Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making a Stir-Fry - Step 3 - Cooking and Eating the Stir-Fry

Alright, everything's cut up, your stir-fry sauce is made (or purchased for you lazy bastiches out there), you’ve decided which starch you’re using (or, like me for the years I didn’t know about rice noodles, decided that starch is for sissies). It’s time to cook this sonuvagun.

OK, first thing, heat your pan on the stovetop at medium-high heat (about 6 if the dial on your range features numbers) and toss in the sauce, ginger and garlic (or, if you decide to make the sauce well ahead of time, add the ginger and garlic to the sauce, it’ll spread the flavours out in the sauce). Wait till it’s bubbling, then add other ingredients. Now, when you add the other ingredients is a bit tricky. So, I’ll break it down this way:

- chicken/pork/beef (the latter two if cubed), carrots: add first, cook for 5 minutes then add rest of veggies
- pork/beef (if sliced thin): add first, cook for 3 minutes, and then add rest of veggies
- veggies: toss in based on instructions above, stir-fry (as in stir with a spatula while it fries) for about 10 minutes or until veggies reach desired tenderness and meat is fully cooked
- shrimp/scallops: these actually take less time than veggies, so add them after about 2 minutes of cooking the veggies.

Once all ingredients are cooked, either toss in noodles if using, or spoon over hot cooked rice (or over nothing). I usually eat my stir-fries in a bowl to keep the sauce from spilling.

Now, here comes the last of choices: how to eat a stir-fry? Do you use a fork or dare to use chopsticks. Well, it depends on a few things: 1 – How clumsy are you? 2 – How hungry are you? 3 – Will it impress your date? I think once you figure that out, you’ll be up for the challenge.

So, that’s it for the stir-fry. My next entry will focus less on meal making and more on important ingredients.

Until then, Excelsior!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Making a Stir-Fry - Step 2 – Dealing with Starch

OK, the several billion people who consume rice as their main food staple probably know something I don’t. Like how to cook it properly. But, I am not one of them. For me, cooking rice has always been hit-and-miss, with miss commanding a strong lead. That being said, I feel it necessary to discuss the intricacies of a) making rice and b) finding easier alternatives to using rice to accompany our stir-fry.

So, making rice. Well, in my experience, I’ve had the best luck with Jasmine rice, which is the staple rice in Thailand. I haven’t successfully attempted cooking any other kind in recent memory. There is a plethora of different types of rice used throughout the world (it’s a bit intimidating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rice_varieties). The basic rule with cooking rice is to follow the instructions on the package TO THE LETTER! Rice isn’t one of those things you can experiment with, it just doesn’t work. So, that’s about it for my grand wisdom on cooking rice.

But, that being said, I highly recommend going with plan B: using rice noodles or vermicelli. If you’ve ever eaten at a Vietnamese pho restaurant, you’ve probably noticed that they use a variety of rice-based noodles, some thicker like fettuccine, others super thin like Angel hair pasta. Well, any of these is a much easier alternative to grain rice. You can find these kinds of noodles in the Asian food section of your super market. Basically, cook similarly to pasta (as per the instructions on the package). There’s a bit of a difference in that you will cook the noodles, then cool them off, mix them with some sort of oil to loosen them up, then toss them in with the stir-fry. I really like going with this kind of dish instead of rice because it somehow feels more satisfying as a meal, and it’s easier to eat noodles with chopsticks.

So, that’s about it. We’ll get back to the actual stir-fry next time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Making a Stir-Fry - Part 1

Intro and Step 1

Stir-fries are a quick and easy way to make a delicious meal. Really, there’s not much that’s easier to make than a stir-fry. The only drawback is preparing that ubiquitous and expected accompaniment, rice. Oh rice, you frustrating grain, you. I have been cooking for a long time, have usually had things turn out anywhere from decent to magnificent, but rice continues to confound me. I just can’t seem to get it right on any sort of consistent basis. So, we’re going to break down the art of the stir-fry into three steps: the first will deal with getting the elements of the actual stir-fry together, the second with making rice and finding alternatives to rice in oriental-style cooking in general, the third will deal with cooking the stir-fry, as well as the elements of presenting the meal.

Step 1 – Getting your Stir-Fry Together

Cookware

Alright, let’s hope you’ve put something of a kitchen together since the first post. For this recipe you’ll need pretty much the exact same cookware as with our pasta recipe. The elements are almost identical. You’ll need a knife and cutting board for prep, a large frying pan (or a wok if you want to be all authentic and stuff) and spatula for the stir-fry itself, a medium sized saucepan/pot with a handle and a lid for the rice, a bowl or plate for serving the food, a fork to eat it with (although using chopsticks is much more rewarding and a damn sight sexier – at least it is according to one of my exes, more on that later).

Ingredients

The most important ingredient for making a stir-fry, I find, is sesame oil. It’s what gives Chinese food it’s Chinese-iness? Um, yeah… I’ve found you don’t want to get massive quantities of sesame oil as it gets bitter after a while. President’s Choice sells a 185 ml bottle which I’ve found is the perfect size.

With sesame oil and only 3 more ingredients, you can make a no-fail stir-fry sauce. So, here it is:

Nick’s Super-Easy Stir-Fry Sauce
(as with anything I cook, none of this is an exact science, fiddle with amounts as you see fit)

- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp soya sauce (or, preferably, 1 tbsp each of soya sauce and oyster sauce – oyster sauce is thicker and isn’t quite as purely salty as soya, with a subtle fishy undertone)
- ½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder (a spice mix usually consisting of fennel, cinnamon, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and cloves; available at most grocery stores in major cities – delicious stuff!)
- 3-4 tbsp your favourite beer

Whisk all that together with a fork and that’s it! Put in a glass or ceramic container and set aside.

Stir-fry ingredients:

1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger (fresh)
½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

As for the meat and veggies, it’s all to taste. Just dice veggies (about 1 ½ cm thick). If using carrots, slice thinner as they take longer to cook. Just think of the last time you got Chinese food and cut your veggies roughly the way the restaurant did.

For meat, I like to use beef and cut it into thin slices (almost like ribbons). With chicken, I usually cube it (you can buy chicken already prepped into stir-fry strips or cubed). You can also use shrimp or scallops (see previous post for notes on prepping seafood). Even fish filets will work, but the cooking time is a little different.

Next post: Dealing with Starch

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last time we got the ingredients, now it's time to put them together..

Step 3 - Give 'er!
 
Prep
 
1) Meat: If you're doing shrimp or scallops, thaw them quickly using the strainer and lukewarm water. They don't need to be completely thawed, but if you have to peel the shrimp, they should be. Set aside. 
 
2) Garlic: mincing garlic is one of my favourite activities, I find it therapeutic. You might find it annoying. If so, invest in a garlic press. Or buy those pre-chopped garlic dealies,  check the grocery store.
 
3) Veggies: chop your veg into whatever size you like best. Just remember that the smaller you chop, the faster they cook. I like my veggies firm, so I usually go no smaller than approx 1 cm width. When chopping tomatoes, make sure you keep as much juice as possible. Put them in a separate bowl. Onions can be chopped as fine as possible because they're going to flavour the sauce rather than stand on their own. 
 
Cooking 
 
First, you need to get a pot of water on the stovetop. Add a splash of oil to the water to keep the pasta from sticking. Get it boiling. 
 
While the water heats up, put the frying pan on medium-high heat, add a splash of oil (about 2 tbsp) and heat it (this takes about 2 minutes) 
 
Add chopped garlic and saut√© (get it a little brown, but no more or it'll be bitter) 
 
Your water should be boiling, so add your pasta; about 1/6 to 1/4 of a 900 g package. I usually break it in half when using linguine, it cooks faster, easier and is easier to get on the fork. 
 
Reduce heat in the frying pan to medium. Add the rest of your ingredients (including wine if using) and mix it all up. Saut√© for about 5-6 minutes, until everything is cooked through. 
 
Strain your pasta (check it to see if it's tender. I like it a little mushier than 'al dente', which means firm, but al dente is the way most of the high falutin' cooks like it. 
 
If you're feeling skillful, add the pasta to the sauce in the pan and toss it all together by using a flipping motion with the pan. Or, use a spatula or wooden spoon and mix everything together that way. 
 
Serve the lot on a plate or bowl and top with all that neat stuff I mentioned earlier. 
 
There ya go, crack a beer or fetch some vino, or a glass of water, or whatever. Park yer arse in front of the tube and snarf away! Then, do this all over again for your lady friend or gentleman caller (but do not snarf in their presence. Not good.)
 
Dude, you just cooked! 
 
Cheers! 

Next time: stir-fry made dead easy 
 
 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Step 2 - Off to the Supermarket

Previously on Battlestar Galac... never mind.

Right, last time we went over the first step in building your kitchen. Now, we're going to get into the first recipe.

Step 2 - Off to the Supermarket!

OK, you've just broken up with your significant other who was more than happy to take care of the nightly meals and just moved into that bachelor pad and you got Gabriel's on speed dial. Whoa there Tex, put that phone down!


With a few key ingredients, you can fix yourself dinner in minutes on the cheap. So, what does a person need in their fridge/pantry? Well, since today we're going to focus on "the easiest pasta meal ever", we're going to pick up those ingredients specifically.

Alright, the primary ingredient any fledgling cook must, MUST have in their kitchen is olive oil. Forget butter or margarine; you can, in most cases, use this tastier, healthier alternative. It's best to pick up that "extra virgin" stuff, but since pretty much EVERY brand says extra virgin, who the heck knows what's the super tasty awesomeness? And really, olive oil is olive oil, it generally doesn't matter what brand you get when you cook with it. It might matter for dressings and the like, but we'll address that issue at another time.

So, all that to say, pick up whatever the heck you want. There's usually some brand on sale at the local supermarket. Or, if you want to be sure, check out an Italian gourmet shop (e.g. Nicastro's in Ottawa), they usually have a high quality house brand that's sold inexpensively.

Alright, since man can't live by oil alone, what else are we picking up? OK, well, the other essential is garlic. Really, with just garlic and olive oil (and pasta of course), you can have a meal right then and there, but it's a bit boring. Soooooo, grab a bulb of garlic. Look at the bottom to make sure it's still good (it should be firm and if you see signs of discoloration or mould, leave it).

Now, pick up whatever veggies and meat you like. I usually like tomato, onion and red pepper. I'm a big fan of using (frozen) shrimp as it cooks fast and is fairly easy to prep as opposed to, say, chicken, which requires all that sanitizing and decontaminitation showers. Also good are frozen scallops, all you need to do is thaw them a little bit and you're good to go. Red meat usually is too heavy for this kind of dish, but what do I know? Slices of dry salami could also work well in this kind of recipe.

Anyhoo, the idea is that you're cooking for yourself (with the possible intention of cooking for others later on) so you want to use ingredients you actually like to eat.

Alright, obviously you need pasta. I usually go with linguine or spaghetti, both cook fast and reliably. I use dry pasta because it's dirt cheap, but if you want to get the fancy fresh stuff, be my guest Rockefeller! You can use whole wheat pasta if you're THAT health nutty, but I find it doesn't cook as nicely as "normal" pasta.

Extras:

- Parmesan cheese - get it pre-grated, just easier that way and the difference in taste is minimal

- Black Pepper - President's Choice sells black peppercorns in their own cheapie plastic grinder for about 4 bucks. It's the best invention ever, forget penicillin or the light bulb. Buy this.

- Basil and Oregano - a small dash of either or both of these herbs dry is a nice finishing touch to any pasta dish

- Salt - OK, salt is going to get it's whole own post at some point, but let me just get this out of the way. NEVER put more than a teaspoon of salt in any recipe, unless you're batch cooking (like chili or a pot of soup). We North Americans eat way too much salt (check the sodium content on a can of soup one of these days) and it really isn't much good when you have far more interesting flavours present (see above); also if you're using Parmesan cheese, there's more than enough salt already there

- Parsley - not my fave, but some people loves their garnishes

- Wine - a splash of red or white adds a wonderful flavour to the sauce

Alright, the next post, we give 'er!

Till next time!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Introductions Are In Order and Step 1

Introduction


Hi there, my name's Nick, I love to cook, and firmly believe that the world is a better place when as many people as possible like it too. I also like to impress people with said cooking, and believe cooking is one of those things that just make one's quality of life better.


The main point of this blog is to get the average lazy-ass 20/30-something single guy (or gal) to learn the fine art of cooking tasty meals with minimal effort or preparation.


A little bit about my "credentials" to pull off a believable blog on this topic. Basically, I used to work in kitchens many moons ago and learned the basics of food prep and marrying flavours effectively, a skill I've improved upon over the years.


Now, if I had a stainless steel kitchen with acres of counter space, I'd be making Baked Alaska and Beef Wellington nightly. But, in reality, I live in a small 1-bedroom apartment with a kitchen that has no counters (I had to buy a stand-alone kitchen/countertop dealie from IKEA -
http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/70011793 - just to have a spot to prep.


So, I've had to make due with minimal space. This has allowed me to figure out how to make a little go a long way and how to simplify prepping and cooking. So, I figure if I can cobble together meals that make the ladies swoon (just ask 'em) with an oubliette of a kitchen, anyone can!


Which leads to the other public service aspect of this blog: to convince my fellow males that the way to woman's heart might not be through the stomach, but it could well be through the taste buds. Cook something tasty for a demoiselle; it'll go far in your efforts to entice her to think you're more than just that guy with the haircut. Not to mention the fact that a plate of pasta is a damn sight tastier than Pizza Pops.


Learn to cook for yourself and watch your Epicurean sensibilities expand exponentially, not to mention saving money and having better health (I'll have an entire future post dedicated to exposing how a diet of processed food is unsustainable). So, with that in mind, let's proceed!


Step 1 - Building a Basic Kitchen


OK, depending on where you are in your life, you may or may not have acquired some basic kitchen implements. For kicks, let's say you haven't.


Here's what you need:


- kitchen knife - really, all you need is one decent quality chef's knife. Forget the 25-piece sets (especially if they're that crappy serrated type); just go with a good straight-bladed chef's knife. I used the same 10$ knife for years and it was fine. You also may want to get a sharpening stone/steel, although you can sharpen any knife on the unfinished part at the bottom of a ceramic bowl.


- counter space - if you're like me and don't have any, go to IKEA and get the cart I mentioned earlier.

- dishes - get a basic set of side plates, dinner plates and bowls. GT sells 'em cheap. Get some glasses at the same time! And some utensils are probably helpful too

- cookware - at a minimum, you need a medium saucepan with a handle and lid, a frying pan, a spatula, a set of tongs and a serving spoon. Since we're doing pasta, you might as well invest in some sort of strainer/colander. Or, even better, hit up Canadian Tire for one of these -
http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/browse/8/KitchenBath/1/Cookware/CookwareSets/PRDOVR~0420013P/Supersteel%2BII%2B8-pc%2BCookset.jsp - and get most of your stuff in one fell swoop. Canadian Tire is, and has always been, your friend.


- cutting board - a board, of wood or plastic, that you cut stuff on.


Next post: Step 2 - Off to the Supermarket!