I'm not really a fan of exclamation points. You should be able to stress your urgency or elation through words alone. That's not to say that they don't have their place. Particularly in the case of an emergency or a life-or-death situation. So "Here is my resume!" should lead me to believe that yours is the most compelling, long-awaited resume of all time. And yet it looks quite similar to the zillion other resumes I receive every week.
The other night I tried to make fish cakes. As with most nights, I had worked all day, ridden my horse, and slogged through traffic to get home - a feat made more challenging as of late by the I-85 highway collapse here in Atlanta (damn!). I had time in the car to decide what to make for dinner. In fact, thinking about food often calms me in traffic (and in meetings, and if we're talking and my eyes gloss over - I'm thinking about food). Still, the best laid plans flew out the window when I came home and discovered leftover mashed potatoes and smoked salmon in the fridge (fish cakes!). Jeff was working on his computer at the kitchen counter and we chatted as I heated up the (Georgia Green Peanut!!) oil (that I had read about in the NY Times!) and started preparing the patties. I mixed a couple of eggs and a half cup of matzo meal in with the leftover mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, smoked salmon, chopped parsley (from the garden!) and a tablespoon of grainy mustard with salt and pepper to taste. I had never made them before but I had the basic premise: Make sure that the oil is hot enough - the temperature will drop when you add the patties so you'll need to adjust the heat accordingly - make sure the patties are moist enough and have enough binder so they don't dry out and do stick together in the frying process, and have enough flavor so they taste good. On my first time out the oil was probably too hot, and I could have used more matzo meal as they were seared on the outside and mushy on the inside (darn!).
The next day I dodged the rain and stayed home, taking calls and emails from my kitchen counter. Without meetings and folks coming in and out of my office, I got a lot done. But I couldn't help thinking about those (darn!) fish cakes. I should have played with a tester cake before committing the whole batch to the oil (amateur!). I wasn't giving up - there was a do-over in my future. I pulled the leftover mixture out of the fridge and brought it to room temp. I added a breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese mixture and turned the heat to medium high. Not this time, patties! In they went, and I waited until they were golden brown on one side before flipping them. Success!
The theory goes that you have to practice something for ten thousand hours to become an expert. Fish cakes are good, but I don't need to become an expert at making them. What I am working on is mastering matzo balls. Not 10 thousand of them - of course - but about a dozen perfectly prepared "floaters," which I will feed to my guests at Passover.
Well-executed matzo balls hold culinary status to Jews as perfectly prepared biscuits do to Southerners. Everyone has a secret trick to perfecting them. Seltzer! Freeze them and re-heat them! Wet hands! Yes - seltzer helps. Yes - you can freeze them. And yes - wet hands are key. In my mind, practice makes perfect, and the challenge is that I only make them once a year. So, sometimes it takes a couple of batches to get my groove back. It's a fun process, and if you make the time, it's stress free. Full disclosure, I used to be so afraid of making them wrong that I would buy them in a jar. I would actually make homemade chicken soup and then buy jarred balls (balls!). But like with the fish cakes, I prevailed.
Now, it's a whole thing. A process! I make batches and batches, and Jeff cheers me on and gives honest critiques. That's one thing I love about him. When you're the boss everyone tells you yes. It's nice to have one person who can speak the truth to you. The fish cakes were a fun experiment. Jeff ate them but wasn't interested in round two, which I enjoyed standing over the kitchen counter to the beating of the rain outside. The matzo balls on the other hand, will be a team effort - me making them and him eating them. He'll be my trusted taster and judge. Many years have found me scanning the faces around my seder table to determine if my guests deemed them"floaters" or "sinkers." But my kind guests only ever tell me they're good.
I definitely don't need critiques full of exclamation points. I left that behind when I bolted from corporate America and started my own PR firm. It's kind of funny that, while I no longer get yelled at, I do get emails laden with misplaced exclamation points. Still - just as with the batches and batches of matzo balls - I'll keep editing.
One packet (really good!) smoked salmon, chopped
2 C mashed potatoe
1 chopped shallot (or leftover caramelized onions if you have them)
2 eggs beaten
1/2 C matzo meal (reserve 2 T)
1/2 C Parmesan/breadcrumb mix
1 T grainy mustard
1 handful chopped parsley
salt/pepper to taste
Green Georgia Peanut Oil (or the oil of your choice with a high smoke point)
Heat a heavy bottom pan to medium high and pour oil in to a half-inch up the side of the pan. Mix the ingredients (less the reserved 2 T of matzo meal) with two forks. Scoop a handful of the mixture and form to a patty - repeat until you have about four equal sized patties. Top each with the reserved matzo meal. Place patties in the oil and cook for about 2 minutes per side until golden brown.