Cooking

Cooking from the heart, and from bare essentials!

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You do not have to go by the book to create tasty, easy, sociable food. Easy meal preparation is all about stripping cooking down to its bare essentials using little techniques and conveniences to make the most of your recipes. It is so simple: Skip the fuss and follow your heart.

Here are some tips to take the stress out of cooking, whether you are stirring up supper for your mate or hoping to impress the new in-laws:

Dinners-in-a-Bag

Make these dinner bags involving glorious aluminum foil and write on them,

25 minutes at 425 F”, for example, with a marker pen. Even though Jools didn’t like cooking, she never had a problem with cooking the bags. I just program the “Favorites Cycle, in your microwave . Here’s just one version, but feel free to vary the recipe with things like grated parsnip, smoked bacon or red wine.

Chicken Breasts Baked in a Bag

(Serves two)

2 7-ounce skinless chicken breasts

1 handful of dried porcini

9 ounces of mixed mushrooms, torn up

1 large wineglass of white wine

3 large pats of butter

1 handful of fresh thyme

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced

Using wide aluminum foil, make your bag by placing two pieces on top of each other (about as big as two shoeboxes in length), folding three sides in and leaving one side open. Mix everything together in a bowl, including the chicken. Place in your bag, with all the wine, making sure you do not pierce the foil. Close up the final edge, making sure it is tightly sealed and secure on the sides, and slide it onto a roasting pan. Place the pan on a high heat for one minute to get the heat going, and then bake in the middle of a 425-degree oven for 25 minutes.

Bare-Bones Cooking Techniques

* If you invited friends to come round but they are running late, pop up to four plates of food in the separate warming oven. Your glorious food not only stays warm, but also keeps the kitchen smelling wonderful until they walk in the door.

* If your side dish is ready but you still have other things to cook, just slide the pot onto the middle of the cook top. The “warming zone” there acts like a fifth burner, keeping it warm and freeing up the other burners so you can finish cooking.

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Cooking Healthy For Radiant Health

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Who can resist the mouth-watering pictures in a cookbook? Who doesn’t have childhood memories of the fragrances that wafted from the kitchen on holidays, and even on regular, ordinary days? Spices, bread baking, cookies fresh out of the oven – all these trigger a deep longing in most of us. As eating holds a guaranteed spot in everybody’s daily schedule, so do those who prepare it. They have beome the uncrowned gods and goddesses of our lives.

Real cooking consists of more than opening a can with a dull picture of green beans on the front, or popping a TV dinner from a wax-covered box into the oven or microwave. The true goal of cooking is to nourish these marvelous bodies that we live in, to allow them to grow and express vitality and strength, to keep them healthy and able to overcome environmental germs and bacteria. Summarized in one word, the main purpose of cooking is heath!

When does a fruit or vegetable (or any baked item) furnish us with the most nutrition? The experts feel that food grown in one’s own environment will usually contain the most nutrition. Freshly harvested food provides the maximum nutritional value. After a fruit or vegetable has been sitting for several days, or transported around the world, the value of the vitamins and minerals diminishes.

The best means of ‘cooking’ fruits and vegetables for their health value is to eat them raw in salads or as snacks. As soon as heat is applied, a good quantity of the nutrition is destroyed. A good cook can prepare a beautiful plate with the natural colors of freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

Genetically engineered food has infiltrated the growing of almost all crops. This procedure didn’t exist until the last decade, and it remains highly controversial as the long range effect on humans has never been tested.

Briefly described, this procedure consists of infecting a healthy seed or grain with various bacteria or insects to lengthen its shelf life, to make it look ‘pretty’ for the consumer long after the nutritional value has dissolved. This not only has a negative effect on one’s health, but leaves the cook with a less than delicious product to serve.

Cooking with natural foods that are organically grown (that means with no harmful pesticides or chemical fertilizers) gives today’s health conscious cooks the best chance to delight in the time spent shopping and in the kitchen. Whipping up a carrot cake that will enchant both family and friends (best make two cakes while you’re at it), or preparing a quick but nutritious breakfast so the body will gleefully handle the challenges of the day without needing to be drugged by coffee or caffeine, make heading for the kitchen the favorite part of the day! Truly the cook is the god of the household!

11 Tips to Making the Best Pork Ribs.

1. Purchase ribs that are evenly covered in meat. In other words, don’t buy a slab that is fatty on one end and fleshy on the other. Avoid slabs that have exposed bones!

2. Allow for one pound of ribs per guest. This is a generous helping but for more impressive appetites, make it two!

3. When preparing the meat, make sure you remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs with a sharp knife. If you don’t it blocks the flavor intake.

4. Always marinate your ribs in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

5. Don’t even think about boiling those ribs! Above all else, boiling the meat causes it to lose all its flavor. If you just have to pre-cook your ribs before slapping them on the cooking grate, try steaming your slabs instead as this will help lock the flavor in.

6. Before placing your ribs on the grate for Barbecuing or smoking, make sure you coat the metal with a generous helping of oil.

7. Barbecuing demands constant attention! As soon as it goes on your grate, stay close by and keep an eye on it. Watch the cooking temperature and avoid going above 250 degrees Fahrenheit — the best ribs are cooked slowly over indirect heat for about five hours.

8. Put down that fork! Always use tongs to handle your meat once it’s on the grate. Why pierce the meat and let the flavor ooze out if you don’t have to?

9. If you’re going to baste during cooking stay away from anything with sugar in it. Your best bet is to use vinegar and/or water-based products only.

10. Only lay on the BBQ sauce in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Any sooner than that and the heat will cause the sauce to caramelize and burn your meat.

11. Let the ribs cool for 10-15 minutes before you serve them up. This is just a courtesy — you don’t want to singe your guests’ mouths with smoking hot sauce! You could lose some friends.

How To Achieve Victory In A Cooking Contest

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Competitions are still one way of really gauging the strength of a person or even of a product. People join contests to prove their worth or if not try to see how they could respond to the expected comparisons, the consequence of beating the competitors off.

For the performing Arts like dancing, people realize a next door out. Contests involving the need show talent or ability, sets criteria in choosing the most wanted winning throne. One problem in contests is the incidences of fraud caused by contest organizers, some unfairness from the jurors or judges.

There is one contest that is far from the flaws mentioned above. It is the cooking contests. Cooking is a good past time and as a contest it I has the most unbiased results. Does it end there? No of course. There are helpful steps to join in debates and to go home away with the bacon.

1. Read and follow directions carefully. Directions are part of the contest. A misunderstanding will cause a big effect if neglected.

2. Creativity is the key. Watch food trends and adapt your recipe accordingly. Try to use your own means to discover ways on how to keep your skill improving.

3. Do not use abbreviations. If asked to write the recipe down, show industry and do not use short cuts.

4. Simplicity and ease of preparation make winning recipes. Do not act hurried or look so pressured.

5. Use accurate U.S. measurements. Measurement will affect the taste of your recipe so be keen about it.

6. Garnish is very important. Always remember–eyes eat first. Catch attention and later the taste.

8. Analyze recipes that have won previous contests. There may be a trend in the taste of judges or organizers.

9. Be sure ingredients used are readily available. For you not to cram and destroy your own show, be very prepared.

10. Keep up with current diet and health trends. Health is wealth.

11. Write preparation directions in complete sentences. Think of the receivers of your work. Consider their understanding. And how you could help.

12. List ingredients in order of use.

13. Study your favorite cookbook.

14. Be creative when naming your dish.

15. Streamline a recipe by combining steps.

16. Adapt a recipe for a different occasion.

17. Create a recipe using ingredients that were once considered unusual but are now readily available in your grocery.

18. Consider a dish’s versatility.

19. Look for ways to enhance flavor.

20. Create a new shape or appearance for an old recipe.

21. Include the size of any dish, pots, pans, or casseroles used.

22. State the cooking temperatures and time needed to cook the dish.

23. Give the number of servings. Be realistic. “Serves four” is different from “four servings.”

24. The recipe should have wide appeal.

25. Type or print your recipe.

26. Double-check the contest rules.

27. Make a copy of your recipe. Always make a copy of your recipe for your files.

28. Use a separate envelope for each recipe entry.

29. Your recipe must be original. Originality is a very big edge over others. It will show how creative one really is.

Cook. Express. Win.

Grill Your Steak The Right Way

No matter what you preference in a steak, maintaining good moisture should always be your goal. When searching for a good cut of beef, look for a cut with good consistent marbling. Fat equals flavor so very low fat content in meat will tend to dry it out and have much less flavor. You should not have to coat a great piece of meat with sauce just to get flavor, in fact you should avoid using a sauce at all. You want to see visible grains of fat running through the meat but not large pieces of fat. If you do see larger pieces simply trim them off. As you cook your steak the fat will melt and naturally tenderize the meat.

After removing the meat from refrigeration seasoning the meat with generous amounts of salt and pepper.
Many other herb and spice combinations can be added to your taste just be sure you have plenty of salt and pepper in addition to any other seasonings. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before grilling.

When grilling your steak first make sure that you have your grill nice and hot. This will give the outside a nice crust and will also help seal in its natural juices. If you fire flares up at any point, move the meat off the flame. While you want a hot grill, you do not want direct flame on the meat for any extended time period. The worst mistake that most grillers make is to continually flip the meat time and time again. Continually flipping the meat does nothing but cause the meat to dry out. Flipping the steak over and over does not make you a grill master, doing it right, does. In the end you will flip your steak 3 times which will mean you have cooked both sides twice for 3 minutes on each side. For cross-hatch marks on your meat simply turn it 45 degrees when flipping. Total cooking time should be roughly 12 minutes. This will achieve a medium rare steak depending on how hot your grill is. Because every grill it different you will need to experiment to get the desired results.

There is no exact way to tell when the steak is done. Without cutting the meat open and risking the release of its juices, the best way is to either press the meat to judge its tenderness or use a meat thermometer. If you choose not to press the meat, you can use you hand as a guide. For instance if you take you index finger and touch the fleshy part of your palm right under your thumb, that is what rare should feel like. Conversely if you touch you pinky to that same part of your palm that is the consistency of well done. So from finger to the next starting with your index finger and ending with the pinky it would be: rare, medium-rare, medium and well done.

Herb rub:
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Brush the steak lightly with olive oil and rub in herb rub.

Is Organic the Way Forward?

Businesses such as GuideMeGreen and the co-op offer a real alternative for people concerned with these issues and with businesses that combine a strong ethical dimension in tandem with making profits.
Here are some of the main features of organic farming:
• Organic farming severely restricts the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
• Instead, organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops.
• Animals are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers common in intensive livestock farming.

Synthetic dyes and ingredients such as Sudan1 were in the national news in February and can cause cancer. See www.food.gov.uk for further details. Genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are not allowed under organic standards.

Why Buy Organic?

It has never been easier to shop for organic food, and there has never been so much choice. Every food category now has an organic alternative. It’s also common sense; organic food is good food. Good to eat, good for the environment, good for the small-scale farmers and the farm workers who produce it.

Chefs across the country are committed to using organic ingredients because plants from healthy soils and organically fed livestock provide us with more flavorful food. Organic foods allow true flavour to shine through unlike other non-organic foods that look and taste good but are often full of E numbers and artificial flavourings and ingredients.

By supporting local, sustainable and organic farms in your local community you also support the larger community of which we are all a part. By eating organic food you are providing the healthiest choice for your family and supporting the farms that provide us with healthy and ecological neighbourhoods.

The ‘go local’ food movement is flourishing – over 15% of people buy organic food locally and this number continues to rise as the number of farmer’s markets, box schemes, cafes and restaurants serving organic food increase. GuideMeGreen helps you to find locally produced foods which are fresher, healthier and more economical. It cuts down on transport costs and ‘food miles’ where an average shopping basket can include fruit and vegetables transported from all over the world.

Modern Pressure Cooker

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Cookers are no more simple cooking utensils of the yesteryear where there was not an iota of safety element built-in. Cookers have come a long way since the World War II and in addition to having countless safety features, they are also aesthetical and eye pleasing plus user friendly, not to mention their functionality and utility.

Before we proceed, cooker also means the name of a software product called as ‘Mandriva Linux©’ which is naturally out of the scope of this discussion.

Ever since man discovered cooking was delicious than eating raw, cookers began commanding kitchens across the globe. Modern cookers come in a huge variety of designs and safety features. Still others like the solar variety sport the smart tag of not consuming any power at all.

Features
Pressure cookers have features characteristic of their categories. Rice cookers have single inside containers while normal cookers comes with multi deck containers. Another distinguishing feature of rice cookers is relatively thinner construction.

Cookers provide pressurized (10Ksc) cooking which helps cook 30-50% faster. Cooking under sealed condition, as dictated by high pressures, has dual advantages. One: Faster cooking saves time and energy; two: prevents loss of nutrients.

Safety Features
Pressure cookers build up to 10ksc of pressure in quick time. This asks for fail proof safety features. A release valve lifts off just before the threshold pressure is reached regulating the inside pressure. The gasket in the lid expands and comes out of a recess in the lid when the release valve fails to operate or reduce pressure even after operating. Of course, the gasket has to be replaced later. Another important safety feature is the blow off safety valve. This operates only when both the above fail. This is directly fitted to the top of the lid and is made of a special alloy of aluminum which melts exactly at the threshold pressure.

The body is made of extra strong aluminum of thickness 5mm. The bottom is 10mm thick in some models. The lids are designed to fit either from inside or outside depending on the design. Inside lids are safer than the other design as their entire rim grips the mouth better under pressure. The electric variety cookers have thermostats which switch off at a particular temperature preventing higher pressure buildup.

Solar cookers need time before they got a place under the Sun owing to their dilute energy output.

So anyone still fancies flint and stone to cook dinners?

Slow cooking using a crockpot.

Many of your favorite recipes can be successfully adapted to the crockpot or slow cooker if you follow a few simple rules. You’ll find a basic time/temperature guide for converting recipes, some do’s and don’ts for specific ingredients and a few tips for making your slow cooker dishes more flavorful.

Liquids
Generally, liquids may be decreased in slow cooking – a general rule of thumb is about half the recommended amount. Unless the dish contains rice or pasta, one cup of liquid is usually enough.

Pasta and Rice
When recipes call for cooked pasta to be added, cook it until just slightly tender before adding to the pot. Add 1/4 extra liquid per 1/4 cup uncooked rice, and use long grain converted rice for the best results. For long-cooking recipes, add cooked rice shortly before serving.

Beans
It is usually best to soak beans overnight before cooking them in the crockpot. Before adding sugar or acidic ingredients, the beans should be softened first, either in the slow cooker or on the stove top. If your recipe includes tomatoes, salt, or other acidic ingredients, the beans should be tender before beginning.

Herbs and Spices

Ground herbs and spices tend to dissipate over long cooking times, so it’s best to add them near the end of cooking. Whole herbs release flavors over time, so are a good choice for crockpot cooking. You should taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary, before serving.

Milk/Cheese
Milk, sour cream, and cream break down over long periods of cooking, and should be added during the last hour. Condensed cream soups are good substitutions for milk and can be cooked for extended times. “Healthy,” or reduced fat cream soups can be used in any recipe as a substitute.

Cheeses don’t generally hold up over extended periods of cooking, so should be added near the end of cooking, or use processed cheeses and spreads.

Soups
Add water only to cover ingredients in soup, and add more after cooking if necessary for a thinner soup.
For milk based soups, add 1 or 2 cups of water and during the last hour, stir in milk, evaporated milk, or cream as called for.

Vegetables
Dense vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables should be cut no larger than 1″ thick, and placed in the bottom of the pot, since they take longer to cook
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How To Cook A Tender Juicy Steak

You invest a lot of time and money into the steaks for a special occasion and when dinner time comes, they are tough. What happened? How can you cook steaks as tender as your favorite restaurant?

The first step to cooking a good steak is to choose the right grade of steak. The top quality beef is graded USDA Prime and commands top prices. USDA Prime grade meats are sold to the restaurant industry and specialty markets and are not as likely to be found at your local grocery chain. The next grade of beef is USDA Choice. USDA Choice is tender, flavorful and only slightly lower in quality than USDA Prime. The meat is well marbled with fat and will be tender and juicy when properly prepared. USDA Choice makes up about 70% of all graded beef and is readily available in your supermarket. USDA Good graded beef is an acceptable grade of beef that has only minimal marbling of fat. It is leaner, but may not be as tender as USDA Prime or Choice.

Next, look at the color and texture of the meat. A good steak should be firm to the touch, moist, and bright in color. It should be well marbled with thin streaks of white fat throughout and a thin crust of steak on the outside. In our fat conscious society, we tend to look for lean cuts of meat, but the thin streaks of white fat marbled throughout the meat are the key to a tender juicy steak.

The most tender and juicy steaks come from the sirloin, the short loin, and the rib. These steaks include the sirloin steaks, porterhouse steaks, t-bone steaks, rib steaks, delmonico steaks, and the filet mignons. Steaks containing bone will weigh more than those without, but the bone adds flavor to the steak.

Aging is a desirable process that intensifies the flavors and makes the meat more tender. Aged steaks are more expensive and usually only found in high end supermarkets and specialty markets. An aged steak is recognizable by its darker color.

Once you have purchased your steak, you can further increase the tenderness and juiciness by marinating it. Try a marinade made of ½ cup each good wine and olive oil mixed 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice or herb vinegar. Add any seasonings that you like such as garlic, freshly ground pepper, onion, or herbs. Place the steak in a ziplock bag, pour in enough marinade to just cover it, and refrigerate overnight. Marinating a steak like this will add flavor and tenderness. If you routinely store steak in the freezer before cooking, try pouring the marinade over the steak before freezing. The steak will marinate when thawing and be ready to cook.

There are meat tenderizers available to sprinkle onto your steak, and they certainly do tenderize the meat; however, meat tenderizers can sometimes over tenderize the meat, changing the texture of the meat into mush. If you should choose to go this route, do it carefully.

When ready to cook, slash through the outside fat layer on the steak in a few places to prevent curling, but do not cut into the meat. The more tender steak cuts can be broiled, grilled, or pan fried. Less tender cuts should be pan fried or slow braised. Steak should never be cooked in liquid. When pan broiling, use a very heavy skillet such as an iron skillet or griddle and heat the pan before adding the meat. The heavy metal will hold the heat for proper heat distribution and not cool down when the steak is added. A hot pan will quickly sear the outside, trapping the moisture inside.

When cooking, try to turn the steak only once. Cook the meat until browned on one side and half done, then turn and finish the other side. Turning too often will stew the meat rather than searing it and produce a less juicy steak. When the steak is done, remove from the pan and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

While the meat rests you can make a sauce with the pan drippings if desired. Use your favorite sauce, or fry mushrooms and onions in the pan. When nearly done, add a tablespoon each of butter and flour and cook until lightly browned. Add a splash of wine and loosen any bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cook until thick, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve over the steak. Enjoy!

Secret To Cooking Vegetables

Vegetables, Cooking Vegetables

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Vegetables are essential to the human diet. We get a great deal of our daily vitamin content from vegetables. We need to make sure that how we cook them does not drain vitamin contents and benefits of consumption.

Cooking vegetables can be tricky. Over cooking can make vegetables bland and soggy. My belief is that vegetables should not be boiled. Boling not only rob us of vitamin content, it is the main culprit in turning vegetables to a lifeless, tasteless form.

If we cannot boil, how do we proceed?

First option, steaming vegetables is always a good choice. This will leave vegetables full of life. They will be crisp and colorful. It will also not deplete the vegetables of their vitamin content.

By rule of thumb, vegetables will only need a few minutes in the steam.

For those who do not have official vegetable steamers, an easy steamer can be fashioned out a of pot, a metal colander, and a pot lid. Place a small amount of water in the bottom of a given pot. Fit the metal colander into the pot. Start to boil the water. You will begin the see the steam rise. Place your vegetables into the metal colander and place the pot lid over the metal colander and pot. This collection of kitchen items will allow you to steam vegetables as good as any fancy store bought steamer.

Another good option is to cook your vegetables in a wok. The secret to the wok is that it cooks quickly at a very high temperature. Vegetables retain their flavors, textures, and colors with small amount of nutrient loss.

My favorite wok recipe for vegetables is to cook broccoli, carrots, bok choy, and snow peas in a very light garlic sauce. The vegetables remain crisp and the garlic adds just the right amount of flavoring. This combination can be served with any cut of meat.

I hope you will see that secret to cooking vegetables is not to over cook. Vegetables need to remain crisp, full of color. As you learn different tricks to bringing your vegetables to life, these will become the most requested dishes on your dinner table.