Posts tagged ‘from scratch’

January 30, 2018

Back to Basics in the Kitchen

We often talk about cooking here as if you’ve been cooking all your life, but today we’re going to get back to basics. While my mom didn’t cook much when I was growing up, my grandmother did. I spent enough time cooking fresh food and baking from scratch to feel comfortable with the tools and the terms. That’s not true for everyone my age and certainly not for everyone my kids’ age.

In some circles cooking has come to mean popping a packaged meal in the microwave or heating precooked entrees or vegetables in the oven. I’ve seen posts in which a description of baking from “scratch” included a cake mix.

Reducing the amount of prepackaged, convenience foods you eat can help lessen your consumption of chemical additives, sodium, manufactured fats, and sugar. It also means you may have to perform a few additional “cooking” related tasks.
eggshells
If you’re not familiar with cooking terminology, translating a recipe into a dish may seem daunting. Removing some of the mystery can help you get past the feeling that you can’t cook because you don’t even know what the words in the instructions mean. Today, let’s explore some basic cooking terms and techniques so you can be on your way to becoming a great cook!

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to prepare a wide variety of foods for boiling, steaming, baking or broiling. Peeling, slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing only require a knife. But what are they?
Definitions:
Peel – Remove the outside skin from vegetables or fruits.
Slice – Cut a thick or thin, flat piece of something like fruit, vegetable, bread, or meat.
Chop – Cut food into irregular pieces of similar size to each other. Chopped pieces are typically larger than diced or minced.
Dice – Cut food into cubes between 1/8″ and 1/2″ in size. If size is not specified, use 1/4″
Mince – Mincing is like dicing, but the pieces are smaller.

When preparing vegetables and fruits, you’ll use these techniques over and over again.

Sometimes you may not want a cooked or raw vegetable to retain its shape at all. You can then use a food chopper or processor to grind or purée it. Grinding reduces the food to tiny particles. Puréeing means the food is processed until it’s smooth. You don’t have to have an electronic appliance to do this. A cooked vegetable can be mashed, then put through a sieve to create a purée.

Once you’ve prepped vegetables and meats, you may want to add heat in order to boil, steam, sauté, bake, broil, roast, grill, or braise.
Definitions
Boil – To submerge in a boiling liquid at or above the boiling point of water.
Steam – To place food above boiling water in a pot or pan using some kind of rack or basket and a cover so that steam cooks the food.
Sauté – To cook a food quickly in oil and/or butter over high heat.
Bake – To cook using dry heat in an oven or on heated metal or stones.
Broil – To cook quickly using high heat from above the food.
Roast – To cook using dry heat with a temperature of at least 300 in an environment in which hot air from an open flame, oven or other heat source envelops the food, cooking it evenly on all sides.
Grill – To cook directly over live, high heat flames.
Braise – To cook slowly in a small amount of liquid in a covered container in the oven or on a burner.
Brown – To give a cooked surface to meat or flour. Also to turn a brown color in the oven.

Sometimes you’ll want to parboil, blanch, simmer, scald or blend.
Definitions
Parboil – To briefly boil in water until food begins to soften.
Blanch – To briefly place food in boiling water, then immediately move it into cold water. 
Simmer – To cook in liquid at a temperature just below a boil. 
Scald – Refers to both dipping into boiling water, and heating milk to just below the boiling point.
Blend – To mix ingredients together thoroughly often using a beater, mixer, or blender.

You may be instructed to dot a casserole with butter before baking it, or to baste a turkey while it roasts. If so, here’s what to do:
Definitions
Dot – Cover the top with small pieces of butter.
Baste – Spoon, brush or pour drippings or liquid over a food before or during cooking.

When you begin baking from scratch, you’ll commonly see instructions to sift, mix, cut in, whisk, flour, fold, and knead so let’s prepare for that:
Definitions
From Scratch – To make from the very beginning without using already prepared ingredients.
Sift – Use a device made of a metal cup with a screen at the bottom that contains a mechanism to force the flour through the mesh.
Mix – Combine items to form one mass.
Cut In – Work solid fat into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until evenly distributed.
Whisk – Beat or stir with a whisk.
Flour – To dust a pan the shortening in a prepared baking pan with flour.
Fold – To delicately incorporate one substance into another substance without releasing air bubbles.
Knead – To work a dough by mixing, stretching, and pulling with the fingers and mashing with the heel of the hand.
grate
Other common actions are grating, whipping, and garnishing. Let’s explore those terms:
Grate – To rub firm food on a tool with small, rough, sharp-edged holes grater to create small pieces.
Whip – To beat vigorously to incorporate air and cause expansion.
Garnish – To decorate a dish with something attractive and flavorful.

Now for the important question – Can we use these terms to make a great snack for the Super Bowl?

Of course we can! It’s winter. Let’s make chili!

Chili Sallie
Serves 8

1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 fire roasted sweet peppers, seeds removed, diced
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
3 1/2 – 4 cups tomato juice
1/3 cup stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions
Sauté onion in olive oil in large pan until translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Add the jalapeño and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add red peppers and ground beef to the pan and brown. Once beef is browned, sprinkle with chili powder and stir until all the meat turns red. Add beans, 3 1/2 cups tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, and the balance of the spices.  

Stir and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Add the balance of the tomato juice if needed as the chili cooks down.
Serve hot.
chili
Now that you have a guide to more than 30 common cooking terms and have had a chance to see them as they appear in a recipe, you can build on this knowledge as you gain experience and confidence.

Never feel bad about having to look something up. Many chefs have used books and kitchen experience to become successful. And remember, you don’t have to be a chef to be a great cook!

November 14, 2016

Hosting Thanksgiving is Easy

Hosting Thanksgiving is easy when you set intentions. Are the holidays really right around the corner? They must be because I’m sitting here planning my Thanksgiving menu. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an all out Thanksgiving production and I’m wondering just how big it should be?

I know the point of the holiday is not the food, but I always look forward to a table full of freshly made dishes that I prepare only once a year. There’s no crossover between my Thanksgiving and Christmas menus because we celebrate Christmas with breakfast rather than dinner. Just thinking about that makes me want a steamy hot biscuit with strawberry jelly, but that’s beside the point.
biscuits
Or maybe it’s not. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that we long for most – my Aunt Opal’s cherry pie, my grandmother’s beef and noodles, my mother’s cinnamon rolls made from canned biscuits. For you it may be the chicken soup your mom fixed when you were under the weather, or the grilled cheese sandwich she grilled with butter and served with tomato soup.

Obviously, it’s cliché to say that food tastes better when it’s made with love, but any dining experience is enhanced when the food is made by someone who cares how we feel; someone who shows up for Thanksgiving with a pie because they like to spend time with us; someone who hopes to bring us comfort. Offering and sharing food is one of the ways we express love beginning the first moment we hold our babies close to feed them.

There’s a scene in the movie “The Blind Side” that shows the Tuohy family focused on football and TV rather than each other on Thanksgiving Day until they realize their house guest Michael Oher is sitting at their dining table by himself. Seeing him there as alone at their table as he is in life, they are moved to gather around and share the meal with him. This sharing enriches the family and the bond they are forming with Michael. It’s a great illustration that we inherently understand breaking bread is an action affirming trust, confidence, comfort, and acceptance within a group.

For the host, a holiday meal, or any family gathering, is a delicate balancing act. If you go all out cooking for days making everything from scratch and no one seems to notice, it can be disheartening. If you go to a restaurant because you’d rather focus on the family than the food, you risk the ridicule of someone who thinks you’re being lazy or don’t care about family traditions. Which brings me back to the decision at hand. How large should I make this Thanksgiving’s production?

No matter what I’m deciding, I like to start by settling on some intentions. I’ve done this enough to recognize that my intentions will automatically reflect my priorities, so setting intentions and determining priorities are a simultaneous process (there’s a time saver right there). Setting intentions rather than goals gives me a path to feel successful even if the soufflé collapses and the pie crust is soggy.

So, what are my intentions for Thanksgiving?

I’m going to start with being kind to myself. That looks like not doing too much. It’s not unusual for me to work so hard to provide for other people that I feel worn out, so I have to be deliberate in my intent to prevent over-doing. Luckily, my sister has offered to bring dessert and rather than ask for pie, I asked for pie and cake. My daughter-in-law’s parents will also be joining us. Her mom offered to bring two vegetables. Instead of trying to make it easier for her by limiting it to one, I happily accepted the offer.

Next, I intend to make a workable timeline so I’m not rushing and flustered at the end. If I’m in a panic to get things done, I’ll be irritable and unable to enjoy my guests. Today I’ll review my menu and determine what can be done in advance and when I will do it. For the past two months, my now 4-month-old grandson has spent two to three days a week with me. When he’s here my work time is limited because he needs lots of tummy tickling. He’ll be here this week and next week, so a timeline is even more critical than in past years.

I intend to scale the menu to fit the time available. If that means there’s no pecan pie or fewer leftovers, then so be it. It won’t be the end of the world, and it won’t cause me to feel as though I’ve let anyone down.

I intend to tailor the menu to my guests’ dietary needs. There are only 8 of us this year, so I’ve had a chance to poll everyone to make sure each person will have plenty of options on the table. I have a friend who keeps a set of index cards noting the dietary restrictions and food dislikes of her close friends and family. As her guest, this makes a gathering easy to enjoy and I appreciate the thoughtfulness.

I intend to make everything from scratch. I am not suggesting that you should do this. For me, it means the food is more delicious and automatically free of preservatives, coloring, stabilizers, and artificial flavors. It also means I can control the amount of sodium and fat and be confident that everything is gluten-free.
table
I intend to make the table-setting beautiful, but simple. Using my grandmother’s tablecloth, real china, and beautiful serving pieces means candles or a simple bouquet will be all I need to add. Even though I can’t put china in the dishwasher, I like to use it for holidays plus I intend to let my kids wash the dishes. On years when I’ve had 25 guests, I’ve been known to sit the china atop folding tables covered in brown kraft paper scattered with crayons. Hey, I like weird juxtaposition and I have a lot of china.

I intend to be present in the moment once the guests arrive. Enjoying the company is more important than the food, the table, or the mess I just left in the kitchen. My dining room is separate from the kitchen so no one has to look at cluttered countertops while we’re eating.

I intend to make time for yoga and rest on Friday before driving to share leftovers with extended family.

I intend to make a list of things for which I’m grateful. It’s been a difficult and emotionally exhausting year. Remembering that even such a year has brought many things for which I’m thankful is a great way to refocus my energy on the positive.

With these intentions, I feel confident I’ll have a great Thanksgiving. My food may not be perfect. My front porch may not get swept. There may be a drop of dough on top of the stove or flour on the floor. None of that will matter. I will be able to let it go and focus on gratitude.

If you’re feeling dread or pressure about hosting Thanksgiving, consider setting intentions to make it easier. I can tell you from experience, it makes a huge difference for me.