13 August 2009

Cooking is scary

Yes, really, it is. It's scary for someone who doesn't have an innate feeling for the stove, oven, mixer, blender, etc. My mom didn't (and still doesn't) enjoy cooking, and I wasn't interested in learning the basics when I was a kid. My husband, I am sad to say, did not marry me for my domestic capabilities. (Yes, I am tame and domesticated; I am just not domestic, or feral for that matter.)

I can cook pre-made stuff, like pasta with jarred sauces, chicken pieces in the oven topped with salt and some spices, hot dogs in a pot. I do make a mean chili, but it never tastes the same way twice because I just throw reasonable stuff into the pot and cook it for a couple of hours. With lots of hot pepper. However, recipes make me nervous. They often involve terms that I don't understand (poach? braise? fold?), and I don't have anyone around to ask. TheHusband's cooking skills make me look positively cordon bleu, so he's no help. (And he hates things with sauces and vegetables and mixed up food like stir-fry, so I am not inspired to cook for him either.) The internet can answer all questions, but it (mostly) lives in the basement in my house, not conducive to the kitchen and quick answers.

Luckily, I do have people in my life who can cook and cook well. And don't make me feel like a moron when I ask simple and basic questions (such as "what is folding in?" or "what is medium-high heat on my stove?"). One of these people is my aunt. She cooks for a living. She writes cookbooks. Good cookbooks. Prize-winning cookbooks. And lets me ask questions and gives me ideas. This wonderful aunt lives in NYC and rarely ventures out of those environs. But she came to visit this past weekend, and she sat me down with a couple of her cookbooks, and we discussed recipes. And she told me how to modify some of the recipes so TheHusband might eat the outcome. She moseyed through my selection of spices and made up a few "shakes" for me. A shake apparently is a mixture of spices that you shake on meat, chicken or fish before broiling. I am sure they have other uses, but the atrophied cooking area of my brain could only absorb the one use.

Some of her advice to me:
  • Get a grill. TheHusband is a meatatarian and doesn't like sauces or "fancy" stuff. We had a charcoal grill, which I never used, because TheHusband had to get the fire going. It got blown into our neighbor's yard a couple of months ago during a storm and gave up the ghost. We were planning on buying a propane grill anyway.

  • Experiment with soups. I like soups of various kinds (as long as they don't contain lima beans or are split pea). They are easy to make in large batches and freeze well.

  • Browning the meat before cooking in a sauce is the best way to seal in flavor and juices. Gotcha.

  • Potato bread is boring. Buy other types of bread and freeze the loaves. Make the sandwich on the frozen bread, and by lunchtime, it will be good to go. Check. Will send TPT with peanut butter or cream cheese on raisin bread.

  • Buy a small freezer and put it in the basement. Keep the long-haul frozen stuff there, and use the (crappy) freezer in the kitchen for stuff used frequently.

  • "I told you so" -- she told us that a freezer on the bottom fridge is really annoying, and she was right. We hate it.

  • Buy a knife sharpener to keep the knives sharpened. Dull knives do not work well.

  • You can look up just about any recipe online. Do it, print it out, and make it.
I am sure there was more, but I can't remember. It was a great weekend. But I am still a bit nervous in the kitchen...


Anonymous said...

"I told you so" -- she told us that a freezer on the bottom fridge is really annoying, and she was right. We hate it.

I've always thought that looked like a great idea. Why isn't it?

vince said...

A famous cooking aunt with award winning cookbooks? Please, more info. I'm always on the look for a new cookbook, and I suspect others who read your blog are as well.

I like to cook, but although I can do fancier stuff, the basics are what I normally stick to.

Jeri said...

What a great weekend! I'm glad you got some good answers and practical tips. I've recently reconnected on Facebook with a friend of Bryan's who's a chef and a menu consultant and I'm tempted to ask him if he teaches - if he wouldn't take that entirely the wrong way. LOL

ntsc said...

Bunch of things.

Where the best freezer is in a fridge/freezer duo is dependent on the cook. We have both, the side by side is in the kitchen, my wife's preference. The freezer on top is in the garage. By the way auto defrost freezers may not work if the ambient temperature is around freezing. The bottom requires bending over, we are both over 60, not on.

Get the largest chest type freezer that will fit in your basement. I buy meat in bulk, small bulk but bulk and break it down myself: http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/04/14/meet-the-meat.aspx


You can do the same with chicken. http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/10/13/chicken--piece-it-yourself.aspx

On care and feeding of knives: http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/03/13/knives.aspx which includes notes on sharpening.

On cook books, there are two that are also texts and will assume you don't know what fold means. Joy of Cooking (any edition including the current one, but not it's immediate predecessor).

And Julia Child's Mastering the Art ... Vol I. Personally I would go with Joy, buy my wife swears by Ms Child.

My blog, click my name, has other food related items. My wife's http://menu.vldyson.com has our weekly menus, and when I remember to post them, pictures of the results going back a long time.

If you have natural gas, pay a plumber to run a hook up to the grill and buy a natural gas grill, virtually all grills can be ordered for natural gas. Never again worry about propane.

Feel free to ask questions.

There are some good blogs and boards out there. This is a friendly one: http://www.americastestkitchen.com/ibb/categoryindex.aspx?boardID=1 and I post there as ntsc.

Bon Apetite

ntsc said...

The chicken blog post should not have been twice, this should have been one of them: http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/10/24/fabrication.aspx

ntsc said...

Clicking on my name does not get you to my food blog. I will try and figure out why later. in the mean time:

http://blog.charcuteire.com and watch the intentional mis-spelling

NancyB said...

Different strokes....I love my freezer-on-the-bottom fridge, and am on my second one. Puts all the fridge stuff at waist height or above, easy to see and grab, and the current fridge has the freezer as a drawer so all that stuff is easy to access as well.

neurondoc said...

We have a freezer drawer on the bottom, and I can never find anything in it. Plus it hurts my back to lean over. I think the drawer freezer is smaller than our previous freezer-on-top, but I don't have the measurements to prove it. In 4 more years I will be replacing the countertop in the kitchen, and we will probably replace the fridge at that point (with a top freezer kind). Due to space constraints we can't fit a side-by-side into the kitchen. :-(

Janiece said...

Natalie, if you can read, you can cook. I myself am fond of the standard red Betty Crocker cookbook - the authors assume you're an idiot and don't know anything.

Like how to cut meat, for example.

But having "fun" cooking isn't for everyone...I'm about halfway between you and the gourmands of the UCF (Anne and Michelle). I simply like to eat.

Nathan said...

1. Side by side freezers use more energy -- something about the surface area on the door.

2. before browning meat, let it rest on paper towels for about 15 minutes to soak up excess juices. If you don't, you're just steaming the meat. NOT. GOOD.

3. There's an awful lot scaring you this week, huh? :D

neurondoc said...

I'm just a bag of nerves, Nathan. My aunt did soak up the juices with a paper towel.

Glad to know that about the side-by-side using more energy.

neurondoc said...

If you want to know which cookbooks I am talking about in the blogpost, you can email me at neuron1313 at yahoo dot com.

TheHusband said...

Well, that tomato chicken thingy that your aunt prepared was not too bad. Both me and the little girl ate it up in short order. She protested WAY MORE about it than I did.

But, who on earth can cook better than Ruby Tuesday's or Popeyes Chicken?

Random Michelle K said...

You need Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher. It's a science book about food. She explains the scientific principles about why things work they way they do, which lets you understand what you're doing.

Re cooking meat, more important is to use the correct size pan, or to cook the meat in small batches if you only have a small pan.

Anonymous said...

The best cookbooks I have for explaining stuff in excellent and understandable detail are the two Fannie Farmer books, edited by Marion Cunningham. One is FF Cookbook, the other is FF Baking Book. Looks like Amazon has them both.

Another good source is the online ThePioneerWoman.com (Just Beware the Butter!!! Ye gods, the woman uses *way* too much!) But the advantage there is that she utilizes tons of photographs; it's immensely confidence-boosting to simply see what something is supposed to look like as you go along! I've found a number of recipes there that I love (ummm, *not* the butter-drenched ones). Give it a peek.

Nathan said...

Nathan: Less juices

Michelle: More pan

Nathan Less Juices

Michelle: More Pan


Michelle: MORE PAN

Nathan: ::hits Michelle with small pan full of juice:: FTW!

Random Michelle K said...

Michelle: Returns with a large cast iron skillet to Nathan's face.

Who wins this round?

neurondoc said...

SunLiz, in your case, butter is definitely NOT better. And I'll take a skillet to your head, if'n I find out you're butterin' up your food. Because I'm helpful that way.

Anonymous said...

Hee! I know, I know! Trust me, the horror is not feigned; once you truly grok low fat cooking, anything else is genuinely gross. I just wish *low salt* eating was as easy--I don't even like salt much, but any sort of mix or prepped foods are LOADED with it! It's unutterably unfair, really, when a simple sandwich--quick, easy, low fat--blows your entire day's soldium allowance! Grrrrr...

Random Michelle K said...


Check the organic aisle. My grandmother has a sodium restricted diet, and I found that the "regular" organic items are often lower sodium than the "low sodium" regular brand items.

And their low sodium products are often very very low. We've got a bag of blue tortilla chips that are 60mg of sodium per generous serving.

ntsc said...

@ Michelle

As long as the skillet isn't larger than needed.

kimby said...

I have 2 fail-safe must-haves when I am cooking....Fat and Butter. Yes my arteries are squeezing as we speak, but..They just make everything taste better!!

(sorry, the first comment was riddled with typos!)

John the Scientist said...

Actually, we go the freezer-on-the-bottom and we lurv, lurv luuuurv it.

When I open the fridge door, I'm at eye height with the stuff I use most - milk, etc. And since the tall stuff is on top, the top shelf is lower - not too high for my wife to see everything that's on it.

I always hated having to bend down to get into the crispers for veggies and fruit. Now, I don't even have to bend over. And the wife likes it because she can see all the way into it (she's short) and our fridge is tall, as was the old top freezer one. Ours is pretty big, and I like the pull-out rack so that you can find stuff easily. Does yours come with a pull-out top shelf?

Could it also be use patterns? Maybe we eat frozen foods less (eating mostly Chinese style), and get into the freezer less than you do? We open the fridge all the time, the freezer only once a day or so.