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teg
01-14-2010, 10:14 AM
I actually can cook, and like to cook, but I've got this eternal problem of what to cook. Any time I buy groceries, about half of what I get goes to waste. It just gets left around until it goes bad, and I throw it out. And I don't have a lot of cooking experience, so I'm not comfortable making anything very complex yet.
What this amounts to is: if I want to cook something, I'll buy groceries, maybe cook it once and use some of the ingredients, and then have a ton of partially-used stuff that goes to waste. And that's just if I manage to cook it right.

Help me cook! Recommend me anything that's not difficult to make and that uses ingredients effectively.

Ethan
01-14-2010, 10:27 AM
The other day I made a green pasta sauce that had the look and consistency of pesto but none of the key ingredients. I threw an onion, a bunch of handfuls of arugula, a few cloves of garlic, some salt, and some olive oil into a food processor and let it rip. I put the resultant paste over capellini and then sprinkled on some grated asiago cheese. It was a fresh-tasting, very slightly bitter delight.

SDMX
01-14-2010, 10:34 AM
Not to unnecessarily tie this back to video games, but as I suffer from the same deficiency of determination, I have to say that Cooking Guide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Trainer_Cooking) is invaluable for deciding what to make. Specifically the Syrniki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrniki) which, having passed the pallets of two very selective Russian women, were judged to be incredibly authentic and delicious.

Ingredients are pantry essentials, with the exception of the cottage cheese, which might spoil if you don't use it fast enough. Honestly, my solution was to just use the whole tub to make syrniki, since they're cheap as hell and freeze wonderfully.

Edit: I can't find the recipe from the game, so I'll paste it in later. Other syrniki recipes can be found online, but are as of yet UNTESTED. D=

Also: If you want recipes that make the most of foods that otherwise store well, look to countries that didn't have refrigeration until recently, or countries that have an instable economy or food supply, as they would have to make things last by force. Look at Anthony Bourdain for more on this philosophy.

NevznachaY
01-14-2010, 12:10 PM
Мммм, сырники.

Thinaran
01-14-2010, 01:02 PM
I have the exact problem teg has. I don't hate making food, but my Ö I guess, repertoire is too small. My mother was never a great cook, and I've just never learned. (And I've never cared to either because I've always been alone and I don't deserve good food)

Merus
01-14-2010, 02:06 PM
I learnt to cook by starting with the easy stuff: stir-fries and meat and three veg. You buy some meat, you buy some frozen veggies, you buy some sauce, and you combine them. I wouldn't start off with fresh ingredients, because of the aforementioned problem with stuff going off.

The nice thing about stir-fries is that they're great for using up ingredients.

In summer, replace the three veg with a salad, which also uses up your lettuce and tomato and whatever else. You might also want to invest in plastic containers to put leftovers in.

Falselogic
01-14-2010, 05:49 PM
The best thing to do is to buy a cookbook, or more than one, something like the Joy of Cooking, or anything by Rachel Ray or Martha Stewert.

Next step, plan your meals! This is huge! Not only don't you waste food but u want you save money! Make a list of the food you want to eat and then make a shopping list of the ingredients. When you go shopping only buy whats on the list.

If money is tight dont buy processed foods, just fresh stuff.

This has been immensely helpful for the the Wife and I.

Epithet
01-14-2010, 06:07 PM
The best thing to do is to buy a cookbook, or more than one, something like the Joy of Cooking, or anything by Rachel Ray or Martha Stewert..

YES. The Joy of Cooking is totally immense, and filled with all sorts of interesting stuff. It's definitely worth a look.

Grignr
01-14-2010, 06:07 PM
Learn to do basic stuff, like cook a steak or brined pork chops in a cast-iron pan.

Find easy sides, like BirdsEye steam-in-bag vegs.

Potatoes are easy. Nuke them so they don't have to bake as long.

Replace one or more of the above easy things with something you want to try from a cookbook. I like How to Cook Everything and America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, both as references and for recipes.

Torgo
01-14-2010, 06:12 PM
Buy a crock-pot and make soups and stews. Historically, almost the entire point behind soups and stews is the use of leftovers.

Sven
01-14-2010, 07:19 PM
Good Eats is better than a cookbook, especially if you're in any way scientifically inclined (because that's how Alton lays out his recipies on the show; they're more traditionally done on the Food Network website). Although admittedly I speak while having all the episodes downloaded onto DVDs, so if I need, say, Alton's pot roast strategy, I can watch it simply by flipping on the TV.

Bourdain has promised that one episode of the new season of No Reservations will be a one-hour crash course in cooking skills, taught by a who's who of NY chefs.

locit
01-14-2010, 07:32 PM
Bourdain has promised that one episode of the new season of No Reservations will be a one-hour crash course in cooking skills, taught by a who's who of NY chefs.
This would be fantastic. If anyone can get me motivated to cook, it's probably Bourdain.

Gredlen
01-14-2010, 07:58 PM
I've always wanted to learn how to cook, but I don't really know where to start, and I'm definitely in the same boat of not wanting to buy lots of stuff I won't use before it goes bad.

That said, I'm thinking about maybe buying a grill pan and starting with that, since the only cooking experience I really have is grilling stuff.

Sven
01-14-2010, 09:01 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Qzz8R_J1c

The Good Eats Episode 'American Slicer', which explains a whole whack of knife techniques [resulting in a pretty good salsa at the end of the episode]. The 'EVIL' gag is one of my favourite jokes from the series, come to think of it. The first half is more technical, but the second half is invaluable for technique.

FWIW, my knife block is a standard Henkels 8-inch chef's knife, a Japanese-style knife that Kelly loves but I just can't get used to, and a paring knife that I stole from my sister's wedding gifts. Even that is one knife too many.

If, of course, you want to really learn to cook, the hands-down no-question read-it-or-die book is Jacques Pepin's La Technique.

Grignr
01-15-2010, 04:18 AM
That said, I'm thinking about maybe buying a grill pan and starting with that, since the only cooking experience I really have is grilling stuff.

What you want is a broiler pan (one may have come with your oven). Broiling things in the oven is very much like grilling minus (charcoal) smoke and flare-ups. Get a good chart for brining solutions and cook times. Invest in an instant-read thermometer. Learn to "tent the meat", letting it rest wrapped in foil so that it finishes cooking on the table and doesn't dry out.

Getting the meat right isn't hard and solves the protein part of the meal. Personally, I like to get fancy with the carbs. Plus you can always throw mushrooms or baby spinach into your greasy meat juice while the meat is tenting for a quick side.

(I apologize to any vegetarians reading this post!)

(Note: I'm using a divide-and-conquer approach here, since it's how I learned. YMMV, especially if you go with Rachel Ray "complete meal" recipes.)

EDIT: It's hard to rein in cooking advice. I'm resisting the urge to go create "I Can't Cook (Meat/Veg/Bread)", "I Can't Cook without This Accessory!", and "I Can't Cook without this Ingredient" threads, but the pressure is building.

Bonus: This (http://www.amazon.com/Polder-898-90-Clock-Timer-Stopwatch/dp/B00004S4U7/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1263558958&sr=8-1) is a nice kitchen timer that comes in black also (in case you need two) and you can wear it around your neck.

Merus
01-15-2010, 05:33 AM
Alternatively, if you have hot-plates there's nothing wrong with grilling, and you can do stir-fries in them as well.

pence
01-15-2010, 09:56 AM
Basically, two months ago I bought How To Boil Water and resolved to cook more and eat out less. I've been slowing down a bit recently, so I'm going to try something new when I go to the supermarket.

And I have the same problems - I just threw away some fresh carrots and broccoli. I love having fresh ingredients, but rarely do I find myself eating a whole head of broccoli in a week. My fix for this is going to be adding veggies on the side to more things. It doesn't help that I often forget about them since my veggie crisper is opaque. One time I waited an extra day to use fresh basil (I'm so happy that the local supermarket sells locally grown fresh-picked basil, it's so great!) and it withered, making some really mediocre pesto.

Also, I just made linguini, with olive oil, red pepper and garlic for lunch. Simple, all pantry stuff, and lighter than red sauce. Garlic alone is still kind of novel to me, since my mom never cooked with fresh garlic.

Marfy
01-15-2010, 11:45 AM
Big bags of frozen vegetables are the shit when you're cooking for yourself. I love fresh ingredients as much as anyone, but it's so convenient, and never get rotten and wasted.

Torgo
01-15-2010, 01:55 PM
Big bags of frozen vegetables are the shit when you're cooking for yourself. I love fresh ingredients as much as anyone, but it's so convenient, and never get rotten and wasted.
This right here. A bag of frozen whatever is a great filler for a meal and an absolute must if you're the type for stir-fry, fried rice, or casseroles. (All of which are also great for leftover usage, by the way.)

Another option: Buy only what you need for the next few days. Going to the store that often is a pain, but keeping a minimum of food around the house and buying only what you need and not what you might use is a great way to force your hand. Try to plan out meals for the whole week, and before you buy something, think about what else you can do with it besides the main dish you intend to cook with it.

Try getting into salads and making your own dressing. Salads are great for leftover cheeses, breads (croutons), herbs, nuts, and of course produce. The idea of making your own salad dressing may seem a little daunting at first, but once you realize that it's often as simple as oil, vinegar, seasoning, and flavoring, it's a hell of a lot of fun. It's also a huge money saver. This also extends to making your own mayonnaise, which should never frighten anyway anyone and tastes so much better then anything you buy from a jar. The acids in dressings tend to make them fairly stable as well, so it's no problem making enough to last you a few weeks.

I'll write up a little bit more on dressings later, if anyone is interested.

locit
01-15-2010, 02:30 PM
I'll write up a little bit more on dressings later, if anyone is interested.
I am, in fact, quite interested.

Dawnswalker
01-15-2010, 02:45 PM
A nifty thing to do with packs of instant ramen/noodles is to boil the water like usual, but add the flavouring and the noodles at the same time. Remove the noodles, then add an egg and some veggies to the broth. Let it keep going until the egg is cooked, then put the noodles back in, serve, and enjoy the Destitute (Wo)Man's Egg Drop Soup.

Grignr
01-16-2010, 04:36 AM
Let it keep going until the egg is cooked, then put the noodles back in, serve, and enjoy the Destitute (Wo)Man's Egg Drop Soup.

In the "Making Of Spirited Away" special, you can see (http://www.viridiangames.com/blog/hayao-miyazaki-makes-ramen-for-his-staff) Miyazaki doing this to feed his crunch-time people. (He starts cooking about 1:20 minutes in.) He just puts the eggs in with the noodles, though.

benjibot
01-16-2010, 09:30 AM
In the "Making Of Spirited Away" special, you can see (http://www.viridiangames.com/blog/hayao-miyazaki-makes-ramen-for-his-staff) Miyazaki doing this to feed his crunch-time people. (He starts cooking about 1:20 minutes in.) He just puts the eggs in with the noodles, though.

That was my favorite part of the Spirited Away disc. Don't get me wrong, I loved the movie, but this little bonus was just so charming.

Torgo
01-19-2010, 10:24 PM
So, salad dressings. Right. IĎm probably going to digress a bit here and there. Iím not entirely sure how readable this is going to be. I should probably also let you know that there arenít any recipes here, just general guidelines.

As I said before, your basic vinaigrette is going to have few key components.

Acid: This is generally going to be vinegar. Wine vinegars are the most commonly used: I'd recommend at least keeping some red and white wine vinegar around the house, maybe some balsamic. Acid in the dressing can also come from things like lemon and tomato juice. More often then not, the acid is what the name will come from (ie. red wine vinaigrette.)

Oil: By volume, this is going to be the largest ingredient in your dressing. Your base will usually be canola oil or a canola/olive blend. If either of these facts make you go, "Ewww," I should probably tell you that unless the lovely house dressing at your favorite place specifically says it's made with fancy, expensive oil X, it is made from canola and lots of it.* It's so common in fact, that in the food service industry canola is often simply called "salad oil." Now, nothing is stopping you from making everything with extra virgin, but we're talking economy here. Besides, canola has a pretty benign flavor, making it easily adaptable. Such can't be said of, say, walnut oil, which has an extremely powerful flavor.

That being said, if it's something you really want to get into, more oils is a must. The best way to stretch them out though is to blend them with canola. If you're using a flavorful oil, the name may be derived from that (ie. walnut vinaigrette.) You can also infuse oils with flavors, but that's another post and something I personally have no experience with.

Seasoning: That is to say, salt and pepper. You needn't be afraid of salt. Salt exists to make food taste more like itself. However, everyone does have a different taste and tolerance for it. The nice thing about making dressing at home is that you get to determine exactly what that amount should be. "Salt to taste" is not a vague minefield.

Flavorings: Everything else: Garlic, herbs, spices,** sweeteners, whatever. Everything is fair game so long as the flavor pairings make sense and it tastes okay (to you).

Emulsifiers (optional): This is if you intend to make an emulsified dressing. This will generally be either egg yolks or mustard. Garlic and fruit and veggie purees can also be used as emulsifiers.

----

Now that we've laid out the basic elements, let me hit you with a little math. If you read or take away nothing else from this post, take this:

Standard vinaigrette ratio: 3 parts oil to 1 part acid

That means for every ounce of acid you put in, you should generally expect to put in three ounces of oil. One of the delights of plain íol cookery (as opposed to baking), is that there is a lot of wiggle room and while you should follow this general guideline, they arenít hard numbers that must be followed. The key in dressing making is to find balance, the point where the acidity of the acid is tempered, but not overpowered, by the richness of the oil.

Now, a basic vinaigrette is easy: Simply blend together the ingredients until they form a homogenous sauce. This will create a temporary emulsion. That is, it will reseparate if you let it sit. Think of the bottle of Kraft Italian or Wish-Bone sitting in your fridge and you'll get what I'm talking about. If you want to create a stable emulsified vinaigrette, one that wonít separate, a little more care must be taken.

The idea behind emulsification is simple: Blending together two things that wouldnít normally, in the case, vinegar (acid) and oil. Now, thatís achieved as simply as mixing it or shaking a bottle. However, they will separate quickly because there is nothing holding them together. Simply, what an emulsifying agent does is provide a barrier, usually of protein or starch, that keeps the oil and vinegar in suspension and doesnít allow them to separate from one another.

Emulsified vinaigrette
1. Combine vinegar, seasonings, flavorings, and emulsifiers and blend thoroughly.
2. Begin to add the oil gradually, whisking constantly. Start out only adding a few droplets at a time into the bowl. Adding the oil too quickly will overwhelm the emulsifiers and break your dressing. Once the emulsion has begun to form (it will begin to take on a lighter, more homogenous color), you can being adding the oil faster in a fine stream. Do not stop whisking the sauce while you are adding the oil.
3. Taste it. Add additional seasoning, flavors, or garnish as needed.
4. Enjoy.

Stable emulsions will ultimately break, but they hold a lot longer and generally have a creamier consistency. I prefer them!

TIPS
1. Sweeteners are great flavor balancers in dressings. If your dressing still has a very powerful vinegar flavor, try adding a little sugar or honey to even it out.
2. Whisking by hand can be a pain. You are free to use a food processor, blender, or stick blender. For most people itís simply easier. The key in emulsification is continuous motion while the oil is being added. Iím not going to sit here and tell you that you must make it by hand because holy crap everything is sooo much better when itís made by hand guyz. I personally do it by hand because, heaven only knows the reason, blenders donít like me and itís actually easier for me to whisk it.
3. If you do decide to whisk by hand, secure your mixing bowl. What I do is place a wet rag on the counter, set a wide pan under that, another rag, then your mixing bowl. In my experience one wet rag simply doesnít do the trick. With that second layer, you can mix as vigorously as you like, it ainít goiní anywhere. Your kitchen and your loved ones will thank you.

NEXT TIME (if the peoples are interested): Homemade mayo and fixing a broken emulsion.




*The reason this is is that if they were using a nicer oil, they would specifically say so on the menu so they can charge you (a lot) more. I am not making this up.

**Fun fact: To get semantic for a moment, pepper is technically a spice (a new flavor element) as opposed to a seasoning (a flavor enhancer.) For practical purposes however, it's easier to put it with salt because of it's near ubiquity.