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Learning to cook requires practice, patience

(Reprinted from Feb. 21, 2013 issue) Bram Stoker wrote that “we learn of great things by little experiences” and you would be hard pressed to find any aspect of life to which that philosophy doesn’t apply.
In the kitchen, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by learning how to cook, a concept that is further removed from society than ever before due to the convenience products aplenty. All we have to do is go to the store, buy pre-made product, heat and serve. I know this to be true for three reasons.
Firstly, as we walk down the freezer aisle of the largest supermarket we can find, we are presented with a dizzying array of colors and images designed and developed to lure us into their trap. Secondly, there simply isn’t enough time in many people’s lives to cook a fresh-scratch meal every day of the week. Thirdly, I do it myself.
People regularly approach me to ask me the best manner in which to tackle the skills of cookery and nourishment. The only thing that I can ever say is to start cooking and don’t stop.
When we make bread for the first time, it’s not supposed to be perfect. We have to make it again and again in order to understand the feel, smell and taste of the dough and the finished product.
When we are learning how to grill, it is expected to have a charred outside and a raw inside until we hone the skills needed to successfully master the task. My analogy is learning the piano or guitar. One does not simply sit down, read some music and then rock out. One needs to learn how to read the music or hone their playing by ear before they plan on taking on Chopin or Haydn. We must walk before we run, and crawl before we walk.
In offering up these menus every week I try to emphasize to readers to enjoy the kitchen and be ready for things not to work out all of the time. With a bit of practice, the kitchen craftsman will be able to adjust any recipe to his or her tastes, likes and skill level.
And what we are left with is an ability; a skill set. With this skill set will come the joy that comes from developing menus based on everything learned through trial and error and practice.
And when all is done, all of these little lessons or experiences will lead us to great things, even if they are enjoyed only in our homes. Actually, if that is the only place where such things are enjoyed, then we have won the battle against the foods in the freezer section that do nothing to nourish us; neither physically nor mentally.
 
Chicken Perigueux
serves four
4  chicken breasts, skin on
Brine (recipe follows)
Sauce Perigueux, as needed (recipe follows)
12 oz. green beans (recipe Follows)
1# purple potatoes (recipe follows)
Soak the chicken breasts in the brine for three hours, drain them and pat them dry
Brush with oil or clarified butter and season with salt and pepper
Grill until mostly cooked and finish in the oven, or finish on the grill if you know that won’t burn the outside of the chicken
Plate the beans and potatoes
Top with the chicken and drizzle with the sauce
Serve at once, piping hot
Chicken Brine
1 gal. warm water
1 1/2 c. salt
1 lemon, halved
4 sprigs thyme
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
Combine all ingredients and stir until salt is dissolved
Refrigerate until cool and store until ready to use
Sauce Perigueux
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
small bunch of parsley stems
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 1/2 cup Madeira Wine
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1 quart fresh veal stock or high quality stock or demi-glace mix
2 ounces foie gras, small dice
2 Tbsp. Fresh or canned black truffle, small dice
Step one: Place first eight ingredients in a saucepan and reduce down to 1/2 cup
Step two: Add the veal stock and reduce down to two cups or until it creates a thickened and unctuous glaze
Step three: Add the foie gras and truffle and cook for three minutes, making sure not to scorch the sauce
Step four: Add 1/4 cool butter at the end (off the heat) and swirl in to incorporate
Step five: Serve at once or keep covered and warm, but not too hot
 
Green Beans
Serves four
12 oz. Fresh green beans, snipped
one gallon heavily salted water
clarified butter, as needed
salt and pepper to taste
 
Step one: Bring the water to a boil and add the green beans
Step two: Bring it back up to a simmer and cook for about 5-7 minutes or until the beans are al dente
Step three: Shock the beans in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking
Step four: When ready to serve, sauté the beans in the clarified butter and season to taste
 
Roasted Purple Potatoes
serves four
one pound purple or fingerling potatoes
one gallon salted water
clarified butter, as needed
salt and pepper to taste

Step one : Cook the potatoes in the same manner as the beans but do not shock in ice water
Step two: Toss in butter and seasonings and place in 400F oven
Step three: Roast until crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside