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Archive for June, 2015

How to Learn the Basics of Cooking

There are so many of us who watch Nigella Lawson cook some amazing delicacies on the TV cookery show. And believe me, there are plenty who feel they could be in her shoes, not for becoming a celebrity TV chef, but to cook with ease and perfection just the way she does. Cooking is not something to be dreaded. It is a science of perfectly blending food and spices and it is an art of choosing the best ingredients to enhance the taste of the food. Now let us learn the basics.

Some Basic Cooking Styles

Baking
This is a dry and high heat cooking method mostly used for making bakery products. Baking usually involves usage of an oven or kiln. It requires very little fatty or oily contents to bake the delicacies. Solid foods like fruits and vegetables and mashed foods or batter are typically set on a timer in the oven at a specific heating temperature. The food usually gets thoroughly baked when carbon dioxide gets released from the food. Baking was first done in countries like Egypt and Greece in charcoal and brick kilns.

Boiling
Delicacies that taste well with their natural flavors are usually boiled in boiling water or pressure cooked. The basic idea is to cook with the help of steam and with absolutely no oil content. e.g Boiling rice or making vegetable and chicken stock.

Roasting
This is again a dry heating method where food substances are either directly exposed to heat flames or kept on roasting pans. Roasting techniques also use a method called spit roasting where food is attached on sticks and suspended at a safe distance over the fire. The food gets cooked by sheer high temperature. Some popular methods of roasting are barbecues.

Frying
Frying involves usage of oily substances like vegetable oils or butter for cooking purposes. The food can either be deep-fried or stir fried in a wok or shallow fried in a shallow frying pan. Stir fry methods have always been used to prepare Chinese delicacies.

Braising
This involves gentle cooking of food at low heat in a covered pot. The food to be cooked is first marinated with spices, sauces and herbs. The food is then simmered in liquids. You can gradually add more spices and sauces as the food gets cooked. Braised food is usually rated as best tasting food out of all types. This method is popularly used in making Indian curries.

Grilling
This method involves cooking food on high heat wherein food substances like meat or beef cuts are placed on grills. As the food gets cooked, its natural oils start trickling into the fire below. This makes for a really healthy food. The food may be marinated with spices and salt in advanced stages of grilling process.

Some Popular Food Chopping Styles

Julienne Method
This method involves chopping vegetables into fine, thin and long slices very similar to match sticks. This method is usually used in chopping hard vegetables like carrots and beet root.

Dicing
This method involves making tiny square cubes out of food. This method is popularly used for chopping cheese cubes.

Roll Cutting
This method involves chopping vegetables by holding the knife straight or in a diagonal fashion so as to get straight or slanted vegetable chops. This technique works well for vegetable like French beans or cucumber.

Crushing
This method involves cleaning vegetables and spices like garlic and ginger. The spices are then alternately pressed with the tip of the knife and the flat knife surface to get a smooth paste.

Fine Mincing
This method uses a two-handled chopping knife. Users need to apply pressure on vegetable surface by shuttling pressure between two handles like a teeter-totter or a see-saw. This method is used when you need to finely chop vegetables like onions or spinach.

All Time Essential Cooking Ingredients

It is difficult to enlist all the essential ingredients of cooking in my list. But I have still tried to list out some that need to be stored at home all round the year. One or more ingredients from this list are always required to cook foods at home.

– Salt
– Sugar
– Butter
– Cheese (any variety)
– Wheat flour
– Low fat salad dressings
– Italian herbs e.g. oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage
– Dry fruits
– Baking powder
– Indian curry spices, e.g. cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, chili powder, turmeric powder
– Cooking oils like olive oil
– Sauces like mustard sauce, soy sauce, tomato sauce
– Ginger and garlic paste
– Vinegar
– Food essences like vanilla, rose, etc.
– Uncooked noodles and pasta

Some Basic Appliances for Kitchen

Here is a list of ‘must have’ kitchen appliances that can make cooking seem interesting and easy!

– Refrigerator
– Cooking range
– Dish washer
– Microwave oven
– Food processor
– Hand mixer
– Griddle
– Rolling pin
– Pressure cooker
– A set of all sized knives
– Chopping board
– Kitchen scissors
– Cooking pots and frying woks
– Sieves and mixing utensils
– Metal and wooden spoons in variety of sizes
– Crockery and cutlery
– Grater and shredder set
– Kitchen timer
– Weigh cups and weighing machine

These are some of the basic necessities to be a good cook. Mastering these techniques will simplify cooking for everyone, especially the bachelors, young brides and all those who hate cooking!

How to Avoid Common Cooking Mistakes

Cooking is something more than just a routine task performed by men and women alike. It’s like an experiment, which can yield different results each time in spite of the same recipe and ingredients involved. For instance, sometimes, a recipe can turn into a lip-smacking delicacy, where everything that has gone into its making is just perfect, but sometimes it can get ruined completely.

One thing that can be clearly understood from the above point is that, what you cook does not matter, but the way you cook it makes a great difference. Having said that, let’s now understand what are the common mistakes that you can avoid, to make your cooking a better experience for yourself as well as the people around you.

Mistake #1: Choosing an inappropriate pan

The size of the pan is the most important factor to be considered while cooking, because a too big or too small pan may ruin your entire recipe. When the food is added to boiling water, it lowers the water temperature, and if the quantity of food is more, the water stops boiling immediately. This alters the cooking process, and affects the texture of the food very badly. For instance, if you use a small pot for cooking pasta, it will give you a pile of gummy noodles in the end.

Solution: Don’t overcrowd the cooking pan, and try to cook in batches. If you want to cook more food in lesser time, keep two pans on the stove, and cook simultaneously in both the pans. This will provide room for the ingredients to get cooked, and also save you a lot of time. Also, use lots of water, and allow your ingredients to swim in the pan if you want a well-cooked dish.

Mistake #2: Preheating the pan incorrectly

We tend to assume that a pan can heat up within a minute or two, and your meat can go in instantly. However, it is important to note that a pan, especially of the cast iron variety, needs a considerable amount of time to heat up evenly from all sides, and cook the food properly. When you turn the burner on high, the pan gets heated only in the middle. This kind of heating has two negative effects; one is that the pan gets damaged due to such high heat getting concentrated only at the center of the pan, and secondly, the food placed at the center of the hot pan is at a high risk of sticking to the bottom of the pan or getting burnt.

Solution: To save your pan from damage, and the food from burning, put the pan on a low to medium flame as soon as you enter the kitchen, and while it heats up gradually, prepare your ingredients.

Mistake #3: Sautéing wet leafy greens

Sautéing wet leafy greens can present two problems. Firstly, the veggies will lose their flavor and color because the excess water on leaves comes in contact with the hot pan and creates steam. This causes the veggies to lose their vibrant color and texture. Secondly, the hot oil does not react well with water, and may splatter after coming in contact with cold water.

Solution: To keep the color and flavor of your green veggies intact, use a salad spinner. Spin the green leaves in the salad spinner, drain the water, toss, and spin again. Ensure that the pan is hot enough before putting in the veggies.

Mistake #4: Boiling instead of simmering

Generally, when you are in a hurry, you tend to make more mistakes while cooking, one of them being, boiling the food instead of simmering. To avoid this mistake, it is important to understand the difference between boiling and simmering. Simmering occurs when a bubble appears on the surface of a liquid after every 2-3 seconds. When the frequency of bubbles appearing at the surface increases, it is termed as boiling. It’s true that boiling cooks the food faster, but only to give it a tough and dry texture. The food when boiled in liquid, seems to be cooked on the surface, but stays raw and undercooked from the inside. This further may make the food tough and chewy.

Solution: There is only one solution to this mistake and that is, you should only simmer the food whenever simmering is required.

Mistake #5: Putting meat straight from the fridge into the oven

It is one of the blunders made by many cooks. When you pop the meat straight from the refrigerator into the oven, it is most likely to get overcooked from the outside while remaining undercooked from the inside.

Solution: Remember to remove the meat cuts from the refrigerator at least half an hour before cooking time. This will allow the meat to thaw, bringing it gradually to room temperature while taking the chill off, thus, making it ready for cooking.

Mistake #6: Avoiding taste trial while cooking

Some people are pretty confident about their cooking measurements, and hence, don’t feel the need to taste their dish while proceeding with the recipe. However, like I said earlier, cooking is like an experiment, which may give different results each time, even with the same recipe. Furthermore, if you don’t use measuring utensils, and toss the ingredients with approximate values, then it definitely calls for a taste trial after adding each and every ingredient to the cooking pan. If you fail to do so, the otherwise tasty dish may turn into a ruined, messy dish.

Solution: Don’t miss the taste trial while preparing any dish as it will bring correct flavor, color, texture, and taste to your food.

Mistake #7: Turning the food too often

A well-roasted chicken will develop a nice brown crust above the soft and tender meat, but only when it’s allowed to rest and cook in the pan without too much poking or flipping.

Solution: The best indicator to tell that it’s too early to turn the food is when the spatula cannot slide easily under the crust. Hence, wait for some more time until you can slide the spatula cleanly under the food, and flip it.

Other common cooking mistakes include …

– ignoring minute details of the recipe while reading it.
– cooking with wrong oils.
– being too casual with measuring utensils.
– not shocking the vegetables in ice water after cooking them in boiling water.

Proper maintenance of cooking utensils is also an important aspect of better cooking, and badly kept utensils can prove to be one of the biggest cooking mistakes. The cast iron pans require a special treatment while washing, because normal soap water and scrub tend to wash away the coating from the pan’s surface, which works as a non-stick agent that prevents food from sticking to the pan.