A great deal of attention has been paid of late to those male cooks who don aprons to play chef in their spare time.But what of the male who doesn't adopt cooking as a hobby?He still has to eat and may even want to entertain. With luck he will have a sense of food quality and aa active curiosity as well.
If the qualifications fit, Koe Wolfe has offered himself as your mentor. (His approach, while couched in male idioms, is of potential value of female professionals too, as should become evident below.) Wolfe, director of communications for the National Alliance of Businessmen, describes himself as "a non-gourmet. I haven't got time," he said during a recent, non-gourmet lunch. "I travel on business a lot and I like to read at night."
Therefore, so he himself - as well as a friend or guests - may encounter distinctive food as his table, Wolfe follows several basic precepts. Among them:
Don't be afraid to buy ready-made food for entertaining instead of trying to cook everything yourself.
Develop a basic spice mix all your own and a basic sauce all your own - one of each will do.
Don't buy packaged or canned foods that lack directions for preparation.
Shop widely and well. Give a portion of the time saved at the stove to searching for high quality and unusual foods.
The objective, as he sees it, is to present food prepared with a minimum of effort that represents your own taste and avoids sterotypes; that is, in short, distinctive. For example, for the afternoon-long Sunday afternoon gatherings he favors for group entertaing. Wolfe will provide a wide selection of smoked or mixed fish. But herring in cream sauce will never be among them. "Everybody does that," he said in the tone of an indulgent professor letting a student know he had come up with a too-obvious answer.
To begin at the beginning, he insists "every non-gourmet with a drop of cooking pretention has to have a spice shelf.
"Cumin ia an extremely pervasive spice. Put a couple of shakes in a canned soup and the compliments come. A touch of this ir that changes a recipe and makes it your own. You get away with murder."
He considers a can of Old Bay Seasoning "essential," but his secret weapon is "my soice," a nearly all-purpose, Italian-style combination of several spices with oregano predominating. He uses it in sauces, chili, salads or cooked with vegetables. As with "my sauce, the formula came through experimentation. "In the Army I was stationed in Northern Italy," he explained. "That's the taste I prefer, but most people I know are hooked on Neapolitan (tomato and oil-based) cooking. So I tried to reach a balance between what I learned and what people expected.
"You need a good-tasting sauce and it's worth burning pots and fingers to perfect one. You start with your spice base and open a can of tomato sauce - there's no need to be ashamed. Then you add sugar or vinegar ot loives, whatever strikes you. If it's not right, change it until it is."
Wolfe's preference for cans and packages with printed recipes is both practical and psychological. He decrees: "Don't by a product that fails to give reason to violate the instructions; if they want your money, they've got to commit themselves. It gets you started and gives you an ego boost when you do something to make it taste better."
There is a reason for his addiction to food shooping. For many years he lived on New York City's West Side only two blocks from Zabar's, one of the great food stores in America, if not, the world. In New York, unlike Washington, food is everywhere. There is great deal to compare, so comparsion shopping comes naturally. "After five years here, I finally stopped talking about it," he said. "Friends had heard about shopping on the West Side one time too many. You can find things here. You have to look harder and in more places, but you can find things."
The last Wolfe party took place on Sunday, roughly from noon to 5 p.m. Here are pieces of the formula:
Time: noon to 5 p.m. "I do it wrong. It's not brunch or dinner. I use the morning as a buffer zone to finish whatever isn't ready and I do a lot of eyeballing of the table arrangement. I need the evening to clean up. It's one day in my life, so I give guests the middle."
Invitations: "Often there are a lot of code words. I just tell people 'don't dress up and don't eat beforehand,'"
Budget: "I let my eye run it. I always buy 150 per cent more than I need in quantity and variety. I stop before I'm bankrupt and save where I can. An example: I serve Schaeffer. It's a working man's beer, but a good one. Good taste controls buying decision."
Bar: Hard liquor (scotch, bloddy mary mix and vodka, beer, chilled white wine) and coffee. "It's still big. I don't run a bar without coffee."
Buffet table: Smoked fish, fish salads, raw vegetables, dips, assorted breads and crackers, cheese. Among homemade dishes most recently have been a hot crab mixture and pickled mushrooms.
Hot food: As the afternoon progresses, Wolfe becomes an Actor's Studio study of the New York bar waiter, wandering about with pad and pencil in hand. He wanders about taking orders, a few at a time. There are no lines, no pressure, no paper plate-silver-napkin-glass balancing act required by the guest. The choices are chili or spaghetti with appropriate garnishes on request. They are served minutes later, the chili in mugs.
The shopping had been done on Saturday, "in one gulp." Now a bachelor, though once married, Wolfe theorizes that one must allow extra time for a first shopping tour with a new companion interested in food because both people have favorite stores and favorite items. On the other hand, he advises married couples to alternate the search for food fantasies to save time and to keep shopping from falling into a predictable routine.
Wolfe loves smoked fish, as do some of his friends. "Watch out," he said, issuing a final warning, "Half your guests will eat anything you serve. They just have to be reduced visually. But about 20 per cent won't touch the fish. You have to serve other things, too."
Some of his basic, non-fish, non-gourmet recipes follows. WOLFE'S ITALIAN SEASONING 2 small cans dried oregano 1 small can dried basil 1 part (an equal amount) Italian seasoning in which oregano is not the dominant ingredient 1 tablespoon celery salt 1tablespoon black pepper
Mix together and store for use as neede. WOLFE'S BASIC TOMATO SAUCE (Make about 1 quart) 1 onion, the size of a tennis ball, peeled and chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 tablespoon celery salt 1 tablespoon (heaping) Italian seasoning, crushed in the had 1/4 cup red table wine 1 can (29 ounces) tomato sauce
Heat oil in a saucepan or skillet. Saute oinion until soft, then add pepper celery salt and Italian seasoning. Stir for 30 seconds, then add wine. Cover pan until it boils, then pour in tomato sauce. Stir ingredients together, bring to a boil and simmer covered for 30 to 45 minutes. Note: If wine is unavailable, substitute 1/2 teaspoon sugar. WOLFE'S MEATBALLS (Makes 16 to 20) 1 pound meatloaf mix, or ground beef 1/3 cub bread crumbs 2 eggs 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or more to taste) 1 teaspoon celery salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 quart chicken broth (College Inn preferred)
Mix meatloaf, bread crumbs, eggs and seasonings together. Shape into Ping-pong ball size. Poach for 45 minutes to 1 hour in broth. Drain, saving liquid to use as a soup base. Cover meatballs with tomato sauce and serve over spaghetti.