Things I’ve learned about cooking

These are things I’ve picked up about cooking – one I learned from my mom way back, one I learned more about today, most somewhere in the last few years. What are some of yours?

  • Always scramble your eggs before adding them to a recipe – just break them into a cup or small bowl and whisk with a fork. (In case it’s not obvious, this only applies to whole eggs, not if you’re adding only whites or only yolks.) Also, if you have to separate eggs, pour off each white into a separate cup before adding it to the rest of your mixture, to keep from getting any yolk in there.
  • To cook efficiently, do your mise en scene. Look over the recipe beforehand. Preheat the oven if needed, and either pre-chop everything that needs it or figure out where the recipe allows time for chopping. (I.e. if something needs to be cooked for 15 minutes and then garnished with scallions and parsley, there’s time to prep the garnish during cooking – you don’t need to do that ahead.)
  • Dough hooks are basically just a workaround for people who don’t want to get their hands dirty. The quickest way to mix most doughs is to squoosh it between your fingers – the only time I think a mixer is better is for things like pie crust that need to stay cold. (You can dip your hands in ice water, but that sounds painful.)
  • To cook rice without a rice cooker, pour rice into your pot until it’s up to your first knuckle (when you touch the bottom of the pot with your finger). Then add water up to the second knuckle. Some kinds of rice need more water than others, but this is a good place to start and you can always add more toward the end if needed or pour off any excess. (Everyone I know who eats rice a lot has a rice cooker,but I don’t eat it often enough to feel the need for one and this method works just fine for me.)
  • A lot of baking recipes need you to be precise about ingredients, quantities and methods. Soups and stews are the polar opposite – if you like it, just toss it in. (Be careful with mushrooms, though. I’ve had some yuckiness ensue when I put them in the slow cooker with a dish that also had wine in it – not quite sure what happened there.)
  • Leeks and celeriac are suprisingly versatile. Celeriac has a fresh taste, kind of like celery but more noticeable, but has a much nicer texture when cooked, IMO. You can use it in soups or sauteed, and it cooks surprisingly quickly. Leeks can go in just about anything to add a subtle oniony flavor – soups, stews, stir-fries and sautees or even sliced finely in salads. Or finely slice the leeks, fry in oil until crunchy, and use as a salad topping.
  • A lot more vegetables than you’d think are good roasted or grilled. I just learned that you can roast cabbage – I want to try that this weekend, since I have some from the CSA I need to use up. Other things that are good roasted: potatoes and carrots (of course), beets, turnips, Brussels sprouts, asparagus. And grilled: corn on the cob, Brussels sprouts and asparagus again, zucchini. I have enjoyed grilled leeks and endive, but haven’t made those myself (yet). (I haven’t tried celeriac either grilled or roasted, but I bet it works both ways!)
  • You can made pesto out of greens instead of basil – kale, collard greens, radish or beet tops or whatever. Separate from stems, blanch (boil in small batches for 30 seconds then drop in ice water), puree with garlic, parmegiano, olive oil and salt. Tastes surprisingly like regular basil pesto, uses up the annoying amounts of kale CSAs send, keeps several days (cover loosely with plastic wrap and push the wrap down so it sits right on the surface of the pesto).
  • And a few things about cooking with or pairing wine:

  • Pinot noir is a very flexible wine. It can go with strongly flavored things that usually go with white wine (like salmon, or a chicken dish with a flavorful sauce) or with lighter versions of things that normally go with red wine, and is also better for drinking alone than red wines with stronger flavors.
  • I’ve read that you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. I’m not really convinced that the wine makes a huge difference, except in the broadest outlines – heartier or less so, white or red wine. So if I’m actually planning to cook with a wine when I buy it, I’ll buy on the cheapest end of what I’d get for drinking – say $5-6.
  • Also, I have no problem cooking with a wine that’s been around long enough that I wouldn’t drink it. We’ve realized that most wines will keep for a day or even a few days, so we rarely have any left over that we don’t drink unless we just don’t like it – but when that does happen I have no issue with just putting it in the fridge with one of those Vacu-vin seals and keeping it until the next time I want some to cook with.
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