Finicky Foodie

I’m a finicky eater. Yogurt, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise: I can barely stand to be in the same room with them. Fortunately, it’s a different story if you cook them to death. Chicken tikka masala (cooked in a yogurt-based sauce), certain moist pastries (dependent on sour cream), Ketchup (vinegar), Mustard-crusted rack of lamb: yum! If there is some dish with fried mayonnaise I would probably like that too. Alas, these horrific ingredients are often not cooked to death. At a restaurant or as a guest I must suffer the indignity and embarrassment of sharing my disgust when salad dressing or various toppings manifest. I don’t even like wine.

What I do enjoy is “meat and potatoes”. Here I am being metaphorical, although the literal interpretation is well and true. Any tasty umami mass in a glistening sauce or gravy with some rib sticking carbs is culinary perfection. Yes, I am aware of various health issues with my preferred diet, and I’ve been adapting. With my various aversions, adaptation is not easy, forcing me to become an able cook in order to transform stuff I don’t crave into stuff that at least doesn’t prompt menu fatigue. I aim to use a small amount of a tasty meat sauce to flavor lots of veggies (I’m still pretty much a fructiphobe, though I do enjoy dried figs). This goal improves my carbon footprint as well. Chicken-fried steak and eggs with home fries is but an occasional indulgence.

Over the decades I’ve managed to add some previously abhorrent foods to my diet, and now I either like or at least don’t reject mushrooms, oranges, and various vegetables. Unfortunately, there’s something in Brussels sprouts that makes them shoot right back up once I’ve tried to swallow them down, but do I try them at least once a year (maybe I’m still evolving). I’m not a “supertaster”, I am fine with broccoli (an unctuous cheese sauce is helpful here, but just steamed is also OK) and other brassicas. There may be some kind of aceto-lacto-malo- something going on with the vinegar and yogurt/sour cream/wine situation.

Anyway, with my need to cook well, I have become, if not a foodie, at least foodie-adjacent. I love cooking, whether simple or elaborate, a single dish or half of Thanksgiving. The renowned “knows everybody” Jon Singer turned me on to “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine in the late 90’s, launching my cooking prowess, although the need to use nearly every pot, pan, and utensil to make their best version of certain dishes is a bit of a hassle. I typically try to follow their recipe (or any recipe) as exactly as possible the first few times. Usually I do additional research, looking at similar recipes, such as in The Joy of Cooking, and reviewing relevant pages of McGee’s On Food and Cooking. Then I adapt the recipe to my personal techniques.

One pertinent example is their “Best Vegan Chili” recipe. I make chili powder from dried chiles (being blessed with a local mercado having a great chile selection) rather than laboriously roasting fresh pods, letting them steam, then peeling the skins. I use scissors to cut off the stems, then scrape away the seeds and cut the dried flesh and skin into small bits before toasting them in a cast iron pan. Then I pulverize them in a coffee whacker (not a grinder!). I have had to insist that indeed no animal products were used in the preparation of that chili, it is so tasty and umami-laden.

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