How to Make Couscous

April 2, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about rice because it is cheap and easy, especially if you know how to use a rice cooker. But there are many, many delicious and healthy grains I hope to touch on, and next up is couscous. Couscous is made from semolina flour, has a good deal of protein, and it cooks in about three minutes (you’ll have a tough time finding anything but the instant version of couscous, so it’s pretty safe to assume.) It’s my go-to starch when I’m throwing together a last minute meal.

One of the ideas I have brought up, and will continue to bring up and expand upon, is the idea of free flavor.  By adding herbs, spices and veggies to your grains, you can turn a boring pile of clumpy starch into something with depth and flavor. It will sometimes be the best thing on your plate! Here’s a recipe to show you how to use free flavor to enhance this wonderfully simple grain, couscous. « Read the rest of this entry »

Update: March 23, 2012

March 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

So, I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I would have liked. A million excuses. But the best one is that I’ve done a couple of cooking lessons recently. I think they both went really well, and I’m excited to continue on this path. I figured that before I get back into the serious business of explaining techniques and tips for working in the kitchen, I’d share a bit about these first two lessons.

First, I had a coworker request lessons in cooking Japanese food. I decided on doing salmon shioyaki (salt-broiled salmon), a cucumber & seaweed salad with sweet vinegar dressing, a chunky pork stew, and the classic staple, short grain rice. We went to the store together so that I could show him where to find some specialized ingredients that might otherwise be difficult to track down. Some of the staples of Japanese cooking – short grain rice, mirin, rice wine vinegar. « Read the rest of this entry »

A New American Diet

March 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

It is time for us as Americans to admit that our diets are not working for us. We are unhealthy as people, and our diet is one of the greatest contributing factors. We eat too much meat, too many processed foods, not enough vegetables, and not enough whole grains. We have to change the way we think about our current eating habits. We can no longer treat our diet as an afterthought.

We have to become more demanding as consumers. As a country, we have the palate of a middle school student. We want cheese, fat, and sugar. In the meantime, we have forgotten about fresh vegetables, and how to prepare them properly. It’s no wonder that many children hate vegetables when the only reference point they have is frozen vegetables that have been microwaved or boiled into a limp, dull, flavorless mush. Even if we could simply prepare frozen vegetables with proper cooking techniques, we would be making steps in the right direction. « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So

February 24, 2012 § 3 Comments

A book I have been spending a lot of time with recently is Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So (part of the reason I haven’t been posting too much recently!). I’ve found it to be a great, easy to read book that manages to be authentic, comprehensive and accessible. I have made a good dozen or so recipes from this book, and all have been tasty, and many have been completely, outrageously good.

Some of the favorites so far have been the Kung Pao chicken, willow chicken in black bean sauce, beef with preserved tangerine peel and braised fish Hunan-Szechwan style. The Kung Pao chicken is a scaled back version of what you see in many restaurants – no onions, bell peppers or jalapenos here. It’s dried red chilies, peanuts and sauce. And it’s so much better for it. The chicken in black bean sauce calls for fermented black beans, not that gloopy black sauce at the grocery store, which makes for a dish that is still pungent and flavorful, but also light. The beef with preserved tangerine peel is fragrant with orange without being syrupy or overly sweet, and is a great way to use those dried tangerine peels. And braised whole trout in a spicy broth really just sells itself, doesn’t it? « Read the rest of this entry »

Mise en place

January 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the restaurant world, a French term, mise en place, is widely used to refer to what is necessary for cooking a dish. It roughly translates to “put in place.” The idea is that before you begin assembling any dish, you must first have all the ingredients “put in place,” along with any additional tools you may need for the cooking process. This saves you the pain and stress of scrambling for that one thing you forgot after everything else is in a sautee pan on high heat.

If you are working in a restaurant, when dinner service starts, you may find that the chef gets angry with you if your mise is not en place. When cooking at home, you will very well likely find yourself getting angry if your mise is not en place. Proper cooking often requires high temperatures and quick cooking times to produce the best end result. For instance, whenever I’m doing Chinese or Thai cooking in a wok, I cook only on high heat, and once the oil is hot, it is a quick sequence of adding ingredients until the cooking is finished – ten minutes at most. There is really no time to chop that extra vegetable or measure out that little bit of sauce. Cooking requires focus and attention, things that are both shattered by a last minute scramble. « Read the rest of this entry »

So Long, 2011! Welcome, 2012!

January 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

So, it’s the beginning of 2012, and I’m really excited about the new year. Just thought I’d take a moment to share some of the things I’m excited about.

First, I’ve been talking with my friend Cassie about starting up some adult cooking classes through the school she works for in the Portland area. These will be designed, like this blog, to start from the very basics and work with people on knife skills, basic cooking techniques, how to plan a meal from scratch, and how to look for healthy and cheap products at the grocery store. No word yet on a schedule or start up date, but these classes should be very affordable, personal and a lot of fun. I’ll post more info as details solidify. « Read the rest of this entry »

Free Flavor

December 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

Everybody knows that one of the easiest ways to enhance the flavor of a dish is to add butter, cream, stock, or cheese. Our brains are designed to reward us with positive messages when we eat fatty foods. You could call it an evolutionary holdover from more austere times, when we as a species did not have the reliable food sources we now take for granted. And while it is sometimes fun to go crazy, making a rich, decadent meal for you and your friends, on a day to day basis, this kind of cooking is incredibly unhealthy and can get to be very expensive.

So, where do you turn when you want food that is full of flavor, but not unhealthy? You turn to herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables, that’s where. I like to call this assortment of ingredients “free flavor.” Free flavor means seasonings that you can add freely to food to make it delicious, without it being unhealthy or expensive. Herbs and spices are so low in calories that their contribution to an over-all calorie count is negligible, and most contain no fats or sugars. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself! « Read the rest of this entry »

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