Intro to the Kitchen

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Intro to the Kitchen

Post by Deepbluediver »

This is an attempt to create a few recipes for people who feel like they can't cook, but want to try and improve. Recipes should be simple and straightforward as possible. The fewer steps and the fewer ingredients, the better. If possible, try to write everything in the style of the Simple Wikipedia (be overly descriptive, use short words, etc). Also, I consider both food and people who can't feed themselves to be Serious Business, but I'll remake the thread in "Unrelated" if Tailsteak asks.
I'll start, and add more as I find time, but anyone should feel free to contribute. Readers can also make requests, and I'll do my best to assist in preparing a suitable description of the recipe.

So, you've finally gotten sick of ordering pizza 6 nights a week (Sundays are special- you get Taco Bell), but you can't make a PB&J sandwich without first checking Google?
Don't worry, we're here to help.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional chef or teacher; everything represented here is mostly my own opinion, based on my individual experience. I will be glad to admit when I can't give you the best answer, and will recommend you search elsewhere for further clarification.

This first post will be a collections of general kitchen-tips, problems to watch out for, and anything else non-recipe specific I think of. You don't need to read everything in this thread before you start, though depending on your level of experience you might find it helpful. What I WILL recommend is that any time you encounter a new recipe, read all the way through it once. It gives you a good sense of where things are going overall, what you need to plan for, and will warn you about any difficult bits that aren't apparent at first glance. More than one recipe starts out simple (mix eggs with flour...I can do that!) then 27 steps and 4 hours later you're only halfway to having dinner prepared. We'll try to avoid that kind of thing here, but it's still good advice to get in the habit.

Beef Stew (by Deepbluediver)
Brie Bombs and French Fries (by crayzz)
Crepes (by crayzz)
Apple Fritters (by crayzz)
Quiche (by Deepbluediver)
Brownies (by Fifth)
Lasagna (by Deepbluediver)
Pumpkin Bread (by Deepbluediver)
French Onion Soup (by crayzz)
Mexican Rice (by Fifth)
Crockpot Stew (by Arklytte)
Spice Rice (by Fifth)
Vegetarian Chili (by Deepbluediver)
Peanut Butter Fudge (by Fifth)
Shepard's Pie (by snowyowl)
Shepherd's Pie (by Deepbluediver)
Meatloaf (by Deepbluediver)
Meatloaf Italiano (by Arklytte)
Peanut-Shrimp (by Deepbluediver)
Hot Chocolate (by crayzz)
Tex-Mex Macaroni (by Fifth)
Zucchini Fries (by Deepbluediver)

Tools of the Trade
Most chefs, both amateur and professional, drool over the kind of stuff you see in Martha-Stewart-magazine or on those cooking shows on TV. Most real-world kitchens are not like that however, and if you could hire a private chef you probably wouldn't need lessons on how to feed yourself, right? I'll list a few things in tiers, with the lower-ranked ones being more commonly used and more essential. You should get as many tiers as your space and budget allow; it just makes cooking easier and gives you more options.
For most of this stuff, I'd avoid getting the cheapest products available. The medium-priced utensils tends to be much higher quality and longer lasting, while avoiding the ridiculous costs that the high-end brands can reach. Most of these items can be found at the local Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Guys, suck it up. If your manhood is really threatened that much by lacy pink pillows, kidnap one of your female acquaintances to go with you. (not trying to be sexist here, women can be just as bad at cooking as guys, but most of them sure love shopping)
By the time you get to tier 4 (and some extent tier 3) most of the stuff is just replicating what other tools you have can already do, but in an easier fashion.

Tier 0) A heat-source
Whether it's a campfire, hobo-stove, grill, whatever, cooking generally involves the application of heat to food. There are probably a very small number of raw-food recipes that could qualify as cooking (instead of just "food preparation") though I wouldn't say that most of them are suitable for beginners.

Tier 1) A 6-8 inch all purpose "Chef's knife", a cutting board, a frypan, a saucepan, a wooden cooking spoon or flat spatula.
Use a cutting board when chopping anything. A knife will mark plastic or wooden countertops, and a stone counter will dull your knives wicked-quick.

Tier 2) A 4-inch pairing knife, a large 10+ quart soup pot, measuring cups and spoons or a kitchen scale, a vegetable peeler.
Generally, I prefer wooden or metal cooking untensils; the plastic ones always felt cheap and flimsy to me. If you buy Teflon-coated cookware (pots and pans) though, you can't use metal utensils on them for long without ruining the finish.

Tier 3) A serrated bread-knife, a stovetop wok or deep-sided frypan, a cheese grater, a potato masher, spring-loaded cooking tongs, a whisk or eggbeater, a colander or strainer, a casserole dish, large mixing bowl.

Tier 4) A 9-12 inch carving knife, a small frypan and small saucepan, a rubber spatula, a cooking fork, a cookie sheet, can opener, medium mixing bowl, crockpot, sieve.

I'll add more items if people recommend them, though I'm trying to keep at least the lower tiers to just the basics.

Measuring Units
Cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, a pinch
There are two small units of measurement in the kitchen- the Teaspoon (tsp) and the Tablespoon (tbsp). Do not mix them up! Also, the "teaspoons" in your cutlery drawer are not the same. Exact measurements are more important for baking than cooking, but in an emergency, I would estimate that a heaping teaspoon is roughly equal to about 2 "Teaspoons", and a heaping soup-spoon is probably a bit more than a regular "Tablespoon". Also, when I say "cup" I mean a standard measuring cup. You can estimate with most coffee cups (not mugs) but you should try to avoid that until you've had some practice.

If you can get more than one set of measuring spoons, do so. It saves you times so you don't need to stop and rinse them, and then wait for them to dry to avoid either cross-contamination or ruining your spices.

For measuring cups, I usually like having a 1-cup, 2-cup, and 4 or 6 cup; with those I can cover most things, though again, if you can get more than 1 it's helpful so your dry ingredients don't stick to the inside of a wet cup.

Here are a few specialty measuring cup- this one is good for liquids, because you can look in from the top and see exactly how much you've got, without needing to lean down an check from the side. ... 08135910:s

This one is good if you do a lot of baking with sticky substances such as honey or molasses. If you can't get one of these, then another tactic is to warm the sticky substances slighty (in the microwave) which makes them much less viscous. ... 91500045-2

Beef is king in the kitchen. You can do pretty much anything with it, including the not-cook options (steak tartare). Baking, broiling, sauteing, potting, frying, grilling...there's almost no recipe you can't add beef to and not have it work out.
Fun fact- Luxembourg recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest meat-eaters per capita (per person), but AFAIK, Argentinia still eats the most beef.
Lamb (aka mutton) is another red-meat, though it tends to be a little more delicate than beef. You have to be careful when cooking lamb as it tends to be leaner than beef, and will get dry very easily if you cook it to hot or to long. Chops and Roasts are the most commonly used cuts of lamb in the U.S.
Goat (I've never cooked with goat, though I've eaten it on occasion) isn't very common in the U.S. It can be prepared similarly to lamb, though it has a stronger, more distinctive flavor that some people don't like.
Chicken is almost as versatile as beef, and has about as many recipes. Most people seem to prefer white-meat (the breast), but dark meat (legs, thighs, backs, etc) is usually juicer, and harder to overcook. Chicken breasts are the easiest to work with for recipes requiring you to add chicken to something else, and dark-meat works best for grilling or baking parts and eating them whole.
Turkey often gets complaints that its dry and tasteless- this is because it's been overcooked and these people have never had good turkey.
Goose is similar to turkey, though it tends to have more dark meat and again, a slightly distinctive flavor (kind of like the goat-to-lamb comparison)
Duck is very fatty, and you need to be careful when cooking it or the meat will end up being greasy. Not recommended for beginners.
Cornish Game Hens - I've never cooked these, though I see them in the store from time to time. I assume they are similar to chicken.
Pork is delicious in all it's forms, though check with your guests, since its banned from eating in both Jewish and Muslim cultures. Pork is best when it's baked or fried, and pork-fat is delicious eating. It's not that unhealthy so long as the rest of your diet is balanced, but you'll want to trim it off if you are trying to lose weight.
Fish- it's hard to get decent fish once you travel more than about 100 miles from the coast, in the U.S., unless you go to a nice restaurant. A lot of people from the middle part of the country will say they don't like fish, but I'm convinced that's because most of them have only ever eaten river-trash. Whitefish (like flounder or tilapia) is frequently breaded and fried, or poached. Pink fish, like salmon, is usually baked. The meatier fishes, like tuna and swordfish, can be grilled like beef-steak.
Fun fact- rocky mountain oysters are NOT seafood!
Shellfish are usually steamed or made into creamy soup, though they are also eaten raw. At the simplest, they're all pretty much good to eat steamed with garlic, white whine, and dipped in butter. Shellfish are also not Kosher though, and some people have allergies so double-check before making them the main course. They can also be very messy to eat (as romantic as it sounds, avoid fresh lobster on a fancy date).

Chopping vs. Dicing
Below is a good graphic of onions; the ones on the right are chopped and the ones on the left are diced, to give you an estimation of the approximate size.
(and the ones in the middle are an abomination of nature)

For the most part, I chop my veggies; there are very few instances where I honestly consider it essential to dice things. Mostly those would be in recipes that mix them with other things (small pieces mix more evenly) and only cook them for a short time or with indirect heat. Omelettes would be a good example, and possibly some soups as well.

Butter, Oil, Margarine, and Shortening
Oil is very useful for keeping food from sticking to the pan and helping it to cook evenly. The most common and often cheapest oil is vegetable or corn oil, and regardless of what else you read about "health food" unless you are on a special diet of some sort or allergic, there's no problems cooking with it. It's kind of like the chicken of the oils- not flavorless, but most other things will be compared to it.
If you are frying food, it's the best option for meat and fish, barring a few specialty oils that can be heated to exceptionally high temperatures (most of these feature that fact prominently on the label, if you are looking for that perk). If you are cooking something like french fries that uses a lot of oil, you can actually reuse extra oil- just let it cool and then pour it back in the jar. Generally, you don't want to do this with oil that has been used to cook meat, as it often imparts an aftertaste to the oil, and even when stored in a refrigerator it will turn rancid if left to long.

Olive oil has a significantly lower burning temperature, which means if it gets to hot it will start to smoke. If you are heating up oil while prepping other food, keep an eye on it.
Oilve oil is better for stir-fyying vegetables (and should not be used for deep-frying), a small splash in the pan is plenty for most things except onions, which soak up the oil and may require more than normal. Olive oil is also usually considered healthier than vegetable oil; it still has a lot of calories, but its also got more nutrients and tastes better plain. Fancy restaurants will put a small bowl of it on the table to dip bread in.
Peanut oil is another commonly available oil as it is popular in Asian cooking. It is like vegetable oil, though most people will tell you it has it's own distinctive taste.

Butter is not oil. It is dairy-based, and will burn very quickly if you heat it to fast. It is possible to cook with butter in place of oil if you are desperate, so long as you are also careful, but you must keep the heat low and watch the pan closely.

Margarine is basically vegetable oil that has had emulsifiers added so that stays solid at room temperature. Its sometimes cheaper and usually healther (less calories) than butter, though butter is admittedly richer in taste. You can cook with margerine mostly in the same way you use oil, and it goes fine on toast. You really shouldn't try to substitute it in for more complicated recipes though, particularly baking. if you are so worried about counting calories that you are looking for "healthy" options, just skip the cupcakes entirely.

Shortening is basically any fat or oily substance that is solid at room temperature. It used to refer exclusively to lard, but nowadays it's easy to find vegetable-based shortenings such as Crisco. Unless you live in the midwest, in which case your local Wal-mart should still be able to supply you with 5-gallon buckets of lard (I wish I was joking). Most of it will keep for months and does not need to be refrigerated.
It tends to be used in flaky-pastry crust because of the unique crumble it imparts to the baked goods, but it's also excellent for "greasing" that pan when you are baking, so you don't need to buy extra cooking-spray (which I hate the taste and smell of).

I have no idea what I'm going to put here.

Other Useful Links
Imgur's contribution (part 2)
Last edited by Deepbluediver on Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:35 am, edited 62 times in total.
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Re: Recipes for the Culinary-Impaired

Post by Packbat »

That looks like something I could cook. (I like particularly the bits where you talk about mistakes and non-mistakes - like overheating olive oil and dicing the meat too big, respectively.)

Three questions:
  • I believe the only cooking oil I have in the kitchen I share with my brother at the moment is peanut - although there is butter in the fridge. Would either or both be an inappropriate substitution?
  • I got some bok choi at the Korean mart up the street for stir fry, and we haven't stir-fried it yet. If I diverted it to go into a stew, would that get chopped and thrown in with the potatoes and carrots, or earlier, with the onions? (Or even in between, with the meat?)
  • Are there other meats that may be substituted for beef in this recipe, and how would they change the recipe? (For that matter, what substitutions would you make - besides vegetable stock/bullion for beef - to make a vegetarian or even vegan stew?)
Edit: Also, do we want to follow the What Should We Try? convention of putting the dish names in the subject line of recipe posts?
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Beef Stew

Post by Deepbluediver »

Heavy stews and soups are traditional cold-weather food. They tend to make you overheat in the summer (in addition to needing to run the stove for a long time, heating up your kitchen and fighting with the AC) but they are the perfect thing before/after you need to go shovel snow, chop wood, or wrestle a grizzly.

Ingredients and tools* All values are approximate
Beef Stew Meat (any relatively cheap, boneless roast will work for this; pretty much anything that isn't steak, and I've even made stew with London-Broil in a pinch)- any amount
Onions (1 large or 2 small per pound of meat)
White baking potatoes (2 medium or 1 large per pound of meat)
Carrots (2-3 per pound of meat, depending on size)
Green Beans (~1/2 lb per pound of meat)
Beef Stock or Bouillon-cubes
Vegetable oil, olive oil, or margarine.
A large soup-pot (at least 10 quart capacity)
A Knife
A Vegetable peeler
A large wooden or plastic cooking spoon (if you are truly utensil-less, find a random stick, strip the bark off of it, and heat it somehow for a few minutes- microwave, candle, etc; you just need something to stir the stew with)

1) Put a few tablespoons of oil or margarine in the pot, heat on low heat. (be careful if using olive oil, as it tends to smoke at a lower temp)
2) Slice the ends off the onions, and remove the papery orange-yellow outer layer (with your hands; you don't need the peeler to peel onions)
3) Chop the onions. Don't make yourself crazy chopping them to small; they'll cook away to almost nothing anyhow.
4) Put onions in pot, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onion should turn translucent.
5) Chop meat into pieces, roughly no larger than 1 inch cubes. Don't make yourself crazy with making them look nice or be perfect sized; they cook down to being very tender anyhow.
6) When onions have cooked, add meat to the pot, and brown for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. (some recipes will call for you to brown the meat in batches, setting each aside as you do the next. I consider this unecessary, as it makes more of a mess to clean up later, and we're making god-damn stew, not haute-cuisine)
7) Season with spices- you can put almost anything in beef stew; it's pretty robust. I add cocoa-powder to my chili, for example. To start with, I recommend a teaspoon or two of paprika and cumin, and a few twists of fresh ground black pepper. So long as you keep the total volume under a few tablespoons, it's honestly hard to ruin beef stew; virtually everything in my spice-cabinet has made an appearance in a soup or stew at some point.
8) Once meat is browned, add stock. This depends on how much gravy you want; I usually go with at least 4 cups of stock. If you are using Bullion cubes, go with 1 for each 1.5 cups of water (they are salty, and it cooks down a bit).
9) Raise heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
10) Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
11) Peel potatoes and carrots. Chop potatoes into roughly 1/2 inch cubes and the carrots into pieces about the size of the last knuckle of your thumb, larger if you have small, girlish hands. :D (but don't make yourself crazy, this is stew after all)
12) Cut the tips off the green-beans.
13) Add all the vegetables to the pot, return to a boil, and cook for 20 more minutes. Add salt to taste.
The stew is pretty much ready to eat at this point, but if you want thicker gravy, keep reading.
14) Put a small scoop (1/2 cup?) of white baking flour in a bowl. Add a splash (a few tablespoons) of water and stir. Add more water and stir repeatedly until you have about 1.5 cups of the mixture, total. YOU WILL HAVE LUMPS! I have done this dozens of times, and still get flour-lumps. My father, who has been making gravy for over 40 years, can get his without lumps, but obviously I need more practice.
15) Pour slowly into stew while stirring, being careful to not let the lumps that will settle at the bottom of the bowl fall into your stew (it's not bad if they do, it just makes for lumpy gravy). Cook for 5 more minutes on low heat, as stew thickens.
16) Enjoy!

17) (optional) As I mentioned earlier, beef stew is a good thing to experiment with. Try adding some garlic, or swapping out the vegetables- I recently made some where I replaced the potatoes and carrots with turnips and beets. You could probably exchange the green-beans with peas or lima-beans, if you want. I also tend to add Cheyenne or hot sauce, or some of the variety of stuff that my Indian roommates keep around that I can't pronounce or spell. This same recipe also works pretty well with Lamb, for a more traditionally Irish flavor, though I'd probably leave out the hot sauce in that case.

questions regarding this recipe
I got some bok choi at the Korean mart up the street for stir fry, and we haven't stir-fried it yet. If I diverted it to go into a stew, would that get chopped and thrown in with the potatoes and carrots, or earlier, with the onions? (Or even in between, with the meat?)
Hmm...I have cooked with bok-choi before, though not in stew. The top (green) part is more like cabbage, while the bottom (white) stem is more like celery. I would put the bottom parts in with the onions (or use it to replace them entirely even) and the top part in with other vegetables, so it keeps it's texture and flavor more. In fact, I'd put it in AFTER the other vegetables, cooking it for only 10-12 minutes so it doesn't fall apart on you.
Are there other meats that may be substituted for beef in this recipe, and how would they change the recipe?
As I said above, lamb could be swapped in all by itself, and it would change the final flavor, but the overall dish would be very similar (if you want to get exotic, goat is similar in cooking to lamb). If I where making chicken-stew, I'd probably leave out the potatoes, and instead cook it with dumplings in the pot or noodles on the side. (Bisquik has a decent dumpling recipe on the box if you use their mix)
I'm sure you could stew pork in a similar fashion, but frankly there are better ways to prepare it, IMHO.
You generally don't stew fish or seafood in the traditional sense. Any recipe for bisque, chowder, or bouillabaisse would need it's own entry.
For that matter, what substitutions would you make - besides vegetable stock/bullion for beef - to make a vegetarian or even vegan stew?
I will admit up front that vegetarian cooking is not my specialty. Without having actually cooked anything, I would suggest adding a greater variety of more flavorful vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, squash, kale, etc) and cook it for less time. Since vegetables tend to have less noticeable flavors on their own (I don't want to call them bland, exactly, but they blend together more), the spices you use would be of greater importance. Vegetable soup also often includes pasta (not spaghetti, the little kinds).
I don't really want to say more than that until I've had a chance to experiment a bit on my own.
Last edited by Deepbluediver on Thu Jan 23, 2014 1:19 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Recipes for the Culinary-Impaired

Post by Packbat »

Sounds good - thanks!

(I would have quoted your post and responded to it section-by-section, but the above would be my response to almost every section, so I shortened it. :D)
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Re: Recipes for the Culinary-Impaired

Post by crayzz »

Brie Bomb

This dish I stole from a local restaurant. I have no idea how they make theirs, but this is a simple simulacrum that still tastes pretty good. For this, you'll need a small, oven safe bowl. The one I use is about the size of a small cereal bowl (actually, it is a small cereal bowl; it just happens to be oven safe). The ingredients by volume
  • 1/2 Brie cheese (about 250g); brie typically comes with a rind. The rind is actually edible, but doesn't taste very good. You'll need to "skin" the brie to get the rind off.
  • 3/8 Raspeberries (about 1/8 cup); I usually use frozen raspberries for this. I find frozen raspberries melt better, but there's no reason you can't use fresh ones.
  • 1/8 Walnuts (about 1/24 cup); it's best if the walnuts are crushed. Walnut halves will do, but I recommend crushing them down if you can.
  • Cinnamon/Brown Sugar; this is just for flavour. Honestly, I don't bother half the time. Add to taste, and play with it to see how much you want. Start with maybe a tablespoon of brown sugar, with a pinch of cinnamon here and there.
  • Naan bread; you'll be scooping the brie bomb onto this to eat. If you don't have any naan bread, flat bread or tortillas will do. I recommend crisping the tortillas in the oven. Brie bomb is very thick, and soft tortilla strips will flop around. To crisp them, just leave them in a heated oven for a few minutes. Check regularly so you don't over crisp them; they'll feel like a very thick nacho when they're done, and will probably be brown along the edges.
Preheat the oven to about 250°F. Dice up the brie into half inch thick chunks, taking off any rind as you do. If you're using frozen raspberries, gently warm them in a microwave; you just need them melted, not actually hot. About a minute on HIGH should do. You'll want to have everything mixed together in the oven safe bowl. Mix everything in bit by bit. Mixing everything in layers will also work (e.g. a layer of brie, then raspberries, sprinkle on some walnuts, then cinnamon/brown sugar, repeat). Trying to stir or toss the ingredients will not work well. Regardless of how you mix them, try to have the top layer mostly brie. Once it's ready, place the bowl into the oven. The cooking time is about 15 minutes. When finished, the brie will have the consistency of a custard, or a really thick pudding. While the brie is cooking, cut your naan bread into strips about 1½ inches wide. I often cut them into triangles, about 1½ inches wide and about 2 inches long. You can do the same for flat bread, but if you're using tortillas instead, cut them before you crisp them.

Once the brie bomb is done cooking, take it out of the oven and let it cool. Don't let it cool for long; it will probably take less than a minute, and if the cheese get's too cool, it will solidify. Scoop the brie bomb onto whatever bread you've chosen to eat with, and enjoy.

Overall, I find this takes about 10 minutes to prepare. Plus the 15 minutes for cooking, you should be ready to eat in less than half an hour.

Purple Sweet Fries

This I think is interesting, because usually fries are savoury. These, however, are quite sweet, a touch sour, and the cheese is very creamy.

The ingredients:
  • 1 large Purple Yam; by "large", I mean a little larger than 2 loose fists. Purple yams are typically about that big. If you can't find any purple yams, regular yams or even just baking potatoes will do. Purple yams are sweeter than either substitute, though, and baking potatoes aren't sweet at all.
  • 50g of Goat Cheese, cranberries, cinnamon; ok, there's a reason I put three ingredients as one. Where I live, I can buy goat cheese wrapped in cranberries and cinnamon. You might have to buy them separately. If you do, just mix together a handful of cranberries with 1/2 to a full teaspoon of cinnamon, and gently mash them together. Goat cheese can come in anything from almost a paste to something like a soft, crumbly parmesan; it doesn't really matter for this recipe.
Peel the yam, chop the yam into fries and, well, fry them. Fries can be made several different ways, the easiest of which is in a pot of hot oil. This works best if you have a pasta strainer, otherwise you have to fish the fries out of the oil by hand. You can also fill a pan with hot oil, or just layer the bottom of the pan and flip the fries over regularly. Fries can also be pan-seared with a bit of butter, but that's the most time consuming. Cook the fries until they are crispy. Yams (purple or regular) don't brown like regular fries, so the best way to tell whether or not they're cooked is by their texture. When the fries are done, set them on a paper towel and let them sit for a minute. This will get rid of excess grease, but isn't necessary if you've pan-seared your fries; strictly speaking, it isn't necessary at all.

While the fries are cooking, chop the goat cheese into 1/4 inch pieces. Once the fries are done and drained of excess grease, sprinkle the cheese on top. If you've made the cranberries and cinnamon separately, sprinkle that on as well, and enjoy.

Chopping up and cooking the fries can take a while, sometimes upwards of 45 minutes, but everything else is done while fries are cooking.

I have a couple of other ones, but it's late as it is. Let me know if anything is unclear.
Last edited by crayzz on Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Intro to the Kitchen

Post by Deepbluediver »

Gonna have to try that brie-bomb thingy; I've had a salad before that used candied walnuts, goat cheese, and pears, so I know that although the combination looks unusual, it works.

On the French-fries though...I'm not sure that's the kind of thing I'd recommend for an absolute beginner. The concept is simple and home-fries taste great, but working with that much hot oil can be tricky. I'll have to make a note to do an entire post on deep-frying foods as some point.

Edit: added a colander to my list of essentials based on your post
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Re: Intro to the Kitchen

Post by pumpkincat »

I would be happy to contribute to this thread if desired. I routinely have had to go into extreme detail with recipes for my husband, who never learned how to cook beyond 'fry bacon' and whom I once walked in on and found him boiling ground beef in water in the microwave.
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Re: Recipes for the Culinary-Impaired

Post by kd7sov »

crayzz wrote:The ingredients by volume
I tend to get a little nervous, for no very excellent reason, when ingredient amounts are listed only in proportion to one another. Just thought I'd share that.

Also, a contribution to the item list, though I have no idea where it would go: a kitchen scale. I tend to use ours for gauging quantities of meat and pasta, though I've occasionally wondered how easy it would be to switch to weight-based recipes such as I understand Europe uses.
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Re: Intro to the Kitchen

Post by pumpkincat »

Peanut oil can be a good oil to use but has a fairly distinctive taste which won't go equally well with everything. It is however used in a lot of Asian cooking, and has what's known as a high smoke point - which means that it remains stable at relatively high heat (assuming it is refined peanut oil - most of what you'll find in stores is refined, and if it's not it should say so).

As a general rule of thumb when it comes to oils, the more heavily refined it is, the higher a temperature you can cook with it at. The impurities in unrefined oils are more sensitive and susceptible to heat than the oil itself - as a result, as the oil heats up, those compounds start to cook, and burn off, creating smoke and unpleasant flavors. Refined peanut oil can be heated to over 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a frequent choice for deep-frying, as well as for the somewhat gentler stir-frying, etc.

Regarding vegetarian or vegan stews, I can give you some tips there if so inclined. One thing to do when making a vegetarian or vegan stew is to consider the relative densities of your vegetables. If you are going to be cooking them until tender, you want to cut them in a way where your carrots will reach tenderness more or less at the same time as your peppers, for example. This can be tricky even for experienced cooks! Fortunately, there are some tricks to make this easier. The biggest tip is to take your densest vegetables (your carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, etc) and cut them into manageable chunks - you want to do this anyway, to make them easy to eat - and give them a head start in contrast to your more tender vegetables (such as any kind of pea, in the pod or not, your mushrooms, peppers, and if you're putting them in, any greens such as lettuce, kale, chard, etc). Basically, you cut them up and put them in the pot first, and let them simmer for a while before you add your other veggies. You put your tender veggies in after the denser veggies have reached the point where you can insert a fork into the chunks without much resistance - use your carrot or potato or turnip, etc, for this test, and not the onion, because onion, being layered, will separate in the cooking process while still requiring much the same cooking time as the other dense veggies.

The big thing in making it a stew instead of a soup is thickening the base, which you do by adding some form of vegetable starch to your liquid. Common choices include flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch, or they sell commercial thickeners which are some blend of the above. The trick here is to add only a little at a time and to sprinkle it in very finely so that it can't form clumps too quickly. The pot should be simmering rather than boiling, mainly because it's easier to tell when it starts to thicken if it's not boiling (simmering being the stage just under a boil, where the heat causes some movement of the liquid in the pot but not enough to be violent). You stir the starch in and keep stirring gently until it is well dissolved into your mixture. Some people prefer a wooden spoon for that; I prefer a rubber spatula because I find the starch doesn't 'hang up' on the utensil as easily. My utensil of choice for this purpose: ... lo+spatula

With a vegetarian or vegan stew I tend to usually find I want more seasoning than if there is a meat or meat-related stock involved. Salt and pepper are all I 'need' for this, although I keep a wider assortment handy. Spices are their own category of discussion in and of itself, though.

For cutting into 'chunks': preferences can vary for this, and I don't believe there's really a 'wrong' size or shape, but the rule of thumb is to cut it into pieces that will fit into your mouth with relative ease. If it will fit into your mouth comfortably before cooking, 99% of the time it will fit into your mouth comfortably after cooking; most vegetables shrink in the cooking process, losing some of their size as liquids are cooked out into the broth or through minor disintegration (such as with cut potatoes). You do want to keep an eye on vegetable stews and stir them from time to time - and keep the pot simmering and not rapidly boiling. The reason for this is less to prevent boiling over (although it's always good to prevent that) and more so that no pieces will stick to the bottom of the pot and scorch. You don't have to be a mother hen to the pot over it, but keeping an eye on it is wise, especially until you get more experience with your cookware and your stove, and how hot things get in what kind of timeframe.

And if you do ever screw up? Remember this. Even the most experienced cooks make mistakes.
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Re: Recipes for the Culinary-Impaired

Post by pumpkincat »

crayzz wrote:Brie Bomb

This dish I stole from a local restaurant. I have no idea how they make theirs, but this is a simple simulacrum that still tastes pretty good. For this, you'll need a small, oven safe bowl. The one I use is about the size of a small cereal bowl (actually, it is a small cereal bowl; it just happens to be oven safe). The ingredients by volume
  • 1/2 Brie cheese; brie typically comes wrapped in wax. The wax is actually edible (at least in small quantities), but doesn't taste very good. You'll need to "skin" the brie to get the wax off.

Just to be clear: if you mean the white rind on brie, that's not wax. It is edible, although for many people it's an acquired taste. :) It's a rind formed by bacteria on and in the cheese - much as the blue veins in blue cheeses. (I eventually acquired the taste, but when I first started eating brie I wasn't a big fan.)
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