Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is cooking really a joy?

Cooking is the joy of many people’s lives. Some get great joy from the experience of cooking; others get joy from eating. There is healthy cooking, baking, grilling, comfort cooking, Grandma’s cooking, and innovative cooking. These are all great, but no one ever explained to me the entire process and just how long it takes and how many things must be remembered.

First, a step many forget to consider, grocery shopping. This in and of itself is not typically too difficult for one, or a couple, to manage a few times a week. Remember, the healthier you eat the more often you must frequent the grocer-it is very difficult to get around this for I have tried.

Secondly, you must unload the groceries and put them away. Also included in this step is remembering what you actually purchased. I forget this part a lot, and unfortunately that means that I contribute to wasting food that must be thrown out several days later.

The third step is preparing the food and cooking it. We already had to go through the first two steps and now we are just getting to the cooking and eating part!

Did anyone else notice that in those three steps we haven’t determined what we are shopping for and what we are cooking?

When someone moves out on their own people get them a cookbook. Get married, cookbook. New kitchen appliance…you guessed it-cookbook. 

Upon first opening a cookbook it is a whole new world of using food in ways you couldn’t imagine before being given the idea. Try a recipe once, yum that was good…but then that page of the cookbook is long forgotten because the effort to remember it and find it is just too great. After a while there are just too many cookbooks to leaf through. Between the cookbooks we have in print and the great World Wide Web we have easily millions of recipes to choose from. Still, this isn’t good enough when we have many other things in life that require attention.

It is over the last seven years of infrequently looking through recipes, I have finally discovered there is a way to cook that is a bit less stressful and intimidating.

The first way to make cooking less daunting is to be familiar with a few recipes you like and learn how to use the same ingredients, or stock ingredients, to make different meals. At this point in life, I rarely use a recipe for anything, but rather choose what my main ingredients will be for a meal and think of a way to cook it that complements the flavors I am looking for. **Baking is an entirely different story. I do NOT recommend inventing recipes because baking requires proper rising and ratios of ingredients**

One of my favorite things to do is use any fresh meat (raw) and cook it in my electric skillet. Now I have two directions I can go with this meat. I can do a meal that is “dry” like a stir-fry or sauteed OR I can do a meal that is more like a casserole or “liquid” based. If I were to cook ground beef and choose “dry” I would then add fresh cut up vegetables and cook them until they are soft enough for my families liking.  I use a lot of spices and herbs in my cooking to add flavor without calories *Mrs. Dash is a must have in my kitchen.

Now if I wanted to take that ground beef in a “liquid” based direction there are two fast ideas I think of-the first adding a tomato base and rice along with canned veggies and/or beans and the second is adding fresh cut veggies like carrots and potatoes with a soup base. Campbell’s makes a ton of cooking soups that will help bring together purposely thought out ingredients or even a miss-mash of left over foods.

Here is a list of steps to get you on your way with cooking

Step 1: Determine ingredients you know you like. This means having a list of your favorite meats (cut of meat), vegetables, fruits, herbs, cheeses, and a list of sides as well. Easy sides include Knorr’s (formerly Lipton) pasta and rice sides or baked beans. Some meals don’t need sides so that will be even easier.

Step 2: Make your grocery trip easier by purchasing the same items. I by-pass at least 1/3 of my grocery store because I know there are isles that have food that I don’t need or want. Walking the same path will help you quickly pick and remember items. I don’t shop with a grocery list because I buy the same things or what is on sale. If you focus on a list too much you limit your possibilities.

Step 3: Learn ways that you like these items cooked. Some meats cook best grilled, broiled, baked, fried, steamed. Same way with vegetables-the type of cut on a vegetable can change the way it cooks which affects the flavor and consistency.

Step 4: Take the leap and blindly create a dish using what ingredients you have already purchased from the grocery store. Each time you do this, note what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes it is very close to an end product you will really love.

Once you can cook from what you have cooking in a bind or with limited ingredients becomes much easier and much tastier!

In a future post I will share a list of the best kitchen appliances to utilize.

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