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Help me cook!


winodj
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I don't know how to cook very much either. Can someone give me some tips on how to make the most out of ordinary dinner food? Here are my caveats, it needs to be cheap to make, easy to make - and not require too many utencils.

Thanks

:confused:

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Without more specifics, it's difficult.

Buy the best ingredients you can afford. Develop relationships with your best suppliers: grocer, butcher, fishmonger. If you see something unusual, ask about it. Ask how to cook it.

Learn how to braise well. Some truly excellent dishes can only be made from the cheaper cuts of meat.

Get a good knife and keep it sharp.

Um...

Clean as you go.

Uh...

Mise en place all over the place. Most important thing is to have your mise ready, all ingredients chopped and whatever, ready to go.

Uh...

Eggs. So many things you can do with eggs.

Um...

Save all bones and such in your freezer for stock. When making stock, light simmer and don't boil. Skim, skim, strain.

Uh...

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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That's the same reason I learned to cook! But luckily, good home cooking is some of the best cooking ever (in my opinion). I know you're on a budget, but I suggest getting Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, it's cheap for its size, about $30, for hardcover. It has information on cooking from the ground up. I like it because it contains lots of very basic formulas, rather than strict recipes, with ideas for variations, substitutions, etc. Before you know it, you'll be making stuff up on your own.

Also, the cheapest food is almost always the least processed -- dried beans cheaper than canned, plain rice rather than rice in a pilaf kit. And it'll taste better in the end, too. And Jinmyo so right about eggs, they're cheap, but they're so great and versatile that if they were rare, they'd be as costly as foie gras.

You can get lots of rock-bottom priced cookware at thrift stores and yard sales. And get a sharpening stone for your knives.

Check out ethnic markets and foods. Lots of ethnic groups have figured out ways to make the cheapest foods delicious.

Plus, since you know about EGullet, advice is just a click away..... Good luck!

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I would also suggest it is advantageous to frame questions--and requests for advice--a little less broadly.  Sometimes very general questions can be daunting.

For instance winodj--what is "ordinary dinner food" to you?  What dishes--however crude--have you made already and what did you think of them?  What kind of food did you grow up with--and can you replicate those dishes--or are you looking to tweak those dishes because of perceived flaws?  Do you have any cookbooks--and if so, have you had trouble following their instructions? (Which would not be a surprise, since so many use kitchenspeak.)

Also, a big factor, how much time do you have to devote to this--how committed are you?

What's your kitchen like equipment-wise?  what utensils do you have already?  do you have a full size oven or are you looking for quick hot sandwiches you can crank out of a toaster oven?

It would be easier for us to help you if you were a little more specific.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Yes, winodj, answers to Steve Klc's questions to your question would be very helpful. (Plus Fat Guy can then come in and tell us about sponges.)

And B Edulis' point about ethnic markets should have been one of the first things that I thought of.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I've been very lucky trying the cheaper cuts of fish: skate is still quite inexpensive, especially bone-in, and hake was the cheapest cut of them all at Citarella last week ($6.99/lb.) Buying directly from the farmers (if you're near a farmer's market) can also keep prices down, on most items.

Meat that requires longer, slower cooking (shanks, for instance) can often be cheaper as well.

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A few more things that come to mind:

1. Try hard to eat things in season if possible. Use your local farmer's market. While it may not be the cheapest source of fruits and vegetables, it's virtually guaranteed to be the best VALUE for combined price and quality. Using the freshest, best possible ingredients will make the simplest foods into a gourmet delight.  If you can, take this further by gardening yourself.

2. Look at a health food store for bulk grains, beans, and spices. They sell more grains and beans in bulk than the prebagged stuff at your local supermarket, so they turn over quickly and are likely to be fresher. Plus they're cheaper and you can buy as much or as little as you want. Our co-op lets you bring in your own containers and fill them (they weigh the empties when I arrive and subtract the tare weight when I check out) so I don't even have to pay for the weight of the plastic bags. And the spices are cheaper and better quality than you'll get in the supermarket too, although they aren't as good a value as you tend to find in ethnic markets.

3. Don't look merely at the cost of an item. Look at whether or not you will actually eat it. If you fill your kitchen with cheep dried beans but never use them and end up eating out because you don't really care for beans, well, that's not a good investment.

4. Eating low on the food chain isn't the only way to save money. You can get some meat products quite inexpensively if you're willing to deal with less than ideal cuts. I'll let others comment on this, since as a non-meat-eater I know very little about it. I do know that preserved meats like bacon can stretch to flavor a whole dish even though you only used a couple of slices.

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For cheaper cuts of meat, I can recommend pork blade steak ($1.79/lb) and lamb blade steak.  Not only cheaper, they are  often on sale.  For pork blade steak, cut in half, season with salt & pepper (sometimes I use Louisiana Cajun seasoning) & pan fry in a little oil...delicious, simple... like pork chops, but a little cheaper.  For lamb blade steak, marinate it (a few hrs to overnight)  in red wine, a little olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper and then grill (or you could broil it).

I also find cheaper prices for everything at our asian markets.

I almost forgot one of my favorite 'cheap' foods: the lowly but delicious potato.  There are so many things that one can do with potatoes, from seasoned (& brushed w/ olive oil) baked potato wedges to scalloped potatoes, to fried potatoes, roasted potatoes...I never get tired of potatoes!

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If you have a decently sized freezer, buying meat on sale is a great deal.  Whenever whole fryer chickens fall below $1/lb, I buy a couple and throw 'em in freezer, pulling them out when I feel like it.  Whole fryers are going to be cheaper than cut pieces and they're going to taste better.  I smoke mine, but throwing a chicken in a dutch oven with wine and veggies makes a great, cheap meal.  Afterwards make a stock from the bones and you're on the way to making a great soup with the aforementioned beans.

Currently in my freezer:  2 racks of pork back ribs, 2 whole fryers, a pork rump roast, loads of pork country style ribs and lots of old bones waiting to become stock.

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Currently in my freezer:  2 racks of pork back ribs, 2 whole fryers, a pork rump roast, loads of pork country style ribs and lots of old bones waiting to become stock.

Hey, that reminds me: use as much of your food as possible. This, too, is both thrifty and tasty. Besides using bones for stock, you can save scrapings and tops and tails of many fruits and vegetables and use those in your stock. Use old bread for breadcrumbs and bread puddings. If you've got leftover veggies, puree them and add them to soups or sauces. Put leftover meat on tops of salads, or add it to a stew. Use all the bits and pieces that you can and you'll get more mileage from your grocery runs.

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All of those were great points, here's another on that I've read:  Nigella Lawson (the sultry chef) mentions that she saves extra wine from parties, puts them in baggies and then freezes them so she can use the wine later to cook with.  I thought that was a particularly good idea since you don't have to open up a new bottle just to cook with it.

Granted I haven't used that trick since I whenever I open up a bottle, I plow right through it.  Nevertheless, I still thought it was a pretty neat idea.

Update on the freezer:  I also have a duck carcass leftover from Thanksgiving that's waiting to be made into stock.

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winodj -- I'm going to make a fool of myself responding to this, as I do not cook (please bear that in mind). :smile: But when I deconstruct restaurant dishes, I imagine the following might be helpful:

1. Fresh Herbs/Varied Oils.  Malawry mentioned spices, etc.  Fresh herbs can add a great deal of flavor at limited cost, due to their utilization in limited quantities in a dish. On oils, why utilize only olive, when you can use oils flavored with different nuts and other items to augment taste?  I appreciate that specialty oils may be an investment, but the value per use might be worth it?

2. Growing Food.  I have no idea how expensive growing one's own food would be, but I would imagine that, depending on where you live and the time you have, this may be a way to sample foods that would be expensive to purchase in a store.  Maybe I have been reading about tomato-growing and canning too much in "Member Bios"....

3. Butter, Salt, Cheese.  As noted by others, simple things could make a difference.  Consider being deliberate about your choice of salted or unsalted butter in cooking, and what type of butter you choose.  Same for salt, which is the subject of another thread. In many French restaurants, parmesan seems to be used as a flavoring ingredient in a number of non-salad dishes (e.g., Gordon Ramsay's pumpkin amuse-bouche). It could presumably be used in limited quantities.  

4. Anchovies (subjective). I prefer them fresh, and larger. However, I also accept tinned anchovies and sardines and mackeral. I like using these types of fish to add flavor to salads. If you don't mind the "fishy tastes" of certain oils in sardine tins, for example, I imagine that could be saved and utilized as well.   :confused:

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I'd also add a suggestion to consider the presentation of food on your plate. Carefully sliced carrots in long, thin julienne strips make an excellent color focus on a plate, and take just a minute to prepare. Shredded raw spinach (washed) makes a great platform on which to place any prepared food, even take out. If you eat occasionally alone, or with just one other person, consider a variety of plates and bowls in different colors and shapes.

Last night we had fresh cream of tomato soup (I let Florida tomatoes ripen in a paper bag with two apples). I added  a little  Ortega salsa, topped with 2-3 chopped left over BBQ shrimp. Put chopped spinach a wide Dansk Tropez bowl (lots of bright yellow and blue) and ladled in the soup. Served with fresh home made bread.  The colors of the bowl highlighted the soup. In a tan Mexican bowl or plain white bowl, the visual would have been much less interesting.

Soup took about 20 minutes, start to finish, including browning the garlic and adding the chicken stock and quick pass with the wire whip. Ate the seeds and all.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

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Some of my favorite things to make cost very little.  Polenta or bruschetta with peperonata makes a perfect light meal.  A handful of polenta, a touch of cheap extra virgin olive oil, butter, a touch of red wine vinegar, a couple of bell peppers, and an onion--find red peppers on sale and we're talking a couple bucks.

Cornbread and greens is a family favorite, even though we're from nowhere near the South.  A simple skillet cornbread is best made in a $5 cast iron skillet with nothing more than cornmeal, bacon grease, buttermilk, an egg, baking soda, and cream of tartar.  I serve it with a bit of cheddar cheese and a side of stewed kale.  Hugely satisfying, cheap, and easy.  We mail order stone-ground white cornmeal from Rhode Island for a rather embarassing $3 a pound, but a five-pound sack goes a long way (40 servings of cornbread, the way we make it), and if we lived in the northeast this would be cheaper.

Pasta.  Eat lots of pasta.  Even if you can afford not to.

Thai curry.  I get a can of coconut milk for 59 cents, a tub of curry paste for $2.50 (don't get "Thai Kitchen" or "Taste of Thai"--the quality is okay but it's way overpriced), a quart of fish sauce for 89 cents, a block of tamarind paste for $1, and a block of palm sugar for another dollar.  This sets the stage for any number of great curries on a moment's notice.  Even medium-starch potatoes and frozen green beans make a perfect curry.  Add some chicken thigh meat for a couple dollars more.

Finally, in terms of cheap meat, I contend that nothing beats a supermarket chuck roast (most carry bottom blade roast, I believe) on sale.  My local supermarket puts chuck on sale once a month for $1.59 per pound, which means you can get a four-pound roast for not far past six dollars.  It's so versatile--you can make a classic beef stew, grind it (much better than the supermarket stuff, which is too finely ground), or make curry.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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OK. A little bit about my life. This may help me be a little less broad in my question.

I work second shift, usually get home from work between 10 and midnite, I have a gas stove/oven. The oven doesn't work very well however. I also have a George Foreman grill which I love because it cooks things fast and is very easy to clean up.

I'm guessing that this would make great Panini sandwiches. Hmmm idea there. :-)

Things I already cook: Cheap steak, usually on its own, although I do play with seasonings and sauces with it. I love chicken breasts. When I get fancy with cooking, I will often fix things on a bed of risotto, preferably with Saffron in it, I think.

This help at all?

Roger

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Alright Roger--how do you do the steak--in a saute/frying pan on the stovetop?  under the broiler?  in the George Foreman?

what about the chicken breast?

and the risotto--are you doing this with canned stock, from directions on the box? sauteeing a little onion first?

do you have a microwave?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I grill my steak in the George... it cooks real fast and keeps it rare but cooked in the middle... The only thing I don't like about it is that it dries out the outside of the steak.

Yes I have a microwave, and I usually eat Risotto out of the box because I haven't seen it not in the box where I shop.

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winodj, if I might seem directive with your permission: Get some carnaroli or arborio rice. A red or white or Spanish onion. Some white wine. A bit of saffron. Some unsalted butter. Some good salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Some reasonable olive oil (Colavita will do). Some chicken or vegetable stock or just hot water.

Mince the onion. Some garlic would be nice too. Get a fairly wide pot on the heat. Add the olive oil. Add a bit of butter. Emulsify by stirring them together. Add the minced onion. Stir stir. When it becomes fragrant, add the garlic if you have it. You could season lightly. Pour the rice in. Stir stir for about 3 minutes until the outside of the grains are coated and softening. You are playing with starch here, doing major chemistry and physics. Add the white wine. Let it boil and snap and do stuff. When this subsides, add enough stock to cover.

If you want, the saffron can be steeping in the stock. Or you can add it later. But it's best steeped in the stock.

Oh! Add some more stock! Stir stir stir, sir. Keep adding stoick as it reduces. The rice will swell. Taste it. Gah. Smooth on the outside of the grain, but chalky and tough inside? Good. This means continue. So, continue adding stock only to cover and stir stir.

Continue to taste/smell/hear/feel. When the risotto is almost ready, add a however many scoops of butter the better angels of your nature say are good. Or better. Whip it in, emulsify it. Now add grated parmesan. Whip it in. Go, boy, go. Whip it in.

Take it off the heat if you haven't already. Let it rest for a few minutes. Spoon it out into a bowl. Crack some pepper onto it. Look. Smell. Some julliened proscuitto? Some mortadella? A fried egg? A raw egg? Some leftover chicken? Whatever.

Slowly swipe the surface with the edge of a spoon and put it in your mouth. Is life good? No. It will kill you. Is risotto good? Yes.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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......Taste it. Gah. Smooth on the outside of the grain, but chalky and tough inside? Good. This means continue. So, continue adding stock only to cover and stir stir.

Continue to taste/smell/hear/feel. When the risotto is almost ready, add a however many scoops of butter the better angels of your nature say are good. Or better. Whip it in, emulsify it. Now add grated parmesan. Whip it in. Go, boy, go. Whip it in.

Take it off the heat if you haven't already. Let it rest for a few minutes. Spoon it out into a bowl. Crack some pepper onto it. Look. Smell. Some julliened proscuitto? Some mortadella? A fried egg? A raw egg? Some leftover chicken? Whatever.

Slowly swipe the surface with the edge of a spoon and put it in your mouth. Is life good? No. It will kill you. Is risotto good? Yes.

Have you ever written a cookbook? If so, which one. If not, why not? That is probably the best description of basic but fantastic risotto I have seen.

On the risotto though. This fantastic recipe can be made even more fantastic with the addition of some fresh portobello mushrooms...

And I had never even considered the raw egg... that will definitely be going in next time I cook risotto.

'You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.'

- Frank Zappa

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Thank you. I do write quite a bit and there's been talk about a cookbook but as far as I'm concerned cookbooks are about photographs. I despise recipes with their damn measurements and pickiness. As we all know, pastry takes precision. Cooking let's you get away with anything that works.

As for the Risotto Milanese, you bet portobello would be good. But you'd have to remove the gills and skin or it would discolour and waste the saffron. Even better are fresh or dried porcini. But then I wouldn't bother with the saffron either.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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On that note of measurements and damn pickiness--or was it damn measurements and...I'm wondering winodj if you get cable and are able to watch Nigella on Style. or E!?  If so, do.  What about the Food Network?

There's another show I'd recommend that could help--it's called 30 Minute Meals and is hosted by a cutie-pie--Rachael Wray.  Nothing pretentious, nothing advanced.  If you look beyond the perkiness, you could gain alot of confidence from this show--she's not a chef and seems to have but moderate skills as a cook.  There's a real world "hey, if I can do this, really anyone can" approach that is entirely disarming and believeable.  And often, all it takes for a novice cook to get going is the confidence that comes from realizing it is ok to dream about learning how to cook and that cooking is not this daunting, overwhelming task.  If you have FoodTV, start here.

And keep in mind the famous quip from John and Karen Hess in their excellent "The Taste of America"  about Julia Child: "She's not a cook, but she plays one on TV."  You can play one, too.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Jinmyo, that was a really great description, but it wasn't recipe, that's one of the reasons it really worked. And the description -- terrific, what I already knew was described perfectly, and what I didn't know I can't wait to try. You really should think about writing a cookbook. Not a recipe book, a cookbook. It's the kind of advice and info you get only when you're cooking alongside someone else.

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Or to vamp up the portobello risotto, try mushroom stock which is pretty easy to make -

Take a bunch of mushrooms, portabello, creminis, a few buttons, put them in a shallow baking dish with a hunk of garlic, one sliced white onion, some fresh herbs - I'd go for tarragon - and add enough water to cover the shrooms about halfway or so. Cover with foil and put in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the foil, strain and there it is = your very own mushroom stock. When it cools, ladle it into ice cube trays and freeze.

Actually, freezing leftover any-liquid is handy. We've got stocks, sauces, pureed osso buco leftovers, all in cubes.

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So I'm cooking tonight. A rare occasion that I hope to become not so rare. No saffron... too pricey. I am going to try it with Chicken broth... I dont have the time to make stock. :-) But otherwise, I am following the recipe in the cookbook I picked up today. Which by the way, was almost exactly like the awesome recipe in the thread. Also going to marinate steak in red wine sauce and sear it.

I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Thanks so much for the help!

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Continue to taste/smell/hear/feel. .

Great description of risotto-making, Jinmyo.

Ah, hearing!  Yes, the risotto tells you when it's done, with a whoosh-ing sound that is noticeably different from the sounds that it made before.

Roasted chicken also whooshes when it's done, but it's harder to catch because 1. the oven door is closed and 2. you're not standing over the bird the way you stand over the rice pot.

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