Category Archives: Cooking

The Wonderful Tools of Cooking

Far too often people overlook the importance of using the proper tools when cooking fine meals. While there is nothing in the world that can quite compare to cooking with the finest and freshest of ingredients, these things can only be enhanced by making use of the perfect tools for the job at hand.

When it comes to pots and pans and skillets you should keep in mind that conductivity is of extreme importance. You should also select pots and pans that are made of a heavier gauge. This allows your pans to heat evenly avoiding hot spots, which can lead to food that may ‘stick’ to your pan or scorch during the cooking process. This means that simply stopping in at your local mass market retailer and purchasing any old set of pots and pans is probably not the best course of action for the best possible quality in your kitchen.

Kitchen knives are also important ingredients in the kitchens of today. If you plan to prepare many meals in your kitchen, then the quality of your knives is of the utmost importance. Your knives are an investment you shouldn’t have to make too often in your lifetime. For this reason, select a really good set and be prepared to make a sizeable investment in your knives. You will never understand, unless you’ve tried to prepare foods with knives of inferior quality, just how important it is to purchase good quality and well-balanced knives for your kitchen. You should also try the handles in your hand to see how comfortable they feel before purchasing a set of knives. If you do a lot of chopping and cutting during your meal preparation and cooking you will want to make sure that the knives you are using feel comfortable in your hands.

If you are like me and plan on cooking a great deal of meat then you should also invest in a jacquard. This useful tool helps not only when it comes to tenderizing rather rough and tumble cuts of meat but also pierces the surface so that rubs and marinades can penetrate for a more flavorful experience. This is by far one of my favorite kitchen gadgets and it isn’t a sizeable investment for the added value it provides to meals.

A good quality grater is another tool that no kitchen should be complete without. There are many who feel that with all the pre shredded cheese products on the market today this tool is obsolete but nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, pre grated and pre packaged cheese simply doesn’t touch the quality of flavor that freshly grated cheese provides. Second, cheese isn’t the only thing that these graters are useful for grating. Graters are excellent tools for grating citrus fruits, spices, garlic, chocolate, and even onions. If you do a good deal of baking in addition to your cooking you should not overlook the value of having a quality grater in your kitchen.

Of course there are many more cooking tools than I could possibly mention here. Those mentioned above simply happen to be among my personal favorites. There are all kinds of appliances that in my humble opinion no kitchen is truly complete without. In addition to these great appliances there are many tools that are simple matters of preference. Do you peel enough potatoes to warrant a special device for doing so or do you simply opt to purchase an ergonomically designed potato peeler and peel them by hand? There are no one size fits all answers when it comes to kitchen tools and many of us are often limited by serious budget constraints and restrictions. My best advice if this is the situation for you is to purchase the best possible quality you can afford and build from there. Even if it means replacing one pot or knife at a time until you can manage a complete set of superior quality cooking tools you will find it well worth the price you’ve paid in the long run.

PPPPP

682

Cooking on a George Foreman Grill

When it comes to convenience and enjoyment when cooking there are very few appliances in my kitchen that can compete with my George Foreman grill. While there are many different sizes and styles to the George Foreman line of grilling machines I have the George Foreman Next Grilleration Grill, which allows us to do almost anything on our grill. This grill even comes with the ability to make waffles in addition to all the wonderful meals that the traditional George Foreman grill can assist with when it comes to cooking.

This handy grill is completely awesome when it comes to cooking no matter what time of the day it is. For breakfast, you also have the option of using the flat grill in order to make pancakes, sausage, bacon, or eggs if that is your wish in addition to the ability to make waffles. For breakfast, this grill is divine and we’re just getting started for the day.

For lunch you can once again use the flat grill for making grill cheese sandwiches if that is your choice or you can use the traditional grilling grills in order to create paninis or quesadillas that are sure to please even the most selective member of your family when it comes to a quick, easy, and delicious lunch. If that doesn’t do the trick though you can also use the grills to make hot ham and cheese sandwiches or use your imagination to come up with a tasty combination of your very own. To get a little extra creative you could toss a few pineapple rings onto the grill for a tasty after lunch treat.

In the afternoon you can use your grill, believe it or not, to make homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d be fairly willing to be that is one thing you never thought you’d be cooking on a grill. I know it was a surprise for me. When you buy the grill, if you decide to buy one of these, you will discover that there is a recipe for making your own chocolate chip cookies in the recipe booklet that comes with the grill. Of course there are other snack foods you can make with your grill as well just use your imagination.

When it comes to dinner, very few kitchen appliances offer quite the degree of diversity of my little George Foreman Grilleration when it comes to cooking. Another surprising recipe in the booklet is one for pizza and I have actually used my grill to make Shake and Bake chicken on more than one occasion. As far as tools for cooking go in my kitchen this is one tool that is definitely tops. You can also make fish sticks or chicken nuggets and French fries on this nifty little grill if that is your wish.

In addition to the things I’ve mentioned above you can use your grill for making chicken, fish, steaks, pork shops, and many other delightful dishes if that is your wish. When it comes to this particular grill the plates are not only removable but also dishwasher safe. This means that clean up is quick and easy once the cooking is complete.

When it comes to cooking for you and your family, any little short cut to make things easier is a shortcut well worth taking. The George Foreman Grilleration is a great accessory to add to your kitchen that will make cooking easier day in and out.

PPPPP

581

Easy Christmas Cooking that is Sure to Please

Christmas is a hectic time of year. Many families find that they barely have time to breathe much less cook dishes to bring for this or that function. For this reason there are several great cheat dishes that can be purchased and prepared for the occasions and very few people will be the wiser. Though Christmas may be about being with friends and family it is not about broadcasting a possible lack of talent in the kitchen, time on hand, or a shortage of attention span that is required in order to prepare a stellar dish for your Christmas needs.

Of course, you could begin preparing and freezing large casserole favorites as early as August for the Christmas season. In this instance you could freeze all your family favorites and have great dishes not only for family functions that require a pitch in dish but also for those nights when you are far too busy to be bothered with something as demanding on your limited attention span as actually preparing a home cooked meal. This is possible the best method for each Christmas cooking known to man. If you prepare casseroles and similar dishes that work well with a holiday theme throughout the year be sure to double your efforts next time and freeze half for busier months such as November and December.

Of course there is one method that may be a little easier in the long run though a good deal more costly. This is the supreme cheater method. There are plenty of businesses that offer you the opportunity to put together or ‘assemble’ meals then bring them home to freeze and bake. This isn’t quite home made though it tastes as good and might convince those at the parties and events you attend that you are in fact an excellent cook even if you have difficulties finding your way to boiling water. Some cities have several of these meal assembly stores while others have none or only one. You need to constantly check with the menu if you are a finicky eater because they often rotate some of the more popular dishes so that they aren’t available all the time. Since the food is frozen you can typically plan your sessions for those times when they are offering the dishes you are interested in creating.

A variation on the theme above is purchasing prepared meals in the freezer section of your local supermarket. There are a few surprisingly good meals to be had especially if you are considering macaroni and cheese or lasagna for your offering. These are meals that you bring home and heat in your oven. They are often sold in foil pans, which are great for potlucks and pitch ins but not so much for looking good. If that isn’t the utmost concern these are definitely a possible fit for your needs and your plans. They also happen to be fairly budget friendly which is something most of us can agree is a great thing.

You do not have to have super powers or even a great deal of cooking talent in order to make a Christmas dinner that is delicious and easy to make when time is short. Careful planning well ahead of time is often the key to a successful Christmas season. Most of us begin our shopping early there is no harm in also beginning our cooking a little early too.

PPPPP

578

Cooking for One

It is often frustrating to attempt to plan meals that are designed for one. Despite this fact, we are seeing more and more recipe books and Internet websites that are dedicated to the act of cooking for one. Divorce and the death of spouses or grown children leaving for college are all reasons that someone accustomed to cooking for more than one would suddenly need to learn how to adjust all the cooking practices utilized before into a streamlined plan of cooking that is more efficient for one person creating less waste.

The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make cooking for one a challenge rather than a trial. Use this opportunity to try new and exciting cuisines. Perhaps one of the greatest things about cooking for one is the fact that it isn’t quite as expensive as cooking for two. This means that you have a little more money in the grocery budget with which to plan and prepare your meals.

One thing you may want to keep in mind however is that when cooking for one, if you prepare foods that are freezable. It may save more time (and in the end money) if you cook the full 2-4 servings that most recipes call for and freeze the leftovers in single serving portions for a later point in time. This leaves you with a freezer full of foods for those nights when the thought of cooking just seems beyond your capabilities. This also leaves you with doing the work once and enjoying the fruits of your efforts many times over. This is a great position to be in if you ask me.

We are finding more and more recipes and cookbooks that are designed around the concept of cooking for one. No matter what situation placed you in the position of cooking for one, there is no reason that you shouldn’t enjoy great food that is exciting and pleasant simply because you are dining alone. There is no harm in enjoying a fabulous meal with a glass of wine and great music whether you are cooking for one or one hundred.

Remember you are what you eat and if you relegate yourself to boring meals that lack excitement and spice that is what you will become. However if you decide to reach out and try new and exciting dishes with every meal you prepare when cooking for one, it will show in the way you embrace life in other areas as well. While we should not live to eat, we should also not limit ourselves to eating to live. Enjoy the foods you prepare whether the portions are large or small in size.

If you do not want to invest heavily in cookbooks that relate to cooking for one, it is quite possible that your local public library will have a few from which you can find some excellent recipes tips and resources. While you are there be sure to check out their selection of exotic food cookbooks in order to spice things up a bit. You never know what treasures you may discover on the shelves or your local library. You may even find local resources on classes that center on the idea of cooking for one. If the library proves to be a bust as far as resources go, the Internet is full of recipes, tips, and hints for those who are cooking for one.

PPPPP

575

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Thanksgiving is many things to many different people. In America it is a day we set aside to give thanks for all the things that are important to us and pay homage to an excellent dinner with an afternoon of football watching and yelling at the television screen (at least that is what you do if you live in Detroit). In other areas of the nation people actually do things together such as playing board games, touch football, or any number of other games that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Other traditions are to gather the ladies together to plan the shopping strategy for the next day’s shopping. A worthy cause if ever there was one to be sure.

But, the traditions that go along with Thanksgiving and giving thanks do not solve the dilemma that many face each and every time Thanksgiving is celebrated in their homes faces. That dilemma would be what to prepare for the big meal. There are plenty of options and as hostess and chef extraordinaire it is entirely up to you what the menu will be. The best piece of advice that can be given however, is the less food left to prepare on Thanksgiving day is the less food that has the opportunity for something to go wrong in the preparation process.

Here are a few great menu ideas, tips, and tricks that should help make your Thanksgiving Dinner preparations go a little more smoothly.

First of all, plan ahead and make sure you have all the ingredients you need and any special menu items that may be required well ahead of time but in a manner that allows for maximum freshness. If you must wait until the day before to get some of your shopping done, then do so as early in the day as possible. Otherwise make a point of getting all the non-perishable ingredients that are necessary a week or so ahead of time. Also if you are going to order a smoked turkey or something along those lines do so far enough in advance that you have no doubt at all that your order will be filled on time.

Second, if you can afford to have something ordered and prepared offsite and it doesn’t hurt your sense of pride do so. You do not have to have everything catered but having a few items catered will leave your day much less stressed making the risk of something going wrong a little lower than if you were cramming everything into one morning and doing it all yourself. Bread from the bakery, smoked ham or turkey, and certain favorite side dishes that are complicated and time consuming as well as some pies are a great buy and save a lot of time that would be better spent enjoying the day.

Third, recruit help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a passing child or adult and asking for a little help with the chopping, washing, or mixing that must take place in order for the dinner to go off without a hitch. The thing is that while people often don’t mind helping they are afraid to offer for fear of seeming to imply that you aren’t doing well enough on your own. For this reason there is no harm in recruiting help especially among friends and family.

Finally, keep the animals outside or locked away from the festivities and, more importantly, the food. Animals are great friends to have but most of your guests do not appreciate them in the kitchen or at the table. You do not want Fluffy or Fido to run off the food you’ve worked hard to prepare (or purchase whichever the case may be) so remove them from a situation that it might prove tempting.

The most important thing about your Thanksgiving dinner is that you are not so stressed from the preparation that you do not have the time or peace of mind to enjoy it. The advice above should help with that.

PPPPP

674

Giving Dad Home Style Cooking on His Big Day

There is no one on earth quite like dear old dad. He has given hugs, offered advice, picked up the pieces of your broken heart, and been the source of many twenty-dollar bills finding their way into your pockets unexpectedly for gas or a new pair of shoes. This man has meant so much to you throughout your life. Do you honor him on his special day with a trip to some nameless restaurant where he is little more than table number 23 or do you cook him a feast fit for the King her really is in your heart?

A little hint, most dads prefer home made food (provided of course you have a firm grasp on basic cooking skills) to a restaurant menu almost any day of the week and twice on a day that should be sacred for family. For this reason it is a great idea to prepare to put on a fest for your dad whether you are planning for your family and mom and dad or bringing the entire family to the table you need to plan carefully and prepare as much of the food as possible ahead of time.

Be kind to dad too and his health. Avoid laying out a table of his favorites if they are all completely off the charts for his dietary and health restriction needs. Chances are that you can find low fat, low cholesterol, or low sodium versions of most of his favorites if you do a thorough search online. You can also find plenty of recipes for sugar free treats that are delicious and friendly to those who either have type II diabetes or those who need to shed a few pounds because of other health concerns. Of course you do want dear old dad to live a little and enjoy the foods you prepare but do try to keep some of his dietary needs in mind and offer choices that fit in with his needs as well as his favorites.

Is your dear old dad a steak and potatoes kind of man? If so, feed that need. Offer a nice steak prepared in a low fat, low sodium method and a small side of potatoes with a large side of steamed or raw vegetables. This will be a good balance on the plate and should also leave a little bit of room for an excellent dessert later on. Of course if comfort food is your dad’s mainstay we are seeing new and improved recipes crop up almost every day that provide as much of the great flavor as possible without the fat, calories, and/or carbs.

Of course if your dad is the kind of man who is going to eat what he wants no matter what, there is no reason not to give him what he wants. Just make some efforts to minimize the impact by lowering where you can while still providing the taste he loves so much. Be sure to offer a nice selection of dear old dad’s favorite drinks too. Preparing an excellent father’s day feast goes well beyond just throwing a few steaks on the grill. Desserts should be something dad will enjoy and fresh fruit is another great option to add for a healthy choice and a bit of variety. The important thing is that you have taken the time to prepare and cook a great meal for the man who has given you so much on this special day.

PPPPP

589

Cooking Light for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a special holiday for Americans, particularly during times of war. We celebrate this day to honor those before who have served their country and those who serve today. Brave men and women have dedicated their lives to the service of our great nation, some of them at the cost of those lives. For this reason it is important that we dedicate one day each year to remember and honor their sacrifices. One way we celebrate, as decent red blooded Americans is by gathering together with friends and family and having picnics, barbecues, and bonfires to commemorate those who now serve, those who have served in the past, and countless others that we will never know.

The downside to our Memorial Day celebrations is a menu that lingers with us in the form of calories well beyond the festivities of the day. If you’re looking for a great way to enjoy the day without feeling deprived and still avoid some of the heavy hitting calories that we consume far too many of on a normal Memorial Day there is help to be had. Keep reading to discover some excellent methods for cutting calories from your Memorial Day feasts.

Grill your chicken instead of frying it. Fried chicken has for a very long time been a favorite among those celebrating almost any occasion – particularly in the south. However, this packs on unwanted calories that would be better spent on dessert rather than the main course. Another thing you can do is to skip the sauce. By this, I mean barbecue sauce. There are plenty of great rubs that can be used on your beef, pork, and chicken that pack a powerful punch when it comes to taste and leave off those pesky calories that sugar filled barbecue sauces add to your favorite dishes.

Have salad as a side. In addition to salad as a healthy side option include fresh cut up vegetables and low fat dressing as a dip for sides as well as appetizers. By having these available for your guests you may be surprised to discover that others appreciate the healthy options just as much as you do. Even cooked vegetables that aren’t dripping in cheese sauce, butter, or other types of fats provide a better option than high carb, high fat sides such as macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and mashed potatoes.

Have fruit on hand to help diminish the craving for sweets. While I would not dream of completely depriving yourself of dessert I recommend two steps to help make the fight against fat a more survivable contest of wills. First, have at least one sugar free dessert option available for those that are dieting and offer fruits. By combining the healthier sweet treat of fruit with a delicious sugar free dessert in a smaller portion you are doubling the health benefits.

Finally, homemade ice cream has for a long time been a favorite family tradition for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. You do not have to say no to all the good things in life even if you are trying to watch what you eat. By eliminating the empty calories many of us consume in drinks, and following the steps above you just might find that ice cream is an option for you after all without completely blowing the good work you’ve done. Remember that moderation is the key.

If you allow yourself a taste of the really good stuff along the way you will be much less likely to fail in your healthier living efforts. In addition to watching the calories you put into your body on Memorial Day be sure to take stock of the calories you burn. Go for a walk, take a hike, pick up a game of flag football with the family, or dance with the little ones in the afternoon. Consistent efforts to burn more calories while consuming less will net the greatest results whether it is a holiday or not.

PPPPP

670

Cooking with Children

I am fairly certain that most of us have either seen or at the very least heard of the hit situation comedy “Married with Children” that dominated television for quite a few years and is still shown in syndication in many markets around the world. There are some wonderful insights that are shown by this often dysfunctional family and a few pearls to bring into your every day lives. The same can be said when it comes to cooking with children.

There is little on this earth that can teach you about yourself and the way your children view you as easily as cooking with your children. Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for many of us to let our hair down a little, relax, and have fun in the kitchen. Unfortunately, if you are anything like me, this is a difficult process to say the least. I am a bit of a control freak in my kitchen. It is my domain or sovereign territory so to speak. For this reason it is difficult to give up that little bit of control and hand over the reigns to any one of my children.

On the other hand, I know they are learning important skills that they honestly need to know in life. This knowledge of course doesn’t make it any less difficult when I’m scraping tomato sauce out of places I would never have thought to discover it on my own. If you are considering cooking with children you need to make sure you have the proper ingredients on hand before beginning. You certainly do not want to be caught without that cup full of patience you will be requiring nor do you wish to need to leave in the middle of things for a run to the local grocery store to pick up the missing ingredients.

Another great rule of thumb when it comes to cooking with children is the KISS rule. Keep it simple silly. This rule will help out more than you ever realize. First of all, most children have relatively short attention spans. While they want to learn and help mommy out, they also do not want to have enough time to get bored with the details. Use simple recipes when cooking with children and your chances for success will be much greater than with overly complicated or ingredient intense recipes.

As if this wasn’t enough to absorb another very important rule when it comes to cooking with children is to clean as you go whenever possible. Trust me on this. While there is part of you who will want to put off the task of cleaning the messes that are made until later, or wait till the end and only clean once, this allows the opportunity for messes to layer and compound themselves. Constantly clean throughout the process for the best possible results. You should enlist your children in the cleaning process as well. While it may be easier to do yourself, it is far more important to teach them the basics of cleaning as you go. Remember one day they will more than likely invade your kitchen while you’re not looking.

Cooking with children can be an incredible way to have a fun day if you are able to let go of the control that you too often hold over the kitchen. Give over the keys to your kingdom for a day of fun and frolicking among the flour and sugar and see just how many wonderful memories you can make with your little ones along the way.

PPPPP

598

St. Patrick’s Day Brings Out the Irish Cooking

There is something about St. Patrick’s Day that brings out the Iris cook in all of us. At least it seems to have this effect on the women in my family. If you are not of Irish decent it may not have quite this profound effect upon you. If you are, then I’m quite certain you will understand what I mean by this. There’s something about revisiting traditions that may have been lost in the fog of coming to a new world and adopting a new way of life that is lifted on this one day of the year. As a result old favorite recipes handed down from mother to daughter over the centuries come out and grand meals are prepared.

If your mother wasn’t of Irish decent and you do not have a stockpile of wonderful Irish recipes in your inventory there are a few great websites on the Internet that offer excellent recipes that have already been converted to standard American measurements that will have Irish eyes and any eyes that think they might wish to be Irish smiling once again.

Corned beef and cabbage is a favorite. In our house we add great things like potatoes and carrots to the recipe. This is a great meal because it can be put in the crock pot before the work of the day begins and with very little effort is simply waiting on you to be ready for dinner time. No real effort is necessary in creating an outstanding feast that many will think you’ve had to miss a parade or two in order to prepare. Just make sure you hide any throws you might have caught and they will never know that you were out having fun and drinking green beer along with everyone else in the neighborhood.

Lamb stew is another great dish to put on your St. Patrick’s Day table. There are also slow cooker or crock pot recipes available for this family favorite if you take the time to search them out. This is a stick to your ribs kind of meal that is very popular in cooler climates for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. This makes a great lunch or dinner for this great day and goes quite well with Irish Soda Bread.

Shepherd’s pie is another hale and hearty meal that is a wonderful addition to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. This dish is a favorite among those who have tried it and might just become a staple recipe in your kitchen if you haven’t managed to prepare it before. There are many recipes online though I recommend going the path of least resistance and finding the simplest recipe possible.

No Irish meal is really complete without potatoes of some kind on the table. Keep this in mind no matter which meal you cook. There must be potatoes in order to complete the meal or it simply cannot be authentically Irish. This may be a slight exaggeration but you should take a moment to make sure that there are potatoes for this particular event because it’s just a very Irish thing to do.

Of course Irish coffee and green beer are quite often the drink choices for St. Patties day celebrations and they are never a bad choice, provided someone not drinking those drinks is doing the driving. If alcohol isn’t your beverage of choice it is definitely not a requirement. However, if you are feeling particularly in line with the green theme of St. Patrick’s Day you could make a green milk shake, a green smoothie, green powdered drink mix, or any other green drink that comes to mind. The drinks and even the colors aren’t really all that important in the end. It is all in good fun at this point even if it isn’t Irish in nature. There are some days when it just pays to be green despite the fact that Kermit still claims, “it ain’t easy being green.”

PPPPP

668

Fun Christmas Cooking for Everyone

Christmas is a time of year that brings friends and family together who may not have the pleasure of one another’s company at any other time throughout the year. While family ties may be a bit difficult to maintain in the world in which we live today, the traditions of Christmas for many families is what keeps us grounded and in touch with one another no matter how far apart we are geographically. The problem is that if one person is doing the cooking for all, that person tends to spend endless hours in the kitchen and misses out on the joys of the company of others year after year. One way to avoid this is by rotating locations for the festivities from one year to the next. Another way, a much simpler way, is to delegate items of contribution from all guests in attendence each year so that the cooking and meal preparation duties are shared among the masses.

Of course this isn’t a perfect plan but it is a good plan. Another great plan is to prepare pieces and parts of your Christmas dinner ahead of time. With careful planning there are items that may be prepared as much as a few weeks ahead of the big day and stored either in air tight containers at room temperature or frozen for heating or baking on the big day or within a reasonable time frame of Christmas for best results. Any of the prep work that can be taken care of before the big day is one less thing to be taken care of when the time comes and that becomes a load off your mind.

Make lists. Lists are wonderful things. If you learn to live by your lists you will wonder how on earth you ever got anything done without them. When you are planning your Christmas dinner right down everything you plan to have, who is bringing what, what you are making, and what ingredients will be needed to complete each and every single dish. Go through your pantry and see which items you have in abundance and which items you will need to prepare the meals. Head to the store at least a week ahead of the big day and purchase all but the fresh ingredients you will need in order to prepare your Christmas feast.

Another thing you will need to do is make sure you have a list of all the non food items you will need to stock ahead of time. Make sure all the bathrooms are stocked, that you have plenty of garbage bags, waste baskets, paper plates, cups, napkins, cutlery, and other items that will be needed in order to make things go smoothly when your guests begin to arrive. These are little things that matter and may get overlooked if you fail to plan ahead.

You should also make a list of decorations, invitations, and gifts or games you may need to purchase for the day too. You want your day to go as smoothly as possible and you want everyone to fill wanted, appreciated, and anticipated. It may be a great idea to pick up a couple of generic gifts for a male or female in case someone unexpected shows up (you really never know) and have extra wrapping paper and supplies on hand in case someone has an emergency rewrap (as in a kid opened a gift intended for someone else). Most importantly plan to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy as much of the festivities as possible.

PPPPP

598