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Kitchen Commando in Training

Part of the transition towards writing full time, is that I'm also becoming the full-time cook-at-home guy. laurie_robey and I have lived largely off of restaurants for the past several years, not because we like them so much as because we tend to both be pooped when we get home, especially if coming home from my day job is just the precursor to doing my real work.

When I'm no longer going to my day job, that will open up considerably more time for things like "cooking your own food" and "washing dishes," which is a good thing, because unless I have an unexpected runaway hit (fat chance) we won't have the money for restaurants anyway, or at least, not very often.

However, I have a certain level of quality I require in my food, and to that end, I have to learn how to cook. When I was growing up, my father did all the cooking at home, and from him I learned the following lessons:

  1. Bang your pans as hard as you can, cursing like a sailor at all times.

  2. Cleaning your pots, pans, utensils, dishes, and working area is for suckers.

  3. The cheapest ingredient is the one you should use.

  4. Never cook by hand, what you can microwave the hell out of.

  5. Fry everything in a huge cast iron skillet. Including soup.

  6. Knife is dull? Go buy a new one. They're only a buck or two at the grocery store anyway.

  7. Just don't use the parts of the flour with bugs in it.

  8. ...uh... did I mention banging your pans?

So... yeah. Learning to cook is something of a journey for me. However, I am making progress. I have learned the basics of using a chef's knife without losing any fingers, I have managed to successfully sauté a few things, I've even mastered a pretty nice little chicken fried rice recipe.

I'm also starting to notice and plug gaps in our kitchen armory. Basically, the third time I say "I wish I had a ______" I put that thing on the shopping list. And today we gathered up two years' worth of "Bed, Bath & Beyond" coupons and tromped over there to start plugging holes.

Most of the stuff we bought was pretty dull (Pyrex measuring cups, tongs, stuff like that), but we did get two items that I'm actually pretty excited about. The first was a deep fryer because, being from an old Virginia family, I am all about the fried chicken and chips. The second is a good knife. I've got one good knife already, but I'd like to have two on hand. I've also got a set-in-a-block of cheapie ones that were a present from relatives, of which we rarely use any. (Protip: Any knife that claims "Never needs sharpening!" is lying to you.)

I do need to get a knife sharpener of some kind still-- BB&B had an electric one that had a coarse grinding stone and a fine grinding stone. For the good knives, probably all I need is one of those sharpeners that looks like a sword and a little practice. For the not-so-good ones, they probably need a serious sharpening, or possibly a throwing away.

In any case! I'm pretty jazzed about it. Cooking is fun if you have the time and energy, and Laurie's and my tastes are so eclectic that cooking our own food is probably the best way to make sure we always have stuff we like. It's a skill I wish I'd learned long ago, instead of taking a crash course now, but the world is what it is.

Speaking of all this, I gotta go make dinner. Gonna try some shrimp scampi. :d

-The Gneech


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
I use one of these: http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-Precision-Stage-Knife-Sharpener/dp/B003TWNZ08/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372028560&sr=8-1&keywords=wusthof+classic+sharpener on my knives. (well the previous model, but same basic thing) A steel, the rod like thing shaped 'like a sword' hones the knife but doesn't actually sharpen it... it really just aligns the knife edge, not create it. It keeps a blade nice between real sharpenings.

Super big important thing is to always always use the knife on a proper wood, plastic or bamaboo cutting board. Also, never put in the dishwasher.
Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
Okay, that sword thing... it's called a steel. It's also NOT for sharpening. You use a grinding or flat stone for sharpening. The steel is just to align the cutting edge between sharpenings.

Whole chickens. They are your friend. Much cheaper than parts. Learn to break them down. Learn to bake them whole. I will usually spend around $10 on two birds (because there are three of us in the household), bake them whole, serve them for dinner that night. Then pick the left over meat off them. Most of that usually becomes chicken tacos or enchiladas. Then the carcasses are used for stock and end up being either chicken and rice or chicken noodle soup with some of the left over meat added back.

Hams. Total multitasker. Baked ham and potatoes, ham and eggs, ham sandwiches, ham fried rice.

If you like rice, a decent rice cooker is wonderful. It allows excellent results with minimum attention having to be paid to it. I've also heard that you can use them to cook steel cut oats, but haven't tried it yet.

Grocery store sale flyers. Use them. Plan your meals around what's on sale for the week.

Sometimes, if you hit the store early, you can pick up stuff that has been marked down due to it being close to its use-by date. Like bagged lettuce or veggies.

Farmer's markets are a crapshoot. Sometimes you can get really good stuff cheap. Other times it's more economical to shop the grocery store. YMMV. (Also applies tobWarehouse stores like Sam's or Costco)

Damn. Now I"m hungry.
Jun. 24th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
re: knife sharpener, see my reply to Andrew above. :)

re: the rest, I'll keep it in mind, thanks! :)

Jun. 23rd, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
I have taught/helped many a person learn to cook.

If you need anything just ask.

If you like soup/chili/stewish items, I highly recomend a crockpot. Easy yummy food.

Jun. 24th, 2013 12:12 am (UTC)
Yup, I made us a very nice chicken cacciatore with the crock pot last week. :)

Jun. 24th, 2013 12:14 am (UTC)
Similar rules in my home long ago.
2. Cleaning your pots, pans, utensils, dishes, and working area is for weekends. (and its mom's job anyway)
6. Knife is dull? Use it anyway. Forever!
7a. Keep the cornmeal in the freezer so the weevils don't hatch.
9. Never throw out the frying oil, just add more when it gets low.
Jun. 24th, 2013 12:17 am (UTC)
I dunno, did you ever see my dad cook? It was a horrible, horrible thing. O.o

Jun. 24th, 2013 02:21 am (UTC)

If you're looking for recipes, let me know. I have a big pile of them to share.

Jun. 24th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)
I'm not specifically looking for recipes so much as trying whatever comes to me. If you've got any faves, I'm open to suggestions. :)

Jun. 24th, 2013 11:46 am (UTC)
Slow cookers, while being a fad, actually work. Just NEVER REMOVE THE LID. If you like chicken fried rice, while cooking it in a pan (cast iron, of course) lightly scramble an egg, pour over the rice, instant Chinese restaurant style.
Steel is a good thing to have, but only if you know how to use it. Beware of Thulsa Doom wanting to borrow it, though. I have a GATCO knife sharpener that holds the knife flat, while you choose the edge angle you need. Gives an idea on how much angle you need if using a stone or steel.

If you wash a cast iron pan in soapy water, re-cure it with a little vegetable oil.
Jun. 24th, 2013 11:54 am (UTC)
Not a big fan of cast iron, actually, I'm more of a stainless steel guy. :) But yes, egg is definitely a major ingredient of fried rice.

Jun. 24th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
Then I'm not sure I got the impression you were already a good cook o.0 I think it's because I seem to be the only one who doesn't like to XD

You may want to look into this book:

It's aimed at college students (my roommate had it in college), but it's good for starting to cook and has general household tips; according to the reviews it's not just for kids ;-)
Jun. 24th, 2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
Well, I have a few bits of good cookery in me, but it was more along the lines of "gifted entry-level" than being an accomplished expert. ;)

Thanks for the book tip! I see it has a companion volume as well... http://www.amazon.com/Wheres-Dad-Now-That-Need/dp/1885348169/ref=wl_mb_hu_m_1_dp

Jun. 24th, 2013 06:23 pm (UTC)
No. 7 - Delightful!
Jun. 24th, 2013 07:59 pm (UTC)
Joy of Cooking is one of my favorite books, Gneech. It's an awesome way to learn to cook... and the recipes are good enough, most people will think you're gourmet. Try the "egg nog in quantity" recipe. But cut the rum in half. It's STRONG.
Jun. 24th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
I might have a copy of that one, not sure. I've got several cooking books.

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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