Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cooking 101 Top Ten, Mig Style!

I figured that since everyone has been commenting on the foods I have been posting, that I would come up with some sort of Freshmen level info to help everyone see that you can do it just as easily. This top ten list is merely my opinions and what I have found from spending more time in the kitchen. You may agree or disagree, or have items you feel that I left off the list and that is ok. In fact, if you do have things you think are important that I didn't cover, please leave them in the comments section for everyone to read. Also, don't hesitate to throw suggestions at me, as I would love to cover any food topic out there. Until then, here is my top ten!!

1. An Open Mind: I think that this is quite possibly the most important thing of all. Things you haven't like all your life are the first things you should try cooking with. I can't remember how long I have told myself that I don't like onions or green peppers or spicy foods, and now I can't even imagine cooking without them. Combinations that may sound weird in your head, may actually taste amazing. Just let your imagination take over and enjoy it.

 2. Knowledge: Settle down, I am not saying you need a culinary degree to cook, merely that you familiarize yourself with words and phrases you may not know, and sadly, math. The internet is a great resource for familiarizing yourself with terms and conversions. You will also need to take time to go over your recipes before you start cooking them. Reading them first will help avoid getting to the end and finding that one pesky instruction that for some crazy reason, is hidden at the bottom.(It will happen) I have a conversion chart cheat sheet on the side of the fridge for those tricky ounce to cup to tablespoon conversions.

 3. A Plan: I know this sounds remedial, but until you have a chaos volcano erupt in your kitchen, you may not think as seriously about this as you should. Making sure all your ingredients and equipment are all set out is the easy part, but sometimes you need to think outside the box. If steps you take are time sensitive, you may want to prep the next stage before starting the current one. Nothing like having something burning while you are trying to chop an onion or peel a potato. Also, keep in mind if you are cooking with someone else that you should plan extra well so you aren't stepping all over each other to get stuff done. I still have times where I realize I should have done something differently, but these just make it that much easier next time. There are no mistakes, just new techniques. Yeah, I laugh at how it sounds too, but why not just keep it light and fun.

4. Good Cookware And Utensils: This should come as no surprise, but like most of you out there still cooking on those cheap pots and pans we got as a college graduation or wedding present, it is time for new ones. Now I won't go into the great debate about non-stick or not to non-stick in this list, so for now, pick whichever you prefer. Just make sure that you find good quality, your food will thank you. Sometimes, the big messes on the bottoms of your pans are there because they are cheap and don't spread heat evenly or they have hotspots on them. Sometimes these messes are also just from us not paying attention, but I prefer to blame the pots, not myself. Your food will thank you when it has a nice home to get itself ready for your plate. Utensils are the same way, yes you can find cheap ones at the dollar store, but ever notice after you've had them for a while and they have melted a little or they never quite come clean in the wash?? Nobody wants to cook with that. Pick a little higher quality, the price will be worth it. Just do it one item at a time if needed. Here's a secret tip for you, try Ross. Yes I can hear you saying to yourself that Ross is where you go when you want to dress for less, but they have an amazing kitchen section with high quality at low prices. Check it out, you will find great stuff. You know you are gonna be there for clothes soon anyway.

5. Indoor Grilling Options: Yes, I said indoor grilling options. Sometimes we want something grilled and the weather or our own motivation prevents us from grilling outdoors. I will be the first to admit that foods cooked on the grill outdoors are amazing and nothing beats that great grilled taste, or grilling with all your friends on the back porch, but you can achieve the same results indoors when the outdoors isn't an option. A grill pan is a good option and very useful for grilling, but I am a big fan of my Foreman Grill. Yes, I said Foreman Grill. Now it will take a little trial and error to figure out your cooking times on the Foreman, but once you do, I dare anyone to tell the difference. I cook burgers, steaks and seafood all on my Foreman so give it a shot. You know we have all had a burger craving in the dead of winter and this is an easy solution.

6. Good Ingredients: Once again it seems obvious, but you would be amazed at how spending just a little bit more can make all the difference. Clearly, we don't want to spend the entire food budget on upgrades, and plenty of things go just fine on the low end, but make a few exceptions here and there. I think the best redistribution of funds will fall in the seasoning department. Get rid of that super cheap bulk tin of what they are calling black pepper. For about $2 you can buy a throw away peppercorn grinder from McCormick. The taste of real pepper with amaze your taste buds. I also suggest upgrading your olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The slight increase in cost of a bottle of better stuff divided by the number of meals you can make with it really lessens the impact of getting a higher quality. Lastly, I think popping down a little bit extra for some fresh spices once in a while is a good thing too. You can find individual packs usually in the produce department for around $2. Go with the more flavorful ones, like mint and rosemary. Trying these in their fresh form will add so much depth to your food, you may find you don't want to go back to the dried stuff in a plastic bottle. Just experiment with it and see if you don't notice a difference.

7. Good Bread: CARBS!! Here is another place to expand your horizons, yes the store brand dinner rolls are nice and easy, but sometimes a better bread means a better meal. Bread goes great before a meal, with a meal and can even have a good place in a dessert so making sure you have good bread can impact the whole meal. For those of you who are super carb conscious, this is a topic best skipped. Find a good bakery or even a slightly higher range supermarket and check their breads. You don't have to do all of your shopping there, but good bread deserves an extra stop. I have found that Tom Thumb has great breads in my area. You will have to find a store where you are, and it probably won't be your "super center" store. A bigger secret than finding a good store, is finding their "we baked too much" rack. Stores generally markdown their baked goods when they approach their freshness date. The great part about bread is that being a little older almost always makes it better. You get a crunchier outside while still having a super soft inside. Try it and see for yourself. Plus, when they mark it down, its usually more than half off of the price is was just the day before. We can all enjoy a big savings these days, so check it often.

8. Wine: A great way to add an extra POW to the hard work you put in on dinner is with a good wine. It is also great to enjoy while you are cooking. If you put wine in your meals, and there are tons of amazing ideas if you do, just be sure to make it a wine you would drink. The flavor of wine transfers very well to any food, so if it was gross in the bottle, its probably gonna be gross in your meal. That being said, don't be afraid of wine because you think that the good stuff is expensive. Yes, the expensive stuff is usually good, BUT good wine doesn't have to be expensive. Wine will always be a matter of individual taste, but I have found plenty of wines that are less than $10 a bottle and some for even less than $5 a bottle. Wine will be a great topic for future discussion, so this is all I will say about it for now.

9. A Helper: Cooking is so much more fun with someone else. It is a great way to unwind after your day and to catch up with one another. Besides if you are both eating the dinner, shouldn't you both help?  There will always be exceptions to this rule, but if you want to never feel like cooking is a chore, do it with someone you love. It is very relaxing and it just makes the whole cooking experience even better for you both, especially if you add a little of #8 on the list.

10. A Camera: It is great to have simply because once you start enjoying cooking you will want to share your fun with everyone. So take pictures and share them, you have all enjoyed mine, so it seems logical to think that everyone will enjoy yours too.

Well there you have it, my Top Ten for getting a fork up in the kitchen. As I said above please comment and share with all of us any thoughts or ideas you have in regards to my personal choices for the list. We can all learn from each other. Thanks for continuing to check out my blogs.


    1. Real Garlic - the cloves really do crush easy with the flat side of a knife just like on TV. And if they start to grow, put them in a planter or pot...I hear they flower...we'll see.

    2. 11. A variety of spices and seasonings. (guess this fits in with good ingredients:) ) I went to the spice aisle a while back and just bought a boat load of spices i had heard of. Then I would choose my meat and research online what spices go with what. That's where knowledge comes in. Plus if you want to try a new recipe, at least you'll have the spices for it. And I love that i can make my own "spice packets" for chili, taco meat, etc. I'm quite the "Spice Pro" now!

    3. Good call to both of you. I definitely can't believe I left off real garlic. It's almost shameful. And spice packets sounds like a good project for exploration.