Cooking Rules

Hi from Dee. This post is in memory of Princess Mookie, and in honor of her family including a member of WordPress. We met (never in person) years ago as we started our blogs the same week and received accolades. I’m sure she has thousands more readers than I but we do keep in touch and I wish her and her family well. Farewell, Princess Mookie. Chani the cat-raiser and her two feline friends will be looking out for her. Well, at least one, the older one talked a lot and was ornery.

I was told in cooking school years ago that a cook’s best tools are his/her hands. I beg to differ as I would add a brain to that equation. Witness my Army Ranger post after I sliced my finger with a bread knife cutting a roll. My hands were OK, my brain was sidelined in work or ideas but he saved me.

Keep your hands and fingers safe. Learn how to use your first professional chef and paring knives. Fold over and cut against your knuckles. Practice onions, celery and carrots. If it’s round, make it flat (carrot). Use this mirepoix to make soup. It’s a win win situation. You get practice, toss in a cut-up chicken and some rice or noodles and voila! You have soup for lunch.

If you’ve a cast iron skillet get a cover for the handle or make sure you have torchons (kitchen towels) or potholders to take it off the stove or oven. Heat proof pads/trivets are also good to have out before removal.

The worst heat in the world is steam. Forget the facial you get while transferring pasta to a colander, that’s easy and only steams up your glasses. Steam is nasty. I’ve stories from school and apprenticeship on sugars and breads. I cannot tell you because you may try them at home and I do not recommend that.

Safety is mainly burns, cuts, slips and falls and bumping into a countertop or open dishwasher. Keep your area clean at all times. If you spill oil on the floor, you’re going to fall and hit hard. Clean it up with something that dissolves the grease! And when there’s meat on the counter being prepared, be prepared for your dog or cat underneath your feet, waiting to trip you or jump up. Enough about safety.

Overcooking, undercooking I can’t help you there. There’s a wealth of cookbooks out there (see my cookbooks sites, all six that I researched thoroughly) for assistance. Yes, I can help in a rudimentary way but only with small cuts of meat, for roasts you’ll need an instant meat thermometer, check out Alton Brown.

For a steak let one hand go limp and feel between thumb and forefinger. That’s rare. Stiffen your hand and feel the same space, that is medium. Make a fist and touch that muscle and it’s well done. I prefer medium rare, my husband uses an instant thermometer, he’s a physicist after all.

Seasoning. Season, salt and pepper, and taste. My in-laws have a cattle ranch. They like their meat well done. I don’t. Maybe if I was raising them and sending them off I’d not like it to look like something I raised, but I’m a city gal raised in the country next door to a dairy where all the kids had birthday parties and played. Yes, in cow patties with a skirt, blouse, lace anklets and Mary Janes. I’m sure Mom loved the cow patties.

My husband is not a fan of chicken (too much work getting it off the bone) but if I were to make boneless chicken five days per week I could make it different every time. Moroccan kebabs, chicken saltimbocca (recipe on blog), smoked paprika and ancho chile powder, floured with lemon and capers, fajitas. I could go on and on.

I watch all these cooking shows and most cooks don’t season, or they over-season. It’s a killer, because most don’t taste what they cook. Tasting is essential. Know what you’re serving your spouse, family, guests.

Know your temperature. I’d like to serve my own homemade pizza dough and toppings for my husband tomorrow but would rather the oven be at 500 degrees than 375. Reason? There’s a second bedroom (office) off the kitchen with a smoke alarm that goes off even if there’s nothing in the oven and it’s over 375. Make do. Just add to the cooking time.

We had a chef in Italy, Piero, at a vacation¬†cooking school, a birthday gift. He didn’t speak much English. We were 17 students there for a week in paradise and we asked him questions. He always said all the ovens at his restaurant were set at 350 Farenheit. How long? Eight minutes.

Halfway through the course we were all getting along well after the 18th crapped out the first day and they tried to charge me extra because she demanded a private residence then left within the hour. I only shook her hand and said hello. Diva. I was nice but wouldn’t let them charge me double for an event in which I had no part. She left. She should have paid.

After that debacle I thought the troops were with me. Chef Piero said “now place it in the oven at 350 degrees.” I raised my hand and asked “how long?” All 17 of us called out “EIGHT MINUTES!!!” He got a kick out of that. Heat and timing.

Cool and timing. I try to rise things to room temp then place whatever it is in a container in a clean refrigerator or refrigerate overnight and place in the freezer, like leftover pot roast. Make sure your oven temps and frig and freezer temps are OK. There are gauges for that.

Now my bete noire. Cross-contamination. I keep liquid soap by the kitchen sink and wash my hands all the time. If you don’t have a kitchen faucet that will turn on by your elbow, get one. I actually went to see a loft, high-end with a $30 Home Depot two bathroom screw-on hot and cold controls, you know the beveled plastic grandma had. I asked what I could do when I was eviscerating a raw chicken. The realtor didn’t know. I said I’d need something better. He told me “OK, you can do that with your own money but you have to put this back when you leave.” Yeah, really, the new folks will want the old crap back. We never lived there. I know what to look for in living space and in a broker.

No matter what I’m making, I always do the veggies first and place them in bowls. Mis en place. Then I do the meat, cutting board is rinsed and placed in the dishwasher to sanitize. My husband and I tend to have tummy troubles at some restaurants. We never get sick at home, and that’s because I’m the chief cook, bottle washer, dog washer and walker and feeder and enemy of cross-contamination.

I wonder if Alton Brown ever did a series on this topic. My guess is that he has done so. My husband can make tea in our British electric kettle bought up in the mountains where water boils at about 160, pour a Dr. Pepper and make toast. Perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich after asking 14 years ago “so that’s how you do it?” He likes Alton because he’s a physicist and software engineer and enjoys the science. Also the food.

Hubby returns home this evening for the weekend. I must clean out the frig. I’ve steak in the freezer for his steak and eggs, and half a pot roast from last weekend to thaw. I’ll make pizza, homemade from scratch starting with Italian OO flour. We have a date tomorrow at seven, a new local restaurant I just reviewed. Oh, goodness, I don’t have a thing to wear.

OK you didn’t read that. I could wear one thing, do a load of laundry and put on the same clean clothes the next day without knowing (sorry Divine Ms. M). Ms. M is a friend and six weeks younger than me but white-haired, thin and a model. She would not approve of these writings but is offering me “fashion” advice.

I had half my hair cut off the day after my eye surgery and since my primary rule of hair, with which my barber agrees is “don’t get it in the food” I always make sure at least the front is long enough to be pulled back when I cook. That day I bought several lovely barette bows, three for me, an emerald green one for Ms. M., the quintessential Irish lass.

I’ll have a Guinness, warm, well poured. Dee

ps No, nothing else. I’ll just sit and read the paper and sip for an hour, then take my brolly and walk to our flat.

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