The Good Stuff

Vacation! Vacation means maybe working out, but maybe not. We can think it over in the hot tub, while the sun comes up.

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Vacation means ice cream, just because. Or, you know, because lunch was a long time ago, and dinner isn’t on the horizon yet. But mainly because one of the possibilities includes two scoops of Madagascar vanilla ice cream, a bunch of sliced banana, a liberal amount of hand-stirred caramel sauce, a tower of fresh whipped cream, a slightly daintier drizzle of caramel, and a lot of strategically arranged almond toffee. That almond toffee. We’re learning not to be shy.

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Vacation means taking a nice long look around. We may have found our new 5th avenue.

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Vacation means rooting around for words we haven’t used in a year or more. Words like paradise.

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Vacation means taking one picture on a hike, and then turning off our phones. It means spending as much time as possible with our heads up.

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Vacation means going to school! Cooking school. We learned about sauces and sauté. We learned that there’s a mirror up there so we can always see what’s going on.

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We learned that frozen shrimp is just as good as fresh shrimp, and “fresh” shrimp often comes from the frozen shrimp bag. Fresh or frozen, shrimp likes a good soak in a bowl of water with ½ cup of milk. Then it only needs 3 minutes. Done! Look at those red tails.

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We learned that 400 degrees comes from the bottom of the oven and 350 degrees comes down from the top. We learned that puff pastry belongs on the middle rack, and flambéed bananas and just-churned cinnamon ice cream belong on top of each square.

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We learned that Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste is a gift — an absolute gift — and rum sort of is too.

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We learned that meat needs a little TLC before we make a valiant attempt not to turn it into leather. It needs to be patted dry before we sear it. And it’s not going to sear if the pan isn’t hot enough, or if we under-estimate the amount of real estate we’re working with, or if we get antsy and move it around too much.

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We learned that there is a word for all of those browned bits and caramelized drippings surely sticking in the pan. Fond! Leave it to the French — fond is the good stuff. We learned that we deglaze a sticky pan with ice cubes, alcohol, vinegar, or stock — but never with additional fat. We learned that if we were really in trouble, removing the pan from the flame and covering it for a few minutes would probably do the trick. (Steam — Hey, Friend!)

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We learned that butter is a best practice — and that we have no business kicking a compound butter out of bed. (Compound butters freeze well, and they eat up excess herbs!) We’re going to let compound butter be all high and mighty on top of center cut pork chops, whenever we can.

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We learned that life is too short to stuff a mushroom, and almost everybody is happy with Chicken Marsala. We learned that pounding chicken is oddly empowering, and there’s more of a technique to it than we thought.

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We learned that we don’t especially like tarragon. And we might want to think about using beef stock more often. And we’ve been salting our food too early.

We learned that there are five mother sauces. Well, we already knew that. We learned that we’re probably always going to forget the fifth one. We learned that the teeny tiny garlic cloves — the ones we’ve been throwing away for 10 years and counting — are the most flavorful of them all. We learned that we have no knife skills to speak of and we really just want to use a garlic press. What’s so wrong with using a garlic press?

We learned that we’re happy when we cook. And eat, talk, and laugh. And write about it all. This time, we’re not going to forget.

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