Feed The Pan
Aaron is completely obsessed with food. On his blog, Feed The Pan, his goal is to inspire us to learn about food and help us find enjoyment in cooking and entertaining, and to encourage us to make every bite count.
I am so excited to have Aaron Clark of Feed The Pan here on the show today.
(*All images below are Aaron’s.)
On What He Isn’t:
I like to set to set my expectations for my readers beforehand. I want people to know that when they come to my blog, they’re not going to see blow your mind photography, poetic writing necessarily right away, but those are things I’m working on. I think it’s important to set those expectations because I want people to really get at the meat, if you will, no pun intended there, of the blog and really understand what it’s about, and that is uncommon techniques and ingredients.
On His Blog:
It really came down to the evolution of my culinary experience. I started in college really watching a lot of late night Good Eats. I’d flip on Good Eats to relax, and Alton Brown really taught me the finer tuning techniques of cooking that my parents didn’t at home. They would cook with me and that’s really where the base started, but they didn’t explain to me why these things were happening and why they would do them.
Alton Brown really kind of taught me how to cook, but then after college, I had a kitchen of my own when I moved out to my first apartment, and I was able to start collecting tools and ingredients and have a good pantry. And I really found that I really liked to entertain. So from there, “how do I entertain better?” Well, learn how to cook better and really work with people, especially other cooks on how to improve a technique.
That evolved into, okay, maybe I should just start an Instagram page and start taking pictures of my food because the first thing you do is look at it. I want it to be a little bit better looking on the plate so that it pleased the eyes and the palate. And then a good friend of ours suggested I start a food blog, and it kind of all ran from there.
On an Interesting Ingredient He Enjoys Cooking With:
I thought about this a lot today, actually, when I was preparing lunch. Anchovy paste. It’s subtle. You don’t always taste that it’s anchovy paste, but offers a kind of savoriness, and umami if you will, to the food you’re preparing, whether you put together a pasta salad or put it into a spice paste that you rub on a chicken or a steak before you grill it. It’s got to be one of my favorites.
You typically get the same results from buying it in a tube from a store. Typically, it’s a product of Spain. If you go to any specialty or international grocery, you’ll usually find it there.
On a Cooking Technique We Have to Try:
I think if it’s in your budget pick up an immersion circulator. Sous vide is the type of cooking where you submerge food, vacuum seal food, or put food in a plastic bag in a water bath, and you can cook it to a very precise temperature for a very precise amount of time. I would say that’s something that everyone should try because it’s really convenient. If you’re not terribly comfortable in the kitchen with high heat applications or with grilling, it’s a great way to really cook expensive cuts of meat very precisely.
It comes out kind of gray and dull-looking, but what you can do is either throw it on the grill, a really hot grill or in a really hot cast iron pan for a few seconds on each side until you develop a nice crust. There’s charts and things all over the Internet so you can find the ideal temperature for different foods, including vegetables, meats, and everything in between.
You can season the food before you vacuum seal it or put it in your zip lock bag with olive oil. What I do with steaks is I put the traditional basting ingredients that you would do in a pan seared steak; thyme, garlic, and olive oil, and it comes out great. And then I throw it in a pan and sear it.
On How He Learned to Cook:
Definitely the Internet and late night television. That, in combination with my parents. At home, my mom was always a gardener and always had amazing produce she would bring to the table. And her idea of food was fresh, natural, and right off the plant, while my dad, being an engineer, he would always tinker with things. So if the crock pot broke, he would take it out to the garage into his workshop and fix it. So between his technique-based cooking and my mom’s ingredient-based cooking, I would say it really started from there. Then I got more curious and needed to understand the why. So the why really comes from, in my situation, watching a lot of Jacques Pepin on YouTube. If Jacques Pepin’s on YouTube in any capacity I’ve probably seen it. He’s the master of technique, and he really explains what to do in certain situations where you’re working with different ingredients.
I think my obsession really comes from working with other chefs as well, where you’re understanding what they’re doing based on what they’re showing you, hands-on action, and you’re getting a lot of knowledge through what their experiences are, and that’s my favorite way to learn.
On Making Every Bite Count:
What I found is that by putting a little bit of extra effort into anything you put in your mouth, through either just adding a little bit of seasoning or blending up some spices and finishing up with fat, really I want people to discover every ingredient for its best qualities. So if you’re going to roast a carrot, say, you make sure and season it correctly, use olive oil and salt. And then what a lot of people don’t really understand is there’s a difference between the kosher salt you would use to season something and a finishing salt. If you add this finishing salt at the end, it really brings out the carrot for what it is and that’s what I mean by make every bite count. Is to do it to its fullest and use what nature gave you at its highest capacity.
I’m a big fan of kosher salt for seasoning during cooking. I usually throw it in the pan with just about everything, even desserts. Sometimes I’ll use other salts for desserts that are a little bit finer than kosher salt. But kosher salt has a little bit of a bigger grain, while a finishing salt, say, Fleur de Sel, is probably the most common one. It’s not as firm and it’s a little bit less dense, so it has a little bit of a crunch to it without giving you too much of a salty flavor. What it does is enhance the flavor of the food rather than taste salty.
On Getting the Most out of Food Experiences:
I guess in cooking big meals and entertaining, it really came from the way that I approach everything from the start of the meal, when I go to purchase the ingredients, to the end when I’m serving the guests or bringing their plates out. So it’s really a culmination of my thought process from beginning to end.
I was trying to make beef stock one time, and I have a very hot stove. I used to before I replaced the one I have now. It was an electric stove top, and I forgot to put the grate at the bottom of my stock pot. I put the beef bones in and brought it to a roaring boil, left the room, and they ended up sticking to the bottom. And then I fell asleep and everything burnt. Everything was smoky in the house and I couldn’t get that burnt smell out for about a week. So it took me a little while, but ultimately, I think patience being that virtue, I tried it again in about a month, and it worked out well. So I felt defeated for a little while, but then it came around to be a good thing.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Jacques Pepin. Essential Pepin is probably my favorite show that he has done. I also watch
Fast Food My Way, and Jacques and Julia when they were together. It’s old and the resolution isn’t great, but those three are very high up there. Beyond that, Good Eats has always been my really sort of go-to.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Well, I have to throw this out to Elena Rosemond-Hoerr of Biscuits and Such. She’s a dear friend of my wife and mine, and she really is, a really strong motivation to get the food blog started. Her pictures and her writing are just incredible. And she’s an amazing cook. We see each other a few times a year, and we always throw it down in the kitchen, and her results are, oh man, mind blowing. Her biscuits are off the hook.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
Instagram? I follow a guy called Creepy Chef. He’s a line cook out in California, and it reminded me of my days, my short-lived in the kitchen as a line cook. And he makes some really incredible dishes. I also follow Mind of a Chef.
ChefSteps is another one I follow a lot. They have a blog, an Instagram page, and they put together really, really cool, but very technology forward foods. And the pictures and the food staging that they present is really amazing.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Probably I would have to say my immersion circulator. It’s just really versatile, and I think anybody can use it from beginner to advanced, even though it’s a more pricey piece of equipment you would use in your kitchen. I’d recommend it if you like to cook, whether you just started or you are an expert chef, master chef, that this is probably an essential tool to have. And it’s quite unusual. People are really impressed when you pull it out.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Peas. Frozen peas, which I actually put in a lot of things. You can add those to a dish right at the end and because the surface area to mass ratio is really quite large, they cook very fast. You can put them in a meal with potatoes, with carrots, any other types of vegetable. Peas and carrots I know, kind of cliché, but actually that’s one thing I’ve really learned to like ‘cuz peas have a subtle saltiness to them that I really enjoy.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I really like David Chang’s Momofuku. What that does for me is really takes me outside of the traditional American realm. As diverse as it is already, but it gives you real insight into some of the techniques and ingredients that he uses in his kitchens in New York. He has several restaurants, and it really introduces me to a lot of the Japanese methods and ingredients. I’m a big fan of Japanese food, and this kind of helps me refine my own style in that type of cuisine.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I cook a lot to Andrew Bird. He’s a violinist and kind of a one-man orchestra. He has a plethora of music styles within his own band. And they take you from highs to lows, fast to slow, and he really picks me up in a pinch and helps me get motivated to cook.
On Keeping Posted with Aaron: