I am trying to write a cookbook for those that have no clue what to do in the kitchen. I posted in the Introductory thread about where to post text and recipes for feedback. It was suggested that I post that stuff here.
Mostly I am looking for suggestions and feedback concerning clarity or anything stupid important that I left out.
I am writing this for the person that doesnít know how to feed themselves. Maybe you are in high school and trying to figure out how to turn leftovers into lunch. Maybe you have been out of your folks house for a while and are sick of drive thru. You get the idea, whatever reason; you want to learn to turn stuff in the fridge into something you can eat.
If you are looking for restaurant quality recipes, you probably wonít find them here. I have cooked what are considered restaurant quality meals, but that is more a matter of luck and just a little skill.
Ok, letís talk about spices. What do you like and donít like? Do you know? Smell stuff, taste a little, just a little. Is it yummy?
What kind of protein? Chicken, beef, pork, fish, turkey? Honestly, I donít like fish, I donít eat it. I imagine most of these recipes would work with fish, but use your own judgement.
CLEAN is rule one. Wash your hands often! You canít make good food if you have stuff smeared on the counter, the sink is full of dishes, and the cutting board has dried yuck on it from what you cooked last. So clean up. I know you are hungry and you want to get to it, but it only takes a few minutes, your food will come out better, and you will have the room you need to make a new mess. Cooking IS messy. How you choose to deal with it is up to you. Wiping things down as you go is the best way, in my opinion.
FRESH is rule two. Donít use the moldy onion in the back of the fridge! Smell your ingredients before you use them if there is any doubt. Does it smell nasty? Toss it. Does it have no smell? Itís probably ok. Does it have a yummy smell? Itís most definitely ok. If you are using canned ingredients, donít use anything that comes from a swelled up can. Dented cans are probably ok, but if the top or bottom is bulged , donít even open it. If you are using frozen ingredients, donít use the stuff that has the great big ice crystals on it. That is freezer burned and while (probably) not bad for you, it murders the taste of everything!
A word about cross contamination.
Letís say you are making chicken and onions. So you start cutting up your chicken and get it going, then you cut your onion. The part of the onion that you put on the cutting board now has ick on it from the chicken. Now you put that onion with the chicken/cutting board ick back in the fridge where it becomes a Petri dish. The next time you use that onion you are going to get a big dose of yuck that will turn your ass into a fire hose, if you are lucky. Be sure to wipe up after cutting raw meat, onion, hot stuff like chili peppers, garlic, or anything else that has a strong odor, or a runny center.
If you are making something like a salad where you use all of the ingredients and arenít putting things back in the fridge, you donít have to be as careful, in my opinion. If you are a pro chef and I am wrong on this, drop me a note and I will edit the next edition. I still wouldnít chop up a salad after cutting raw meat without wiping up. But carrots after lettuce, and tomato after carrots, you bet.
Safety. Is Rule Three (probably rule 1 technically). You have to pay attention!!! A pan of oil will burst into flames if it gets hot enough. It will smoke before it does. If your pan bursts into flames DO NOT add water. Cover it. With a lid, with another pan, with anything that wonít burst into flame instantly. It only usually takes just a few seconds to smother the flames. Take it off the heat. Maybe set it outside to cool off. It wonít smoke up the house with whatever just got ruined.
A side note about heat:
The off on my stove is at the 12:00 position. High is at the 1:00 position. Big deal, right? Maybe not, hereís why. 6:00 on my stove dial is medium heat. 9:00 is low heat. 3:00 is high heat. If I am frying meat, the burner is set to 5:00 or 6:00. If I am simmering something, the burner is set between 2:00 and 4:00. If I am boiling noodles, 1:00 or 2:00. Cooking things at the appropriate temperature is important. Boiling water on low is never going to happen.
Which leads to a side note about the size of the pan and the size of the burner. Donít put a little bitty pan on a great big burner. The pan should match the size of the burner. Big pan, big burner, little pan, little burner. If you are trying to fry a pan of bacon in a big pan on a small burner, you arenít going to have a very big hot spot and your bacon will come out icky and wrong. If you are trying to cook an egg in one of those stupid little specialty pans on the largest burner you are going to melt the handle and burn your hand. If you are using a gas stove, your flames should be just a little smaller than the base of your pan.
Knives are (supposed to be) sharp! Be careful!! You will cut yourself, it isnít the end of the world. Donít bleed on the food please! If you cut yourself, maybe ask whoever is there with you to help you cut or stir or whatever until you get the blood to stop. Itís ok.
I like my steaks medium. A little red in the middle. Just a little. Everything else I would rather over cook than undercook. Pink pork is more acceptable than it was 40 years ago, I still donít eat it. I am never ever going to eat under cooked chicken or eggs. Sushi, none of that shall pass these lips. If you eat it and it makes you sick, you were warned.
Last, read the recipe before you start cooking anything. Half way through is not the time to find out you donít have enough of something. These meals without exception are very fluid. They are designed to work with what you have. Recipe calls for pork but all you have is a left over hamburger from Wendyís? Throw the meat in. May not be great, but it will make a turd. Donít have or like pasta? No problem, use potatoes or rice. The recipes here are what I cooked that day, usually for dinner. They are made with whatever I had on hand and was in the mood for.
If you donít like something, donít use it. If you donít have something, donít sweat it. This isnít about following the directions exactly, this is about feeding yourself. If I donít use something you love, throw it in and let me know how it comes out. I donít know everything. Donít be afraid to toss something out and start over. Cooking isnít hard, it isnít terribly tedious, and if you make stuff you like, it is fun! Everyone who has ever cooked anything has screwed something up, burnt something to a crisp, and had to learn somehow. If you burn water, this book is intended to help you not burn water; you just have to remember what you are doing long enough to get the job done.
Scoville (the other kind of heat)
This probably should be a safety rule, but your chances of serious injury are small. Do you like hot food? Not hot like oven hot, hot like hot sauce hot. I love hot!! I am Cajun and what would melt most peoplesí faces off is just getting started for me.
Taco Bell makes truly terrible hot sauce in my opinion, except that it is a good way to figure out if you like heat or not. If you went and got tacos right now, what kind of hot sauce would you get? None? The weak sauce? Fire or fuego sauce? How much heat you eat, or donít eat is a personal choice, if you see peppers in my recipes and donít like heat, please donít use them until you have tried some.
There are exceptions here. Not all peppers are hot. Read that again.
Some hot peppers are Ghost Pepper, Anaheim pepper, Jalapeno pepper, and Habanero peppers. These and many others are the melt your face end of the heat range. Even for folks like me who like, no, LIKE hot food, these can be extreme. No two peppers are the same for heat. Two identical peppers can vary radically in their heat signature.
Other peppers have no or very little heat and are considered sweet peppers. These include bell peppers, Ortega peppers and Poblano peppers.
Before you start adding peppers to anything, it is a good idea to taste the very end of the pepper. This is almost always the least hot part of the pepper. When I am making Salsa or Chilli, I almost always taste the peppers before I get carried away.
Color of pepper has nothing to do with heat. A red pepper can be every bit as hot as a green pepper. The red pepper is ripe where as the green one isÖ green. The red pepper has more sugar developed in it, but rarely does that mean it is sweet.
Somethings I use often are flour mixture and marinade. They are easy to use and for me, really make the meal special.
I use commercially available stuff, usually, and add to it. Kind of like putting your favorite toppings on a frozen pizza.
1 cup flour
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, season salt, onion powder, lemon pepper.
Take out anything you donít have or donít like.
Put it in a gallon zip lock baggie and shake it up.
What you donít use put in the FREEZER. Invariably with time, there will beÖ thingsÖ in the flour mixture. Little pieces of meat, little bits of flour that stuck to your fingers and fell off, thingsÖ
I donít worry about them. I certainly donít eat them, but I donít think they are harmful to the mixture as it stays frozen when not in use. Again, if I am wrong and this is unsafe, let me know and I will edit the next edition. I remake the mixture every couple months or so. I donít use it that much.
Package of meat marinade. I use the cheap powdered stuff. There are two kinds, oil base and water base. Oil base will cause your barbeque to flair. This can either turn you food into charcoal or add a layer of extra yumminess called char. Just a hint of charcoal can turn an average piece of meat into an exceptional and wonderful mouthful of heaven. Too much and itís ruined.
I add of course, salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, season salt. I would put that stuff on my cheerios if I could. If I am cooking beef I use maybe an ounce or two of vinegar. Any kind will do, but thatís the only time I use it in marinade.
Whatever you are marinating, pierce your meat in several places. If I am cooking pork or beef, I lay it out on the cutting board and stab it with a fork on both sides. Think the movie Psycho. I stab it up all over on both sides and drop it into the marinade. Use a baggie, bowl, or deep dish, preferably glass or plastic. You donít want your marinade to taste like metal so donít use a metal pan. Make sure to turn it over every 30 minutes or so. I marinate for a minimum of 90 minutes. But thatís me.
If I am marinating boneless skinless bird of some kind, I use a meat mallet to flatten it out before putting it in the marinade. Whole pieces just get tossed in.
I never save my marinade like I do my flour mixture. Liquid that has had raw meat in it should never be saved. I do usually drizzle a little on my meat when I am grilling it.
Rub is, as far as I know, a spice mixture that is physically rubbed on the meat before you cook it. The correct definition may be different, but thatís what it is to me. My rub is my marinade without the wet ingredients. It is totally dry. I do add about ľ to 1/8 tsp rosemary. Start off with a literal pinch if you have never used rosemary. Same with thyme. For me these are the two hardest ingredients to use. They have a VERY strong flavor. Even if you LOVE the taste of these guys, use a little. Does it need more, add more NEXT time. You can add more next time, but you canít take any out now. Applying it is a cross between petting your dog and shining your shoes. Get it in there! But lovingly. RUB it. Pet it. Love it. In a few hours of agonizingly good smells, you will be grubbing.
I love the smell of meat cooking on the grill. The smell of someoneís barbeque can go for blocks and make me hungry in an instant. But how do YOU do that? Thatís where the magic is!
Gas or not? I can use either. Gas is faster. Charcoal is my preferred., but you canít just dump some lumps in and go. You do at first for sure.
I recently discovered a chimney like deal just for charcoal. You load the top with lumps and the bottom with paper. The burning paper lights the charcoal and there is never the taste of lighter fluid, which I hate.
So you have lumps and fire, great. How do you know when they are ready? When there is no fire and no black. When you are starving, it is HARD to wait, so start before you are starving. I call them ďlumpsĒ because you donít have to use just briquettes. There is Mesquite too. Then there are the lumps with hard wood in them.
There are two methods to arrange your coals. The direct method and the indirect method. What you are cooking depends on what I use. Roast? Turkey? Something that takes hours? Indirect method.
Hotdogs? Burgers? A good steak? Direct method.
But what are they? How do you do it? For the indirect method, I put my lumps around the outside edge of the barbeque leaving none in the center. I expect that I am going to be doing this for hours. I expect I am going to have to remove my meat and add more lumps. They will do their thing. Wait until your lumps are about half burned before you add more.
For the direct method, I put my lumps in the middle and cook just to the side of them. I expect that fat and other yumminess is going to drip down on my hot coals and turn into fire which will turn my food into charcoal, or give it just the right amount of char, depending how close I watch it.
Gas is a little different, there is no direct or indirect. It is more like cooking on the stove, without the pan. Want some char? Crank up the heat. Cooking a roast? Turn down the heat.
About the grill. I donít wash mine. If you live in a wet rainy area, it WILL mold, which is disgusting, so you may have to. Usually, I just scrape off the burnt on yumminess from the last grilling and let it get hot. When your bbq reaches 400 or 500 degrees, anything that would make you sick basically vaporizes making for a safe cooking surface. In my opinion.
There are two or three ways to smoke meat that I know of. This is not for beginners. The two ways that I have done it are to use a commercially made smoker, or put chips on my lumps. I prefer to put the chips on my lumps. But I donít just dump them on there. Then they burn and you get your own home made lumps instead of smoked meat.
I boil my chips for 15 minutes and then let them soak until I am ready to use them, usually not very long. Heat from boiling opens up the pores in the wood allowing the water to be absorbed by the chips. Then, when you put them on your hot coals, they steam instead of burn. Then I cook my meat in this steam and smoke. I love the results I get. You will too!
The third way involves building your own smoker. I have never done it.
I start with bbq sauce you can buy at the store. I like mine SWEET and SPICY. I wrote it like that because nothing commercially available is either sweet or spicy enough for me.
To that I add Salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, season salt. Then I add brown sugar and maple syrup. Taste it. What does it need? Is it wonderful? Toss it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Tomato stuff and fire equals charcoal. Either use the indirect method and put it on just before the meat is off the grill, or put it on just after you pull the meat off if using the direct method. Trying to cook your meat with tomato based sauce on it is not going to end well if you glob it on there and expect it to cook in. That does work in the oven tho.
I make grease gravy. Gravy made from the grease and fried yumminess that comes with cooking meat. So how do you do it?
You have just taken your meat out of the pan and the thing is still hot. Get a cup of flower. Sprinkle half in, all over the pan. I use a whisk and mix it in real good. The drier you can get the oil the better, but the more flour you add, the more gravy you are going to get. If you have to add the whole cup of flour, thatís what you have to do, but you want anything from pancake batter to something even drier. Chunks is ok, but not necessary. Ok this has to be quick. Stir that flour around and get it mixed in with as much oil as you can. Now dump in 2 cups of COLD water and stir like crazy. Is it trying to turn into cement? Add more water, quick! Keep stirring!!
You can add more water until it is no longer trying to be cement/plaster. If you add too much water, you can always cook it down. You will probably have to, either a little bit or a lot. If it looks like soup, just keep simmering and stirring. That stuff will stick and burn in the time it takes for a t.v. commercial so stay on top of it. Once you get it bubbling good, turn down your heat and cook it and stir it until you are happy with it.