Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cooking 101

My son tells me I should write a cookbook for those in college or just getting started in cooking for themselves.  I haven't done that yet, but I do keep collections of ideas.  Here are a few hot tips for the day...
1. It is common to botch a meal now and again. Eat it if you possibly can, but try to figure out where your went wrong and vow not to make the same mistake again. Then grin and laugh it off.  (I know that is hard to do when you're hungry or when you have guests you're trying to impress), but hey, it happens to all of us, so don't despair.
2. Read the recipe thoroughly...all the way through.  There is no rhyme or reason to how some recipes are written, so to be confident, read it form start to finish. One would hate to find you have to add an ingredient at the beginning when it's all ready in the pan ready to bake.
3. Taste the food as you prepare it.  Take it easy with this.  Some spices need to simmer awhile before they "bloom" or you can taste them.  If you taste as you go, you may be overseasoning it.  Just ask Foxtrot Freddie about my famous "Pepper Soup"  I made for a special dinner when I was a new bride.
4. Be careful about substitutions. Actually I am all about substituting things I like for those I am less enthusiastic about.  If you do that however, be prepared for some dubious outcomes on occasion. Baking can be tricky, as if a product needs to rise to get the desired consistency, you could be in trouble.  Also, I am a firm believer in taking it easy with baking soda.  You can taste the stuff in baked goods. Error on the frugal side of using it.
5. You boil instead of simmer. This is my most frequent error.  I am one to start everything on high and turn it down.  That is okay most of the time, but you can end up with a dry, tough or rubbery dish, especially with eggs. Be forewarned about this one!
6. Low fat milk curdles when you boil it, higher fat milk does not (it does scorch however.)  If you have a sauce to make, bite the bullet and use higher fat milk. If you're on a low fat diet, don't heat the low fat milk as high, 180 degrees is max.
7. All ovens are not created equal.  Know your oven.  Go buy an oven thermometer.  Some ovens cook unevenly, some can be off as much as 25 degrees.  Go with the flow, just know what the flow is.
8. Measure your ingredients.  Grandma may have used a "walnut size" ingredient in a recipe, but you should measure.  Okay, when you get the knack of your old favorites, you can "eyeball" it, but until then, measure it!
9. Don't try to crowd too much on a single pan.  If you are trying to brown something, for example, if you are making oven fried chicken, go with one layer (and allow space between each piece.) Overloading and stacking foods to brown just won't work, plain and simple.
10. Beating egg whites to a froth.  Did you know even a simple drop of fat will prevent egg whites from becoming white, frothy and perfect?  That means not a drop of egg yolk, fat on beaters or a bowl that may have residue from your last cooking project.  Nada.  No fat whatsoever should touch those egg whites!
11. Slice meats against the grain to make them look better. Cutting meat with the grain makes the slices long and stringy.
12.  Giblets come inside the cavity of whole birds.  That includes chicken, duck and turkey.  Ask almost anyone how cooking their first turkey dinner went and you'll hear more than once, the story of the cooked giblets.  YUK!
13. Use a meat thermometer. This is very important when cooking poultry or a large roast.  Overcooked meat is dry, tough and lacks flavor.  Undercooked meat can be dangerous for your health.  Enough said!
Aong these same lines, allow a resting period for your meat.  The larger cuts can increase in temperature 5-10 degrees.  Resting also allows for the reabsorption of jucies.
11. Ever heard of toasting nuts or coconut?  I can tell you first hand, once they start to brown, yowie, they burn in a second!  Watch them carefully!

Now I feel like Julia Child...guess I'll go have a glass of wine! Bon Apetit!

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