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It’s No Greater Effort to Cook Good Food

I used to listen to a podcast that was centered around travel to Disney World. For those not already aware, the food options there are diverse in terms of cuisine and price point, although the quality ranges from amazing to mediocre. One of the team members, Kevin, frequently did “dining reviews” of the various eateries. Often he would praise the meals he ate, though occasionally listeners would hear his lament at being disappointed by an experience; often with intense comic effect. One favorite phrase of his, which still sticks out in my mind to this day: “It takes about the same time and effort to produce terrible food as it does to make a good meal, so why not do it right?”

In fairness, I realize the statement by itself is an oversimplification in some ways… there are certainly some preparations which require culinary techniques that take practice to master, or multi-tasked timings of different components that require a level of attention and focus that is not always realistic. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much effort to find recipes that require only a crockpot, or using a single skillet, for instance… There are options for every skill level and time commitment.

I also realize that I am speaking from a position where, for me, cooking is an end unto itself. Not everyone feels the same. For me, this love and appreciation started in my youth. For all the amazing things I can say about my parents, their attention and desire for gourmet cooking was not their strongest skill. I don’t hold that against them. Instead, I learned to do better for myself.

Even the word “gourmet” can be misleading. We might instinctively associate the word to mean holding several Michelin stars, although it can simply mean to be “well prepared”. Regardless, whether or not a meal is “gourmet” is not always a good proxy for taste, satisfaction or overall enjoyment. I will happily enjoy a good chili, baked beans, pot roast, pulled pork, or any of several other meals that comes out of a crock pot with almost zero interactive effort required during the cooking.

We might also fall into a trap of thinking that high quality food necessitates expensive high-end ingredients. I’ll borrow some thoughts from Kevin again, as he notes that the overall experience relies not simply on luxury, but on value. A meal with a high price tag has a lot more to live up to, and relatively speaking, chicken nuggets from the McDonald’s drive-thru can be quite enjoyable.

One final example I often hear in various forms is a lack of time to focus on food prep. I can appreciate this, as not everyone is in a practical position to spend an hour in the kitchen, and plenty of others have no desire to do so. I urge caution, though, before leaning on this excuse as a crutch.

In one particularly egregious example, someone suggested their plans to me about “putting the food on the grill, then running their errands they needed to do, so that when they came back the food would be done.” Even ignoring any safety issues about a propane barbecue grill, the cooking technique is worse than questionable… as of course one would have burgers that were burned on the bottom and nearly raw on top. Overcooking is not just for the grill… the oven can turn beef into shoe leather, the stove-top turns shrimp to pencil erasers, and a deep fryer makes potatoes into cardboard critters. Again, this makes a strong case for the crock pot. Not only does it involve little more than throwing things in and turning it on.. It’s also very forgiving against the risk of over-cooking. Some meals–chili and baked beans come to mind– actually only get better with more time.

Furthermore, when one has one of those experiences of burning the dinner due to inattentiveness, what happens? You’re left to prepare something else, which takes more time, or else start dialing to order a pizza… all that time savings of rushing through the meal prep? Yeah… the piper still gets paid.

So, what’s the upshot here? Select meals and preparations that are on par with the appropriate skill level and time commitment. Learn to love the crock pot. Choose ingredients that are forgiving on cook times. After a while, it truly will take just as much effort to produce a good meal, as to produce a terrible one. I promise, you’ll like the good meal a lot better.

It’s About Respect for the Food

When I cook, yes, of course it is with the fundamental goal of preparing something to eat which will nourish my body, or at least sate my hunger, in theory providing some of the needed nutrition I require to continue functioning. Pay no attention to anything coming out of my deep fryer.

Beyond that, there’s a big difference between merely making myself something to eat, and preparing a meal, especially if the intent is to provide it to share with friends and family. In the latter case, the cooking takes on more of an art form, intended to use the utmost care in crafting a culinary gift filled with the most important ingredient of all: love.

It goes even further. It’s not just about respect for those that will eat the meal, it’s about respect for the food itself. There’s something to be said about the reality that not everyone in the world has the luxury of eating a good meal on a regular basis… it’s even more than that, though. The food itself is worthy of respect. Story time…

I have a sushi place I like to frequent–well, at least I did, prior to a pandemic destroying all sense of reality. On my second visit, the owner of the restaurant, a master of sushi preparation, was working the sushi bar that night, and when they were out of one particular item (toro, as it was), offered me up a custom plate to try. We started talking a bit, I asked him to put together another plate for me of whatever he felt was interesting, and so on for quite some time that evening.

In fact, I would come back regularly, once a week on average, for a similar experience. The way it works is, I don’t even wait at the entrance, I just walk back to the sushi bar and sit myself down. The wait staff–unless they’re new– all know me. I speak directly with the staff, and typically just say “make me $50 worth of food,” for instance. New wait staff are often confused at first, but the veterans will explain that “she is a great customer, just bring her some water and she’ll be all set”.

The best nights were always when the owner, Jimmy, was working, as we’d get into various conversations about sushi making, food authenticity, theory and artistry. He even explained his plans to open a second restaurant, focused specifically on authentic sushi preparations. I never quite had the nerve to ask what I’d need to do to work part time for him, but no matter, as the plan never quite came to fruition, at least not yet.

As a fun little aside, Jimmy happened to be the first person to figure out when I was just starting to transition, even before I was really out to any friends or family. One night when I arrived he simply stopped for a moment and commented, “You look different.” I smiled, nodded, and said that I was working on some things.

The upshot of this story though, was an evening on which I commented simply about how beautiful the sushi looked, and how artfully he handled the preparation. His response still resonates with me: “It’s about respect for the fish. That fish gave its life so that we could have a meal to eat. It’s our job to appreciate that by preparing it well.”

Though the message originally spoke to fish, the intent fits just as well with any food, whether animal sourced or not. If I am to be preparing food, it is worth my putting in the effort to do it well.

Yes, this is a plate I prepared myself.

Kitchen Essentials

Kitchen Essentials

If you’re just starting out, what are some essential tools and tips to keep in mind while you’re working away at your best Gordon Ramsey duplicate? 

Well, for starters, you need to make sure that your kitchen has the necessary base in which to build from. 

TL;DR- Chef’s knife, rubber spatula, whisk, pans (all types are neatly listed below the picture with the whisk and rubber spatulas), glass mixing bowls, kevlar or other cut-resistant gloves, metal spatula, cutting boards, electric thermometer, colander, box grater, and a timer (if you don’t have a microwave or oven that has one). 

First thing’s first: 

A Chef’s knife. I purchased mine from Ergo Chef (not an affiliate, I’m just a huge fan). From the moment my hand touched this knife, I cried literal happy tears from the depths of my soul. If you have arthritis issues, or issues that cause your hands to swell or lock up from consistent use, an ergonomically designed knife is incredibly important. For those of you just starting, my first knife set was a Farberware set with a wooden block from Walmart. It was a 20 piece knife set with steak knives and it was less than 90 dollars. But take the time to invest in your knives, you’ll be grateful that you did. 

I’ll post in a separate article how to sharpen your knife, but do keep in mind to NEVER, hold on, let me bold this, NEVER: run your knives or single knife through the dishwasher, and/or leave them in the sink. After you finish using your knife, it is best if you wash and dry it immediately to keep it from rusting. Your knives will thank you, and so will your wallet. 

A rubber spatula.

So, this little guy is the absolute best. He will help you toast rice for your risotto, spoon out that perfect pan sauce that took you way too many tries to get it exactly the way you wanted, AND he’ll make sure that all your batter makes it into the pan, or your mouth, whichever you prefer.

A whisk. So yes, a whisk is incredibly versatile. You can use it to scramble eggs, make meringue, mayo, vinaigrette, and bake that cake you’re gonna regret in a week.

PANsexuality is important. But it has nothing to do with this next list of pans.

Non-stick pan

10 in. stainless steal or ceramic pan 

Cast iron pan (or 3)

Sauce pot (if you’re like me, you have 6)

Griddle pan (not pictured… yet)

Sheet pan

Casserole

Each and every one of these serves a unique purpose.

A non-stick is great for eggs, bacon, frittatas (which are fancy eggs), and so many other items that I promise aren’t just breakfast food. 

A ceramic pan is wonderful, but in my personal opinion, a stainless steel is better if you’re a novice. A ceramic pan requires a lot of spoons (energy) and maintenance. They scratch easily if you look at them the wrong way. But they are great for more even cooking than a stainless, and make the best pork chops. Stainless steel isn’t as hard to work with, isn’t as high maintenance (though, like knives, NEVER put them in your dishwasher), is ideal for crusting your steak, and making a pan sauce with the remaining bits. 

A cast iron pan evenly distributes heat and you can put it in the oven at 500 degrees without worrying about warping or damage to your pan. Cast iron is also fantastic if you don’t want to use as much fat in your pan to keep your items from sticking. Also, you can’t get a crust on a steak in any other pan, the way you do in a cast iron. Also, don’t put this in the dishwasher.

A sauce pot sounds like an unnecessary necessity. I’ll explain, when most people hear “sauce” pot, they get very confused because there are like, 30 types. This is an exaggeration, but there are a lot of types. A large saucepot can hold from 1 qt. to 5 qts. I always recommend getting a 5 qt. pot because you can use it for small amounts and large amounts. But the best advice I can give would be to get one that can hold at least 2 c of liquid, and also one that can hold 5 qts so you’re not making oatmeal for yourself in a pot that’s too big. 

A Griddle pan is more of a luxury item, but I always recommend having one in your kitchen. You can make your best pancakes, arepas, bacon, grilled cheese, tuna melt, etc. It’s honestly a great tool to have on hand if you want to whip something up quickly. 

A sheet pan is important for so many reasons. You can make cookies, cake, bacon (I know I’ve said about 2 of the others already), roasted veggies, etc. I definitely recommend having at least one on hand. You’ll find that you’ve allowed yourself to enjoy brussel sprouts  smothered in parmesan cheese, and roasted cauliflower with garam masala and ginger for the first time ever. Just trust me, your oven is made for a varying amount of possibilities, and the right tools can get you started.

A baking dish/pan/casserole, whatever you want to call it, it’s a huge piece of either: cast iron, ceramic, glass, or clay that can be covered and it will, much like your sheet pan, allow for new ideas in the kitchen. Casserole is a very common word used by mostly older women from the south, but they aren’t just a dish your grandma cooked in the 50′s. French toast casserole is so impossibly custardy and delicious, you will thank the Gods that there has ever been something so wonderful in existence. You have stews, roasts, lasagna (uncovered, don’t be rude to your lasagna), and so many others. Just please, okay? Okay.  

Glass mixing bowls are a MUST. Okay, so some really important things about these bad boys: DON’T leave them on a hot stove because the heat will make them shatter and explode all over your kitchen. If you have pets or kids, I don’t have to tell you why this would be bad for potentially weeks on end. You can, however, makeshift a glass bowl and a boiling pot of water into a double boiler to melt your favorite chocolate chips to make fudge. Glass bowls are also non-absorbent, so they won’t retain bad odors or flavors when you use them in the kitchen. They’re also incredibly sanitary for the same reason. 

A pair of Kevlar or other gloves meant for slicing and dicing in the kitchen. I recommend this no matter what level of experience you have. Professional chefs cut and burn themselves all the time, it is best you do what you can to protect your fingertips and nails. 

A metal spatula will help you scrape any bits and pieces that have stuck onto your stainless or ceramic pan. Please be sure to use carefully, the metal spatula itself is very temperamental and can ruin your pans forever. 

Cutting boards. There are, a whole litany of reasons you need a cutting board or 10 in your kitchen. I myself have 4 and I use all of them. Cutting boards are made of several different kinds of material. Ultimately, for me, I use a wooden one and an eco-friendly material cutting board set I got from Bed Bath and Beyond. Cutting board maintenance is, arguably, the most important thing when it comes to  purchasing one. Best way to clean a cutting board is to make sure you’re passing your sponge over the slits in the board left behind by your knife, in the same direction. In other words, don’t scrub your board in a circle, but trace over the cuts in the board to ensure proper sanitation of it. 

An electric thermometer. Okay, so show of hands, how many people have deep fried chicken, burned the outside and undercooked the inside? I don’t know of any single person who is just beginning, who hasn’t done it. An electric thermometer is your best friend. You can get a regular thermometer, that will require constant calibration, or you can get an electric thermometer and not have to worry about calibrating it as often. Perfectly juicy, succulent, and properly cooked chicken will measure at 165 degrees Farenheit. Anything beyond 180, expect it to be dry, but at least it was cooked properly! To calibrate a thermometer: bring water to a boil, and then place your thermometer in the water, allow it to come to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, then place your thermometer into an ice bath until it gets to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius would be 100 degrees boiling, and 0 degrees in ice. 

A colander is meant to strain out pasta water, and you’ve probably not seen it used for much else. But a fine mesh colander can be used to filter out your frying oil so you can reuse it instead of wasting it. This little thing is good for anything that requires draining: meat, starch from rice and potatoes before cooking them, washing all of your vegetables at once before getting started, and also, it can help with steaming your broccoli or shrimp when you don’t have a basket steamer.

A box grater in general, is a fantastic tool. They have different sides that allow you to do different things. From shredding cheese, potatoes, carrots, or zuccini. But the question a lot of people ask: what is that side with all the really tiny spaces in it? It’s a zester, and it goes so unnoticed for so long because most folx don’t know the best way to use it. The zester is great for adding a little elegance or pop of flavor into a dish. For example, if you use lemon pepper often, adding a zested lemon rind to your dish would bring out all that delicious acidity that you won’t get from just using the regular seasoning from a bottle. A little fresh lemon zest here, some grated nutmeg there, a little orange zest in your tea, these all pack a mean right hook. Try them out. 

Last, but not least: a timer, gentlefolx. I can not stress the utter importance of learning how long it actually takes you, the reader to complete a task from start to finish. Not everyone works at the same pace, so a recipe that says “prep time: 5 minutes”, might actually take you an hour, and that’s okay. Keeping a timer on hand so you can keep track of how long each task is taking to complete, or making sure you’re pacing yourself as things are bubbling away in the kitchen, is a great way to figure yourself out in the kitchen. I recommend listening to music, writing your ingredients on a white board that sits at eye level in your kitchen so you can refer to your recipe as you’re going without having to constantly look at your phone. 

I hope this helps every single one of you learn a bit more about what it means to begin your journey with food. 

For more exciting posts like this, and more updates from us, check us out here: Gourmade4u

How to submit your chicken for a feature on our pages

We want to reward our students who go out to their way to grow food and raise livestock humanely and sustainably. Because our theme is eggs, we’ve decided to start by sharing photos of chickens you all have raised on our Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter pages.

If you would like your chicken featured in one of our articles, you can reach out to us at our Twitter account, @LetsCrackEggs.

How to mentor someone on Facebook

Let’s Crack an Egg, like many other Facebook groups, offers users the option to mentor other users or find someone to mentor them. You can apply to become a part of their program in less than five minutes.

The Mentorship link will appear under the title header for the group.

You can find the link to the Mentorship page for your group in the header of the group’s page. Some groups may not have a Mentorship program, and if they don’t, that link won’t be present.

For those who are looking for a mentor:

If you’re looking to become a mentee, you can find your mentor from a list of users who have already volunteered. There will be an option to start a conversation with one of those users.

Mentors will use tags to help potential mentees know what skills they bring to the table.

After you click “Start Conversation,” Facebook will generate a short message to send to your potential mentor via Facebook Messenger. You can add additional information to your request. Remember to always be friendly and polite.

If they accept your mentorship request, you’ll continue communicating via Messenger.

If you would like to become a mentor:

If you would like to post a listing so that other people can apply to become mentored by you, you can do so from the same page you use to find a mentor.

When you click “Become a Mentor,” Facebook will take you to the following form.

Make sure that you remember to check a topic that’s relevant to your skill set, and consider adding a topic if one isn’t relevant to you.

Don’t worry so much about writing something long here – you only have 500 characters. Here’s some ideas about what to write here for members who are applying for our cooking group.

  • Your special interests.
    • What kind of technique do you prefer? For example, do you prefer baking or grilling?
    • What’s your favorite type of cultural cuisine?
  • Your prior experience.
    • Did you work in a place that serves food?
    • Did you spend a lot of time cooking cultural food with friends and family?
  • What you’re looking for in a mentor.
    • Do you want to teach someone how to cook a particular type of food?
    • Would you like to meet up with your mentor locally, or only teach people online?
    • What would you like to learn from your mentor?

Let us know if you have any further questions in the comments, and thank you for volunteering your time to help your community.

Article Credits

This article’s featured image is of Henrietta and her chicks. You can visit the source for more images of cute chickens.

In a time of plague, the best way to protect yourself is to be self-sufficient.

As we begin an unprecedented era of loneliness, we must accept that it is the time to become self-sufficient. We cannot rely on the network of retail and service professionals that we once took for granted. It was unfair for us to always expect them to be there for us.

Learning to cook can be an intimidating subject because it combines our fear of failure with our fear of waste. In a discipline in which you must eat your mistakes in order to learn from them, the fear that we could waste valuable food is enough for most people to want to delegate the responsibility to someone else.

But now, with many people choosing to self-quarantine, it is more important than ever to learn to be self-sufficient. You will make mistakes. You will eat charcoal. But every recipe attempted gains you a little more experience. Eventually, you’ll make great food – and by cooking for yourself and those in quarantine with you, you’ll help fight the spread of COVID-19.