23 November 2005

Informal Rules of the kitchen

Some simple things to establish before we jump into the cooking itself. I'll have more of these in the future, but for now we'll start light.

1. Fresh beats frozen and canned 95% of the time.

Sure, mid-January supermarket blahs don't allow for much fresh spinach. But when fresh is available, pick that. There are a few exceptions, which come up time to time. I use a lot of frozen peas, for example. But that's because shelling peas on a Wednesday night when you've got 45 minutes to cook isn't really feasible. The rest of the time, use fresh.

2. Full fridges make cooking easier

Using fresh means having it on hand. Fill a crisper drawer with vegetables, and use that shelf above it to hold more. Yep, fill that fridge. Fruit goes in the other crisper, and make sure you've got lemons and limes in there at all times.

You'll need jars of stuff at various times, so don't be afraid to have olives, roasted peppers, grandma's relish, four kinds of mustard, some chutney and salsa, three kinds of hot sauce and barbeque sauce all in there at once. If you've got it, you can use it. If not, well, you'll be tempted to order in food made by someone who did have it.

3. Plan ahead

Cooking rice? Start it early. Cooking with raw meat? Chop the other ingredients first, so that you can slice your animal flesh and wash the utensils/cutting board after and be done with it. Don't be afraid to go high-falutin' and set your ingredients up ahead of time in all those lovely rammekins and small bowls you've got. When you're cooking your ingredients, factor in what length of time they all need to cook. Carrots take a while, but snow peas don't. So for pete's sake, don't throw them in the wok at the same time. Know the steps of your meal, your individual dishes, and ingredients. It vastly helps to do a lot of prep ahead of time.

4. Don't be afraid to experiment

This is how you discover the very odd but delicious combinations you'd order in a restaurant, but wouldn't otherwise make at home. Of course it helps to actually pay attention to what you've seen elsewhere, to give you a basis from which to start...but don' t be afraid to throw cranberries in with your pork roast, if you think you'll like them. Want to use sage and marjoram instead of oregano and rosemary? Go for it. Track your alterations, so you know what worked and didn't.

[You may, however, want to save the wild experimentation for non-guest meals. My first risotto was tried out on my wife and sister and two nieces, because I knew that if it was gluey and gross, we could quickly make some white rice and nobody would be disappointed - or at least I could live with it if they were, since they're family. The risotto turned out fine.]

5. Watch and learn. Practice makes perfect. And so on.

Pay attention in restaurants to all of what goes into the dishes they offer. Savour and break down the flavours. And look at everything on the menu - including the stuff you don't like. This helps you learn ingredients, combinations, and compositions.

Cook as much as you have time for. The more you slice the faster you dice. Get familiar with your tools, utensils, and kitchen. Put things in logical places, to minimize the time you're running around. Read up on techniques in cookbooks, so you're not left searching the web for "double boiler" while your chocolate burns on the stove.

6. Good equipment doesn't necessarily make the food better...but it makes cooking easier.

Buy quality knives, and keep them sharp (if you "never need to sharpen" it's not a good knife...nor is the entire set of 7 knives and bonus knife block for $69!). Use thick based pots and pans. Take the time to select quality tools, and take good care of them. They'll make cooking easier, more fun, less dangerous, and yes, ultimately improve your dishes as your skills and confidence grow!

And yes, we'll start cooking soon.

1 comment:

Jeope said...

I only make cookies, so I consider anything I read here henceforth "learning".

Like your idea here, tho'.