Thursday, January 26, 2012

Technique 101: Boiling Water

image credit: Sterlic via Flickr
Okay... I know this sounds totally simple, but I promised I was starting basic. This is about as basic as it gets.

Get a pot where you can put all your water in it and still have 2/3rds to 3/4ths of room left at the top. You're going to add things to this, remember. When in doubt, use a bigger pot.

Now, here's where this gets a little technical and annoying: don't use hot water from your tap. I know, I know, it seems like it'd take less time to get to boiling if it's already hot when you start, but the thing is, you never want to use water from the tap for consumption or cooking that is hot. It actually carries lead and other built-up gunk from inside your pipes. Instead, run your water on cold for 20-30 seconds, then fill your pot.

Then just turn on your stove, all the way on high -- it's okay, you can turn it down when it's going.
Here's the thing about boiling too: it happens at different temperatures depending on your altitude. Around 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, around 203 degrees up here where I am, at almost 5000 feet. But because no one expects you to use a thermometer, know that a simmer is some little bubbles and slight movement, slow boil is some large bubbles, and a real or "rolling" boil is, well, giant, fast bubbles, "rolling" water, and it keeps bubbling WHILE you stir it.

Learn about how long it takes to boil on your stove, because while a watched pot is a safe one (and yes, it will eventually boil), most people don't hang out right in front of their stove while waiting, and once it's boiling, it'll start to evaporate quick. And if you have cheaper pots that have the coil glued on the bottom and your pot boils dry, you can melt the bonding glue... then you pick up your pot, the hot coils fall off onto your kitchen rug and catches your kitchen on fire, which your husband has to put out while you stand there gaping like an idiot.

Not that I'd know or anything... *cough*

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Sharp Knives

Cooking can be hard. In fact, it can be infuriating. Especially when you don't have the right tools. But unlike other blogs or chefs, I'm not going to tell you to run out and spend tons of money -- I promise. In fact, I'm cheap. With cheap, comes, well, cheap things. But first thing's first... you know what sucks worse than trying to chop through an acorn squash by doing motion like you're wielding an axe? Doing it with a crappy knife.

I had a big set of 20 knives, in one of the wooden blocks. Steak knives, paring knives, giant knives... and you know what? It wasn't worth it. Sure, steak knives are handy for individual place settings, but I found that all those different knives people recommend for so many different tasks really just gave me a headache.

I know I said I have three. The other is dirty. So what?
Instead, after one trip to my mom's, I used her santoku knife. Santoku knives are the "general purpose" knife in Japan, and now in my house too. I have three... and I stopped using other knives. Two were a little expensive for my tastes ($15 and $20) but the third is flimsier but still does its job beautifully and cost $7 at a grocery store. You don't have to pay big for good results.

 So, these THREE knives replace my huge, $40 knife set. But I said I wasn't going to try to sell you on certain things -- I'm not.

The most important thing about your knives is that they are very SHARP.  

After using my poor quality and very dull knives, then switching to these, which are very, very sharp, cooking suddenly became a hell of a lot easier, less frustrating, and even at times, enjoyable.

In fact, you will cry less chopping onions if your knife is very sharp because you won't smash the cells that release the gas that burns your eyes. So it's a win-win.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just How "From Scratch" Are We Talking?

image credit: pressurechief_redux on Flickr
If you're wondering if this blog is going to help you, ask yourself two questions:
  1. Do you base your success on whether or not something is edible?
  2. Do you find most recipes to be confusing?
If you answer 'yes' to those, either or both, then yeah, this blog will help you. A little background -- my friends literally did gauge my cooking progress by how long it had been since I'd burned something... and it was a good gauge, to be honest.

We used to spend around $800 a month on food for the two of us, at Super Wal-Mart in Georgia. Because honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, bought almost all prepackaged foods and ingredients, because the idea of cooking even a premade meal was kind of daunting. I made nothing from scratch.

My parents bought me a book when I first got married called 'Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen' which claimed to have "foolproof" recipes. They are basic. I'm talking, instructions on how to do a baked potato. Sad thing? I needed those directions, and referred to them frequently. But amongst those simple instructions were also recipes that I feel were a little too advanced for the target audience, and that there were some basics, like chopping an onion, that were overlooked. It seems like common sense, but to someone who's never done it, it can be daunting... and when you cut an onion wrong, it can make you cry -- literally. So, that's where I'm starting. The SUPER basics. I'll mix in recipes and other things along the way, but I'll make sure that I'm not overlooking people who start where I did.

I do shop healthy. Well, not as healthy as some, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is frightening to me. If something comes up where I am talking about specific ingredients I avoid, brands, or whatnot, I'll mention why, but in general, that's going to be your own preference -- no lectures, I swear.

Please feel free to ask questions, give friendly advice, or make suggestions along the way as well!