Cooking Tips for Beginners
You’ve got a great little kitchen to work in, and you’re hoping some great meals will come out of it. To accomplish that, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. If you’ve got a microwave oven, food processor and mixer, plus a complete set of pots and pans, great! But if you don’t, there is no need to go out and buy it all, just yet. All the snazzy devices in the world don’t make for a great cook, just ask your grandmother.
What you really need with regard to pots and pans are a saute pan, sauce pan, deep dutch oven and broiler pan (which probably came with your oven). You can do practically everything necessary with just these four. Keep in mind that the better quality you choose, the longer these items will last. There’s no sense in re-buying everything every couple of years or so. Cast iron is versatile, if you go that route. It goes from the stove top to the oven. If you purchase aluminum or copper clad pots and pans, avoid the non-stick finishes. Regardless of what the manufacturers say, the finishes do deteriorate. Flecks of the coating get in your food, and chemicals are released if these pots and pans are overheated. You cannot boil sugary ingredients in them, nor can you use metal utensils. Additionally, you must be careful when cleaning, so as not to scratch them. If you know how to prepare a regular saute pan for cooking, it will work as a non-stick pan. First, heat the pan. Add oil or butter; sizzle gently, then add the food. Your mantra should be: “hot pan, cold fats, no sticking”. This works especially well for stir-frying. Also, the pan will clean up as nicely as a non-stick one, if you remember to de-glaze it.
De-glazing accomplishes two things; it makes a nice sauce for finishing your meats, chicken and fish, and the pan will require less clean-up. After your main course is cooked, remove it and add broth, water, or wine to the pan. Boil gently and scrape with a wooden spoon, loosening up bits of food, until you have about half the liquid you started with. Taste and adjust seasonings. Strain it, if necessary; stir in a little butter or cream for a silky consistency.
A sauce pan can also perform as a steamer for vegetables. Put two inches of water in the pan, bring to a boil, add the vegetables, and cover. Just remember to watch it. The dutch oven works the same way for bigger quantities. Also, if you’ve purchased a really tall one, your sauce or soup-making efforts won’t wind up on the stove and back splash. The bottom of the broiler pan comes in handy to roast vegetables. Chop various fresh vegetables and put into the broiler pan with some olive oil and seasonings, turn it over a few times and bake, not broil. Don’t crowd your vegetables, otherwise they’ll steam. If you add too much oil, then they will fry instead.
As far as other cooking utensils go, you’ll need a couple of great knives, a good-sized cutting board, and a sturdy whisk. Get a knife with a heavy, wide blade for chopping. A knife with a thinner blade will do for everything else.
For mincing, use both hands on the wide-bladed knife. The point of the knife acts as a pivot; raise the back end of the knife up and down while moving it in an arc to chop onions or nuts, for instance. You can do this quickly enough, and there won’t be all those parts in a food processor to wash. Clean your knife and cutting board if you go from slicing raw meat to chopping vegetables. A mixer is another convenient item to own, but you get good results with a heavy duty whisk. Again, ask your grandmother how she made a cake in her day. It really can be done. The whisk can beat heavy cream into whipped cream, egg whites into a meringue, and ensure a smooth cake batter.
These are excellent, basic tools that will carry you through most cooking tasks, using these tips. You’ll save money, too.