Thursday, August 31, 2017

Do Real Men Cook?

By Carl Weiss

To be honest, the reason I set up Man Cave Munchies was mainly due to the fact that most of the guys I know can't cook.  By can't, I mean they have proven unwilling to learn the art of cooking.  And it most definitely is an art form.  To be a good cook, it takes a lot of trial and error.  You have to be willing to screw up a dish from time to time. More importantly, you have to be willing to get back on the horse again after you fail.

While I have become something of an accomplished amateur chef over the years, I too had to take my lumps.  I can still remember the first time I decided to try my hand in the kitchen.  It was way back when I was all of 21, newly married and living in Brigantine, New Jersey.  At the time, I was a blackjack dealer working 9 and 10 hour shifts 5 days a week in the casinos.  After sleeping 8 hours (during the daytime since I worked until 4 or 6 am), I found I needed to do something that would allow me to relax in the few hours I had between shifts. So, I decided to try my hand in the kitchen, since my wife had no interest in this area of our home.

My mom had always been the chief cook and bottle washer when I was growing up.  Of course, back in the 60's that was almost a requirement.  Being of Italian decent, my mother made wonderful homemade pasta, including ravioli, cappelletti, and other northern Italian favorites.  Having watched her prepare these dishes as a lad, I decided to start off by trying my hand at cooking Italian.

The easiest pasta in the world.

One of the wedding presents we received had been a hand-turned pasta machine.  It had stayed in the cupboard for a better part of a year. Taking the gizmo out of the box, I quickly read the instruction manual that included a recipe for pasta dough.  Running off to the supermarket, I came home with a bag of flour, a bottle of olive oil and fresh garlic, tomato sauce and basil.

Starting with the pasta, I took the biggest bowl I owned and hand mixed a batch of dough, which I poured out onto the counter after letting it rest for a half hour as I had been instructed in the manual. Pulling out a knife and a rolling pin, I proceeded to roll out and cut the dough into strips, which I then rolled as thin as I could by hand before feeding it into the cutter.  The problem was that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to press the dough thin enough.  As a result, the pasta came out of the cutter all twisted and gnarly looking.  Before you knew it, I had crazy-looking pasta hanging down from every cupboard door to dry. (When I later told my mom about this, she said to me over the phone, "Didn't you notice there was another roller on the pasta machine?  That's what you were supposed to use to make the dough thin enough to run through the cutters.")

Pressing on, I started work on the sauce.  My mom had always used garlic powder in her marinara. But I figured since I was going to take the time and trouble to make authentic Italian sauce, I was going to use fresh garlic.  The recipe I found in the one cookbook I then possessed informed me to crush 3 cloves of garlic.  What I didn't know was what a clove was.  I thought it was the entire bulb. As a result, I put somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 cloves of garlic into my first pot of sauce. (Needless to say, we didn't have to worry about vampires for about a month.)

Foolproof Spaghetti Sauce

While I can look back on this episode with a smile on my face today, what I was really doing back then was paying my dues.  Gradually, as I learned my way around the kitchen, I found that I had a talent for cooking.  More importantly, not only did this provide me with a form of artistic expression, it also helped relieve the stresses that come with living in the modern world.  I also learned that both my father and my brother had the cooking gene as well, which came as something of a shock to my dad.  (The first time he made chocolate pudding from out of a box, he failed to stir the mix adequately while it was on the stove and  ruined the batch. While it looked wonderful, it tasted like burnt rubber.)

Coming Out of the Cupboard

Fortunately today, many celebrity chefs are men.  As a result, more and more men have decided to try their hands at cooking.  While most American males consider themselves to be experts when it comes to barbecue, a number of them have given indoor cooking a whirl.  Check out YouTube and you will find thousands of home-grown chefs like me plying their cooking chops online.  On a personal note, the reason I decided to launch the Man Cave Munchies series was to help guys take their first few steps in the kitchen.  Besides, I was tired of my buddies asking me for cooking tips all the time.

Bodacious Barbecue

While our collective male egos were once bruised at the thought of doing what was  thought to be "woman's work," I am glad to see that macho men are now taking a turn at cooking.  Heck, if my dad could learn how to cook, pretty much any guy can.  That's why I continue to produce new episodes, all of which have 2 rules: The recipes have to be fairly simple to make  and 25% of them have to use beer as an ingredient.

All I can say is, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

You can check out Carl's efforts on both the Man Cave Munchies website and YouTube channel.

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