COOKING FOR DUMMIES. |
First of a series for fun basic cooking and good nutrition from a lover of making do with what you´ve got.
Just watching those long winded and artificial cooking sessions on the screen is enough to make me wonder just how much simple food can take before it turns into dead wood. However delicious it may look (and it seems that that is all it turns out to be) it is hardly likely to be anything other than a stomach teaser, devoid of palate appeal. Not always, of course, but these chefs are often more like theatrical performers than genuine lovers of the art.
In any case, very few people are capable and able to remember all those ingredients, if they even managed to find them, let alone produce nutritious dishes guaranteed to take care of most of the daily vitamin and mineral needs. After years of experimenting (often out of curiousity) with foodstuff that made me feel good the next day (and others not so well), I scoured my mind honestly and decisively for those things over the years that I felt we should all be eating without turning ourselves into rabbits or vampires. By watching some householders cook (and mainly friends), I began to get a clear picture of what was missing most of the time. The food was bland or overcooked and the ketchup manufacturers rely on them for a living I suppose. It made me remember Mr. Coleman´s oft repeated phrase, our profit is in the mess left on the plate. He was referring to his mustard which spread liberally over everything ensure that most was left behind along with whatever it touched - a clear sign of eye over stomach or appetite over palatability. At these homes, much had to do with time and a desperate need to get it all done quickly and make sure that any hungry bunch would devour it whether or not it was what it should be. That unfortunately is the fate of the hamburger and Pizza eaters. Although both are decorative are very filling(which is why it all sells so well) and tasty, if done properly with quality products, stuffing it all in with the chips and bread that usually follows is hardly the way to keep the stomach in place and unharmed for well after digestion has taken place. I believe in all that - tasty, nutritious, health protecting as well as appealing to the eye and nose. Think about these four aims in simple cooking. You will not do it properly for some time, but whatever comes out with my easy step by step system will fulfill most of what is required. It’s all good commonsense. Here they are:
1. Good food for the body to use efficiently with well recorded nutritional values. 2. Sensible cooking methods - so as to avoid damaging these delicate products of nature which evolved like we did from very basic cellular organisms and which provide us with the regeneration fuel that keeps us alive and well. 3. Essential variety across a wide field of nutritional needs and on the same plate 4. Taste and presentation to stimulate the appetite and get those salivary glands working to do their job well. Remember that digestion starts with the teeth and mouth where the first acids starting releasing the nutrients and preparing the food for secondary and more efficient digestion in the stomach. Chewing is pleasant and it also does an essential job. Things that do not need chewing are by nature much easier to absorb and digest in the stomach.
DON’T BURN OR OVERCOOK YOUR FOOD IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE NUTRITIONAL QUALITIES IN. This applies to frying mainly, whether deep (totally submersed like we do for chips and use a fryer for) or partly like stir fry or almost no oil at all against hot plate or semi dry, pan frying.
Leave all that fancy red hot sizzling to the professionals and if you want to get some colour on your meat dishes particularly, do it less destructively. Browning can be achieved at much lower temperatures than people would assume – just a question of time.
If frying, therefore, do it gently and get the right type of oil. Olive oil for example is useless for frying at high temperatures and contains plenty of olive sediments which burn and give it and your food a bad taste. Vegetable oil is much better - but again, keep temperatures down when cooking anything if you want it to end up the way you see it in your mind’s eye and not something that looks alright when piping hot and hard and unappetizing when it cools. Cold food should be just as appetizing as hot. Warm is the way to eat most things and how it should be served. If it does not taste good, then you went wrong somewhere – usually an overdose of add ons like salt, pepper, chili, herbs etc. Keep these to a minimum since they usually have strong tastes – like for example basil which sweetens, oregano which can cause wind and curcuman which can taste bitter, not to mention bay leaf which taste can take all the others with it. How to combine these herbs to produce a good result is a matter of experiment and perhaps asking mum which are her favourite ones will produce safe ground to work with.
FOR A START.
REMEMBER - KEEP YOUR FRYING TEMPERATURES ON MEDIUM AND ONLY USE HIGH FLAMES IF YOU WANT TO GET TO BOILING TEMPERATURES ON WATERY LIQUIDS QUICKLY. EVEN THEM, ONCE ACHIEVED, CUT IT DOWN AND SIMMER GENTLY FOR BEST RESULTS OVER A SLIGHTLY LONGER PERIOD. NEVER LEAVE YOUR COOKING ON ITS OWN UNLESS IT IS ON VERY LOW TEMPERATURE SETTING WHICH GIVES IT TIME TO BOIL OR FRY DOWN TO NOTHING WITHOUT HAVING TO FORCE YOU TO RUN BACK WITH FLAMES A METRE HIGH AND EVERYBODY AROUND GASPING FOR AIR. KEEP IT SIMPLE, TASTY AND ATTRACTIVE.
The art of cooking is knowing just how long anything takes to reach its best cooking point and combining all the necessary ingredients for healthy living and stimulation to the eye. Loaded plates are unnecessary with more neatly stashed in a covered tureen on the side for second helpings. Little contact with anything else inside this useful container is not only hygienic when covered, but it can be put away in the fridge easily. Make a note of reactions from those you feed, good and bad - and learn by them without sulking and swearing you will never cook for them again. Most people know what is just what they wanted or what can be put aside for another more tolerant day.
Cooking with various ingredients, is simply a question of understanding that some things take longer to cook to tenderize and putting it all in at the same time is alright for some things but not for all. Some things are just right and others tough or not quite right. Eatable cooking means the whole dish not just bits of it. In fact if this happens and just when you thought it was ready, the best thing is to take switch off or bring the heat down to almost zero – remove the obviously cooked bits like the meat, for example and some of the vegetables and pluck and put on a side plate what is ready. Use a slotted spoon so you don’t take the liquid out at the same time. Or it could be that all seems to be well cooked except the meat so just pull the meat out and continue simmering with some of the liquid from the main casserole until tender. You can put it all back together when they are ready and just give a few more minutes of broiling to blend it all back again. Always, if the mind blanks over the next step or are forgetful and go off somewhere else for an instant, don´t risk it and switch it off. Nothing will go hard again now will it spoil except it is something that could go stodgy, like rice. Never leave rice. Always stand by the pan from start to finish adding a bit of water or soup as it boils away gently.
Overcooking often happens with some potato, vegetable and meat dishes where the meat has not softened enough and the rest, particularly the potato appears to want to disappear into the sauce. Always put aside (for separate further cooking) the easier ones to remove. It is better to remove the bigger tighter chunky things, like the meat or larger vegetables and do them separately if they are not done but only if the rest of the vegetables are already well done. REMEMBER TO USE YOUR FORK ON ANYTHING YOU ARE SIMMERING TO FIND OUT WHAT IS DONE AND WHAT IS NOT. HOWEVER, SIMPLE PLANNING, LIKE ADDING THE THINGS THAT TAKE LESS TIME TO COOK AT A LATER TIME IN THE GAME OFTEN SOLVES THE PROBLEM AND COMES WITH PRACTICE. IF THE MEAT REMAINS TOUGH AND YOU HAVE OVERDONE THE REST, IT DOES NOT REALLY MATTER. YOU MAY HAVE LOST SOME OF THE NUTRIENTS BUT THERE IS NOTHING STOPPING YOU FROM TAKING SOME OF THE RICH LIQUID, ADDING SOME WATER AND OR A BIT OF WINE AND BOILING UP SOME COLOURFUL VEGETABLE, LIKE BROCCOLI WHICH DOES NOT TAKE LONG. You can then put it back into the casserole just before serving or simple ladle the casseroled meat with plenty of sauce into the plate and put your newly cooked broccoli on the side with creamed potatoes or saffron rice to make up a delightful, no holds barred, and piece of culinary provocation.
THE INTERNATIONAL COOKING BASE FOR THE HOUSEHOLD.
The cooking mystique fostered by the professionals is often no more than an attempt at creating their own social images. Much of the stuff produced and presented as delicacies are often less appetizing than a simple country dish born of a natural sense of balance and genuine appreciation of flavour - the right thing for the moment. In fact the type of weather and time of year often prompts visions, when hungry, of what would make your mouth water and your stomach rumble. Most national dishes are the result of the ingenuity of their ancient peasants who made do with what was there and often flavoured to hide taste and or make it more palatable. Most European countries live on that sort of cooking and much is simple to put together. As cooking methods evolved and technology came to the rescue, much, like slow cooking over embers was forgotten. In the absence of money to buy meat, a great deal of time was spent on greens and dairy products. Whatever meat was available was often utilized to make air dried sausages with a variety of spices and a whole world of different names, like salami, chorizo, longaniza, blood sausage, etc. These were sold to those who could afford it and in turn provide for the mainly vegetarian dishes that were prevalent in the villages. The meat, (and not every day), consisted of bits and pieces of those dried or salted leftovers from the sausage making For those imaginative peoples huddled over a fire or eating out in the patios, these salted bits and pieces were left in water to dissolve the salt for however many times it took and then put in with the stews. Cheaper cuts of the animal meat impossible to fry tender, succumb to slow cooking and are full of flavor. They also provided the minimum protein and fats necessary for such a Spartan existence. Rice dishes were also part of the staple diets cooked with with cheap garden vegetables not worth selling and bits and pieces of these sausage meats, like chorizo and longaniza to provide the taste. The treatment and subtle taste however was enough to get everyone eating these stodgy starches with gusto. A bit more from the crusty daily bread bake helped keep the hunger pangs away. There is protein in rice and bread of course otherwise, it would not work. As for modern nutritional suggestions, most of these dishes today would be frowned upon as staple diets and like chocolate, however sumptuous, left for the odd spree or two. Modern cooking can have all the best aspects of these dishes whilst leaning on good quality nutrients to do the rest. PUT IT TOGETHER SLOWLY
Anyone can learn the rudiments of cooking overnight. From a simple start, great dishes can be put together, but what matters is being able to combine ingredients on a plate that are healthy, attractive and succulent. It is just commonsense if you think about it without panicking and always ready to switch off and rethink if you are really bent on creating a masterwork.
The two basic ways of making a start.
Gentle frying of the base elements, adding water, bringing to the boil, lowering to simmer and adding the bits and pieces (according to how long they take to soften), is all it takes to make a meat casserole.
Alternatively, bringing base elements together in boiling water - left to simmer with all the extras (put in at different times) to produce either a soup or a stew. Both produce some very good results.
Both taste differently and both can provide for meat and sauce served elegantly with accompanying separately cooked vegetables and chips, rice or creamed potatoes which I assume, need little to explain about. Getting on with it…
Get a clean, non stick pan, preferably not aluminium in view of the Alzheimer and Parkinson scare. Add about an egg cup of any oil to start off with remembering that olive oil burns at high temperatures and kills the flavour of any ingredient when it does. Remember therefore, that it is best to work with middle temperatures even if it takes longer.
Cut the three most widely utilized ingredients for a base concentration Onions, Garlic (if you like it), red and or green peppers, tomatoes and a couple of bay leaves. You can skip the tomatoes if you want a different colour sauce and remember – very little bay leaf because it can dominate your overall flavour. Cut up however much you want of these but say, a handful of each and whilst tossing It all around with a wooden spoon, let them fry gently until they are limp and tender and the onion goes golden round the edges. You can do them well (or slightly under so that they show through the sauce or finished dish for colour). For a casserole with a rich thick sauce, what matters is that the base materials eventually blend with everything and most of the water you will add has boiled off whilst cooking the vegetables and or meats. Once the base is ready, take it off the fire and think of your next step.
Instead of onions you can use any variety of the family, like shallots, purple onions or spring. For peppers you and mix the different varieties if you intend to see them through, say rice, for colour or stick to green which stands on its own with respect to its particular stronger taste. You will see that you could try different fry ups for base every day and arrive at entirely different dishes be they meat, completely vegetarian or fish. Later on when you have mastered your stews and your casseroles, you can go mad on soups and learn how to buy for one dish and be able to use the remainder for a variety of others in the following days. I do this all the time.
The next stage of the game.
Remember we have created a base to provide an overall taste that will blend with the meat or fish. It is essential to understand that like ketchup, a strong sauce can drown anything in it and what you would taste would be that and no more. Thinking carefully of what goes with what is important until you arrive at your own variety of dishes without having to think about planning at all. Meats take time to tenderize and if required can be friend gently in a separate pan with a small amount of oil or fried in with the base you have just prepared, bearing in mind that it will all then go underwater, brought to the boil and the liquid gradually boiled off to make it all rest finally in a nice thick, tasty sauce. But then how do we get there….
When the meat and the base are done separately you have control of just how limp or disintegrated you want your base to remain throughout the cooking period. However, you can put your meats and base material together and fry them all gently together and removing your meats partly cooked with a fork so that the base material remains identifiable. One tip with respect to garlic and the likelihood of someone not wanting to go anywhere near them, is to fry the cloves whole in their skins and then remove them when it gets near to serving. You can always have them to yourself as part of another dish any day after that or blend it in with something as a spread on toast.
When the base and meats are ready you can do a few things, but there are two basics. Either you fry some fresh or tinned tomatoes when the onions, garlic and peppers are near ready to give a strong red sauce, or you can simply put in a few things like curcuman which is supposed to be a powerful health aid and which makes it all a golden yellow. Both bases can be utilized to make a casserole in which you can put chunky or whole small potatoes and in which you can put some colourful and tasty peas or broccoli (also a much revered vegetable) and or sliced or button carrots. You can experiment with different results any day and still enjoy the results. But back to business….
You are staring at your lovely base with added fried tomatoes or on the yellow with a bit or curcuman for looks and taste. You can add as much as you like but be careful with condiments because you can go too far and make it too rich whilst destroying the joy of savoring all the different tastes that blend together skillfully in the mouth.
Your meats, base and added vegetables are now all together in a casserole and begging for water. Put in as much as you like especially if you were thinking of stealing some of the liquid after it has all been brought to the boil and then to half or less heat. It is important, if you are going to create a masterful soup on the side which does not taste the same as the main dish, to make sure it has simmered for a while and the meat in particular is getting to the stage where you can easily penetrate it with a knife or fork. If you are thinking of doing this, you can increase the quantity of the base materials so that when you take off half the liquid, you still have a fairly thickish sauce to get on with for the casserole. If you put in potatoes, peas carrots and or Broccoli it will thicken of its own accord as you reduce it gently on a slow fire. You could have even put a bit of the base aside before putting the water in case the you go over the top with the cooking time and you want those lovely pepper cuts and onion bits to stand out against the potatoes etc. You simply add it at the end and you will achieve your colourful results. Now you have a meat and vegetable stew or casserole to make any earthenware plate to look the part and into which you can dip some very appreciative crusty farm bread or better still, whole meal or dark rye for plenty of the fibre the body always needs.
Remember, there is no way you are going to make it all taste good and use your intelligence if you rush it. If in doubt, remove from heat and work it out. That base is going to turn into a sauce and the ingredients will probably dissolve in it which is normal, but you must make sure that your meat and your vegetables are tender. You can always, if you like, boil your meats gently and separately before you put them into the fry-up base. Many people prefer the soft juicy boiled meats which also absorb and allow the blending of the base sauce instead of the simmering for longer periods in it to achieve a slightly different result.
Lesson to be learnt …… there are many ways of doing the same thing but all are different in one way or another. Cook separately and then finish them off together or cook together and add them at different times. It needs little or no experience to understand what is going on but always with gentle heat on your side. Leave those flaming spectacles and feverish whisking to the restaurant people. We have seen enough in those Ramsey workouts to shrivel up at the thought. Making sure it all looks and tastes right.
You now hopefully have a nice chicken or meat casserole (try dark turkey chunks one day) and even after having tapped plenty of the watering sauce with a scoopful of vegetables, put in the blender and watch it turn into a thick delicious soup. It can be brownie red or yellow depending on whether you put tomatoes in or curcuman in the base sauce originally.
If you put potatoes in your potatoes in the casserole and are already too well done to allow for more cooking, – simply get some standard breadcrumbs packs (usually flavoured with garlic and parsley) and put in as much as you need to thicken the sauce. You can also scoop out one or two whole potatoes or chunks mash them and lace them into the mix. It will all thicken as it cools.
You can eat a large portion of this quite easily and if you do not want to be tempted to play piggy, serve less with some fresh pasta or simple boiled rice.
I did not mention salt in all this, simply because if you as much as put it too much you kill it all. A very small amount whilst cooking to bring out the flavours is fine, but you can season to taste at the end of it all. And now for that soup.
I am a happy hearty eater and therefore I do not care if my soup tastes like my main course, but it is perhaps not advisable to do it like that. You have a bowl full of tasty very reddish or brownish watery sauce which you drained off the casserole at an early stage of the game. Now you can do what you like with it. It will have some of meat flavor but you can still make wonders with it. You can change the colour and the taste simply by adding different things to it.
If the main casserole is chicken or turkey, then perhaps a bit of a fishy soup could be interesting. All you have to do is get a few chunks of fish or prawns with their skin on and boil them thoroughly in the soup with a couple of potatoes so that you can mash them in to give it all a bit of body. If you have not put celery or broccoli in your main course, you can boil it all into the soup and when tender, pass it through the blender. I often throw in half a cupful of plain cooked chickpeas you will find in any supermarket which will then give your soup a new golden look and a very definite elegant taste. You could even sprinkle a bit of Oregon and some grated cheese on top, but if you put the prawns in forget the cheese. Remember that the base liquid already has enough flavour so the odd pinch of one thing or another should not turn into an assault.
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