Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cooking 101

It has come to my attention that too many young people in this world do not know how to cook.
No, cooking does not include microwaving easy mac (although some people can’t even figure out that you need to put in water before you microwave it (*cough* *cough* Collins 2nd floor) so I am going to comprise a few cooking 101 rules, recipes and just some common sense.

1. Boxed Meals and Desserts

Please, please, please just read the directions. Boxed meals were made for soccer moms, college students and other cooking challenged individuals on a tight budget/schedule.

From brownies to hamburger helper, cooking from a box is pretty easy. All you need is a few fresh ingredients like water, oil, milk or meat, stir it all together and voila! you have yourself some pretty decent food.

            “Homemade brownies”—to make these seem like you didn’t just make these from a boring box and actually have some cooking skills, add other things like chocolate chips or walnuts, or before you put them in the oven squeeze some caramel sauce in lines and then use a fork and make cool designs like this:

You can also frost them after they cool. Tip: use a plastic knife instead of a butter or steak knife, your cuts will come out cleaner!

            Hamburger helper. Brown the meat FIRST. Do not just put all the ingredients in a giant skillet or you will get a greasy soupy mess. Browning hamburger is pretty much just cooking it until all the crumbles are brown and look like this:

Pretty simple. You don’t need to add any oil or butter because the fat from the hamburger will cook out and make its own “nonstick” liquid. After you brown the meat, drain out the grease in an empty can (not a beer can, unless you cut the top off that is going to be really messy. I would use a soup can.) DO NOT pour it down the drain. Basic chemistry lesson: the compounds in grease will solidify at room temperature or colder, aka the drain, and clog it up and then you will have to stare at a butt crack for the next 4 hours.

2. Pasta

Making pasta is probably one of the easiest and cheapest “real” meals you can make, and unless you are feeding a house full of boys it will probably last you a couple days. Everyone knows what spaghetti is, but my other favorites are penne, shells and the corkscrew pasta.
Here are the basics for boiling water: Get a big pot. Put a strainer in the sink. Fill the pot more than halfway but not quite ¾ way with water. Add a little salt. Turn on the burner. Watch it. Or at least be in the same room. Wait until the bubbles break the surface because if not, once you add the pasta, it’s going to stop boiling. When you are at a rolling boiling, kind of looks like river rapids, add the pasta, just pour it in, turn down the burner a little and separate the noodles with a fork or one of those fancy pasta scoopers which I doubt you have. You can put the lid on or not, I usually don’t because that fosters boiling over. Cook according to the package and then use oven mitts (Steam is hotter than you think) and drain. Rinse with cold water if you’d like.
Meanwhile…Get a saucepan and pour some marinara or alfredo sauce in or microwave it in a microwavable bowl. If you want to be fancy you can chop and sauté (that is cooking stuff in oil/butter over medium/low heat in a skillet) some mushrooms and onions and then put that in the sauce. Or see the hamburger helper section and put in browned meat.

Grate some cheese on top and some oregano/parsley/basil if you wanna be fancy…

It is also great for leftovers, just heat it up the next day or two or eat it cold. You can even put it in a sandwich. 

3. The Power of Bisquick

Bisquick is your best friend. You can make pancakes, waffles, biscuits, strawberry shortcake, and even fried chicken. The recipes are on the back of the box which is great! I recommend substituting buttermilk for milk in the pancakes and biscuits and especially trying the cheese-garlic biscuits but adding fresh garlic and chives into the mix instead of just brushing garlic butter on top. Also, make the drop biscuits because they are so much easier and quicker and you can just scoop the batter out with a spoon.They won't look like the picture but no one will care because they will taste fantastic.

4. Gourmet salads.
You may want to stick with iceberg lettuce and ranch if you are a picky eater.
lettuce: romaine, mesclun, spinach, arugula, kale
nuts/seeds: walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.
dried fruit: dried cranberries, cherries, etc.
fresh fruit: blueberries, strawberries, mangoes, mandarin oranges, apples, etc.
cheese: gorgonzola, gruyere, blue cheese, feta
other veggies: tomatoes, avocado, carrots, red onions
meat: grilled sliced chicken, salmon, shrimp
dressings: balsamic vinaigrette, raspberry vinaigrette, Italian, poppy seed vinaigrette

I would pretty much just pick one from each category although you can experiment with your favorites. 
Here are some examples:
         -Mesculin and spinach with blackberries, nectarines, hazelnuts, feta and raspberry vinaigrette.
         -Romaine with salmon, sliced almonds, gruyere, apples and balsamic vinaigrette.
Congratulations. Now you have a spaghetti dinner with cheesy garlic biscuits, salad and brownies for dessert! Your friends will think you are a chef and thank you for filling their tummies with something other than ramen or cafeteria food.

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