Cooking: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

I taught graphic design to high school students for years.  In that class, I teach that you judge a book by its cover.  Ok, if you are in high school you judge a book by its size first then its cover.  When I first started to get into cooking, a cookbook cover caught my eye.  It was just a big bright red book with large white serif lettering.  The last word was in italics for emphasis.  Its title was a mighty bold statement.

How to Cook Everything.

I picked it up and stared to read.  Well, I looked for specific recipes.  No way will he have a recipe for scrambled eggs or toast bread.  I was wrong.

Now, I don’t write my cooking blogs to show my cooking prowess.  I write my cooking blogs for the exact opposite reason.  I want to learn how to cook.  Most of my cooking in the twenties consisted of putting some seasoning on meat and throwing it between a Forman grill.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Yet, when I tried a few online recipes to cook something a little more complicate, and that would also allow me to eat a few days off of it, I found out I actually enjoy doing this.  When I received How to Cook Everything as a gift, I started to do more.  I started to experiment more.  I started to cook things without a recipe.

I have a ton of cookbooks now, but How to Cook Everything is my cooking bible.  It is written in a plain language for people who aren’t experts in the kitchen.  Mark Bittman, the author, rates the recipes for difficulty.  There are drawings to show you how do the simplest of things such as mincing garlic.  He, correctly, assumes that plenty of people who buy his book come with very limited kitchen backgrounds.  The first time I cooked a meal for a large group, I used this book.  Everybody had seconds.

Considering the size of the book, I’ve made very few of the recipes in the book.  And no, I will not be doing a Kurt and Mark blog.  However, I have made quite a few and a few I memorized.  To me, that’s the sign a great cookbook. Also, there are iPhone and iPad apps for the cookbook as well.

Cooking: How Cooking Benefits Us

Yesterday, in the Sunday Review of the New York Times, Mark Bittman wrote an Op-Ed piece on how junk food is not actually cheaper than regular food (if you want to read it, go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back). He talks about how families can really cook healthy food for cheaper. He buys all of his groceries at regular supermarkets and doesn’t buy organic or shop at stores such as Whole Foods. It argues that if you have time to sit in front of the tv, you have time to cook (especially, even though he doesn’t say this, now most kitchens have TVs in them).

Why am I right about this? Well, cooking at home has made a very positive impact on both Cristina and me. We both lose weight when we cook at home even though a meal we make at home often is chicken nachos. My blood pressure has reduced dramatically even though I apply salt to almost everything since cooking, by my definitions, doesn’t include boxed items that are loaded with sodium.

What’s amazing too about cooking at home is what happens when we eat out. Yesterday, we went to the Alligator Festival to sample the food. What normally would have been a first course at a festival for us quickly filled us up. It also increases my self-esteem because I know I cook better than almost all fast-food and chain restaurants, not because I am a better cook then the guys and girls on the line, but because I work with better ingredients.

Finally, it is cheaper if you do some planning. We try to cook only what we are going to eat which multiplies the number of meals we get from something. Also we try to apply the principle of amortization to our food (Example: I made baked chicken legs with potatoes and carrots.  When you figure out the unit prices it came to right about five dollars for the total meal.  Wendy’s usually runs me for sixteen dollars). Also, and this may be the weirdest thing I say to some people, but we really don’t need to eat meat every meal. Lentils, for example, have ten grams of protein per serving plus a good amount of fiber, both of which will make you feel full faster. In fact, it is rare that you will see Cristina and I eat meat more than once a day.

Sorry if this blog comes off a little preachy but it is a blog. Cooking and eating better is something we feel passionate about. Also, cooking is not hard especially since I can do it. Trust me, I’m clumsy and three women who love me the most (Cristina, my mom, and sister) can attest to how much little common sense I have. In fact, I still haven’t learned that it is a good idea to close the microwave door when I’m finished with it. Mark Bittman didn’t say it in his article, but I will for him. If you really don’t have any idea of how to cook, he did write a book called How to Cook Everything.

Watching: Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives Movie Poster

Forks Over Knives Movie Poster (Via IMDB.com)

A raw food vegan friend of mine recently encouraged me to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives.  The movie can be described a bizzaro version of Super Size Me in that by eating a whole food plant diet the direct losing weight and blood work shows that this eating style has erased all the bad numbers he used to have.  It does make a compelling argument. Continue reading

Cooking: Baked Eggs? Not in the Microwave?

If you glance over to the Random Precision tag cloud for my website, you will see Mark Bittman’s name in very large, bold letters. I have to admit, I have a bit of a man crush. Until I received How to Cook Everything as a present, I didn’t realize to what extent I like to cook. Before I did it for fun on occasion; now, I do it because I almost feel compelled to cook.

One day, I was looking through the egg recipes. I knew you could fry, scramble, boil, and poach an egg. What I didn’t know was that you can bake an egg. The first time I tried the recipe I knew I had found a dish that had endless possibilities.

This is my favorite combination:

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 Eggs based on the size of your ramekins
  • Butter or Olive Oil as needed
  • Cream (preferable) or milk
  • Cheese (Cheddar and Parmesan)
  • Spinach
  • Cherry Tomatoes

Heat the oven to 375. Coat the bottom with a little butter or olive oil. Put a couple of teaspoons of cream on the bottom. I crumble some seaside or 1833 cheddar on to the bottom and place some spinach or cherry tomatoes (halved) on the bottom. Break open the eggs and let them fall as they may. I then grate some fresh parmesan cheese and add more spinach and tomatoes at the top. If I have fresh basil, I’ll chop some up and place that on top as well. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are set. You can go longer if you want hard yolks…I like mine to run. They will cook for a little longer in the ramekin after you take them out. Also, if you are serving this for someone else, warn them the ramekin will be very hot. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Rambling: Lactose Intolerance, Coffeenerdness, and Super Bowl Hangovers

Even though Cristina’s first 29th birthday was actually Tuesday, we waited till Saturday to celebrate with friends by going to Superior Grill. Again, I’m not the biggest fan of Mexican food due to being lactose intolerant. I’m even a lesser fan when I order a steak sandwich with no cheese and get it with cheese even though I mention I’m lactose intolerant. It’s just a small hiccup that I’m used to. However, I’m not sure most people go there for the food. I really think they go for the margarita’s. I know my party, which was a party of 14, talked more about the drinks than they did the food. People didn’t complain about the food at all, but it wasn’t the focus.  One thing I really do like about Superior Grill is that it not only seems like it can handle large groups of people, but it seems to specialize in it.

My attempts to get the crowd to go to Sucre were futile. Our friend Eric promised wine and fresh coffee at his house. Eric is a coffee fanatic. He is the kind of coffee drinker that can tell the amount of humidity outside by the way his coffee beans grind.  In fact, I’m sure he is offended that I haven’t called him a barista in this paragraph yet.  I love hearing him talk about coffee because the coffeenerd in him sometimes transforms to coffee snob. It’s a fine line, my friends.

Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. A friend of mine ruined it before the game. As a Saints fan, he said the Super Bowl used to be a mythical event that would always be out of reach much like the Holy Grail. Then, the Saints won it. Now, the only thing that will make the Super Bowl truly magical again is another trip to the Super Bowl. This is not a complaint. It just made the day different.  So it was a quiet day at home. I pan roasted some tuna steaks and made some homemade hummus (both recipes from How To Cook Everything).

Last week, I cooked every evening but Saturday. I loved it. In fact, when I made the hummus I had a terrible headache that went away once I got in the kitchen. I may not be good as I want to be at it yet, but I sure do enjoy it.

Cooking: Steaks and Crab Cakes

The winter can be an awful time for Cristina and me. I’m a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I’m home by three o’clock. Some days, I put in more than twelve hours. The reason for this is that I’m a basketball coach.

Unless you know a high school coach, it’s hard to explain the amount of time a coach is away from home. It’s like being a lawyer or a doctor with a much smaller paycheck. (Note: I’m not complaining about my paycheck…I teach in a parish where that would just be whining). I coach because I love it. That doesn’t mean Cristina has to. Most significant others of coaches know they are widows to the season. Cristina has made her peace with it. She knows it is a big part of who I am and is ok with it. She enjoys coming to the games or staying home reading. She would let me coach forever if I wanted.

That doesn’t take the sting out of having her birthday fall on game day. Luckily, we were playing home (which is a three-minute drive from my house), and we only had a varsity game. My planning period is the last period of the day, so I used it to plan out my menu and prepare for her birthday meal.

I took some personal time and went pick up the necessary supplies. I had some crab meat in the freezer, and I decided to try to make some crab cakes as appetizer. This would be followed by sirloin steaks with honey-glazed carrots and homemade french fries. This would be followed by the apple nut bars I made last week.

I made simple crab cakes. Using Mark Bittman’s recipe as a guide, I just mixed the crab with a little mustard, mayonnaise, an egg, and some seasoning. I forgot to buy bread crumbs at the store. Looking around, we had one slice and the end piece of our loaf of bread, and both were stale. I placed them in the food processor and had instant bread crumbs. I just put enough to make the crab cakes stick together.

I then turned my attention to the desert. I had vanilla this time and used that instead of the cinnamon. I then peeled my potatoes and seasoned the carrots and the steaks.

Meanwhile, Cristina came home. I bought her some Scentsy materials and tickets to see Kevin Smith and his film Red State at the McAllister Auditorium. I also had a rose and birthday card with some very heartfelt words scribbled inside. For some reason, I’m betting that she enjoyed the last present more than any other.

I then started cooking. Cristina was not sure of what was happening in the kitchen since I denied her entry when she came home. The crab cakes came out beautifully. I dredged them in some seasoned flour and cooked them in butter. They held together and tasted great. While I was making the crab cakes, I fried the fries. I took them out, went eat my crab cakes, and then fried them again. If you are reading this, you probably have heard to fry your fries twice to make them crispy. You heard correctly. While we were eating, I put the apple nut bars to bake. The timer rang right when we finished eating. I cut her two pieces, put some whipped cream on them, and put a “2” and a “9” candle on each slice. The vanilla made for a different but just as yummy flavor. Cristina was so full she didn’t even finish the second slice.

I went coach shortly after. After returning home, Cristina, being a great team player, quickly asked if we won. We did.

Blogging: Hello world! (yes I’m keeping the WordPress Title)

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Best thing that ever happened to me. I discovered that I actually have a passion for something: cooking. I’ve always been the kind of person interested in everything but no one thing in particular. Trying to control my diet led me to cooking. Cooking led to an obsession. In fact, I’m getting married soon – May 28 – and I think I enjoyed registering more than she did. I went nuts in the kitchen section.

However, having a passion for cooking doesn’t mean I do it well. While I don’t think I’m bad, my skills are still on the beginner’s side. My fiancée loves everything I cook…ok the one time I broiled steaks was a very notable exception. However, I have high standards for myself. It’s not I want to be able to cook some crazy dish that the food network stars make; I want to be able to look in my pantry, fridge, and freezer and make something I haven’t made before because I think it will be good. This is a slow, fun, and sometimes painful process.

Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything was a perfect present at a perfect time. Bittman’s book reads as if he is speaking the instructions to you in conversational manner. I’m going to buy the iPad app soon. Having a farmer’s market within 3 miles of my house is also a wonderful asset. Those two things, plus a supportive partner (who doesn’t mind cleaning up my mess since she doesn’t have to cook) allows me to really enjoy this new adventure. Also, I live 20 minutes away from New Orleans. And, I love New Orleans. Sure, it has it’s problems, and they are major, scary problems. But if you love New Orleans, she will love you back, eventually. I love the food of New Orleans. I love that a meal in New Orleans is both totally about the food and totally not about it.

My new year’s resolution was to cook more. By cooking more I know I will become healthier since I know exactly what I’m eating and where it comes from. My other resolution is to keep track of my cooking and dining experiences.