In earlier posts, I have detailed my obsession with Food Network, and that obsession remains. It goes hand in hand with my new found love to make something from nothing; chemistry class has nothing on what butter does to a sauce (emulsifies), or the careful dance between too much heat and not enough to ensure happy yeast and fluffy bread.
So much of what we do as chefs involve tasting, touching, and smelling. Touching the vegetables & fruits we buy to make sure they have smooth, firm skin. Smelling what we cook acts as our own inner timer, the acrid burnt smell setting off our minds that the food is overdone! Of course, a good chef tastes everything they make before serving to ensure the flavors you intended are what’s tasted. Or you taste it at the dinner table with your significant other; formalities have their own place and time.
But one aspect of being a fabulous chef, one that I will admit to not delving much into, is presentation. We eat with our eyes, they say. Who knows if that’s true, but we do know that a steak with beautiful grill marks and crust would be eaten ten times over than a grey steak with no personality. Food Network shows drive this point home, again and again — visual presentation is just as important as the taste, even if that doesn’t prove to be true in the whole scheme of things. But even if the way you stack your plate isn’t so neat and clean, the real point of cooking with your eyes is to cook correctly.
Like my previous steak example, all meat should be cooked to the point of color. A nice warm brown is pleasant on chicken and pork; this is achieved by letting the meat sit while it cooks, flipping only once after a number of minutes (obviously, the number of minutes depends on the meat’s size). I believe it was previously thought that a good sear on meat will seal in juices, but I don’t think that is still true.
When baking, or working with flour-based recipes, browning is also important. Bread and biscuits aren’t nearly as attractive without that golden brown top, and its also not likely cooked through if you still see white. Tortillas don’t look like tortillas until they get those brown, burst-bubble circles. And that’s really the point. If you cook long enough, you start to realize that when the meal you are trying to make looks like what it should look like on the plate, or what it looked like at the restaurant, or in the photograph online, then you’re done. Take it out of the pan, off the heat, and grab a little spoonful before serving it up.
P.S. I’m not going to post the whole recipe here because everyone should have their own banana bread recipe, but I’ll give a few tips:
1. I try to always use 4 bananas when I’m making banana bread.
2. My recipe calls to mix everything together, adding the flour at the end. Once the flour is added, that’s when you can add the extras.
3. To make it blackberry banana bread, mash up 2/3 cup of blackberries and slowly stir in.
4. I pressed the blackberries into the top right before putting it in the oven. To be perfectly honest, that photo was taken before the banana bread was done; the blackberries are a lot more shriveled up now.