• Carmen Milligan

I am still being taught

My mom asked me a while back if I was still learning things from her in the kitchen. I am, of course! Here are a few things:

I make simple syrup to use in cocktails. I have a very cool beaker-looking container in which I store it in the fridge. When I see a little clouding, I know it's past time to replace it. What is this clouding?

Lesson #1: This clouding is called a "mother".

I love butter. I think all southern cooks do. It adds a richness that you can't get from anything else. Plus, our bodies know what to do with butter, how to process and digest it (as opposed to margarine). However, there is another level to butter that was totally new to me. Mom introduced me to clarified butter, the butter-fat, free from water and milk residue. It's not really a substitute for butter, but an alternative when you need that little extra buttery something.

Lesson #2: Ghee

Speaking of butter, I also love a good cheese. I don't like an abundance of cheese, like in a Philly Cheesesteak, or a mouthful of melted cheese in a casserole; but, a nice hint of cheese in a dish gives a very smooth mouth-feel, and can alter the flavor ever so slightly. Mom makes only from-scratch mashed potatoes (I know, but I love the package of instant, ready in the time it takes for water to boil). She made mashed potatoes one day that were crazy-mouth-orgasmic-good. She kept tasting and tasting, and knew that something was missing. The potatoes were already good, but they weren't delicious. She went to the fridge, and found that extra piece to the mashed potato puzzle. And I have kept this in my fridge since, just in case.

Lesson #3: Boursin cheese

Mom and I use a lot of broth, and I noticed that very rarely did her broth come from a box (like mine). Why? Because she makes her own, and freezes it in sealed bags. And it is almost effortless. And delicious. And all-natural because if you don't put preservatives in it, they aren't there.

Lesson #4: Slow boil that carcass after you pull off the meat, with lots of veggies for flavor. (BIG warning, though: wait for that shit to cool completely before you bag it and throw in the freezer.)

Celery is a staple in any cook's fridge. It adds a great crunch to a dish, and is very aromatic, as well as flavorful. I used to buy only celery hearts because it cut down on the time it took for me to take away the outer stalks, trim the leaves, and, just in general, tidy up the "usable" celery. Imagine how my mind was BLOWN when my mom took out the whole celery, peeled back the bag to reveal about 6 inches, and started slicing! Then, when she had enough, she pulled the bag back over the rest and put it back in the crisper drawer. Did it have leaves? Yes. Did it have a little of the leaf stalk? Yes. Did it make a difference? A delicious difference!

Lesson #5: Stop throwing away the leaves/tips/stems. They add so much to the dish!

There are many more, and I may tell you about them another time. But I will leave you with this: my mother and I are a classic opera in the kitchen. The way we work together and move around one another is nothing short of the finest ballet. She turns to me, and I hand her what she didn't have to ask for. I look for a missing spice, and she instantly knows it's paprika that is needed. We drink wine, we stir, we laugh, and, on occasion, we dance. Cooking with my mom is one of the best experiences of my entire life.

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