Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thoughts & Tips on Cooking

Learning to cook at an early age
I owe my mom a huge debt of gratitude for teaching me to cook at a young age with a sense of adventure.  I’m comfortable cooking without a recipe and rarely have an inedible outcome – maybe twice in twenty years?  My sisters and I always helped when my mom made meals, and she was terrific at delegating age appropriate tasks to the three of us.

I have memories of making French toast at the age of seven.  It was a favorite of mine, and learning to make it allowed me to have it whenever I wanted.  My sisters and I made large breakfasts as a regular weekend morning routine at a young age.  We were curious about foods and would attempt recipes for fun.  My mom was on hand to answer questions but she didn't hover, and she allowed us a lot of autonomy in the kitchen. 

When I was ten my mom bought a fabulous International cookbook.  I think it was by Betty Crocker, and it opened a whole new world of cooking to us.  Our family cooking experience making won tons was a hit even though we tripled the batch when the amount of filling in the recipe didn't seem like enough.  We had won tons out our ears!  From that book we made so many dishes that were exotic and new to us.  Foods that are commonplace and available in most towns now, we had never experienced.  We trusted the photos, followed the recipes, and traveled the globe with our taste buds.

Cooking is a creative and artistic endeavor for me.  In my adult life I've gone through phases of experimenting and mastering (at a nonprofessional level) making chocolate truffles, specialty cakes, pies, soups, and breads. I love purchasing what looks fresh and delicious at a market and then deciding what to do with it when I get home. 

This background has developed my skills and confidence in creating meal options with a limited diet.  I see many online posts by people that are fearful they won’t know what to eat if they have food limitations. Knowing how to cook, use kitchen tools and experiment with food makes limitations an adventure I can embrace, not fear.   Thanks, Mom!

In support of multitasking
Doing more than one thing at a time is usually very inefficient, but for me cooking is the exception to the rule.  Tonight I made my dinner and all of tomorrow’s meals in 30 minutes.  With fresh ingredients, baked sweet potato, and ground turkey with onion and garlic leftover from batch cooking a couple days ago, I made food that I like, is healthy for me and can be eaten immediately or within minutes tomorrow.  The meals are:
Dinner tonight: Seasoned halibut with sautéed zucchini and sweet potato
Breakfast: Salmon and a green smoothie
Lunch: Halibut and a green smoothie
Dinner: Ground turkey, zucchini and sweet potato
Snacks (not pictured): Carrot sticks, fresh fruit and water

It saves a huge amount of time in the morning when I’m having trouble getting going to be able to avoid deciding what to eat, making it and cleaning the kitchen.  It also front loads tasks that I want to do but may not have the energy for later.  Certainly putting less effort in and getting more out conserves my energy for other fun tasks.

The details:  I put the salmon and halibut in the same pan to cook while I washed and cut up the zucchini and smoothie fruits and vegetables.  Once the fish was done, I removed it and added the zucchini to the same pan.  While the veggies cooked I assembled the turkey and sweet potato meal.  I blended the green smoothies and poured them into glasses.  By then the zucchini was half done and ready to add some to the turkey dish for reheating tomorrow.  I added the cooked sweet potato to remaining half of the zucchini in the pan to heat up.  A couple minutes later all was done and ready to serve.  Total time from start to finish was 28 minutes!

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  If you remember only one thing from this blog, I bet it’s this.  Simon and Garfunkle taught me how to remember seasoning poultry with their song, “Scarborough Fair / Canticle.” Sing along with me:
Are you going to Scarborough Fair:
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine…
Every time I season poultry, I mentally sing the chorus to this song.  It’s relaxing and a bit meditative.  And this mix is delicious on any savory dish, not just poultry.

Always make extra:
Leftovers are king.  And a lot of meals taste better the next day, cold or hot.

Cutting up vegetables and putting half in a saute pan for dinner and the other half in a lidded dish for tomorrow’s salad takes half the time of making each meal separately.  And you only have to clean dishes once!

Knife skills
Taking a knife skills class was one of the best experiences I've undertaken to improve my cooking skills.  I took the class with a friend a few years ago at a cooking store at University Village in Seattle.  The instructor taught us all about quality knives, what type of knife to use for cutting different foods, cutting boards, how to properly use a knife and push food to the cutting knife, and different cutting methods for all types of vegetables.  If I haven’t lost you or bored you yet, great! 

Here’s the sales pitch:  Food tastes and looks better or worse depending on how you cut it.  A stew with huge hunks of vegetables and meat doesn't taste as good to me as one with smaller vegetables and meat that allow more than one item in a soup on your spoon.  A chiffonade of lettuce tastes better on a taco.  Vegetables with differing textures and sizes can cook in the same pan and finish at the same time, saving pans and cleaning time. And learning to use a knife well saves money on specialty kitchen gadgets, NOT that I’m opposed to kitchen gadgets.  See my post on My Latest Kitchen Love…

1 comment:

  1. As someone who's eaten your food, I can attest to the fact that you're a genius in the kitchen. Whenever I try to recreate leftovers, I always say that it's "Stacie Inspired." I love the memories of mom and your childhood, thank you for sharing.