Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Omelette

As I said before, the process of making an omelette is like the processes of frying eggs, scrambling eggs, and sautéing. Likewise, the process of making a frittata is like the process of making an omelette (except you don't fold a frittata over, and it's finished in the oven!). It's like an egg food chain. 

Today, I'm going to show you how to make an omelette, what I consider the closet king of breakfast foods. It deserves this title because people marvel at them - when people go out for breakfast, what do they get that's special? Answer: an omelette. It's like your favorite things are swaddled in a warm, soft, egg blanket. They're delicious! However, they're also easy to make. The process of making them is not really that fancy at all, but the product itself is considered fancy. So, here it is: the closet king of breakfast.

To make a basic cheese omelette, you will need:
  • butter or olive oil - 1/2 T
  • eggs - 3
  • cheese - your favorite! I like Monterey Jack. Colby jack, sharp cheddar, extra sharp, whatever cheese you like. Careful, though. Some cheeses like smoked gouda (even extra sharp cheddar) don't melt as easily as other cheeses. Once the eggs are for the most part set, you'll have to turn down the heat real low to avoid overcooking the eggs while the cheese takes its time to melt.
  • salt and pepper 
Note: Please, no Kraft singles or anything. With that said, deli cheese is excellent. Provolone works amazingly because it gets nice and stringy, but please, none of that prepackaged nonsense. Even on a budget, deli cheese gives you more bang for your buck.
The Omelette
Tips:

  • Depending on when during the cooking process you raise the eggs slightly to let the uncooked ones flow to the bottom of the pan, you may need to do it again. Just pick another side until the unfolded omelette looks for the most part clear of all uncooked-ness (if that makes sense).
  • Serve with fresh fruit and toast for a full breakfast you can impress someone with. Then go make another one for yourself!
  • Always experiment with fillings. Go nuts (but don't actually experiment with nuts).


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Fried Egg

When I was beginning to learn how to cook, my favorite thing to eat was eggs. It was my favorite thing to eat because I couldn't cook much else. Well, what really inspired me to start experimenting with my food was the omelette. There is an art to it. Making an omelette teaches certain skills, involves a decent amount of prep-work, and has nearly infinite possibilities for experimentation.

I'm not going to show you omelette art now, though. What is more important is knowing how to fry eggs, scramble eggs, and sauté stuff. Making an omelette (with more fixings than cheese) is somewhere in between all three of those techniques. 

Fried eggs
Frying two eggs starts with melting a half tablespoon of butter or olive oil over medium-low heat in a nonstick frying pan. The butter should only just sizzle when you drop it in the hot pan. Stir the butter around so it coats the surface and wait a few moments while it sets. You'll develop a feel for temperature as you progress. It's almost like sautéing, but sautéed eggs sounds kinda strange. After you do that, you should:
  1. Crack an egg (gently!) on a flat surface. Don't crack it on the side of the pan. It can push egg shell bits into the part of the egg you're about to eat.
  2. Try to drop the eggs into the pan so that they're touching. They should sizzle nicely, like the butter. If they pop and crackle and seem all angry-like, turn down the heat.
  3. While the eggs are still runny, you can cut the thicker parts of the whites around the yolk so everything cooks evenly.
  4. The eggs will tell you when they're done. Ideally, the edges will be the slightest bit browned, and the whites will look opaque and firm. If there are still translucent parts, turn down the heat and place a lid over the pan for about a minute. The steam will cook the rest. Don't let those yolks get firm though! 
  5. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. I also like Old Bay seasoning on mine. 
  6. Pry them loose with a spatula. It should be painless if your pan's in good shape. Or, if you're feeling lucky, (and have a nice non-stick pan) lose the spatula and give the pan a shimmy. Then, dump 'em out on to a plate and serve with toast and/or fresh fruit.
Scrambled Eggs
Scrambling eggs is one of the simplest things you can do to eggs. For one person, it starts with cracking three eggs in a bowl and whisking them together; you can add salt and pepper too. Don't go overboard with the whisking. After that, the process is mostly the same as frying eggs:

  1. Melt a half tablespoon of butter or olive oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium-low-low heat. Scrambled eggs are all about texture, so it's a good idea to have the pan at a slightly lower temperature than for frying eggs. You'll want to cook them more slowly to better monitor their doneness.
  2. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Wait for them to set up the slightest bit before you go stirring them.
  3. Using a spatula, push the edges into the center, continually rotating around the pan. They'll start to bulk up as they cook. Don't let them stay put for too long! Keep 'em moving.
  4. When they are still a tad bit "goopy," but almost done, this is the time to add grated cheese (mmmmm), if you like. Cook them until the cheese is melted, or until the eggs lose the goopiness quality and become just firm.
  5. Serve them like fried eggs and you've got a solid breakfast.
Some notes about nonstick pans:
  • Always use butter or oil, never nonstick cooking spray. The effects of the nonstick cooking spray won't stack with the nonstick pan! Even sprays that claim they are just "olive oil" or "olive oil based" contain certain chemicals that when used over time weaken the special coating on nonstick cookware. 
  • Always use plastic or wooden utensils. They are gentler than metal utensils. You want to make the most of your money and keep your nonstick pans around for as long as possible!
  • Never heat them too high. Medium heat or slightly above it is probably a safe limit. Again, too much heat can make the coating more susceptible to damage.

Sauté
Now, technically you didn't have to know how to sauté anything to make the pasta e fagioli I showed you before. If you did, following the recipe was probably slightly easier for you. Sautéing involves heating a small amount of butter or oil over medium heat to lightly fry things like vegetables or chicken. Like I said, omelettes are better with fixin's, and one of my favorites is peppers and onions. It's simple, all you need to do is dice an onion (red onions are nice, but yellow onions work too), and a bell pepper (green, red, orange, or yellow). Make one cut with the knife to chop the top of the pepper off, once you've rinsed it. It's easier to start from there. Once you have your veggies prepared,

  1. Get that same nonstick pan, or a stainless steel one you have that's the same size. Heat a tablespoon of butter or tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Depending on how much "stuff" you're going to cook, there should only be a light coating of butter or oil on the pan. Sauté is translated to "frying quickly with a little fat."
  2. Use your senses to determine temperature; if the oil starts to spatter, the butter starts to turn brown, or if you smell a kind of unpleasant oily smell, the pan is too hot.
  3. Dump your veggies in. You should hear them sizzle.
  4. Stir them occasionally. You should be able to feel them get softer with the stirring spoon or spatula. Don't let them get too soft, though - they should still have some bite. You can even do a taste test. 
  5. What I would do from here is either store the veggies in a Ziploc container to use in an omelette later, or set the veggies aside on a plate, turn the heat down a bit, add a bit more butter to the pan, and make an omelette right away.
You can even add those sautéed veggies to scrambled eggs (at step 4, when you would add the cheese). Feel free to experiment with veggies. Spinach is nice too. Making an omelette will be a separate entry, but the process I just described to you is universal. Sautéed veggies can go into pasta, stir fry, or can simply be a side dish by themselves.

That's three techniques in one entry! Now you can make some bomb-ass breakfasts. Happy egg-ing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli

This recipe represents a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first one I completely memorized, the first one I made for my friends, and the first one that comes to mind when I think of my childhood. I thought it would be fitting for this recipe for pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) to be the first one I share with you.

Imagine a chilly, rainy, hectic Monday in the middle of November. Just an average day, but really crappy too. The kind of day where you'd rather curl up in a ball than do anything even minimally productive. The day's weather and mood is cold and bitter, and somehow at the end of the day, you seem to embody it.

Then you walk into the house to see your mom cooking and the glorious scent of sautéed garlic inhabits your soul and melts it all away.

Whenever I make pasta e fagioli, memories come rushing back to me of the lovely juxtaposition that can only be described as feeling nourished and sheltered inside when its horrible and ugly outside. It's wonderful.

Even better, this meal is incredibly cheap, simple, and satisfying.

To make one recipe (four servings), you'll need:
  • garlic - 3 medium-sized cloves (I buy the stuff in a plastic container that is already peeled for you)
  • olive oil - 2 T (big T for tablespoons)
  • tomato sauce - 8 oz can
  • water - 1 cup
  • basil - 1 t (little t for teaspoon)
  • cannellini beans - 16 oz can
  • ditalini pasta - 1/2 lb box
  • parmesan cheese - the Kraft stuff in the green container is fine
  • parsley - fresh is preferable, but dried is fine too (and lasts longer)
Process:
  1. Heat water for the pasta over highest heat in a medium saucepan.
  2. In another medium saucepan, pour in olive oil and heat over low/medium heat.
  3. While the pans are heating up, mince (chop very finely) the garlic.
  4. Fry the garlic gently in the oil until lightly golden.
  5. Stir in the water and tomato sauce, and add basil. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in the cannellini beans and again simmer for 10 minutes. Stir periodically.
  7. Once you put the beans in, usually the water for the pasta has started to boil. Cook the ditalini al dente.
  8. Strain the pasta; do not rinse.
  9. Add the pasta to the tomato and bean mixture, take off the heat, and serve immediately.
Add parsley and grated parmesan to your liking.

A couple tips:
  • Serving immediately is important because the more you wait, the more the pasta absorbs the delicious thin tomato sauce/broth stuff. This is inevitable and can't really be helped.
  • Pasta that has absorbed the sauce can get unpleasantly (to some people) soft. To compensate for the first bullet, I like to cook the pasta the slightest bit underdone, so that it won't be mushy leftover. It should still be done enough to serve immediately, though.
  • When heating up leftovers in the microwave, adding a splash of water will help to coax that absorbed sauce out of the pasta.
  • Enjoy on a cold rainy day and maybe you'll see what I mean about this whole juxtaposition jazz. :)

Recipe courtesy of Dom DeLuise

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Onion

As promised, I made a how-to video showing how to quickly and neatly dice an onion. Now you can show off to all of your onion-loving friends...and maybe your mother...because she loves you.

There are numerous skills one can master in cooking, but few are as fundamental as knowing how to sauté onions. Before you can do that, you have to know how to cut them down to size. Please keep in mind that I'm aware of the fact that my method is probably not the most preferred by professional chefs. This is simply the way I learned and the way I know best:
"The Onion"
When you have to dice multiple onions, it becomes imperative to implement a quick, neat, and consistent - efficient - method. The appearance of whatever you're cooking will also suffer if you have uneven pieces. Subsequently, uneven pieces will all cook at slightly different rates, some of them becoming soft and pleasant, some of them not, all the while releasing inconsistent amounts of flavor. 
Most importantly though, this method should reduce the amount of time you spend preparing meals. 
To recap:

  1. Peel the onion
  2. Chop off the ugly ends (this is probably where my method differs from others)
  3. Place on board so that a cut end is on the top
  4. Chop in half, straight down
  5. Align it so that the scores you make with the knife run perpendicular to the lines on the bottom of the onion
  6. Score the onion (for a large dice, make them about 1/2 inch apart)
  7. Now make your knife run perpendicular to those scores, and chop (1/2 inch apart again, to make them even)

Sautéing onions comprises the first step of numerous soups, for instance, in addition to most red gravy recipes. Yes - red gravy. Or perhaps just simply, "gravy." For all intents and purposes, what is commonly known as tomato sauce, marinara sauce, pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce (the worst), will be properly referred to as red gravy in this blog. Your opinion does not matter. Sorry. This is coming from a proud Italian.

Now that I'm done being obnoxious and elitist...

Onions are nearly ubiquitous in cooking. Yes, soups and many sauces usually start with sautéing or softening onions, as well as red gravy. To make salsa, you'll need to be able to finely dice onions. To make a pepper and onion omelette, you'll need diced onions. To make chicken curry, you'll need diced onions. The list goes on. Onions provide a solid base of flavor for many dishes, so they are very important.

It may seem simple to be able to dice onions properly, but it's not. It requires some finesse that will only come with practice. Using a chef's knife in general on all different kinds of food is a skill that will come with time, but the lessons learned here on an onion will make that skill easier to master.

Update! 

Apparently I have been doing it slightly wrong this whole time. But, like I said, I'm not a chef. I'm not done learning yet. What better time to share my knowledge and experiences, then? I know exactly what you're going through, because I'm going through it too!

So, when you're tryna dice an onion, don't cut the hairy looking root-y part off yet. Peel it as normal, and split the whole onion in half so that you have two halves with the root-y part on the ends. Then you can make cuts all the way through without worrying about the slices falling apart. The root-y part will hold everything together.




Monday, March 2, 2015

The Chef's Knife

I know, I know. Last time I was rambling a bit about the difference between a chef and a cook. You don't have to be a chef to use a chef's knife. Some call this knife a kitchen knife, which would be a more egalitarian name, but I think it's also kind of ambiguous. Besides, using a chef's knife sounds much cooler than using a kitchen knife. A chef's knife is an invaluable tool in the kitchen. Knowing how to use one properly and when to use it over other knives will allow you to be efficient and safe. Maybe you can even show off to your friends how quickly and neatly you can dice an onion... 

...if you think your friends are the kind of people who will be impressed by a well-prepared onion.

Regardless of what your friends think, as an example, I'll be showing you later how to properly dice one.

The chef's knife is one of the largest knives you will use in the kitchen; it might actually be the largest. Not to worry, though. Its size increases its force and stability. So, for those reasons, it's no wonder its the most versatile player in the kitchen. This knife usually comes included in a set of three knives, with the other two being a paring knife and a serrated knife. I think I got a set for around $30.

The chef's knife

It may seem simple as to how to hold a knife, and yeah, any old way might get you by, but holding a chef's knife like this


Bad

Cro-Magnon baseball bat death grip (also bad)


is not ideal. The grip is uncomfortable and inefficient. Holding it like a club is no good either. 

The proper way to hold a chef's knife is not by implementing a Cro-Magnon baseball bat death grip, but by pinching the hilt of the blade with your thumb and index finger, and wrapping your other fingers around the handle. Holding it this way allows you to move the knife in a smooth cyclical motion when chopping up stuff. It also gets your finger down from the top of the knife, where it would be at risk for slipping.





As I said, the knife should move in a sort of rocking, cyclical motion on the cutting board. You should never have to bring the tip of the knife into the air, but instead continually raise and lower the hilt of the knife as if there were a hinge near its tip. Once you try it and get the motion going, you'll instantly feel like a chef. Sorry - a cook. Well, however it makes you feel!

It's seriously so much easier to use a chef's knife this way. Now, as for what you will be cutting on, try to find a good, sturdy wooden cutting board. Wood treats the blades nicely so they don't dull as fast. It doesn't have to be a huge chef's block, and not a tiny one either, but one of moderate size will do. However, you may want to purchase a smaller one in addition if you will be solely relying on yourself for all your meals and snacks. You don't want to always be washing the big one if all you're cutting up is an apple for yourself. If you're going to be cutting raw meat, buy a plastic one too. Wood is porous and absorbs things like salmonella (aww, man) from raw chicken, and washing the board may not release those ugly salmonella guys. Subsequently, you don't want to make a fruit salad on the same cutting board you just used to cut that salmonella chicken, even after you've washed it. So, buy a plastic one, label it "RAW MEAT ONLY" with your boldest Sharpie, and keep it separate from the wood. And always cook your meat through!

Check out the next entry to see me dice an onion: one of the most fundamental skills used in the kitchen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let me start off by saying...

There is a difference between a chef and a cook.

I am not a chef, nor do I aspire to be one. I mean, a professional chef: one who gets paid lots of money to cook lots of complicated dishes in hot, sweaty, crowded kitchens; or a celebrity chef on the Food Network. That's what we think of when we hear the word chef, right? At least, I do. Don't get me wrong though. I know not all chefs work in such uncomfortable environments, but I appreciate the work of those who do. And I love the Food Network.

As for me? I'm a cook.

A cook is someone who prepares meals. A chef prepares MEALS, if you know what I mean. While the latter is wonderfully exciting and intense, that's not why I'm here. Like I said, I'm here as a cook; I'm here to share with you my experiences as an emerging adult who likes to cook, but, like many others, needs to be thrifty and efficient with time. I'm not made of money and chances are if you're still reading, you aren't either.

After having several conversations with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, I have come to realize that it is almost abnormal for a person of my age (currently 22) to know how to cook more than eggs and toast. The world is becoming more and more technology-centric, with everything available at our fingertips. It seems as if everyone is going going going, paying less and less attention to what they put in their bellies. In a world where you can buy fully-cooked meat, jarred sauce, complete (and healthy) frozen meals and snacks, and seven varieties of pasta salad at the deli, who needs to cook? Even eggs and toast practically come prepared in frozen form.

It's time to take back the skill of cooking. Yes, it takes time and a little bit of effort, but there are invaluable benefits that come with knowing how to cook for yourself and others. First, there is the monetary factor. Cooking for yourself without reliance on pre-made food and take-out will lead to many dollars saved. Second is a feeling of nourishment that you can't get from hardly anywhere else. Even if a dish turns out not exactly as you expected it to (in not exactly a good way), it still tastes good, because you made it. Third: cooking is enjoyable! Fourth: the list goes on and on.

I know a lot of young adults like myself are going to be college graduates soon, and after that, they'll be on their own. How do I buy the right food? Should I plan meals for the week? How can I fit cooking into my busy schedule? How can I spend under $50 a week on food? What the hell is a roux? If you want answers to some or all of these questions, look no further than CookWorthy.