Week 23: Spice things up.

Curry even the neighbors could smell.

Take a risk on something different. If you have never cooked Indian or Thai food, go for it! Many curry recipes are surprisingly simple. This is just chicken thighs fried in oil. Remove them from the pan and leave the drippings. Add onion, potato and carrots. Fry in the oil and juice until they start to become tender and develop a little browning. Add coconut milk (2 cans in this pan) and curry powder to taste. Then go ahead and add a little more. Simmer until the veggies are almost done, then add the chicken back into the pan and simmer until it looks like everything has incorporated the flavors.

I used a pre made curry powder from a local mideastern market. No idea what spices were in it. It was just in a bag labeled yellow curry powder. There are thousands of variations of what westerners call curry seasonings. Most have other names in their native lands. There are many great books on making eastern food including curry variations. Don’t sweat it if you know nothing about eastern cooking. It is really not too hard to get started. Learn to make some sauces, add veggies and maybe some meat, serve over rice or some other starch like potatoes or even yams.

The Middle and Far East have a rich culinary history that the west is largely unaware of. Don’t be afraid to delve into it. If you make a mistake, so what. We have all made dishes destined to go straight into the garbage bin. It happens. But give Eastern food a good try. There are many books and internet resources out there to help you get started.

John

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Week: 22. Fresh bread makes everything better.

So it got cold again. Things were busy and canned soups and stews just worked out as the best things to cook on a cool wet week. But a little leftover Pizza Dough tossed in a very hot oven then brushed with olive oil or herbed butter made even a simple can of soup wonderful. dough is so simple to make and easy to cook. Not every loaf needs to be perfectly proofed and formed. Let it rise, press out flat or roll in a ball and place on a stone or baking sheet in a hot oven. Bake until it looks, smells and sounds done.

It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t need to look like it came off of a magazine cover. It’s just bread the way we have been making it for thousands of years. But a little fresh bread is a great compliment to any simple meal.

Week 21: On the Road again. Why you need a great cooler.

This will be short and sweet. As well as late. I was on the road last week for family business. I was a great trip but I seem have come home to computer issues. This is the third attempt at writing this entry.

Basically we did another week on the road and avoided unnecessary eating out by bringing a nice cooler. We ate with family and had a couple nice meals at a hotel but a lot of our food and drink came from a cooler in my truck.

Coolers have changed a lot over the last ten years. Look for any of the new Roto-Molded Coolers. They are expensive compared to the old styles but prices vary greatly from brand to brand. Reviews and comparisons are available online.

The thing you need to know about any cooler is they don’t cool food and drink. Ice cools everything. If you take a warm cooler and warm food and drink and try to cool it with ice the day you head out you will end up with cool food and water.

You need to pre chill all of the food and drink in a refrigerator a couple of days ahead of time and chill the cooler with ice at least two days ahead. Then dump the ice, load the food and top off with fresh ice. This way everything starts cold and the ice just has to keep it cold. Not cool everything to start with. This way you can get several days or even a week of cold food.

So we had great week with family. Ate well with family, a nice place in the hotel and from the truck. We saved a lot of money and unneeded calories by using the cooler. And we were able to bring home a dozen phenomenal bottles of cold pressed juice by being able to keep it on ice for a day.

See you next week.

John

Week 20: Winter strikes again.

Cold weather comfort food.

Spring being what it is in Utah means that winter can return at a moments notice. This means that soups, stews and chillies are a great way to settle in and enjoy a cold, wet spring night. Which is exactly what we did this past week. Some things were made from scratch, others were canned and both were served with home made bread.

We also participated in a neighborhood Block Party sponsored by our church. It was a fun evening meeting old and new neighbors while getting out into the spring sunshine even if it was cold. Fortunately we slipped the dinner in between storms.

My contribution was a chili bar with both a traditional south west chili with beans, a pot of chili verde and an assortment of toppings. A simple bowl of chili can be expanded into a great meal by just serving it over some chips and adding what ever toppings you like. To take it a step further serve the whole thing over a bed of lettuce or other salad greens for a great chili to taco salad.

So take a simple dish of chili or stew, serve it over a carbohydrate like chips, potatoes, rice or pasta and add to it toppings that both compliment it and balance out a complete meal. Chili over macaroni or spaghetti are good alternatives to chips or potatoes. If you are making a stew try doing traditional Irish stew which does not include potatoes. If you cook the potatoes into the stew they become mushy and begin to dissolve into the stew. Instead roast the potatoes skin-on with a little oil and sea salt. Then split the potato in a bowl and serve the stew on top of it. This gives you a flavorful potato with a crispy skin that is distinct from the stew that you serve on top of it.

Next week should be interesting. I will be on the road again and will attempt to post from the road on my phone. John

Week 19: You need some Cook Books.

I know what you are thinking. “I have cookbooks” But do you? Or do you have recipe books? Are your books just lists of ingredients, times and temperatures? Or do they delve into in-depth instruction on cooking techniques? This is the difference in recipe books and cook books. Look for a couple books that teach techniques for basic and more advanced cooking that can be applied to any list of ingredients. A recipe book may call for you to sauté some ingredients where a cook or cooking book will teach you how to sauté. I’ve never seen a recipe book discuss the Maillard Reaction. If you don’t know what that is, you need some cooking books.

A recipe book and a cook book.

Above are two great books. Very different in purpose and scope but equally important. On the left is Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients. It is at heart, a recipe book. Wonderful recipes with only five ingredients that most people should be able to cook with techniques they have already picked up. It is not intended to to teach cooking technique.

On the right is Ken Forkish’s masterpiece on bread. It contains several recipes but they are all variations on just four ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast. The rest of the book is techniques to get the most out of these ingredients and some wonderful essays on the history and culture of bread. The essays alone are worth the price of the book.

Far too many cooks have an assortment of recipe books but are hobbling themselves by not increasing their knowledge on cooking techniques. If you think you have mastered your culinary skills, stretch you horizons. If you have mastered frying and sautéing, try your hand at Wok Hei. You will be humbled as you master what is called The Breath of the Wok. If you think your skillet is hot try an iron wok at the proper temperature. You will be in awe of what can be done with proper wok technique. There are books dedicated to Wok Hei as well as most other techniques.

Stretch your culinary legs and read some cooking books. Yes I said READ them. A recipe book is just lists of ingredients and basic instructions. A great cook book teaches techniques but should also have a great amount of readable material. History, family stories, philosophies as well as recipes. Take my challenge and read a cookbook.

See you next week. John

Week 18: Have a few great standby meals.

Not even a picture this week. I’m late so this will be very short. This week was dominated by meeting some long lost members of my family. It was an incredible experience. What did we do? We ate. It was just time to cook, eat and celebrate. These are the days when you seriously need a few great meals you can put on in a moments notice.

Keep them simple and fun. We are talking Burgers, Dogs, Pizza. That sort of simple. But make them great. Take the lowly Hot Dog. You could just boil them and add mustard and ketchup but why when it is so easy to knock them out of the park. Use a great Polish or Italian sausage. Top with a dill spear, celery salt, minced onion, peppers and stone ground mustard. Wonderful and an easy upgrade. Besides no one over the age of eight should eat a dog with ketchup.

Or a fast pizza. Throw a pizza stone in the oven and set it to HOT! Make some dough if you have time or buy some pre-made dough. DOUGH! NOT frozen pizza crust! Toss it thin. Top with sauce, mozzarella and basil. Maybe a little pepperoni. Neapolitan at it’s finest. Quick, easy and impressive if you have first worked the techniques.

You don’t always have time to prep a great meal but if you have prepared yourself, you can knock out a great meal on little notice. Dig into your roots and heritage. What great meals come from your families past that you can master and present on a moments notice? Build your culinary repertoire so you are not stuck depending upon take away food when it is time for an impromptu celebration.

John

Week 17: A quarter of a year and still chugging along.

Sandwich Wrap.
The most useful thing you are not using.

Just another week in the kitchen. Nothing special or interesting this week. It is just so normal now to eat in. There have been an occasional social or business event where we ate away from home and we did attend a cultural festival where we had a horrible meal from a vender but aside from that, eating in is really the norm. Our finances have really seen a boost as well as our health. I am losing about a pound a week and my wife’s blood pressure is the best it has been in years. I presume the later is to the lack of salt from restaurant food. But all in all just another week in our lives.

I know people are asking my wife to have me post more recipes. I will try to do more of that in the future. Most of what I have been cooking has just been from the gut or meals I know well. No recipes to follow but I will be cooking more new things in the upcoming months as the weather warm up so there will be new recipes to post.

This weeks tip goes back to the ABCs of cooking. Always Be cleaning. If you make a mess clean it top as fast as you can. this keeps your kitchen clean while you cook. this makes cooking easier and more fun. However, if you can avoid a mess in the first place you are way ahead of the game. One way to do this is to use Sandwich Wrappers to keep things clean. I use them in many places you could use a paper plate or paper towel but I find wrappers less expensive and easier to use in many cases.

Keeping the counter clean.

They are available in 10, 12 and 14 inch sizes. and cost about $12 to $15 for a package of 1000 sheets. They are lightly waxed and are slightly water resistant. The wax makes them great for wrapping food, prepping food and keeping areas clean but don’t use them in place of baking sheets or baking parchment. The wax will create a lot of smoke when heated in the oven.

They are available at any food service dealer. If you are not shopping a professional type food service store, Start. Many are for wholesale customers only but many are open to retail customers as well. Those are the ones to find. They have all of the things professional cooks use so why not bring those resources into your home to improve your cooking. I will take more about these stores in a later post.

Like I said this was just an ordinary week. Menu included Salad and Sandwiches, Chili over corn chips, Chili Verde with Quesadillas and Corn Dogs (frozen) on a night that dinner was particularly late.

The only thing to really note this week was I have started to cook meals for my wife to take to lunch at work. Instead of just sending her leftovers in a deli container for her to warm up I bought nice paper take away containers, plastic silverware sets and take out style “T-Shirt” bags for her to take her lunch to work. It looks like she is bringing a meal from a restaurant instead of just packing yesterdays food in a jar. this is helping me up my cooking game for her. Even a lunch you haul to work can be made nice. I will talk more about that more later also.

Thanks, John.