This is the first two chapters. Please tell me if I have the tone right. Next I’ll post some actual recipes and meal suggestions.
Nobody Taught Me to Cookbook
Chapter 1 – What we shall accomplish with this book.
Many of my male friends don’t know how to cook. They were unwelcome in the kitchen, or taught it wasn’t their place, or even worse it was women’s work. Sometimes that even implied it was a lesser skill. Your opinion of its importance goes up the hungrier you are.
If you are wealthy you can hire a cook or you can afford to eat out whenever you wish. There are however times no matter how wealthy you are that you don’t want to leave your home to eat. There are times when you are sick or you just don’t want to get dressed and venture forth. There are times you come in late or wake up in the night and even the ultra wealthy rarely have a chef on duty 24 hours unless they live in a full service hotel.
In economic hard times you may not be able to afford restaurant food. Or you may prefer to spend the money on something else, like a sailboat or your dream trip to Mongolia.
Whatever your reason there is no excuse for doing anything poorly. It is unnecessary to suffer badly prepared food. You don’t have to be a professional chef with the ability to prepare delicate sauces and make exotic pastries that take hours of layering and rolling or rising and kneading. Some really good food can be made very simply.
What this book intends to do is give you the basic tools both to feed yourself and know that you can cook for a guest without being embarrassed at what you produce. It has two elements. Some very basic common sense advice about cooking and a limited selection of recipes that look to produce quality foremost yet are not complicated.
Buy it in desperation or for your friend in college or for your teenager when you emancipate them and change the locks. It may also help the newly widowed, divorced or impoverished. It is not meant to teach you exotic fancy dishes such as you see in ‘coffee table’ photo books.
Chapter 2 – The basic equipment needed to cook.
Despite all the ads in women’s magazines and displays at department stores you do not need a separate specialized pan for every dish known to humanity. I have made scrambled eggs in a sauce pan and made soup in a six quart chicken cooker.
You would do well to have a measuring cup set for dry measures and a cup for liquid measure. A large cup with a spout for pouring is handy – say about three cups. If you use metric measures that makes life a little easier as it is just volume.
A cup is a cup. If you pour a cup in a spouted measuring cup and read the level against the line just perfectly,(yes there is a trick to that), then when you pour it in a dry measuring cup it will fill it up exactly. I don’t intend to offer any recipes here that are so fussy it matters if you have measured out a cup or 95/100ths cup. In some cooking it matters. Cakes for example can go terribly wrong if you measure one ingredient off just a bit. If you get to the point you are doing such advanced cooking you will probably want to weigh your ingredients that may settle. Dry measure cups are easier to fill with flour or sugar and draw a knife across the top to get a close enough measure. Fluids are easier to measure in a glass cup with lines to see the level and extra space above to not slosh out and lose some on the way to the bowl or pan.
However fluid ounces may confuse non-cooks because they have nothing to do with the ounces that are fractions of a pound. Just be aware of their existence if you go looking in old cookbooks or your grandma’s recipe files. There are 8 fl. Oz. in a cup.
You can cook a wide range of things with a fry pan, and a sauce pan. Both need lids. Having large and small is handy, but if you don’t have room or money for both obviously you can fry one egg in a twelve inch fry pan, but you can’t scramble six in a tiny four inch pan.
Non-stick is nice. They are getting better steadily too, but I still consider a non-stick pan perishable. I am careful not to use sharp hard spoons or spatulas in mine and wash them by hand, but they still only last a few years. If you buy a cast iron skillet you may very well leave it to your grandchildren.
If you go with non-stick look on the internet sites where they have reviews and see which currently for sale have good reviews.
If you go with cast iron I suggest when you do the initial seasoning you use flax seed oil. It simply works better. If you can’t find it in a bottle buy some gel caps and cut them open. If you ever need to strip the seasoning off to start over all the soap and water in the world won’t beat a spray can of automotive brake cleaner. Use it outside and don’t get it on your skin or breath it. Heat the pan thoroughly to drive off the solvents before seasoning.
I know lots of people like bare stainless or aluminum cookware. I’d sooner try to change somebody’s religion or political affiliation than tell them their Wonder-Ware Waterless stuff is the pits. It works but I find it tends to have things stick or burn much more.
You may wish to have one large pot, bigger than a sauce pan for soups and stews if you cook for a group or cook ahead for several meals. If you intend to cook pasta you need a cheap colander which lets you drain the pasta out of the boiling water. They make little strainers you can hold on the lip of the pot – but they always looked like an invitation to a burn ward to me. The colander is also handy working in a sink to rinse berries and vegetables. It is better to have a pot sized to your larger burner on your stove and deep rather than wide. A deep stock type pot can also be used for deep frying small portions. Filled no more than a third with oil it won’t froth over when fresh items are lowered (never tossed) in.
I also keep a cheap ribbed grill pan I found at Wal-Mart for searing lines in steaks or chicken breasts. It is anodized aluminum and I never scrub it with anything to expose the bare metal, just a plastic brush after a good soaking. It is stained and has carbon residue, and is warped from using on high and nasty looking but it still works fine.
You obviously need something to work with in the pan or skillet. You need a spatula for flipping solid things over, a spoon for mixing and stirring, and a slotted spoon for removing solids from liquid.
A pair of tongs are very handy and inexpensive. They can be used to handle odd shaped things like chicken wings that are hard to get under and balance on a spatula. When you go to flip a wing over while broiling them and propel one off into the rear corner of a hot oven you’ll appreciate tongs that grab hold. They are also useful for grabbing things in a deep pot where it is hard to get under them like a crab or dumplings.
With those few items you can do a great deal. The only other item I’d suggest considering as basic for a new cook is a crock-pot or slow cooker. They come anywhere from tiny pint size to huge tubs suitable for cooking for a gathering. Buy according to how many you will be serving, usually from a quart to six quarts, figuring a quart as a large serving. Most working men can eat a quart of chili or stew as the big meal of the day. A woman or office worker may have a third of that. Of course leftovers are sometimes desirable. They avoid cooking twice.
A microwave is useful. They have become somewhat expected in most kitchens. But they take up a lot of room and it basically is a time saver to quickly reheat for most cooks.
I’m not going to go into coffee pots, brewers and teapots. That is worthy of a book of its own. You can make coffee in a sauce pan if you need to. Boil water remove the heat and dump the coffee in. You’ll need to filter the grounds out. Coffee filter papers are cheap. That will require a strainer to hold which is handy for other things.
You will want a couple knives and a cutting board. Don’t get a wooden cutting board. They are never entirely clean and they split and stain. Get a cheap plastic one. The clear ones look good in the store. That doesn’t last long.
If you don’t have the money buy a cheap knife. It will make everything harder, but you can save and buy a good one later. Unless you luck out in the second hand shop a good knife is going to be expensive. The sort they have in big box stores and department stores are rarely of good steel. A knife with a hollow ground face is almost always inferior. You want a thin, flat sided knife that tapers all the way from the back to the cutting edge. It should have carbon in the steel even if it is stainless. It should feel good to your hand and you should be able to get the blade against the cutting board without hitting your knuckles on the board. A really sharp knife makes everything easier. You do need to respect it and cut away from yourself. You don’t throw it in a silverware drawer waiting to cut you unseen.
You can get into all sorts of exotic sharpening systems. But the sharpeners with flat steel washers you draw a knife through are only good for the cheap soft knives. Grinding slots in can openers and such are gimmicks to sell can openers. A steel is basically a file that has teeth running long ways. They rust and they wear out quickly. Get a diamond covered rod shaped like a steel. They work.
A medium sized knife , say eight inches long, will do everything if need be. It can be used for slicing meat and dicing vegetables. It is a little too big to peel potatoes or apples, but it can be done. If you can’t afford a paring knife you can buy a potato peeler with a floating blade for about two dollars. They are handy to peel carrots and other things too. A paring knife is nice for small work. A bigger chef’s knife may be neat looking in the store, and great for slicing a head of lettuce or cabbage and it will stand in for a bread knife, but most of the time you don’t really need it. And if it is quality that big of a knife will likely be a day’s wages.
As for dishes and silverware and such I only have brief advice. If you plan to use dishes in the microwave fancy metal trim will not work. The microwave generates electric currents in such trim and they arc, heat up enough to damage the china, and turn dull and black.
Cheap stoneware is fine, but it is heavy, chips easy and you will often find it impossible to buy extra pieces when you break a piece. Fiestaware is an exception to that.
China sets are lighter, may be priced low in a set but not be replaceable and break easier. Any China that has open stock will be expensive.
Ceramic glass like Corelle® is very hard to break, moderate in price and if you buy the plain it is easy to get replacement pieces and extras in lots of sizes.
Almost everybody uses stainless utensils. Remember that a plain smooth design is easier to wash than deeply embossed fancy designs.
If you can afford real silver I’m jealous. Growing up I noticed that our upper middle class relatives had all matching silverware. Our really poor relations had a hodgepodge of all sorts of styles and brands and put them on the table mixed. Sometimes the dishes too.
A good place to get both stainless and plain dishes at a reasonable cost is a restaurant supply company. Specialty stores are always more expensive.
It is possible to get cheap small appliances such as self-heating skillets, coffee makers, slow cookers and even microwaves and bread makers at thrift stores and personal sales.
Even if you do not have a real kitchen in a room, a dorm or efficiency apartment you can do quite well with a two burner adjustable electric hot pad and plug in appliances.
A crock-pot is also easy to use without a huge work area. A small toaster oven may be as useful as a microwave once you have skills, but can be challenging to clean.
Pots and dishes can be washed in a plastic tub in your bathroom if you don’t have a sink. However don’t think you can cook in a hotel room or dorm and hide the fact. If you leave a crock-pot running on low all day with a small roast and carrots and potatoes everyone on at least the same floor of your building will be aware somebody is cooking. It’s about as likely you can hide it as an affection for cigars or your pet skunk.