General cooking tips and rumination
I’ve been trying to post the following on another blog and ran into troubles with their posting system. I’ll try again later when the phase of the moon might be better, and in the meantime I decided to post it here and expand a bit on the subject. I will come back to it in the future as it is an interesting subject that I have to deal with regularly.
Over the years I have found that the easiest way to handle cooking for two is to cook only what you need for the meal you are preparing. We always have a tendency to cook too much for fear of running out, but careful planning of portions can be done with most recipes. To do this successfully you need to know your level of appetite and roughly how much a recipe will yield. This can get tricky when you are very hungry, but after a while you can manage to gauge your appetite against your favorite recipes.
At times it is difficult to cook in smaller quantities, as some recipes cannot easily scale down, so then you should plan what you will do with the leftovers carefully ahead of time. Our normal routine in the kitchen here is to prepare larger meals on weekends when we have more time to enjoy them, and use the leftovers for our main meals during the first few days of the week. I always prepare my wife’s lunches, and normally for Monday’s lunch I use leftovers from Saturday, and Tuesday’s are the ones from Sunday. Whatever cannot be eaten within a day or two we freeze or give away.
As an example yesterday we invited my in-laws over for lunch, and I had prepared some Szechuan hot and sour soup and some chicken Cheng Tu style with some steamed rice. I had deliberately made more to use this week. After the meal, when they were gone, I put some rice in the bottom of plastic containers with the chicken dish on top. I also prepared some containers with portions of soup. There were still some leftovers so I froze some single portions for later use next week, and heated up a meal for a neighbor at lunch time today.
1. Know how to gauge your appetite
2. Learn how to reduce the portions of your recipes to yield less or no leftovers
3. If it is impossible to reduce the portions, then plan ahead to use the leftovers in the coming days
4. Whatever cannot be used in a few day, freeze or give away
5. Make sure that you use your frozen leftovers as it is not worth the energy to freeze them if they will not be eaten in the coming weeks
6. Get a huge dog that can become your ALDU (Automated Leftover Disposal Unit)
One of the things that is the most annoying when cooking is converting the recipes to the quantity of food you want to prepare. We are building our recipe viewer to handle this chore automatically, but since we have not decided when we will release it this does not help much right now. We are in the middle of finalizing a major new release of our business management and point of sales systems, and this is consuming all of our cycles right now. Hopefully in the coming weeks we will be able to assign some cycles to this project and announce a firm launch date. I will keep you posted.
Years ago I remember that some friends were amazed that we had talked one afternoon at work and when I learned that they had no specific plans for their wedding anniversary that night, I invited them for a nice meal at home and prepared everything from the time I left work at 5pm to the time they arrived at 7pm, and this included shopping for the food.
There was nothing amazing in the process, and all it took was preparation and organization. Knowing your limits also helps. If you like to entertain at home like I do, you always end up with some failsafe recipes that you can always whip up at a moment’s notice. If you always keep the basic ingredients at hand and you have made the recipes many times before, you can easily make a nice meal after simply shopping for perishables you might not have at hand. This is exactly what I had done that evening. I do not remember exactly what I had cooked, but I remember running across the street from my office to pick up some small shrimps for a seafood first course, then to the butcher for a nice piece of meat, and throwing together some blueberry desert with some nice blueberries I picked from the over 50 acres of brush I used to own at the time. It also helped to have a well stocked wine cellar with a few thousand bottles where I could always match what I was planning to cook with one or many different wines. Like everything in life it only takes a bit of practice and confidence to end up with great results.
Another thing that you should do is to always think about what you can do with what you have at hand in your house. One of my favorite things to do in cooking is to look into the refrigerator and see what we can put together with whatever things we have laying around, including leftovers. At times it can be a challenge, but it keeps you culinary mind well exercised.
One thing to remember though is that if you are planning a special event where you want to show your best, do not try to do a new recipe for that event, unless you practice it first. Not doing so would be asking for big trouble. I have never met a new recipe that I have not fiddled with to make it work the way I like. The time for the fiddling is when you are relaxed in your kitchen and do not have a bunch of guests to attend to. Unless you have lots of experience you should not try to improvise something for that special meal. ‘Iron Chefs’ antics should be left to the pros, and even for them the results can be very hit and miss.
Saying all this, I wrote a new recipe today for a lentil soup that I plan to serve on Saturday when special friends will come over for supper. I am pretty sure that it should come out well, but in a way I am contradicting all that I have said above. The rest of the meal will be tried and true recipes though. I really do not have time to try the new soup beforehand, but I will probably make it either Friday afternoon, or on Saturday morning so if things do not go as planned I can always prepare something else or try to fix the mess without the pressure of our guests being there.
So remember the following, if you have to do something special at the last minute, do some of you favorite recipes that you are comfortable with. Try to have most of the ingredients for them always at hand, so you have to buy a minimum amount of ingredients at the last minute. Always keep at hand a few bottles of red and white wines of different types so that you have something that can match most dishes without having to run around for wine at the last minute. We will talk about what type of wines to keep at hand for regular and/or emergency consumption in the coming weeks. If you have a bit of lead time and want to try a new recipe, practice it before to make sure that it turns out as you expect and you do not run into major problems with your guests waiting at the table. At least, do as I will do next weekend, prepare it with enough time before the guests arrive to be able to cook something else or change the recipe without being under pressure.