started.