Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Cook's Treats

by EP & Xani

When you think of the flavors of Thanksgiving, you might think of rich gravy, tart cranberries, juicy turkey, brussels sprouts (with bacon, if you're doing it right), and sweet pies topped with whipped cream. We, on the other hand, identify Thanksgiving with one particular "taste memory": turkey tails.  Also known as the Pope's Nose. (Sorry,'re outta here anyway.).

"Turkey tails? What the...?", we hear you cry. Well, something has to hold up all that plumage!

You've never heard of a turkey tail listed along side the wing and thigh because unless you're in the kitchen, you have most likely never seen one. It NEVER makes it to the serving platter.  It is devoured by the cook(s) as soon as the turkey's rest is over, and before the carving begins. It is a glorious bite (or three) of  dark meat, crispy skin, and flavorful fat, and we've been eating them ever since we started helping with Thanksgiving dinner.

This got us thinking about the idea of "cook's treats": treats you wouldn't know about if you're not in the kitchen during the creation of the meal. These little bits never make it to the table, and are rarely shared with guests - these are special rewards for the cook's hard work.  We gave it some thought and came up with these other treats that cooks know and love:

Batter: Here's one everyone can relate to: licking the batter bowl.  You remember this from childhood- maybe Mom was whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or a special birthday cake, and she let you help crack the egg, measure the sugar, and stir the batter.  After begging for what seems like hours, she finally relents and calls out "who wants to lick the beaters??"  YES!  Fingerfuls of sweet, gooey batter are a warm and fuzzy childhood memory for those of us whose moms weren't afraid of a little raw egg yolk.  Maybe learning as youngsters that cooking equals special treats inspires some of us to want to cook more.

Pic from EP's macaron cooking class in Paris
Roast bits: One of our earliest memories of being in the kitchen was when a big roast beef would come out of the oven. It would rest under it's foil blanket, and then BCD Dad would get to carving. While he was carving, little crackly bits of crispy, highly seasoned meat would fall from the slices, and we would reach to grab them off the cutting board - "get your hands out of there!," Dad would snap, to keep us from getting cut by the big slicing knife. Eventually he'd put the knife down and we'd get to nibble at the little bits of meat, fat, and crackly bits on the board. Now that's a mouth-watering memory.

Note that this pic is from our very first post! Awww...

Chicken tails and oysters: Chicken tails are like turkey tails - but smaller, good for one cook to nibble on, pre-carving. Another treat is the chicken "oysters," little bits of tender meat on either side of the underside of the chicken. They are dark meat and so delicious. And there are two of them, so if you are not the cook and the cook shares one with you, he/she probably has a crush on you and/or is married to you.

Guess what....chicken butt
Oysters: Speaking of oysters, was there ever a shucker who didn't sneak a slurp?  Come on now, shucking oysters is hard work, and whoever has the task of opening dozens of  the bivalves is entitled to a taste or two (or more- I've certainly been guilty of a "one for the platter, one for me" routine.)

Lobster Tamale: Perhaps this is only a cook's treat in the BCD household, where we prefer giant lobsters which need to be dismantled in the kitchen (often using a giant cleaver and mallet) before serving.  Again, this means the cook has the privilege of sneaking a few spoonfuls of delicious lobster tamale- the green "guts" of the lobster (similar to crab mustard for our Maryland-based readers).  If it's a lady lobster, the cook also gets the first shot at the bright red lobster roe, also extremely tasty.  Is it fair for the cook to steal these morsels before anyone else gets a chance?  If you knew the physicality needed to dismantle these monsters, not to mention the resulting lobster odor clinging to the cooks' clothes, hands, and hair, you would know that they've earned every bite.

Heel of bread: Homemade bread- a labor of love.  Maybe not so much anymore with the advent of bread machines and the no-knead technique.  But even without all the work, there's almost nothing more tempting than freshly baked bread.  You've worked the dough, waited for it to rise, and smelled the warm, yeasty aroma as it bakes in the oven... and as soon as it's cool enough to handle, what baker could resist slicing off an end? One wants to see how the crumb developed under that crispy golden-brown exterior.  One needs to know if using a sourdough starter imparted the perfect tangy flavor.  And what better way to find out than to slather that still-warm end piece (AKA the heel), with soft butter, sprinkle with salt, and sink your teeth into the baker's well-earned treat.

 photo 2B594A92-0037-47DC-A40E-50E8B7A18EFB-1709-00000333E79D1BD5_zps1206bd49.jpg

The Uglies: When you get a perfectly triangular piece of pie served to you, do you think the other seven slices look just as perfect?  Odds are: not so.  That first piece of pie is a pain!  And often ends up in lumps and crumbles on the cutting board... and then right into the cook's piehole (har har).  Same goes for those cookies that spread into each other on the sheet pan, the first pancake/crepe (the first one NEVER turns out right), and the popover that didn't quite pop.  These things might not look pretty, but they usually taste pretty darn good.  Any good cook knows that eating your not-quite-perfect specimens is the perfect way to sample your goods AND destroy the imperfect evidence.

This is NOT an "ugly" - that's why it was photographed
This is our Rhumbleberry Pie inspired by several recipes
Cooking is a reward in itself: a hobby, a passion, an opportunity to experiment, not to mention a chance to feed ourselves and our loved ones with home-prepared, nurturing, great-tasting meals.  But the cook's treats, eaten in secret behind closed kitchen doors, are truly the cherry on top.

So, any cook's treats that we missed?  Share share!

X & EP


  1. Great post. Here are a few more things that I love to eat while cooking: "test tasting" of my big batches of chili, soups and spaghetti sauce. Usually can't eat for the rest of the day. And I think the Yiddish word for the heel of the bread is "kreichek" or something like that. If you are dog (like Gelly, our St. Bernard) he gets to eat shrimp shells.

  2. So true, all of these. Also there are all the little extra leftovers (or tax as I like to call them) when you're measuring things out. In particular baking. Whenever I make granola it requires just slightly less apple juice than what is in a single serving container (we don't drink juice so these little portions keep the best). So I get to drink the rest.

  3. left over pie crust that is turned into "RoliePolie". Take the trims, role them out, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and then dot with butter. Roll the dough and slice into cinnamon roll shapes. Bake in oven until golden.....only those in the kitchen get these; just like the little red hen.


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