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Food & Cooking Articles & Tips


 


Cooking Basics and The Tools Of The Trade
by Chris Woolridge

My experience in the kitchen has taught me that having the right equipment on hand wins half of the battle when it comes to quick, week-night cooking. Yes, you can plan your meals with mathematical accuracy, write up a sterling grocery list and go to the store with the best of them. But, if you do not have a pan to poach in, well, you get the picture. Most of the tools described below are designed to be used on top of the stove. The fastest way to cook anything is to get it close to the heat, hence a skillet on a gas or electric burner. In this series of helpful hints, I hope to show you some tips and tricks, allowing you to make light of usually dreaded event & Dinner!

Let's start with the skillet and the lid
I recommend that you have two. You can fry, sauté, boil, poach and sear in a skillet. Expensive stainless steel skillets with metal handles can even go in the oven. If you planned your meals accordingly, this could be the only pan in your pantry. A 10-inch skillet is a great size for residential stove-tops, gas or electric. An inexpensive, non-stick skillet will run you about $12 - $15. Make sure that your skillet has a dome lid to help you keep the heat in. By cooking with a lid you can almost always cut your cooking time in half with meats, vegetables and starches like pasta and rice. Wash the skillet with a soft sponge to help maintain the life of the nonstick surface.

Pots for your pantry
One 10-inch to 12-inch pot with a lid is sufficient for the at home chef. Pots are a little more expensive, starting around $20. A must for sauces, soups, cooking pasta or rice. It is not necessary to buy a pot with a non-stick surface, but it does make messy jobs a little easier to clean up.

Baking Pans
Two 12-inch baking pans with 2-inch tall sides hold plenty of food. This size matches well with foils and parchment papers available in most grocery stores.

Wooden spatulas
These little gems are inexpensive, about $1, and can serve many functions such as stirring, turning and serving. The more that you buy, the more you' ll have to clean up. I recommend 3. Wooden utensils are easy on non-stick surfaces and won' t melt like rubber spatulas. One thing to beware of however, they have been known to catch afire when placed next to an open flame so be careful!

The cutting board
Prices range from $10 to $25. A wooden or soft plastic board about ten-inches by 12-inches will allow you plenty of work space, are light enough to carry with one hand and fit nicely into most residential sinks and dishwashers for easy clean up. A soft wooden or plastic board helps to preserve the sharp edge of your knives. Soak your boards in a sanitizing solution of bleach and water after working with raw meat and to remove stains.

The knives
Three to be exact are all that you really need. The rest is for show. Wooden or plastic handle, it makes little difference. The most important knife if the chef's knife. Prices start at $10 and go up, way up. I recommend an 8-inch to 10-inch blade. This size is easy to handle and fits in most residential dish washers. This knife is characterized by its broad base narrowing to the point. This knife can cut anything, but is best used for slicing and dicing larger fruits and vegetables. If it's a big job, use a big knife.

Number 2 on the list is a serrated knife. Once again I recommend an 8-inch to 10-inch blade. This knife has a long blade with ridges. Its great for slicing bread, tomatoes and cooked meats. You can expect to spend the same amount as you would for the chef' s knife.

Last but not least is the pairing knife. This is a small knife, 5-inches to 6-inches, with a sharp point great for small jobs like peeling fruit, slicing cheese or coring tomatoes. These knives start at $5.

Something to sharpen your knives
Many stores sell devices that can help you to keep your knives sharp, starting at about $5. A sharp knife makes fast work of any meal allowing you to make easy, accurate cuts. Watch your fingers!

Slotted and regular spoons
Starting at about $5, 8-inch to 10-inch large, long handled spoons are great for stirring and serving. Most at home chefs serve straight form the stove top. Nobody has time to set the table for weekday meals anymore. Larger utensils allow you to cook and serve with ease and minimize cleanup.

Two pairs of tongs
Starting at about $5, 6-inch tongs allow you to handle food with ease. Turning vegetables and meats in the skillet, testing pasta and serving from the stove top are all made easy with tongs. Very often, tongs are the only tool that I use to handle food both in the oven and on the stove.

Whisk away your worries
By far, an 8-inch wire whisk is the easiest way to mix seasoning ingredients into soups and sauces. Let' s not forget about beating eggs, whipping salad dressings or even mixing powdered drinks. An investment of $8 - $10.

These tools should start you well on your way. So, now that you are ready to make a mess make sure you plan for an easy clean up. Using foil and parchment paper to line baking pans prior to use makes for quick clean up. Clean as you go so that you don't end your gourmet outing with a 1-hour tour in the dish room. Soak pots and pans prior to scrubbing in hot water with a little soap. Use pots, pans and utensils that will fit in the dish washer. Finally, don' t forget about paper plates and plastic utensils. They are made for people like you!

Did you notice anything funny about this article? How about the fact that I didn't mention anything about fat content, calories or sugar substitutes? The reason is that all cooking, in any kitchen, starts with the tools. What you cook and how you cook it are up to you, the chef.

I hope that you have found this article informative. Cooking can be a creative, time saving venture if you know a few tricks. There is no right way or wrong way in the kitchen, but the best way for most of us gets us to the table in a hurry, allows us to relax and enjoy our meal and shrinks clean up time. In the next article we'll talk about stocking your pantry for quick, week-night success and throw in a few tips for healthy eaters.

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