February 24, 2006

How To Cook - 1

With newscoverage dealing with the American lifestyle, it's coming to light that one of the problems of change is that people never learned to cook, or they've forgotten how after years of buying processed food.

Lots of people don't cook from scratch - you know, go into the pantry, search through the kitchen, use a pot and a pan, and come out with a meal that tastes good. (Sandwiches don't count. Reheated takeout or premade frozen doesn't, either.)

And maybe they should, and maybe they'd like it. It's fun. And, it's part of simplifying life. A simple life involves cooking.

So, here's the first in a series of posts dealing with this basic task. Cooking's not hard, cooking's fun -- and there is something wonderful about setting down to a homecooked meal at a table with your family. It's therapeutic. It's fun. Heck, it's spiritual, man.

You do not need to be Julia Child, and you don't need tablescapes by Sandra Lee to do this.

First, there's a vocabulary for cooking - basting, panfry, parbroil: the folks at Crisco.com have a good, clear list for you. Don't memorize this, just go look up the words you don't know when you need them.

Second, you need to have the basic equipment. Here's a short, simple list - and you can find good quality stuff at places like TJ Maxx and DollarTree, with great finds to be had at garage or estate sales:

Pyrex measuring cup - 2 cup size. It will handle the microwave (until you get the gumption to get rid of that thing).

Measuring cups/spoons - one of those gizmos that combine measurements into one is cool.

Cooking Spoons - get big wooden ones, they usually come 3-4 in a package. Get one big scoop, too. DollarTree has great buys on GoodGrips for this stuff.

Spatula -- one. Start with one.

Strainer - get a big one, you can start a collection later.

Knives - don't get one of those collections; get a chef's knife, a serrated one (uneven edge), and a smaller one. Don't be intimated by what the fancy chefs tell you. The goal is to use the tool to cut the food and not yourself -- pick ones that fit your hand as well as the task. The chef's knife is big enough to handle an eggplant or a chicken, and the serrated one is a must for cutting thru bread, chocolate, etc. The small one is used when the big one is clumsy.

Cutting Boards - get a wooden one, plastic holds germs and knives can slip on glass. Big is good, too small and you wonder what to do with the food as you're chopping, etc. It needs to give you room to work. Let a collection grow over time.

Cookie Sheet - one.

Grater - one.

Cast Iron Skillet -- simple, perfect. You have to "cure" it. Do this by covering it with oil or shortening and baking it for one hour at 350 degrees. Don't immerse in water, or you'll have to recure. Wipe it clean. Yes, you read it right. Find one of these babies dark and well-used at a garage or estate sale, and boy howdy - you've found a treasure. Bake, broil, fry - fabulous.

Soup pot aka "Dutch oven" - 5 quart or more, round, has a lid.

Pots -- Two pots with lids. Pot differs from pan by having height and a lid.

Baking pan - start with a basic Pyrex 9" by 13" and get ready for Brownies.

Bowls - a basic set of three is fine, Pyrex is nice because it can handle heat and cold. Try Amazon - 3 for 9.99.

Sources: Ehow.com Kraft.com ; Aunt Clara's Kitchen, and my own experience.

To follow along with someone, check out FoodNetwork online videos, Cooking.com videos, and WorldCulinaryInstitute.

Great first cookbook: Pam Anderson's How To Cook Without A Book.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great advice. I'd also recommend a cookbook for the beginner. I maintain that anyone who can read and is willing to spend 45-60 minutes once or twice a week learning to cook, will, in a very short period of time become quite adept at cooking. And just think of the pride you'll take in saying "I made it myself!"

Jon Tillman said...

Everybody who is just starting out cooking for themselves or their family needs one good all-around cookbook to give them a general idea what they can do. I recommend the "Joy of Cooking", but there are several others that are just as good out there. If you are more serious about learning the "right way" to prepare food (and talk about it with other cooks), then you need either "The Essentials of Cooking" or "The New Professional Chef".

Anonymous said...

How to Cook Without a Book is great for baby cooks. I give copies out as wedding gifts. I like her tests like the one with melba toast winning the crispyest for baked "fried" chicken.