We will start our exploration of the arts with the art of cooking. On that theme, I will begin with this Cooking 101 meme.
- 1. What is the best dish you can cook?
- When you say “you,” do you mean me, you, or anyone? I’ll assume you mean me. So I asked someone who has tasted most of the dishes that I can cook, and the answer was my three bean casserole.
- 2. Do I have to beat eggs or can I whip them gently? Sounds so violent to me.
- No, you can stir your eggs gently if all you mean to do is scramble them for breakfast. But, any application fancier than that will require that you create tiny bubbles of air or oil in the eggs, and that takes beating and whipping.
- 3. I am reading a recipe right now for Hearty Beef-n-Cheese Pie from a recipe book I dug out of the cabinet. The instructions read…”Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large frying pan, brown ground beef, onion and green pepper.” I am already lost. Why must I turn on the oven and put the frying pan in it? And how does one turn beef AND peppers brown at the same time?! What color should the onion be?
- Put the frying pan into the oven? I think the asker is taking this just a bit too literally. So literally, in fact, that it leads me to wonder if this is a case of playing dumb. This is a gambit that I’ve seen (and, I admit, used) before, in which someone being asked to perform a task chooses to misinterpret the directions in order to 1) frustrate the asker into doing the task himself and/or 2) avoid being asked to perform such a task ever again. For a great example of this, see the tale of Missy the Cat.
- 4. Did you ever cook something for your family that no one enjoyed and you had to throw out?
- I have made plenty of dishes that I’ve hated and others enjoyed and vice versa. For example, I once made a cheddar, creamed corn, and SPAM casserole that I thought tasted like barf, but was found acceptable by another diner. (Charitably, perhaps.) But the only thing I’ve made (that I can recall) that all tasters agreed was truly inedible was last Thanksgiving’s fudge.
- 5. Why do all recipes say “mix sugar, flour and salt?” Don’t they cancel out the other?
- There’s a lot of chemistry involved in baking. Sugar and salt can do lots of useful things when dissolved in water, things that go far beyond adding flavor. (Things to do with ions, yeasts, and hygroscopy, to name a few.) Mixing the dry ingredients together separately from the wet ingredients prevents these effects from being triggered prematurely.
- 6. Why must you add eggs “one at a time” to a mixing bowl? Does anybody really know the answer to this question?
- Aside from the fact that chucking all of the eggs in and then immediately setting the mixer to high is a recipe for a messy disaster, one reason is to ensure that the protein is evenly distributed throughout the batter, dough, sauce, or whatever it is.
- 7. Please post the recipe to something you think even I can cook. I am begging you! It is no fun being a afraid of my own crockpot.
I know of a delicious dish which takes very little skill to prepare. It’s from the show Good Eats (which I would recommend to anyone with kitchen anxiety). The original recipe called for a whole two-pound red snapper, which was described as “enough for two,” but I substituted an equivalent serving of salmon fillets instead. You can also use trout, tilapia, etc. I’ll summarize the recipe below, but here is a transcript of the episode that you can consult for more details.
You will need: parchment paper, fresh parsley, oregano, fish, one sliced onion, one sliced lemon, one cup of couscous, one cup pickled and quartered artichoke hearts, one cup grape tomatoes (halved), a half cup of white wine, a tablespoon of butter, and salt and pepper.
Set your oven to 425°F. Rinse the couscous under cold water, drain it, and sprinkle it with salt. Set it aside for ten minutes. Meanwhile, measure out a piece of parchment paper large enough to envelop all the ingredients. Set it on a baking sheet in such a way that it can be folded closed to form a pouch. Now you will form a pile of ingredients on top of the paper.
Lay down a bed of herbs and lay the fish on top. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Set a layer of lemon and onion slices on top. (If you are daring enough to use a whole fish, you can stuff it with herbs and slices as well.) Now, surround the fish with couscous. On top of this, place the quartered artichoke hearts and tomatoes. Pour the wine over all and dot with butter.
Now, fold the parchment paper closed. You’ll want to close it securely to prevent too much steam from escaping, but not so securely that it explodes from the pressure. Folding over the edges and stapling every few inches works pretty well.
Bake for thirty minutes, tear open the paper, and enjoy.