August 30, 2015

Home Cooking

The reason we don’t eat at home is we don’t know how to cook.  Homecooking is a lost art, with an unfair stigma, mainly because it doesn’t produce money but it can quickly turn your life around.  It drastically reduces packaging and the pollution that creates, it vitalizes and heals your body, nurtures your loved ones, conserves money and enables you gain control of the security of your food in these uncertain times.

You can’t just turn on a burner and eat.  Cooking is a process an ever changing ongoing activity.  You have to know how to acquire, select and store ingredients.  A necessity as well are the proper tools and the know how to   use them to ease with preparation and cleanup.  Once you know the nature of your ingredients and the tricks of your equipment, cooking is more a pleasure than a chore.

It is important to cook only with 10/18 stainless steel or cast iron pots with tight fitting lids.   Try to buy also 10/18 flatware, as these forks and spoons don’t easily bend and will, like the pots last a lifetime.  A tablespoon is the large spoon and the teaspoon is the small one.  Use only cast iron frying pans or a good stainless steel wok for frying.  Buy them used if you can find them.  To use anything else is a waste of your time and money in the long run.  Cheap pots and pans are hard to cook with and difficult if not impossible to clean.

A small sharp knife like a paring knife or steak knife makes preparing foods easier.  Some knives are made with a “permanently sharp” serrated edge and others come with a sharpener.  A knife must be sharp to be effective, it should easily slice a carrot.  A dull knife is dangerous, frustrating and requires much more effort to use.  A good knife will hold its sharp edge for a long time and hold its blade tight in the handle.  The blade should not easily bow or be too heavy as to become tiresome for the user.

A grater is very helpful in quickly cutting fruits and vegetables into small bits.  Try and find a good used stainless steel grater the new ones are cheap and bend too easily.  The tools you use should be as pleasurable as toys to use.

Stove and oven temperatures vary from unit to unit.  For this reason, the temperatures here are only guidelines.  You only need to preheat an oven for baked goods.  Don’t get burned from the steam or heat while taking off pot lids or the opening oven door.  Always use an oven mitt or a folded towel to protect your hand from getting burned on hot pot.

Burning the skin is a hazard in the kitchen, from steam, hot pans or spattering fat.  Don’t leave the kitchen unattended while cooking at high temperatures.  Always turn pot and pan handles in, so they can’t get knocked off the stove.  Keep a box of baking soda by the stove to douse a fire if necessary.

Be mindful of the temperature under the pots to ensure you don’t burn what you are cooking.  When food boils too hot it will bubble out of the pot.  If the oil spatters out of the pan the temperature is too high, turn it down.  Burning food renders it unpalatable.  If what you are cooking starts to stick and burn on the bottom take it from the heat and remove as much of the food as possible, without disturbing the burned bottom.  If, on the other hand if you have left a pot on a high temperature and smoke is coming from it, remove the pot from the burner, open the kitchen windows, don’t take off the lid and don’t eat it.  Not only can burned food ruin a meal, but burnt on food can wreck even the best pots.

On the stove top most food is cooked by adding it to a hot pan or a pot of boiling water.  After adding the food wait a minute, then turn down the burner to one quarter heat.  Covering pots and pans with lids will help food cook faster using less energy.  Don’t use a lid when cooking in a lot of oil or when frying breaded items.  A sprinkle of salt in a pot of water will help water boil faster, enhance flavors, and help vegetables retain green color when cooking.

Always have all ingredients cut before turning on a burner to cook.  The smaller the pieces, the faster they cook, the sooner you eat.  Cut food by pressing a sharp knife through it on a hard surface like cutting board.  Respect the damage the blade could do to your flesh, if cut you would be well advised to disinfect the cut immediately with tea tree essential oil.

Most vegetables are easily cooked in a frying pan.  Put a cast iron pan or stainless steel wok on the burner, turn the temperature to high, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or butter.  When the oil is hot, before it smokes, add food cut in bite size pieces.  Stir vigorously with a fork, then turn temperature down to medium.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar, then stir with fork to blend.  Turn off heat and eat.
Steaks, chops, boneless chicken pieces and bacon are easy to cook in a frying pan.  Turn the burner on high to get your frying pan hot before adding your meat.  Meat closest to a bone will always take longest to cook, so put it in the center on the pan.  Make a cut into the fat on steak and chops to keep the meat from curling.  Lay bacon in pan slice by slice.  Continue on high for a few minutes until you hear the fat spatter.

Turn the burner down to medium.  Cook until the bottom turns brown and turn over in pan.  You will know when meat is done when you press it with the bottom of a fork and the juices come out clear.  Roasted birds are done when the cooked leg pulls away from the body.  The meat of cooked hamburger, pork or chicken should not be pink, not even at the bone.

Hamburgers are made by forming plain ground beef into patties.  They are cooked in a frying pan the same way.  Burgers are only ready to flip when the bottom is firm enough to turn over without loosing the shape of the burger.  Remember, once the meat has cooked, use a clean flipper or fork other than the one you used for the raw meat.

An oven roast meal is the easiest.  Use an oven to cook larger meals and/or larger cuts of meat.  Put the meat in a pot or pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cover with lid.  With a dry cloth, rub dirt off potatoes (rinse them if you can spare the water) and stab them twice with a knife. Put the roast in the middle of the oven surrounded by the potatoes making sure they aren’t touching each other.  Turn the oven to 350F, no need to preheat it.  Cook the potatoes until a fork goes in the flesh easily, and the meat until the juices run clear when poked with a fork. Watch out for the steam when you open the pot lid!

Transfer the meat to plate.  Let it cool a bit before you cut it.  While it is cooling, put the pot on a burner turned to medium.  Scrap the bottom of the pot with the bottom of a fork to blend the drippings. Put two tablespoons of cornstarch in a cup of cold water, mix well and add to the drippings, mix together well and bring to a boil.  This is gravy!  If it is too thin add more cornstarch solution, if too thick just add water.
Put frozen vegetables in a pot will a lid, sprinkle with salt, cover and cook over medium.  Watch them carefully, stir them often, they will cook very quickly.  Cook the vegetables at the same time as the gravy so everything will be ready at the right time.

Turn the vegetables and gravy off. Cut the roast.  The fibers in meat can be long and hard to chew, but if we cut the fibers short the meat is easier to chew.  If there are strings on the roast your cuts will be parallel.  Without strings, remember the fat will be on the outside edge of each slice.  A pork chop or steak is a slice of meat cut against the grain.

When the meal is over, put the bone from the roast in the gravy pot and put in the fridge, this will become soup the next day.  Fill the pot with water to cover bone, with the bone, to three quarters full, add three good pinches of salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and slowly good the bone for three hours or so.  An hour before you are going to eat, take the bone out and let cool.  Add to the broth, either a chopped up potato or two or a half cup of rice, and an onion and some celery chopped up.  Cook for a half hour or until soft, then add a cup of vegetables you have fresh or frozen, and herbs like parsley, and a tablespoon of sugar and soya sauce.  Taste your soup, it will taste bland if it doesn’t have enough salt; you would be surprised how much salt is in soup.

To make soup stock cover a whole chicken with water, add a few bay leaves and a tablespoon of salt to a large pot.  Cook on high until the water boils and turn the heat down to one quarter; cook until all the meat falls from the bone.  Let cool, then remove fat off the top, bay leaves and the bones.  You will see the soup is a jelly, a concentrate of soup.  Use three or four cup of the concentrate of soup to make a full soup by adding rice or potatoes, and any other vegetable available.

It is very convenient to freeze a meal serving size in a bag.  Use a cup of food per person per bag as your general guide; it is better to have a little more than a little less.  A bag is easier to fill if it is sitting open in a cup when it is filled.  Press the seal of the bag until only a small airhole is left, then roll the bag up from the bottom rolling the extra plastic around the soup and pushing all the air out of the bag.  Never put warm food in the freezer.

Cream soups don’t freeze well but they are easy to make and a hit with picky eaters.  Melt two tablespoons of olive oil and/or butter over medium heat.  Add two potatoes and/or broccoli, asparagus, celery, onions, cauliflower, add portion of soup stock.   Put a lid on pot.  Bring to a boil on high, then turn down and cook at quarter heat until all vegetables are soft when pierced with a fork.  The trick is then to use a handheld blender to puree the soup until velvety smooth.  If it is too thick add some water.  While not really necessary but if you want to add it milk do it here, while adding salt, sugar and pepper to taste.

With basic cooking, milk, butter, cheese and cream should added to the recipe at the end of the cooking time.  Not cooked but rather melted into the dish like a condiment.  A grater is excellent on cheese because cutting cheese with a knife is hard on your hands and it makes little bits that melt quickly reducing the amount of cheese needed.  Avoiding heating yogurt at all as it destroys the friendly bacteria it contains.

Fried rice is an excellent nutrient dense entrée.  Put one and one half cups of rice and three cups of cold water in pot with lid.  Cook on high until steams, without taking off the lid, turn the burner down to low and let cook for twenty minutes.  In a large frypan, on medium put dry spices like tumeric or curry, when warmed add one quarter cup of olive oil, garlic, ginger, mushrooms and fresh or frozen vegetables cut fine.  Turn temperature to high and stir vigorously.  When the vegetables are hot add hot or leftover rice.  Make three holes in the rice, and fill with raw eggs.  Quickly stir into the rice, letting the heat of the rice cook the egg.  Then turn down to medium and let cook without stirring for a few minutes.  Add soya sauce, a pinch of sugar, pepper and salt to taste, then stir vigorously with fork.  Turn off heat.

Do not underestimate the impact and nutrition of spice.  Store them very close to the stove so they will be convenient to use.  The spices you need are garlic, and/or tumeric, pepper, cumin, ginger, oregano, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, cinnamon, and dry mustard.  Salt, sugar, soya sauce, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar and/or balsamic vinegar are also value components of appetizing meals. Use spices liberally, except for sage and pepper, it is very hard to use too much.  Start with a teaspoon per meal of each spice, then remember to add or reduce to suit your taste the next time you use that combination.  You won’t use all the spices everyday, but each imparts unique flavors which allow you to have a an appetizing, exciting menu.

Tomato sauce is an excellent dish for using dried herbs as spices.  Put one quarter cup of olive oil in bottom of large pot and cook at high heat.  Add tomatoes and/or onions, celery, zucchini, peppers, and a tablespoon of sugar, a sprinkle of salt, and if lucky a few bay leaves.  Stir vigorously.  When vegetables are warm, put lid on pot and turn down to one quarter heat.  Simmer until all vegetables are soft then remove lid.  Continue to cook until desired texture is achieved, the longer the thicker the sauce.  When the sauce is ready add oregano and/or parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and basil then salt to taste.  Some years there weren’t enough tomatoes to make enough sauce for the winter.  No one noticed a different when some tomatoes were with plums, apples and pears. Tomato sauce freezes well, use the same procedure as with the soup stock.

Salads are combinations of fresh vegetables cut into small pieces.  It is very convenient to use a little stainless steel grater here to make little bits from the garlic, unpeeled carrots, unpeeled beets, onions, and unpeeled ginger.  Large leafy vegetables are most easily and conveniently cut up with a large pair of scissors, keep them clean and only for cutting vegetables.  Mix and match the ingredients available will make salads seasonal delicacies.

Choice salad oils are olive, apricot seed, flaxseed, hemp seed and/or grape seed combinations.  This component to a healthy diet should not be disregarded there absence in the body is unforgiving.  In much the same way as oil in a car allows it to operate smoothly, so too you should think of salad oil.  Don’t skimp using these oils on salads and cooked vegetables oils.  These oils loose their effectiveness when heated.
Dressing is made from a combination of two tablespoons of healthy salad oils, a half tablespoon of vinegar, a half teaspoon of sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Apple cider, balsamic, wine, and rice vinegars when used as the solo with salad oils bring excellent flavor to any meal. Put ingredients directly on salad greens in the order given.  This is only a base recipe, by adding herbs and spices on hand, use your taste buds to decipher if the flavor will make this salad perfect.

A Mediterranean salad mix includes every kind of peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and onions.  The dressing is one part balsamic vinegar to four parts salad oils sprinkled with rosemary, oregano, thyme, and/or basil, and salt and sugar to taste. Feta cheese and olives are traditionally used in this combination.

A family favorite is cheeseburger salad.  It is basically all the ingredients of a cheeseburger without the bun.  Using leftover cooked hamburger, cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and lots of lettuce cut into bite size pieces.  The dressing is mayo, mustard, ketchup and relish to taste.

Mayonnaise is easily made if you have an electric blender.  In a very clean blender jar whip one fresh egg add a teaspoon each of sugar, apple cider vinegar and dry mustard powder.  Then blend on a lower setting while pouring one cup of salad oil slowly through the hole in the lid.  Don’t over blend the mayo; once you see the right consistency turn the blender off and stop adding the oil.  Transfer to a sterilized jar and store in the fridge.   Mark the date on the jar and use within three or four days. Keep mayonnaise in the refrigerator.

Chicken salad is chicken, onions and parsley cut into small bits and mayo mixed with a teaspoon of dry mustard and salt and pepper to taste, served over salad greens.  Fish salad is made exactly the same way, although dill is an excellent addition to this recipe.

Egg salad is boiled eggs, onions, parsley, carrot and/or celery and pickles cut into small bits and mayo mixed with a teaspoon of dry mustard and salt and pepper to taste served with lettuce on bread as a sandwich.

To boil eggs will a pot half full with cold water put it on the burner.  Add eggs to fill the pot, put on a tight lid and turn the burner on high.  Once the water is boiling turn it off, leaving the pot on the burner.  After ten minutes, carefully drain the hot water from the pot.  Put the pot in the sink on the faucet to pour cold water on them to cool them down.  If the egg isn’t cooled fast enough the yolk edge will darken, this does not however affect its edibility.  Peel an egg by tapping the bottom and top to crack the shell, peel and rinse.  Older eggs are easiest to peel.

A coleslaw salad can include cabbage, carrots, beets, onions and/or garlic grated or chopped up fine.  The creamy dressing is three parts mayo with one part salad oil with salt, pepper and sugar to taste.  The tangy dressing is three parts salad oil, one part vinegar with salt and sugar to taste.

The tangy dressing works well with bean salad.  Combine cooked and cooled beans, with chopped onion and/or parsley and cucumbers.  Soak mixture in tangy dressing overnight in the fridge.

Plan the next day’s meals before you go to bed.  Assess which resources are on hand for the recipes you like and your time available for preparation.  Take any meat you need out of the freezer to thaw.  Don’t be afraid to partially prepare for the next meal ahead of time.  Cook extra meat or eggs the day before to have the ingredients ready for your meal.
Time your activities to make the most of your resources.  I bake and make soup during the winter months when doing so helps heat the house.  In the summer heat, I roast meat and vegetables in the oven late at night to use the food cold in sandwiches and salads the next day.  Scheduling the main meal at noon is most effective as it allows the cook day to best utilize the day.

Preparing healthy food for other people is a loving act.  Homecooked meals take longer to prepare but their attributes far exceed their limitations.  The finest food is not uniform and identical like ordering from a menu.  Everyone has their own culinary signature and everything you prepare and enjoy eating is perfect.

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