Why do you cook? What about it do you enjoy? I love the opportunity to think through flavor profiles, contemplate blending different recipes and types of food, preparing, spending time with friends, and ultimately enjoying the fruits of my labor. You see, for me, cook and food is all about community. It is something that has been done together and for others since the beginning of time.

Honestly, how many times have you cooked and fantastic dinner for one person?

I’ve assembled this toolbox to empower you as a home cook. To give you easy ways to maximize the flavor of your dishes, and help you impress your guests. I truly want to hear what you think of the toolbox items, how you have used them, what you would add to them, and most importantly what meals you have used them in, and who you shared those meals with.

Three years ago our family got invited to another family’s house for a meal during the Christmas season. I don’t believe I had ever even heard of them prior to the invitation. All I was told was that they were a great family, and fantastic cooks.

Good enough for me. My wife and I accepted.

Now I have a tennis hitting partner, and a piano teacher for my children.

We had a fantastic time, learned about each other’s family, and shared stories, food and wine. Since then we have met every Christmas season for a meal together, and various other times throughout years. Through these meals, our families have become very good friends.

This year, Chuck and I were tasked with cooking the meal together, in separate kitchens, to host at my in laws. We accepted the challenge and decided to make a spin off of beef wellington. I had to dive right into the toolbox to figure out what I could utilize.

The two I chose were onions as well as herbs and spices.

I decided to use the herbs and spices to make a cafe de paris butter. This spice mix is crazy.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to limit it to 5 ingredients or less.  Just the butter consists of ketchup, dijon mustard, capers, shallots, parsley, chives, marjoram, dill, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, garlic, anchovies, brandy, madeira, worcestershire, paprika, curry, cayenne, lemon juice, lemon peel, orange peel, salt, and butter.

Crazy, right?

I took this butter, added it to egg yolks that I had in the sous vide machine for 2 hours, and blended them to make an unbelievable Bearnaise sauce.

 

I used onions to develop a deep sweet flavor, and followed the same procedure with my mushrooms. The sauteed mushrooms and onions would be great by themselves, but could be made much better. Back to the spices and herbs tool. I used mustard, thyme and garlic. Cooked those into the mushrooms, doused in white wine, then chopped chorizo and serrano ham and sprinkled it on top.

I took the egg whites from my sauce and made a meringue dessert. Used spices of ginger, vanilla, and orange peel to make a chocolate sauce for it, poached some pears, toasted some hazelnuts, and threw it all on top of the meringue base.

We could have used several others, but sometimes simplicity is key.

We ended up with grilled beef tenderloin, asparagus, yorkshire pudding, and mushrooms all covered with a cafe de paris Bearnaise sauce, salads, and a meat and cheese platter.

The evening started around 5 with food, drinks, and fellowship, and ended at 9 when we realized we had missed the kid’s bedtime of 7:30. What a glorious way to spend an evening, family, friends, and food.

That’s how I have used my toolbox recently.  How will you use it?

Now it is your turn. Plan a meal with your family, friends, or strangers. Take a meal to a family that could use it, and spend some time with them.  Cook together, eat together, and enjoy each others company. Share your experience with me, and become able to be featured on the Cultivate website.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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