How to Be an Adequate Cook

Most cooks cook because it is expensive and impractical to eat out every night especially with a family. We can make healthier, less expensive meals at home, but it does require some effort. There is the meal planning, the grocery shopping, and then the actual getting it done after arriving home from our day jobs. What can a cook do to make that daily chore feel less like drudgery?

My answer to that question has been to embrace cooking as my favorite hobby, a hobby I take time for every day. Admittedly, it took some creative re-thinking and plain old work to reinvent myself into being a happy cook.

In her memoir The Ungarnished TruthEllie Matthews describes how she won a million dollars in a cooking contest. I love that Matthews terms herself an “adequate cook” because that is all that I am. Although I do not plan to enter any contests, her terminology allows me to feel better about how I cook.

Based on a few things I gleaned from Matthews’ book and my own experience, here are some tips for reaching adequacy in cooking.

Step One: Start with what you know.

Gather recipes from your childhood. Chances are if you liked to eat it then, your own children will like it now. Add the favorite meals of your family members.

These meals will be the back bone of your family menu. Mine include lasagna, spaghetti, breakfast-for-dinner, macaroni and cheese with hotdogs, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and pork roast with sauerkraut and applesauce.

A vegan would not fare well in my house, but the point is that I can do all of these meals without opening a cookbook or consulting a recipe card. When my brain is too frazzled for anything complicated, I cook one of these staples and throw a vegetable into the microwave.

By starting with what you know, you will build a base of cooking knowledge. For example, macaroni and cheese from scratch requires the cook to make a basic white sauce first before adding grated cheese. Lasagna, spaghetti and macaroni all need to be cooked according to the package directions so the pasta does not get mushy. Mashed potatoes are a staple in American homes. Be sure to start with cold water so that the potatoes do not end up lumpy.

Step Two: Learn from other cooks.

Every adequate cook must own a decent standard cookbook. My mother had a well worn Joy of Cooking. I use Better Homes and Gardens.

If the index of this all purposeful cookbook of choice includes all the back bone recipes of your menu, consider buying it. Also check it out for clearly explained recipe steps and a wide variety of recipes. Then use your new cookbook to try other meals that sound good.

Cooking shows can be a great resource for inspiration. Although some of the recipes may be too complicated for a beginning cook, the shows do teach cooking techniques. I recently decided to try kale for the first time because I saw Rachel Ray demonstrate how to prepare it for cooking.

If someone feeds you something you like, ask how he or she made it. If the recipe sounds simple enough for you, get a copy of it. Put the ingredients on your shopping list immediately and try it out as soon as possible.

You can even get ideas from a restaurant meal. A local restaurant serves delicious Southern Mustard Fried Catfish. I like it so much that I looked for a recipe on-line. Mine does not taste like the restaurant’s fish but my family loves it anyway.

Step Three: Use familiar ingredients.

Having the same ingredients on hand on a regular basis simplifies both the shopping and cooking experience. Once you have built a repertoire of about a dozen to twenty recipes, you will notice that you use the same spices, herbs and flavorings over and over again. If running low on any of these, you will want to add them immediately to your shopping list.

Other ingredients that are essential to the well stocked cook are butter, oil, flour, sugar, vinegar, milk, eggs, rice, corn meal, pasta, potatoes, garlic, onions, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper. These ingredients allow you to pan fry pork chops or fish; make breakfast for dinner; whip up vinegar and oil salad dressing; and round out meals with a side dish.

Not essential to cooking but definitely handy: mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cheese of all kinds, dry or canned beans and peas, broth or bouillon, coconut milk, peanut butter, cumin, coriander, chili powder, cayenne pepper, white pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, dill, and parsley. I am sure to have left out something I use often.

Vegetables and fruit are also essential to a well balanced diet. Fresh is best, but buy frozen or canned if your budget limits you. I usually have fresh carrots, green onions, Romaine lettuce, spinach, oranges, apples, bananas, and whatever items my meal planning calls for.

Step Four: Plan your meals.

Planning meals may seem time consuming; however, in the long run it saves you time and money. It also helps you to feed your family healthy meals that they like.

I usually plan for five or six days of meals at a time. You may wish to plan for fewer or more meals depending upon your proximity to grocery stores, time limits, storage space, and budget.

Since I like to use fresh ingredients, I find that planning for more than six meals at a time means that some of my produce spoils before I have a chance to use it. I freeze meat that I do not plan to use until the third day.

Another advantage to planning meals is that it cuts down on stress. I severely dislike coming home after work and not knowing what to cook. My brain cannot take it. If I plan ahead, my husband and family can help with the shopping or the prep work. I can arrange meals to take into account the busy evenings of sports and other activities. Life is much saner.

Step Five: Cook with a conscience.

Cooking with a conscience means cooking healthy meals. Certain health conditions like heart problems or diabetes demand a stricter diet; but we can all benefit from healthier food choices.

Elle Matthews rails about what she calls “cooking without a conscience” (249). She is referring to cooks who dump loads of butter into their sauces or deep fry everything including the vegetables.

The adequate cook looks for recipes low in fat and high in vitamins. If competent enough, the adequate cook can modify recipes to cut the fat out of meals. Vegetables, for instance, can be steamed or blanched, quickly cooled to retain their vitamins, then tossed with lemon and herbs or vinaigrette. If a recipe asks for onions to be sautéed in butter, use a small amount of olive oil instead.

The more you cook, the more you learn and the more you enjoy the whole experience of cooking. If you can involve your children, spouse, significant other, or roommates in the process, it is even more enjoyable. Reinvent yourself into a happy cook and let the drudgery cease.

 

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Visiting Till Dynamic Fare Restaurant

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How Do I Cook That? Beef!

A General Guide to What to Do with Sirloin, Tenderloin, Striploin, Ribeye, Chuck Roast, and Other Cuts of Beef

Ok, so you wander through the meat aisle in the grocery store, or peruse the selection in the butcher’s case and you wonder, what exactly IS chuck roast anyway? Where is the chuck on a cow? and if its called a roast, do I have to roast it? and if I do, how??? At least, I know some people who do.

I consider there to be, in general, two types of beef; beef for braising (cooking in liquid, like stew or pot roast) and the rest of it. Now, in theory, you can use any method on any cut, but you may not always be thrilled with the results. Typically, the tougher, fattier the meat is, the better suited it is to braising.

There are so many methods for cooking beef, so many great dishes, that I could not possibly discuss them all in one article. You can find some excellent Brazilian food recipes over here for example. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare beef, and the cuts I would use when making them.

Stir Fry – when making beef stir fry, you’ll want a cut that’s tender in its raw state, because the cooking temperature is very high and the time very short. Meats with too much connective tissue will tighten up and become tough under these conditions. Ideally, I would use tenderloin exclusively for stir-fry, but its also the priciest cut. When searching for a deal, I use a cut called “tri-tip” which is a triangular cut off the bottom of a sirloin, sometimes called a “santa maria” steak. Sliced thin or in small cubes, this cut has enough marbling (collagen fat distributed through the muscle) to make it flavorful.

Grilled Steaks – here, there are a lot of choices. Meat has been grilled over a flame since man first discovered fire. There are a few beef cuts that are perfect for grilling steaks, and chefs argue everyday about which is the “best”. Personally, I enjoy a quality sirloin steak, center cut, sometimes called a “baseball steak”. Just the right amount of bite to it without being too tough, center cut so there is not an excessive amount of fat. Many think the ribeye is the king of grilling steaks. It’s high fat content really works well over an open flame. Steaks cut from the “chuck end” of the prime rib (closer to the front of the cow) will have less of a fat “rind” on them while steaks from the sirloin end will have more fat, but less solid meat. I prefer chuck end steaks, but most people think I am crazy. Sirloin is usually a little cheaper than ribeye while the striploin steak (or NY strip or Kansas city strip or simply strip steak) is a bit more expensive. This cut is a steak classic and if it weren’t so pricey, I would eat more of it. The right balance of fat and muscle, tender enough to grilled to a nice medium rare, NY Strip steaks are great on the grill. Finally, the tenderloin steak or filet mignon is the most expensive of the steak cuts, but of course, it’s reputation as the most tender of all beef cuts is unsullied. While not having as much fat or marble as other cuts, the firm yet tender texture makes this a fantastic steak to carry a nice bearnaise or other rich sauce.

Potroast – I often use pot roast as an all encompassing term to describe meat cooked ‘dutch oven’ (covered pot in the oven) style or in a crock pot, as a whole or in large pieces. When making something like this it is important to consider fat content. The fattier the cut, the better, as this will just end up in ur cooking liquid and add great flavor. Not suprisingly, the fatty cuts are usually the cheapest, which is great for the consumer! When making a pot roast, I will usually buy a chuck roast of some kind. The chuck is the forward/upper part of the rib cage, shoulder and front leg of the cow. Arm roast is a type of chuck roast, sometimes cut into steaks with a round bone in the center (called, oddly, a round bone steak). I like using arm roast or shoulder roast because there are usually very inexpensive and come in large cuts to feed a group of people.

Grilled, Sliced cuts – I almost always use a flank steak when I am making a “london broil” or fajitas. Marinated, grilled and sliced thin, this cut is juicy and delicious, a little tough, but full of flavor. Always marinate it whole, grill it as one big piece, then slice it thin. Slicing it thin keeps the chewing to a minimum. Skirt steaks also work well for this, but I usually find that flank steak is less expensive and easier to handle, less trimming, more eating!

Dry Roasting – Almost everyone can agree that a prime rib (the “prime” refers to location, the 6th through 12th rib, not the grade of beef) is the king of roasting cuts. Rubbed with a good salt mixture and slow cooked, well, its a been a brunch buffet staple for generations for a good reason. Less common is a whole sirloin roast, which can also be slow cooked and sliced thing, I often use this cut when cost is a consideration. The sirloin has enough fat to keep it moist during the slow cook process and slices beautifully

Stew or Chili meat – typically, I will use whatever I have laying around, but ideally, I like to use coulotte (the top muscle or ‘cap’ of a sirloin) or tri-tip here as well, as both these cuts are usually cheap and full of flavor. Many grocers and butchers sell “stew meat” which is usually blade, back or shoulder meat cut into cubes, this stuff works out pretty well, but does not have as much flavor as the sirloin.

A butcher, of course, is trying to sell every possible part of the cow if he can. Sometimes they give cuts a ‘market name’ to try to get them to sell. Chuck Mock Tender is an example. There is nothing tender about this cut, it is good for braising, like in pot roast, but would make a horrible grilling steak.

I know I have just barely scratched the surface, there are many cuts not mentioned, and many methods left untouched. If you have questions about a specific cut of beef or the best beef to use with a particular method, feel free to drop me a line!

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Serving on Slate Dinnerware

We now serve food on Slate Boards

There’s no denying that the most important part of a restaurant is its food. All else being equal, patrons will choose the establishment with the food they feel tastes better. There’s no way around it. That said, there is never a real world scenario where all else is equal. So an owner must consider the other variables when taking into account what will draw customers to their particular restaurant over anyone else’s.

There is much that new owners fail to take into account when considering bringing new customers, and retaining customers for repeat business. These can be small things that many newcomers fail to account for in their dreams of restaurant ownership and they range far beyond the food itself.

There’s the big things that most people realize: location, decor, atmosphere, cleanliness, you know, basically everything about the inward and outward appearances. But there are other things owners rarely think about, but that customers never fail to notice: staff, friendliness, ease of ordering (menu design), promptness of food delivery, etc. All these things help build a rapport with your clientele. They build a network of regular customers, they encourage those customers to promote your restaurant through word of mouth, social media, and the other venues of general (free) advertisement. The importance of nailing the basics, beyond the food itself, cannot be overstated.

One thing my wife and I did when opening our restaurant was decide, first and foremost, that we wanted to be unique. We didn’t want customers walking in and saying, “oh this is just like so and so,” or “ah, it’s another one of these.” Yes, yes, I’m sure everyone wants to be unique, but we really wanted to stand out. Part of this was the obvious decorating choices, like deciding what to put on the walls, the level of lighting, the signage out front, designing the menu itself. Then my wife came across something that we would eventually put into practice that truly set us apart. It’s something every customer, without a doubt, notices. It’s impossible not to notice! As a result – we now use these beautiful restaurant dinner plates, this article on their website convinced us that their slate was the right fit for our restaurant – unique restaurant plates.

slate cheese platter

slate cheese platter from their website

I can hear you asking yourself, “slate?” That stuff for roofing and sidewalks? Yeah, that stuff. The stone that’s mostly used for construction. The stone we use is, of course, perfectly clean, and treated for food service. We put in a bulk order at Slateplate for a gorgeous set of their solid black dining slate boards. We ordered several different sizes; mostly the 6″ x 12″ for the smaller appetizers, the 8”x16” for most entrees and cheese, but also several other sizes for various specialty dishes. Slateplate was kind enough to work with us and get a specialized restaurant rate since we were ordering in bulk. And working with them for the ease of a giant order was an absolute pleasure. They were friendly, responsive, and prompt. As it becomes necessary to replenish our dishware, or simply order more due to demand, I certainly don’t dread the experience of working with them to get our resupply.

The customers LOVE the slate. It’s the first thing they notice, even before the food. It’s perfectly clean, cool to the touch, smooth, jet black, and an absolute pleasure to dine with. Though I think it helps the food stand out too. Especially colorful food looks beautiful when set against the completely blackness of the slate, something you’ll never get with your standard sepia colored dinnerware or boring white plates. The slate is a complete piece of cake to clean, too. They’re dishwasher safe, but also easy enough to just rub down with a sponge and warm, soapy water.

Dessert on slate

More than once I’ve overheard patrons refer to our restaurant as “that place that serves food on slate,” which means we made a mark. We’re in their memory. They’ll remember that restaurant that served food on the cool plates and think to come back. So while I’m letting the secret out, I’m not too worried. We’ve made our mark at this point, and I think Slateplate, a small business based entirely out of the USA, deserves the attention. Excellent product, and it most definitely deserves more than a little credit to the success of our restaurant.

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How to Cook Tofu

Cooking Tofu for Dummies

Whether you are new to vegetarianism or you just want to impress a vegetarian loved one, you may find the idea of cooking that tasteless, white square block that seems to be a staple in vegetarian diets rather intimidating. People oftentimes ask, “How do you cook tofu?” “How do you make it taste like anything?” Well, it’s actually not that difficult. After reading and following the steps below, you will be on your way to cooking good tofu that can be easily used in a stir-fry, an Asian-style rice or pasta dish, or a salad.

This is how to cook tofu:

Step 1: Buy a package of tofu (of course!). Make sure that the package says that it is either firm or very firm tofu.

Step 2: Once you are ready to prepare the tofu, open the package, drain all the water from it and take out the tofu.

Step 3: With some paper towels, wrap the block of tofu and gently squeeze as much water from it as possible without altering its shape. Once you’ve squeezed out most of the water (this is important because it won’t cook as well if it’s water-logged) unwrap the tofu from the towels.

Step 4: On a cutting board, slice the tofu into cubes the size of your choice. Set aside.

Step 5: Put vegetable oil enough to cover the surface in a skillet, and put the skillet on medium-high.

Step 6: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Amino Acids (much less sodium) to the skillet. These sauces are essential to the tofu cooking process, because it is what helps brown the tofu and give it a “skin.”

Step 7: Add the tofu when the skillet heats but before it gets too hot. Be careful not to splash oil on yourself.

Step 8: Allow the tofu to cook on all sides, or at least two sides if you’re pressed for time. You will let the tofu fry in the skillet on each side for at least about 5 minutes. You want to check the side that’s cooking to see if it has browned. If it hasn’t browned after about 8 minutes, you may want to add more soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Amino Acids. Because they are dark in color, not to mention very flavorful, you want to use these sauces to brown the tofu or to give it a “skin,” and to give the tofu some flavor. Using either one of these when cooking, along with a moderate amount of oil, should at least allow your tofu to brown on its sides, if not give it a skin, which will also give the tofu a chewier texture. While cooking, make sure that the tofu does not stick to the skillet by using your spatula to lift the cubes occasionally. You can also check the “browning” process by flipping the tofu cubes on a side that hasn’t browned with a spatula. If the tofu has browned or formed a skin, use the spatula to turn it to a side that needs browning.

When all the sides of tofu (or how ever many you desire or have the patience for) have cooked to your satisfaction, you can add fresh vegetables or a frozen package of stir-fry ready vegetables to the skillet to cook along with the tofu, or you can cook the two separately.

When the tofu is done, you can also pour some Asian sauce over it, depending on what you’re cooking, and let it cook in that sauce for a while to absorb additional flavor. Use the tofu like you would chicken, beef or pork in your dishes, except you may want to add more seasoning to tofu. On a bed of rice, Asian noodles or salad, add the tofu to your favorite vegetables and you’ve got yourself a tasty vegetarian entree with tofu–good tofu. Hopefully, you now know how to cook tofu!

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How to Organize Your Kitchen

For many families, the kitchen is the “hub” of the home. Everything revolves around the kitchen, and an unorganized, cluttered kitchen, is a recipe for family disaster.

We all know how it is when we can’t find something we’re looking for. We dig through cupboards and pantries. We become agitated and grouchy, and, without realizing it, we take that out on those around us. The best way to avoid issues such as this, is to organize your kitchen, from top to bottom.

Start with your counter tops and sink. Wash all dishes and scrub the sink. Clear the counters of excess clutter and scrub them. Now, you feel a little better about your kitchen and are ready to move on.

First, grab a couple of boxes to keep handy while you organize. Mark one as “donate”, and the other as “unsure”. The “donate” box is obvious. You probably have kitchen items that you never use, have duplicates of, or just don’t want anymore. Donate to a charity that can use them. The “unsure” box is for items you want, but are not sure where to put them quite yet.

Start with your cabinets. Organize all your dishes. Those dishes you need for baking and cooking should be readily available near the stove. Make the investment at your local department store and purchase some wire racks that allow you to stack different items. Sure, it is easy to stack those small plates directly on top of the dinner plates. But it is never easy to reach in and grab a dinner plate with those little plates on top!

Keep a cupboard available for small kitchen appliances. They should not be kept on the counters, where they will take up space. Try to keep as much items as you can off of your counters. Perhaps you might want to invest in a breadbox for bread. (Remember to use your “donate” and “unsure” boxes as you go!)

If you have a deep pantry, you might want to consider using baskets, or removing the shelving altogether and adding a cart, with “basket drawers”. These can be found at home improvement stores, and are great for keeping things from getting shoved to the back and forgotten about!

Keep your refrigerator and freezer organized and clean. It is important to clean out your refrigerator every week, prior to going grocery shopping. This will help you tailor your grocery list as needed, and make ample room for the groceries you are about to buy.

Finally, take that “donate” box out to your car so you won’t forget to take it to your favorite charity location. Go through your “unsure” box one item at a time and find a home for it.

Organizing will help your mood, and give you a fresh start in the kitchen. It will also help your pocketbook, as you will waste less money buying things you don’t need. Now is the time, so go grab those boxes!

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Harvest & Izzy and MO’s

Harvest

 Late spring kale from the garden

Late spring kale from the garden

The garden is quite fruitful after the hard winter, as the earth has been quite active with the soil being rich and productive. We only got easy radishes and kale in, but what a meal it makes for our kung pao and pickles!

 

Tahini Mocha & Chocolate babka at Izzy and MO’s

Tahini Mocha & Chocolate babka at Izzy and MO’s

Izzy and MO’s is here! Our sister restaurant, a deli focusing on the Jewish diaspora, has been three long years in the making is open finally! House cured fish and meats, handmade bagels, and babka. Open 7-3 Monday – Friday with Weekends coming soon!

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MAY DAYS

MAY DAYS

Be like a flower and turn your face to the sun…

Early May Events

05/02 “Sexy” with James Drakeford Gallery Hop Opening 8PM

05/05 Cinco de Mayo’s Till Taqueria 3-close

Extraordinary menu of Latin favorites with handmade tacos, and tequila features

05/10 Mother’s Day Brunch 9 AM-3PM

Celebrate at Till with our delicious Coffee House Brunch. Every Mom receives a free floral gift!

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Biodynamics

What is biodynamics?!

We are asked and still the explanation can be part garden hack, part astrologist. The Biodynamic Association, which has been around since the 1920’s gives this explanation.

Biodynamics is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.

Biodynamic initiatives seek to embody triple bottom line approaches. Ecological, social and economic sustainability.

Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility from within the farm itself. Preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm and to enhance the nutrition, quality and flavor of the food being raised. Biodynamic practitioners also recognize and strive to work in cooperation with the subtle influences of the wider cosmos on soil, plant and animal health.

For more info on ways to have a healthier growing space, stop by this weekend and say hello to the chef, Magdiale

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