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Cooking as a hobby...

posted Apr 24, 2011, 8:10 AM by C Compton   [ updated Apr 24, 2011, 11:08 AM ]
I have given some thought to the question "Why do I cook as a hobby?"  My wife calls it my culinary therapy and maybe she is right.  I spend a lot of time in the presence of beeps, fans, and flashing lights.  I rather enjoy that too, but it isn't what I would necessarily call relaxing at times.  Cooking has always been that; relaxing.  I really started thinking about this during my last application.  As an aside I have decided to learn the art of charcuterie.  The land of brines and rubs is not new to me so this seemed like the proper direction.  My first attempt was an herb brined chicken.  This was absolutely the most delicious, succulent, and tender chicken I have ever cooked.  We where hooked.  I decided for my next attempt to make a city ham from scratch.  Yes... it can be done.  Most of us buy a ham and effectively re-heat it.  There is even a good number of folks that don't even do that.  They just buy a spiral sliced door stop and make sandwiches.  Yes... I said door stop, because if you have ever tasted real ham you would never pay for that log again.  I have tried to highlight those differences in blog posts past to no avail so I shall not beat that horse again here.  Back to my ham and how it relates to the hobby.  To make a city ham from scratch one needs to commit to a process.  This, like most things I cook takes days or weeks of planning and maturation.  Which brings me to the first of the four reasons I do what I do.

To make a city ham from scratch one must first find a fresh or green ham.  They are not available at the mega-mart.  This is true of most things I cook.  Primal cuts are not what most folks want when they go to the store.  If you like to cook like this you have no doubt found your sources some of which are an hour from home.  A few are days away and mail order is the only solution.  While many of the ingredients are found in every pantry.  The ingredient list for making a city ham from scratch is terribly complicated.  Ready?  You might want to make a list.  Fresh ham, kosher salt, brown sugar, pink salt(a specialty salt that contains nitrites for curing meat), and water.  That's it.  The second step is planning ahead.  Most cooking times are measured in hours and prep times in days.  The ham soaked in a brine solution for ten days, then rested uncovered for 12 hours and then will be slow smoked for about 8 hours.  Dry curing salami's or prosciutto, a future endeavor, can take months or even over a year.  I know this isn't for most folks, but I enjoy the process.  

To see if you can
I believe anyone that has ever taken up a hobby, at least at first, wanted to see if they could do it.  I know that is part of it for me.  While not as magnificent as someone departing for the new world, making something, anything, from scratch has that intrepid feeling.  Will the brisket be tender? Will there be a smoke ring?  Will it have the right taste?  Will it even be edible?  These are all thoughts I have had, most more than once, while in the pursuit of something new or even old for that matter.  As the photo album will show I have been fairly successful in these pursuits, but the uncertainty of a new recipe always makes me excited on a level that only hobbyist feel each time they start anew-- to see if they can.

Well, that is the goal isn't it?  Any completed task gives the maker a bit of pride when the results are what we expect.  I very much enjoy when others enjoy what I have cooked.  This is a double edged sword at times.  Richard Blaize recently said "I hate everything I cook."  He is an amazing accomplished chef that would out cook me any day of the week; hands down.  However, I understand his statement.  I rarely am as pleased with the results as those that are enjoying it.  Some of that can be attributed to the eaters need to be polite.  It is why folks say "You should open a restaurant."  Whew... no chance.  I am not that naive to believe good food is all that is required nor do I wish to work that hard.  Given that, sometimes they must be right as they continue to come back for more and even show a degree of excitement not seen when presented with a normal meal.  Still, in the end, I am my most severe critic.  I do allow myself the pleasure of enjoying the results.  I can see a good smoke ring.  I can see the unmatched texture of an unctuous morsel of pulled pork.  I can taste the delicious dish that I have put on the table.  Am I truly ever totally happy with the results?  No.  I suppose thats why I keep trying.  Even though the results are good I know I can do better.  And when I am to the point where I don't believe I can do better the dish becomes boring.  It loses some of the excitement, but I still like to see if I can make it one more time.

I think the previous paragraph explains the penultimate moment for me as there is nothing better than taking that first slice from a brisket and knowing you nailed it.  Part of the reason you know this is that you have tasted it.  We may eat with our eyes first, but the taste buds are the final opinion.  Anyone that doesn't enjoy their own food should practice.  Proper seasoning is far too often overlooked and I know many folks who could improve their cooking ten fold by purchasing a spice rack.  That is because taste is where its at.  I can be excited about the first slice.  I can enjoy looking at a beautiful plate.  If it tastes bland or bad everything else goes out the window.  This is the first reason I learned to cook.  Many restaurants food just left me flat.  I guess I could say the food wasn't very good, but it was filling.

While not for everyone I think you may now have a better understanding as to why I spend days/weeks preparing some of the dishes on this site.  I write this as I wait for the ham to finish.  We are about half way in the smoking process and I am anxiously awaiting the first slice.  Will I be rewarded with a beautifully sweet, salty, and tender slice of ham or will I merely have some nicely smoked pork?  Has the brine penetrated all the way as expected?  Will the glaze be crunchy, sweet, and salty-- music to the taste buds?  How much room will there be for improvement?  Will the wife ever let me park a five-gallon bucket full of pork and brine in the fridge for ten days again?  Will the process, can do, results, and taste pay the ultimate reward that I have carefully pursued for almost a fortnight?  Time will tell.  I have found, however, that with all things in the world of slow food, even the mistakes are pretty darn tasty.