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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.




Weight Training
Lat Pulldowns
Pulldowns are a great exercise for the back muscles but avoid pulling the bar behind the head. Pull the bar down in front of the body toward the collar bone and with the bar just below your chin. Pulling the bar behind the head puts undue stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Running
Avoiding Shin Splints
Do you have lower leg pain or shin splints from running? Running on hard surfaces, worn out running shoes and weak calf muscles could be the culprit. Try running on soft trails, buying a new pair of running shoes or adding calf exercises to your weight training routine.
Walking
The Talk Test
A great way to make sure you are staying in your aerobic fat-burning range is the talk test. If you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation with your walking partner you probably need to bring down the intensity to assure yourself that you are burning fat.
Fat Burning
Your Anaerobic Threshold
A great way to make sure you are burning fat during cardio sessions is knowing your anaerobic threshold or where your heart rate zone needs to be to burn fat stores. Find a gym or fitness center that offers anaerobic/VO2 testing. Merlino Fitness offers anaerobic threshold testing every month. Check out the link below for more details.
Merlino Fitness Metabolic Testing
Nutrition
Keys to Weight Loss
If you are trying to drop weight make sure you incorporate the following to get you on your way. Drink lots of water, don't skip meals (especially breakfast), do not eat late night meals or snacks after 7 or 8 pm and build as much activity into your everyday life as you can. Michael also recommends joining weight watchers to anyone trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
Nutritional Supplements
Stay Away From Ephedra!
The weight loss/energy supplement is in the news again. Supplement companies that market this controversial supplement claim it is safe although many have died from this dangerous supplement. Make sure you check the labels of your nutritional supplements as many are laced with ephedra, also known as ephedrine or ma huang (the actual herbal).
Quick Tip Archives
Our archived collection of fitness and nutrition tips to help you stay focused and fit.
Tip Archives

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Our latest collection of on-line articles to help you stay focuses and fit.
Grocery Archives
 
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Pamela from Chihuahua, MexicoI work out 5 days a week and can't loose weight. I do spinning, tae bo and many types of cardio. Where am I going wrong?
Answer
Nutrition
Ross from Sidney, AustraliaI am currently trying to eat six small meals per day. Apart from breakfast and dinner, I always seem to forget or skip my meals during the day. I also need some simple, easy meals (snacks) that do not require refrigeration or preparation, apart from the obvious fruits.
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