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Conversing in Converstions: Metric System 101

11 Oct

One thing that is vital when cooking is understanding food measurements. Whether you’re reading a foreign recipe or buying deli meats and cheeses at the market, a lesson in conversion is pretty helpful. This blog post would have seriously come in handy for me last year when I was studying abroad.

While studying in Montreal, my friends and I decided to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, and I was left with the task of cooking the turkey (probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever cooked before).

Oh Canada!

When I went to the grocery store, I had come thinking I need a 14 pound turkey to serve everyone. I was surprised to find that I could not buy things in pounds—thanks to America’s alternative to the metric system—but I had to figure out 14 pounds in kilograms. Needless to say, I was lost.

I asked a man behind the butcher counter if he could tell me the conversion, but he responded something in Quebecois French that I could not decipher, and then proceeded to show me a pork leg.

“No,” I said. “Nevermind.”

I called my Dad, who was on the road , if he knew the conversion and that was another deadend.

“Maybe you should call your mother on this one,” he suggested.

So I called my mom, who was just home from work, so she was a little on edge as she settled back into my chaotic house. “Mom, I am at the grocery store, and I have no clue how big I should get my turkey. Can you look up the conversion online for me?”

She searched on my home computer conversion charts for pound to kilo and found all kinds of numbers and equations to help solve my turkey problem. “I think you multiple .45 to whatever the poundage is, or maybe it’s division. Wait a sec this website says something about ounces. Are there ounces on the a label?”

The overload of multiple kinds of information was not helpful. I ended up just picking up four or five turkeys and just guessing.

Though when it came time to cook the turkey, it was a lot more hassle not knowing the weight of the bird. If you’ve ever cooked a turkey you know that for every four pounds of poultry, you cook it for about an hour and a half. I had no idea what the size of my turkey was except for the not-so-exact measurement: big.

So confusing!

To make matters worse, the turkey cooking instructions were in Celsius. Kill me now was all I could think.

In the end, the turkey came out amazing thanks to a lot of patience, intuition, and the motivating smells of deliciousness.

To make it easier on all you studying abroad, however, I’ve included a link to a website that explains and calculates conversion way better than I ever could.

http://www.france-property-and-information.com/metric_conversion_table.htm

http://www.calcul.com/cooking-conversion

Why America? Why?

Chicken cutlets

23 Sep

Wondering what you should cook this weekend?

Well now that you have a bit more time to cook and swallow your food before running off to your next class or homework assignment, it’s time to put some of your cooking skills to the test.

This weeks recipe is chicken cutlets

For the chicken cutlets you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 medium-sized chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup – 1 cup panko or Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • OPTIONAL: grated cheese of your choice, milk, various spices, salt, pepper

Directions:

  1. First, create your mis en place (a french cooking term meaning everything in its place).
  2. Measure out your flour onto a dinner plate (OPTIONAL: add some salt, pepper, garlic powder, and any other spice you might think would be good) then set aside.
  3. Measure out your breadcrumbs onto another plate and set aside.
  4. Crack your two eggs into a bowl and whisk them up (OPTIONAL: if you have a favorite cheese, grate some into the scrambled egg mixture and add a little milk) then set aside.
  5. Add your vegetable oil to a pan on medium heat. (HINT: don’t allow to overheat, you WILL set your fire alarm off)
  6. Take another dinner plate and put a piece or two of paper towel on it, and set aside.
  7. Open up your package of chicken breasts and lay the pieces on a cutting board. Get a large chef knife and cut the pieces of the chicken breast into smaller cutlets. (TIP: the reason you cut the chicken into smaller pieces is because it helps them cook faster, taste more tender, and portion more efficiently. Here’s a how to video below if you would like learn how to cut chicken)
  8. Take your cutlets and cover them lightly in flour.
  9. Next, dip the cutlets in the scrambled egg mixture.
  10. Without dripping too much, bring the cutlets onto the plate with your breadcrumbs and cover them. Press the crumbs into the chicken coating them well.
  11. Once your chicken is layered with those three things, your ready to cook them.
  12. Test your vegetable oil. Take a drop or two of leftover scrambled egg mixture and drip it into the oil: if it sizzles your ready to go. If it doesn’t it’s not hot enough–wait a few minutes and test again. If it’s very loud and sizzles like crazy it’s too hot–remove your pan from heat for a few minutes and then test again.
  13. When your oil is ready, carefully lay your cutlets  into the oil (TIP: lay the chicken away from you so you don’t get burnt by splashing oil) and space them so each piece isn’t touching. You will not fit every piece all at once (maybe 4-6 at a time) so be patient.
  14. Watch your chicken. When the edges turn white or the part that’s face down becomes a golden brown, you can flip the piece. Move pieces around and check to be sure you’re not burning them.
  15. When a piece is golden brown on both sides remove from the pan and place the cutlet on the plate with the paper towels on it. (TIP: when cooking any kind of meat in a vegetable oil [NOT olive oil or butter] you want to use a paper towel to remove any excess oil from the meat).
  16. Repeat until all of your chicken is cooked.
  17. At this point you can do whatever you’d like to your cutlets. Here are a few ideas:
  • Chicken parmesan: just add marinara sauce and cheese
  • Chicken sandwich: put the cutlet on a roll and add your favorite sandwich fixings
  • Chicken francese: put the chicken in a clean pan with butter and lemon juice
  • Or just add your chicken cutlets to a favorite salad or pasta dish to make any meal feel heartier.

Chicken cutlets are very versatile and can be made to fit any meal with a little creativity. Try the recipe out and make it your own.

What Every College Pantry/Fridge Should Have

16 Sep

Now that you’re on your own in new place, cooking for yourself for possibly the first time can be a challenge. If you go to your local market and pick up the following items, you’ll be ready to whip up just about anything.

1. Pasta, and lots of it! Take your pick of regular, whole grain, Smart Balance, penne, angel hair, spaghetti, or all of them. Try different kinds, explore the possibilities.

2. Olive oil. This may be the most expensive thing on your receipt, but it’s vital to cooking anything and everything, especially if you like Italian food.

3. Garlic. A jar of pre-chopped garlic is the best for those who are more concerned with the length of the their prep time and not picky about freshness.

4. Frozen Vegetables. Buy in bulk cause they won’t go bad for a long time. One of the fastest, healthiest things you can buy.

5.Eggs. A vital ingredient in most baking dishes, and most breakfasts of champions.

6. Milk. Even if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, milk is accessible and great for cooking, baking, and, of course, cereal.

7. Rice. You’ve got lots of options to choose from: brown, white, wild, long grain, basmati, arborio, jasmine, etc. Try different kinds and pair it with different vegetables and proteins.

8. Tomato sauce. An easy topping for meats, pastas, and Italian dishes.

9. Spices. I’d say the most important ones are: salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, cinnamon, and Italian seasoning (a combination of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram). These spices will come in handy for just about anything you might want to cook.

10. Sugar. Sold in various forms: powdered, fine, brown, light brown, molasses, agave nectar, etc; sugar is a vital ingredient in baking and coffee enhancement, so think about getting some next time you’re out at the market.

11. Flour. All purpose flour will come in handy for most things you cook/bake in the kitchen. Wheat flour is a good healthy alternative.

12. Vegetable oil. Though it’s not the healthiest ingredient, if you ever want to make a boxed cake mix, fried food dish, or thanksgiving turkey, you’re probably going to want a medium-sized bottle of vegetable oil just in case.

13. Butter. Who doesn’t love butter? The famous cook, Julia Child once said, “Fat gives things flavor.” Depending on how healthy you want to be you can use it sparingly or go all out; either way, butter is a valuable ingredient to have in your fridge, just in case.

14. Bread. Yup, bread is an amazing thing. Wherever you go in the world, bread will be there in one form or another from pita to naan, french to tortilla, hoagie to dinner roll. Try different forms of bread at your local bakery or market each week and see what different things you can do with it. Tip: freeze your bread to keep evil mold from attacking it before you’ve finished enjoying it.

15. Cheese. Depending on where you are studying abroad, you may not be able to find cheddar like you’re so spoiled with in Vermont. Cheese is one of the most versatile dairy products. Get whatever kinds of cheeses you like and try them in different dishes like homemade mac n’ cheese, fondue, grilled cheese, nachos, poutine (for those Montrealers), or whatever you feel like.

16. Fruit. As one of the major food groups on the new MyPlate (designed by Michelle Obama, it replaces the established Food Pyramid concept), it’s important that you get about two cups of fruit in your daily diet. Make weekly trips to your local farmers market or favorite produce seller and buy fresh fruit to snack on. Additionally, get frozen fruit, yogurt, and a thick fruit juice (like Naked or Odwalla) at the grocery store and make fruit smoothies for a delicious breakfast.

17. Frozen burger patties. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, a flexitarian, or an all out meat lover, it’s super helpful to have a box of frozen burger patties that can be ready to eat in ten minutes or less and won’t go bad.

18. Local delicacies. Now that you’re abroad, you need to go out an try new things. Explore your area for unique markets, restaurants, and specialty shops.

Now go out there and get your pantry and fridge ready because next week there will be a delicious recipe here to try…

Two Meals, One Buy: Shoulder Roast of Lamb Tonight, Lamb Stew Tomorrow

30 Mar

This was one of my favorite meals – well, two meals – while I was studying in Dublin. Growing up I never really cooked for myself, the reason being because I didn’t really need to. I guess you could say I grew up blessed with a family of culinary geniuses who can make delicious meals on the cheap. My mother and brother are both excellent cooks, and though I never really prepared a full meal for myself, I learned a lot just by watching them over the years. The point here is: so can you, even if you’re relatives aren’t good cooks, you can learn a lot just by watching others and experimenting. What better place to experiment with your culinary skills than in a foreign country – where you’re actually required to feed yourself – no more café plan or WingsOver every night of the week.

Day 1: Shoulder Roast of Lamb

This one is really easy and cheap, too. First order of business: go over to Meath St. (if you haven’t already found this gem – you should). Meath St. is directly off of Thomas St. and runs parallel with Francis St. (the one you walk almost every day to get to campus). Meath St. has at least 3 or 4 butchers with huge selection and great value.
You’re going to want a shoulder roast of lamb; however this meal will work with any type of roast. Shoulder roast of lamb is cheap and it has a lot of meat and a lot of fat, which is one of the reasons the stew the next day will be so tasty (fat = flavor). If you’re cooking for your entire room, 1 shoulder of lamb should suffice.
After you’ve gotten the meat you’re going to want to get the other ingredients, however chances are that you already have them in your apartment.

Here’s a list of the ingredients you will need (again, this is about experimenting so feel free to omit or add anything):
 Shoulder of Lamb (1 should suffice but 2 to be safe)
 Potatoes (aka spuds, Lidls has huge 3kg bags of spuds for about 3 euro) I usually would quarter up a potato per person, depending on the appetites of your roommates
 Carrots (can be found in any store, but the street vendors have great deals)
 Celery (can be found in any store, but the street vendors have great deals)
 Salt (to taste)
 Pepper (to taste)
 Rosemary (you can find this in the garden behind the academic centre!)
oSide note on this: I used rosemary in just about everything I cooked in Dublin because there’s a free and fresh supply in the garden at school
 Tomato Paste (1 small can – you can get this at the Mediterranean Market on the left side of Thomas St. directly after Tom Kennedy’s Pub – which if you also don’t know about go there!)
 Bay leaves (these are essential for any stew/soup and I found mine for pretty cheap at the Mediterranean Market)
 Other spices that aren’t necessary, but will definitely add to taste (again, you can experiment with this): thyme, parsley, & chives

Ok, so for the roast: This one is really simple. Preheat your oven to 200 (don’t forget to turn on the hood fan). Get out a big plate and rub the roast in some type of oil, olive or vegetable (vegetable oil is cheaper). Once it’s lathered up you want to rub the spices into the roast. Next you want to sear the roast. Searing the roast basically cooks the outside a little bit to seal in the flavor while its roasting – you don’t want all that fat in the meat to get out while it’s in the oven. Get out your frying pan and toss a bit of butter in it and throw it on the stove on a high heat. Remember you’re not cooking the roast on the frying pan, just cooking it on the outside until all the exposed surfaces have a little color on them. Once this is done you can throw it on your roasting pan and toss it in the oven. If you want to have potatoes and carrots with your roast, throw them in with the roast and they should end cooking at about the same time. If you’re going to do this you should halve the potatoes and throw some oil, salt & pepper on them. The cook time isn’t the same for every roast so for this you’re going to have to judge yourself the first time. It shouldn’t take more than an hour, and if you’re unsure if it’s cooked or not you can cut it open to check for doneness. You only want to cut into it as a last resort, because one of the keys to having a good roast is letting it rest once it’s removed from the oven, and prematurely cutting it will let all the juices get out. You only need to let it rest for about 10 minutes, and while it’s resting it will actually be finishing cooking (that is if you don’t prematurely cut it open). This is why its important to sear the roast before it’s in the oven – it seals the flavor in and allows your roast to come out tender and juicy and full of flavor. Now you can start trying to cut into it and begin eating. The first time you try cutting into it could be a bit daunting, there’s a proper way to cut into a roast, but I don’t know a thing about it, so I just went at it with the knife. The knives they give you at the apartment aren’t the sharpest, so we bought a couple at Dunnes and also a sharpening stone for probably 20 euro total. After you’ve all eaten you want to start getting the stock for tomorrow’s stew ready. All this involves is finding your biggest pot and putting the remaining bone/meat/fat into it and filling it with water leaving only about an inch from the top. Also throw in some salt & pepper, a couple bay leaves, some rosemary sprigs from the garden, and a couple crushed garlic cloves. Garlic and rosemary go great with lamb. Now all you have to do is put a lid on the pot, put it on a burner on the lowest heat (you don’t want this to start boiling and overflow). Now you’re done for the day, you can leave this going all night until you wake up the next day.

Day 2

After you’ve woken up from a night at the Pale, cooking might be one of the last things you want to do. Don’t worry; this isn’t going to be that hard. Turn the heat off your pot and take a look inside. Now just let the pot sit off the heat for a while and nurse your hangover. Go out and get a full Irish breakfast – the ultimate hangover cure. Ok now you’re back and ready to do a little work. Now you want to take out the bone and put it on a plate. You want to pick all the meat off the bone – it will come off the bone with your fingers – no knife necessary. Put the meat aside. Next you want to take the pot with the stock in it and separate out all the stuff you threw in last night. The easiest way to do this is to get another pot and put it in the sink with your pasta strainer over it and slowly pour the stock into it. Now you’ve got your clean stock, put it back on the burner on a heat of about 3-4. If you don’t think you have enough meat for your stew left over from the roast, take out your second shoulder of lamb and cut off some pieces of meat and cube them. The next few steps are all prep. You want to cut up your celery and put that in first, next do your carrots and potatoes. Stir all of this stuff in with the stock and then get out your can of tomato paste. Use a soup spoon and use one big spoonful and stir it in. Now for the meat, throw in the meat that was left over from the roast. If you cubed some more meat, take it all and put it on a big plate. Put a little oil on and rub it all around. Next get another plate with some flour on it and put the cubed pieces in there and get each side covered (the flour is going to add thickness to the stew). Next put some salt & pepper on the meat and throw it on a hot frying pan with some butter/oil in it(same idea here as the searing). Cook the meat for a little bit then throw it into the stew pot. Now all you have to do is kick back and relax, stirring occasionally, adding spice to taste, and making sure it doesn’t begin to boil and overflow. As a general rule of thumb, the longer you let this cook the better it will taste, we usually waited about 4-6 hours so don’t start this stew too late in the day.

Well, Medium, or Rare?

24 Jan

Cooking meat the right way is one of the most important things you can learn about handling food. And I’m not just talking about making it taste good- I’m talking about cooking it so it doesn’t make you sick.

The most obvious rule is that it’s generally not a good idea to eat raw meat. You risk ingesting e coli or salmonella, the things that give you food poisoning. The way to avoid food poisoning is to cook the meat until it’s not pink or jelly-like in the middle. Meats like steak and beef (same animal, different cut) should be cooked until somewhere in the range of faintly pink (rare) to as brown as the exterior (well-done). Fish is done when it’s entirely opaque (not gel-like) on the inside. If you have a specific thing you want to cook, while Googling it is a perfectly good option, there’s nothing like knowing ahead of time what your food’s goal state of being is.

Now, one thing that I got the sense a lot of students over-look is how they handle the raw meat during the preparation process. Never use the same utensil and cutting board with which you prepared raw meat to prepare anything that’s not raw meat! This means, cut the vegetables on a separate board with a separate knife. Once you touch raw meat, don’t touch anything else other than raw meat utensils until you thoroughly wash your hands- and use your arm to get the faucet running. And, use a different utensil to prod and poke the meat while it’s cooking than you use once it’s cooked. There would be nothing more tragically ironic than going through all the pains of cooking your meat well only to get food poisoning from a fork you touched while the meat was still raw.

If you’re cooking something big, like a roast or a large bird of some kind, get a meat thermometer so you can check the internal temperature. The minimum for steak is at least 145, for chicken it’s 160. These are in Fahrenheit. Also, unlike red meat, chicken HAS to be cooked until there is no pinkness to be found- it’s a less dense meat so it’s easier for bacteria to travel and infiltrate it.

Those two things- cooking the meat all the way through and being mindful of handling raw meat- are the two big things to remember when making your hamburgers, stir fries, burritos, chicken parm, and any other culinary college creations you concoct.

As for making meat extra tender and tasty, that’s a whole other article.

Mac and Cheese

6 Dec

We know it’s hard to live without mac and cheese; it’s the number one shipped item to abroad students. But really, guys, a $50 box of mac and cheese? Not worth it. Try this recipe from Champlain student Jaime Berry instead. It’s almost as easy, and so much cheaper.

  Continue reading

Grilled Cheese

11 Nov

One of the ultimate comfort foods. Toasted, buttery bread and lots of melty cheese? Yum. And wicked easy. Perfect to make when you don’t feel like “really” cooking. Continue reading

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