Cook with your nose

30 Mar

Toasted coconut marshmallows
Toasted coconut marshmallows, from Barefoot Contessa, “Working Girl.”

Ovens are not always accurate. Or ever, in the case of my 60s-era oven…I’m pretty sure RCA, after making this, decided to make only small electronics. I vote for them sticking to that. Spices go south before you know it and don’t do what you predict they will in a dish, and there you are at the table, with sad-tasting curry. And then, there’s the things that distract anyway—like a car alarm honking outside, or me remembering to send someone an e-mail, or a song on my iPod playlist that I need to dance to. And husbands that come and kiss you (which is great, but distracting). Point is, lots of things take you off course from your charted sail through the oceans of savor and flavor. And it might just be a stinking few minutes that makes the difference between buttery, crisp-outside-tearing-soft-inside garlic bread versus hey-we-needed-some-more-charred-carbon-anyway bread. Wouldn’t it be excellent if we didn’t have to rely so much on external reminders and be a little more tuned in to our food? Yeah, well, sounds nice. And possible!

If you are reading this, you most likely have a face that includes a nose (I apologize for my assumption if that is not the case). You can use it to tell how your cooking is coming along. Muddy-sounding? Let me give you a few examples.

  1. Aromatics (celery, onion, yada yada) for soup: you know what an onion smells like sautéing in the pan with a little olive oil (or such)? Good. That means it’s cooking. Just remember that next time you toss something in the pan.
  2. Toasting nuts: Oh, such a delicious scent. When you have your almonds toasting in the oven, a few minutes can mean sprinkle-over-yogurt or this-is-what-they-mean-by-burnt almond fudge. Experiment next time with detecting that roasted nut scent and turning the oven off a bit before (you’ll get overcook).
  3. Melting butter in a pan: When it smells “nutty” (generally what the likes of celeb and non-celeb chefs call it), it’s ready to take your whatevers that you’re putting in it (herbs/spices, meat, vegetables).

Take a look at the toasted coconut, which I used to make these marshmallows from Ina Garten (except that I made almond toasted coconut marshmallows, delightful—you must try making some!). The coconut in the pan was so fragrant that I could’ve deciphered where it was in its toasting (most not done, some done, most done, some are starting to cook toward the burnt end) process.

Toasted coconut–on the stovetop.
Toasted coconut–on the stovetop. So lovely. Eat them quickly before you have to share with people who don’t deserve it as much as you do, now that you have sweated long and hard over your RCA stove.

Want to try out your own nose? Take some shredded, sweetened coconut of your own, and toss it in a well-heated pan over the stovetop. Watch and move the pan around, noticing the changes in the fragrance of the coconut as it toasts.

When you’ve got your coconut to the sweet spot, let it cool; then keep it for some luscious future activity! Personally, I think coconut is splendid with most things, but here are a few uses for your imagination:

  1. Topping for plain yogurt with a bit of honey
  2. Topping ice cream
  3. Baked goods—cupcakes, breads, muffins, and certainly cookies/bars
  4. In your hand, taken from the pan, which defeats the whole make-and-store-for-later idea, but is crunchy and makes your day better

Happy smelling!

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One Response to “Cook with your nose”

  1. Annalee April 2, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    I like your ideas!! Some good tips!

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