5 cooking terms that no longer frighten me

There are only so many amusing anecdotes you can squeeze out of hot dogs, chicken burgers, tacos, and pizza; and if cooking the same things every week is tedious, then writing about cooking them is enough to make you want to hurl yourself into a cooking pot.

Thus, my weekly “What’s for Supper?” posts (see sidebar), which are hurtling toward Vol. 100 in a matter of months, have propelled me to learn more about cooking than I picked up in the first fifteen+ years of marriage.

To my delight, lots of cooking terminology that seemed so complicated and sophisticated is pretty basic stuff, and well within my grasp– as long as I look it up ahead of time, and don’t attempt to learn a new technique on the fly. Here are a few:

1. Braising

 I was under the impression that braising required leaping flames, arcane implements made out of brass or copper, and possibly some shouting. Turns out I have been braising all my life. It’s is a two-step process for cooking flavorful meat, where you use high, dry heat first (searing), then low, moist heat (stewing). For more details, see “Four Simple Rules for Braising Anything” from Bon Appetit.

2.  Deglazing

In my head, deglazing could only be accomplished by a subtle but masterful motion of the wrist and split-second timing. Actually, it just means you’re done cooking something up in a pan, and you don’t want to waste all those yummy little blackened scraps and flavorful gunk that’s stuck to the bottom. So you dump in a cup of broth or wine or whatever, and scrape it up, incorporating all the good stuff. That’s it. Adds tons of flavor and makes the pan easier to wash, too.

3. Caramelizing

  I always thought this involved some kind of sugar syrup, because, duh, “caramel.” I was half right. Caramelization is an irreversible chemical process wherein water is released and sugar is broken down, producing a characteristic flavor. Sometimes you do add sugar, as when you’re caramelizing carrots or nuts; but onions already have sugar in them. (Many vegetables have sugar in them, actually, but wonderful things happen when you call it forth from onions in particular.)

The only thing you need to know about caramelizing onions is that it takes forehhhhhhhver. I always figure on 40 minutes. If you see an article titled “How to caramelize onions quickly,” spit bitterly upon the floor and turn away, because it’s a dirty lie. More tips for caramelizing onions well from Bon Appetit. More grousing about the fog of deceit surrounding the issue from Slate.

4. Chiffonade

Not, it turns out, a term for those weird paper booties they put on the turkey in Amelia Bedelia. Nope, a chiffonade is just what you get when you take a bunch of edible leaves, roll them up, and then slice them into thin ribbons. Pretty important if you still have Instagram friends who won’t blacklist you on account of your wantonly frequent photos of soup. WANTON soup, get it?

But seriously, adding a garnish of greens on top of a dish isn’t just to make it pretty. Fresh herbs have a different taste from the ones cooked in, and they will give the finished dish lovely boost in flavor.

5. Pickling

This one doesn’t quite belong in this list, oh well. Everyone knows what pickling is (and I tried it once. Only once. Mold, salt, broken glass, crushed dreams, and a cabinet that will never smell the same. So now I buy my pickles), but did you know you can quick pickle stuff? Like, you can pickle in the morning and eat it for dinner?

Take some carrots, radishes, cucumbers, daikon, or whatever, and slice it thin, and chuck it in a jar with some vinegar (any kind) and a little water, and stir in some sugar or honey. By meal time, they will be exciting, and you can make a boring sandwich feisty and fun.

How about you? Have you gotten past some intimidating technical terms?
And how do we feel about that pig eating the wolf who ate his brothers, anyway? Can we assume that, since the three of them went their separate ways and had such widely divergent worldviews vis a vis homebuilding and security, maybe the third pig actually derived some brutal satisfaction from knowing what that wolf’s flesh was made of? Or did he just boil him EXECUTION SYTLE but not eat him? Or what?

***
Pig and wolf picture by Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15661) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
F
ood images:
Caramelized onions: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Chiffonade: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Deglazing: Scott Feldstein via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottfeldstein/5635765929 (Creative Commons)
Braising: via Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-meat-dish-25273/
Pickled veg: ih via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/irisphotos/14680773562 (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 63: Nuh-no.


SATURDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

Nothing to report. I do remember asking my husband if we should have salad, and he said no, and I took that to mean that we should just sort of avoid vegetables all week. This, we accomplished.


SUNDAY
Gochujang bulkgoki with nori, rice, roast broccoli

This is such a swell recipe. I cut up the pork and set it to marinate the night before, so on Sunday we had our normal busy day and still had a great supper at a normal hour. Here’s the recipe:

per 1.5 pounds sliced pork:

1 bag matchstick carrots
1 white onions sliced thin

5 generous Tbs gochujang
2 Tbs honey
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbs soy sauce
5 cloves minced garlic

Mix the sauce together and then combine it with the meat, carrots, and onions, and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then fry it up in a little oil and serve it with rice. You can make nice little bite-sized bundles on your plate with lettuce or nori.

gochujang-plate

And now I have a caucasoid confession: this time, I used way, way less gochujang than the recipe calls for. Some of my kids are super tired of spicy food, and I really wanted them to eat it; so I cut it by a third. Mistake. It was still spicy by kid standards (duh: even a little fermented pepper paste is still fermented pepper paste), but it just tasted so diminished. Never again. I am so sorry.

The broccoli was also not great. I cut it up small and put it on baking sheets with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, and sesame seeds and put it under the broiler. I used too much soy sauce, and it tasted kind of harsh, and damp. Bleh. I mean, it was a pretty good meal, but it could have been so much better!


MONDAY
Pepperoncini beef rolls

Well, all the sadness and regret of the past was washed away with Monday’s meal, also from my friend Elizabeth, who gave me the bulgoki recipe. So you take some cheap chuck roast and put it in a crock pot along with some jarred pepperoncini with the stems cut off. Let it cook all day. And that’s it!

pepperoncini-beef-in-pot

Shred and serve on rolls with cheese and horseradish sauce.

I used potato rolls because they were cheap, but crusty bread would have been even nicer. I put the rolls under the broiler for a minute to toast them up a bit before adding the meat and cheese. I had swiss cheese, which was perfect, but provolone or havarti would be good, too.

pepperoncini-beef-sandwiches

Don’t forget to save some juices for dipping, because he who dips hot sandwiches into meat drippings is happy indeed. So toothsome, so fulfilling, so gratifying for all your senses.

This goes right into the rotation, no question. YUM.


TUESDAY
Taco Tuesday!!

I snuck a pound of turkey meat, which was on sale, in with the beef, and no one noticed.


WEDNESDAY
Sausage, egg, and cheese muffins

I didn’t burn the muffins! I think this might be the first time ever. I also am thrilled all over again with my two-burner nonstick griddle.

muffins-eggs-and-sausages

I can make dinner for twelve in two batches, instead of in five or six. Maybe I was just hungry, but these tasted so good, I was offended all over again when I thought about last time I had breakfast at McDonald’s.


THURSDAY
Chicken Olé! and chips; cake and cake and cake

Chicken thighs were on sale, so I had this great idea to put them in the crock pot with a bunch of jarred salsa verde, and then just sit back and let deliciousness happen.

Cold, hard, chicken facts had other plans.

First, utterly predictably, I had the infuriating job of trying to de-bone piping hot chicken thighs. And then, as I know perfectly well but forgot, thighs don’t really shred very well; they just kind of separate into slabs, and a low, slow heat makes them kind of slimy. Also, the salsa verde got very thin from cooking all day. So I was left with a kind of greenish soup.

We drained the meat and piled it on tortillas with lots of cheese, sour cream, and jarred jalapenos, but it was not great.

chicken-ole

Oh well! It was easy! This would have been a fine combination of flavors; it just wasn’t great in the crock pot. Live and learn. Maybe someday, I’ll look up an actual recipe.

Thursday was my birthday, and my dear husband had a stray use-it-or-lose-it vacation day, so he made a cake with the preschoolers while I loafed around eating Skittles and watching Clash of the Titans.

benny-mama-cake

(Abba, check out the apron! I forgot to tell you, she loves it. She did write a thank-you note, but the picture on it was so alarming and weird, I couldn’t bring myself to send it. She is a strange child.)

The cake came directly out of a five-year-old’s imagination. So cute.

my-cake

Then, my friend Roberta stopped by with the cake and cupcakes from her office party. There was a lot. I let the kids just eat all the cupcakes they wanted all day. I’m telling you, there were a lot of cupcakes. After I decided they had had enough, I made a huge rookie mistake and left the box on the table. So Corrie went back

corrie-cake-2

and, bearlike, helped herself one last time

savaged-cake

I asked her what she was doing, and she explained very earnestly, “I nuh-no, Mama!”

corrie-cake-3

And I believe her. I nuh-no what happened to that giant bag of Skittles, either.


FRIDAY
Says here “spaghetti.” I think I can manage that. 


Oh, I meant to tell you, I found a quite easy recipe that we’re making as token gifts for various people. It’s chocolate caramel crunch almonds from Smitten Kitchen, and you have to scroll way down to the end of the page to get to it. It’s technically candy, but you don’t need a candy thermometer. This recipe won my heart with this line:

Once the liquid has fully evaporated, it will become sandy and you will think something has gone wrong; it has not.

And guess what? It got sandy, and I thought to myself, “Oh, it’s just like she said! I won’t worry, because this is supposed to happen.” Then it stayed sandy for way longer than I thought it should, and I went ahead and thought something had gone wrong after all. But then it changed into caramel. Amazing.

You can get nice, cheap almonds at Aldi, but do not use Aldi chocolate chips to coat the almonds! Aldi chocolate chips do not melt! Weird, but true.

Making or baking anything neat for Christmas? I wouldn’t mind a second recipe to go with the almonds. I was thinking of candy cane fudge, but I’m pretty tired of fudge.

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 61: Mango Unchained

According to tradition, I didn’t do a food post last Friday, because it was the day after Thanksgiving and you already know the drill.

For the record, here was our menu:

Turkey with stuffing and gravy
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes stuffed with dates, bleu cheese, and walnuts
Roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with a honey balsamic dressing
Hobbit bread
Cranberry walnut bread
Hot rolls (from frozen)
Cranberry sauce
Olives
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, salted bourbon pecan pie, and chocolate cream pie with ice cream and fresh whipped cream
Wine and apple cider
Very nice meal, and the house was packed to the gills with family. We began with a prayer:
kids-table
I wasn’t on the ball enough to send people home with leftovers much, but my father did score a loaf of Hobbit bread, which pleased him:
abba-hobbit-bread
A few cooking tips from this year:

You can make the gravy ahead of time and keep it warm in the crock pot, but don’t count on the crock pot to heat up cold gravy in a few hours! Heat it up first.

My mezzaluna knife justifies its existence through cranberry bread alone. The mixing bowl from my KitchenAid (it’s narrow and has a handle) and this knife keep the nuts and cranberries from bouncing and rolling all over the place.

Also, I can never get zesters to work, so I zested the orange using the fine side of the cheese grater, and then got the zest off by using a pastry brush. Fine, I couldn’t find my pastry brush, so I used a paint brush.

To make light, supple pie dough, freeze the sticks of butter and then grate them into the flour using a cheese grater. It’s so much easier to lightly incorporate it into the flour mixture this way.

I’ve never made chocolate cream pie before, and I’m not a fan of slopping chocolate pudding into a crust, but this recipe was very different: immensely rich, thick, and wonderful. The stirring part takes some patience, but is worth it.

I can’t find the pics I took of our lovely pies, but my daughter made a very pretty effect. For one, she cut out dozens and dozens of simple leaf shapes and laid them out overlapping in concentric circles, so the pie looked like a chrysanthemum. For another, she used a flower cookie cutter and covered the pie with flowers, leaving a few gaps. For the pecan pie, I left a wide lip with the bottom crust, which she snipped into strips with scissors; then she folded the strips over each other in pairs, so they made little x’s all around the pie, like a basket. Here’s a short video with 20 ideas for pie crust:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9F7ZDnN2bU
Before baking the pies, I brushed the crusts with beaten egg yolks, for extra color and shine, and then sprinkled them with coarse sugar.

People with tiny kitchens and no storage space can always have recourse to the dryer.

desserts-on-dryer
I guarantee you, this is more sanitary than the kitchen of a typical four-star restaurant, which yes I have worked in.
My husband, who is usually the Thanksgiving turkey man, had to work part of the day. I hate having to baste the damn thing every half hour when I’m busy running around moaning, “I need another oven! I need another oven!” so I assigned the job to my sons, who are at the perfect age to be . . .
moe-basting
 . . . natural master basters.
Sorry.
As you can see, I cook the turkey breast down for 3/4 of the time, then flip it over and finish cooking it that way. You still get nice, pretty skin, but it’s jucier overall if you let it cook mostly upside down. It does have an “executed frog” look in the oven, though.
I can offer zero “what to do with all that leftover turkey” recipes, because I only bought a 21-pounder, ::shame shame::, so we only had enough leftovers for sandwiches the next day; and then I did what I always do with the meaty carcass: I lost track of it. I think it’s still lurking in the back of the fridge. That’s the smell of Advent in our house: Fresh pine boughs, candles burning gently, and somewhere, somewhere, hidden sheltered in the night, a rancid turkey carcass.
The rest of the week was our normal crazy schedule plus what I can only describe as an extended crisis in my extended family, so we didn’t try anything fancy in the kitchen. I would appreciate any prayers you could spare for resolution! It’s been a very tough year.
Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

Thank God for Aldi.


SUNDAY
Korean beef bowl, rice, chopped salad

Korean beef bowl from Damn Delicious is such a reliably yummy recipe, and so simple.

Aldi had these chopped salad kits on sale for 75 cents, so I bought three. It had a bag with various chopped-up greens and cabbage, and separate packets of some kind of zesty citrus dressing, plus crunchy noodles and maybe almonds, I forget.

korean-beef-bowl-2

Very flavorful, and a nice change from the usual broccoli or string beans that I usually make for a side with this dish.


MONDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, frozen french fries

Once again, the crock pots are worth the purchase price and counter space just for pulled pork alone. Chuck it in the pot with a can of beer and some salt and pepper and garlic powder, and just walk away.

pulled-pork-crock-pot

I made about 4.5 pounds of pork in two crock pots, and let the kids add BBQ sauce if they wanted.

My cole slaw recipe is here.


TUESDAY
HAM NITE!!!!!!! Also mashed potatoes (we ate ten pounds of potatoes without batting an eye), spinach AND peas

You know what makes an easy meal even easier? Slice up the cooked ham before you heat it up.

ham-sliced-ahead

It warms up faster and you can just throw ham at people without them hounding you while you slice it. And then they go ahead and make Food Santa anyway.

irenes-food-face

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
It’s made from a slab of ham fat, you know.


WEDNESDAY
Giant pancake! Sausages, and mangoes.

To cut up mangoes! Here is how you do it: Make your best guess which way the pit is situated, and cut off the “cheeks,” getting as close to the pit as you can. Then take a glass or a metal cup with a thin edge, and use it to scoop the flesh out of the skin, rather than trying to get the skin off the flesh. Then you can trim the skin away from the rest and use a paring knife to cut the rest of the flesh off the pit. You get much more intact fruit this way.

Giant pancake is not something I’m proud of, but it’s an okay  meal in a pinch. Mix up one full box of pancake mix. Dump it into a greased pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so. You can add whatever you want: cut-up apples, raisins, chocolate chips, honey, cinnamon, etc. You could even stir in some jam, or maybe even sausage bits. Cut into wedges and call it a meal.


THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, carrots and hummus

Every time I make chicken burgers, I remember when I used to remove the breading from chicken burgers because I didn’t need the extra calories. Well, now I do. Winter is coming. It is nature’s way. I need chips, too.


FRIDAY
Ravioli and salad

I intend to boil the ravioli in a big pot of water. Bon appwhatever to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Register: To serve your parents

Late afternoon finds me slaving over a hot Facebook page, gorging on a smorgasbord of tantalizing photos with captions like: “Here is my 8-year-old carefully chopping the chives she grew in her little garden! This is the second time this week she’s made pork medallions herbs de provence, but we’re not complaining, as long as her little brother provides those scrumptious grilled peaches with caramel bourbon sauce for dessert! They are so cute with their aprons. <3 <3 <3″

Yes, well. I believe in equipping a child for independent living, and if that education makes life a little easier for mom at the same time, all the better. At the same time, we’re talking about kids who sometimes miss their target while putting their own pants on. I’m not showing them where the knife sharpener is.

Read the rest at the Register.