The Biggest Mistake Most Men Make when they Cook …

We make many .. And I’m a man, so please, men, don’t feel I’m singling you out. I mean .. I am. But that’s sort of the point of the blog. Right? So if you feel slighted in reading this, please go to http://www.jimdissesmeninhiscookingblog.com and rant there. I read it.  Really …

The biggest mistake we make in our cooking is pretty simple. We overcook almost everything. We do it for two reasons. We don’t pay close enough attention to what’s on the heat. We are afraid of poisoning the people we’re feeding.

Let’s talk about that second one first. It’s a very real concern. When you’re cooking, and food poisoning is not, as some seem to think, limited to chicken and shell fish, in fact, one of the most common sources of food poisoning is unwashed, uncooked produce. (Especially now that we’re all ‘organic’ and everything). So, let’s talk about not making people sick. Or how to not make people sick – or however you want to say that.

I own and operate a restaurant. As such, I had to take a food safety course and pass a test. In it, I learned the federal guidelines for safe cooking temperatures for all sorts of things. Here’s a great resource… Food Safety Minimum Temperature Guidelines. 

Now, here’s the problem. With most of the proteins you will cook if you cook the food all the way to the federal guideline – (and, ahem, you often cook it to internal temperatures that are even higher than these) – whatever flavor might originally have been in whatever you are cooking is long gone.

So, the best way to avoid poisoning your guests may surprise you.

  1. Know your source. (Where does the chicken you’re going to cook come from and is the source reputable, hopefully organic, and does your purveyor trust and speak highly of them?)
  2. Know your protein is fresh. (I’m not a person who is afraid of previously frozen products. Frankly, if something is coming from New Zealand I’d prefer it is frozen there and thawed – correctly – here). But the trick to fresh is when was it harvested and when did it go in the case?
  3. Wash your proteins, carefully, before preparing them. (And then dry them off, equally carefully, before cooking them).
  4. Wash your hands after handling anything raw – including produce – with actual soap (it doesn’t actually need to be labeled anti-bacterial – but it helps). Wash them for a minimum of 20 seconds and actually wash between your fingers.
  5. Be mindful of utensils used to handle raw proteins. (including tongs, cutting boards, service items, etc) and wash them before you use them to touch food you will serve.

Cook your foods to a temperature that comes within site of the federal food safety guidelines, but know that if you’ve followed the above steps, and especially step one and step two, you can actually cook most proteins to a much more flavorful medium rare, medium rare – plus, and you (and your guests) will enjoy your food much more.

And also remember that cooking your foods to a perfect internal temperature means you need to pay attention. (And yes, I understand, that’s something that is hard for almost any man).

Onward!

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“I Can’t Cook” And other dumb things guys say…

I once worked with a woman who grew up very very poor and ended up making a lot of money, supporting her family, and working in a business where she had a lot of authority. She was, in a word, formidable. She actually scared me and that’s not easy.

One day we were in court (the business had a lot of business in the courts) and the attorneys for the various parties didn’t show up. The judge was about to proceed on to other matters when she stood up and asked the judge if we couldn’t proceed with our matter. He looked a little amused – said, ‘without your attorney?’ and she said, ‘sure, why not, he’s pretty useless anyway.’

The matter was decided in our favor without argument from the duly notified, but absent, other side. She knew exactly what to say and how and the judge let her proceed without interruption.

On the way back to the office I asked her how she knew what to do.. She said, and I quote, “There’s nothing no one knows they didn’t learn from someone.”

I’ve always loved that.

There was a guy in the restaurant last night who’d read this blog, and who said he thought it would be fun to cook, but that he just couldn’t do it. I actually hear this a lot. Let’s be clear, okay fellas? It’s not that you can’t cook, it’s that you choose not to. You either choose not to try, or you choose not to pay attention when you’re actually cooking. After all, in the words of the inimitable Gloria, “there’s nothing no one knows they didn’t learn from someone.” So you can learn.

People ask me how I got started. It’s pretty simple. I was watching Emeril Lagasse one night on Food Network, an episode of Emeril Live, and it looked like fun. He made something that looked good. I went and found the recipes online, bought the ingredients, came home the next night and cooked. Back then I used and followed recipes and I still do sometimes, but not all the time.

Gloria was right, paraphrased she was basically saying anyone can learn to do pretty much anything. We don’t all have to be chefs. It’s really okay to just perfect one or two dishes. But don’t you think that every once in a while it would be really nice for your special someone to come home to a dinner cooked by you? Stop making excuses and try it.

Who knows, you might end up owning a restaurant.

Make Your Own Damn Pizza…

One of the early triumphs of any home cook is the discovery that good Pizza needn’t require a phone call, internet order or a trip to some local wood-fire pizzeria.  In fact, you can make damn good pizza yourself.  It’s fun and it has the benefit of letting you make exactly the kind of pizza you like, AKA, your own damn pizza.

Ingredients:

  • Pizza Crust (Trader Joes or whatever kind you want).
  • Pizza Sauce (Any store bought marinara you like)
  • Cheese (Traditionally Mozzarella but can be any time you want – though if it melts its better)
  • Various and sundry toppings
  • Olive Oil
  • All Purpose Flour

The crust.  (this is actually the hardest part).  Tomorrow I will post a comparatively simple recipe for good, homemade pizza crust.  For today I’m going to make it even simpler and say, go to Trader Joes and buy “pizza dough” out of their refrigerated section.  It’s about a buck, ninety-nine for a bag and a bag makes three good sized Pizzas.  (Don’t try to make one large pizza or you will end up with a doughy mess).

Let the dough come up to close to room temperature and you’re ready to roll.

Trader Joes also sells a pretty good pizza sauce but you can really use any store-bought marinara or other sauce that you like.  Remember, this is your damn pizza.  That starts with the sauce.

Typically a pizza is made with mozzarella cheese.  Lactose intolerant?  Fine.  Use goat cheese.  (See “your damn pizza” above).  Like blue cheese?  Use blue cheese.  (If you want to screw up your damn pizza that’s your decision).  A word of caution here, you don’t need as much cheese as you think you do.  When that stuff melts it fills in.  I’m not going to give you measurements because I don’t know how big your pizza will be.

As for other condiments, you can buy a bag of 7,214 precut pieces of pepperoni for $2.  You’re going to use 12.  Put the rest in the fridge for next time.  It’s salt cured and will stay preserved for about 52 months.  I like Italian sausage.  I cut the skins off and toss it in a frying pan and “mash” it into clumps with a potato masher.  Like slices?  (read, ‘your damn pizza’ above).  As a general rule it is a good idea to precook most of the ingredients so all you’re doing when you put the pizza in the oven is effectively heating the sauce and melting the cheese…If you have a 3200 degree wood burning pizza oven you can cook the whole damn thing together.

I like caramelized onions.  I put an onion in a frying pan with a little olive oil and let it cook low and slow until it is nicely browned.  Yum.

If you want to go crazy get some green, basil pesto (or make you’re own if buying it is beneath you).    By the way, your own will be better and it is very easy to make.  Also get some shrimp and some fresh basil leaves.  Use the pesto for your pizza sauce with a mozzarella or mild goat cheese and give the shrimp a quick sauté’ before you put in on the pizza.

OK.  How to Make Your Own Damn Pizza.

Cut the pizza dough into thirds (about a billiard sized ball).  Put a copious amount of all purpose flour on your countertop or other very flat surface and also on the pizza dough.  Either with your hands (like a real man) or with a rolling pin (like me) make your pizza flat.  The thinner the better in my mind but if you like thick crust remember (see “your damn pizza” above).  Just know that it will puff up in the oven and then die back down when it comes back out.

Heat your oven and your pizza pan or baking sheet in the oven to 450 degrees.  If you have a very very good oven then go ahead and heat it to 500.  If you are my son and you are in a tinderbox apartment building that gives me the willies, then 450 is fine.

When the baking sheet and the oven are up to temperature dust some flour on the baking sheet or pizza pan and then lay your already flattened pizza dough on the pan and put it in the oven for about five minutes.  Take it out and coat the top with a little brushed on olive oil before turning the crust over and putting it back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes.

Take the “pre-fired” (a term sure to impress your female guests) out of the oven and put on a thin coat of sauce, your cheese and toppings.  Put it back in the oven and watch through the window as the cheese melts.  When the cheese is melted you’re ready to go.

Take it out of the oven and cut it up (a decent Pizza slicer costs about $5) and serve it to your admiring friends.

Enjoy accolades and fend off friend requests from unknown coeds.

Variations on a Theme. Simple Sauces for Simple Pasta

Let’s face it.  The Simple Pasta recipe in the previous post will satisfy hunger, but the point of this blog is to teach young men to cook (well, young men of any age) in a way that will woo women.  These variations remain simple, but they add complexity and a touch of flare to the dishes you’ll be preparing and it is in these flourishes that one crosses an important bridge between just a workaday cook and something more elegant than that.  Beware, once you start playing with these variations you will find that the average restaurant pastas are much less mystical.

Still simple.  Just more interesting.  All of these pastas start with the Simple recipe in the previous post, with one small variation.  Instead of using the full 1/4 of olive oil use about half that amountThey also all simply build on each other so this as about as simple as simple can be.  (just trying to see how many times I can type simple without being silly – probably done now).

Garlic and Olive Oil, Aglio Olio if you want to be fancy.  (hint – you do!)

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons minced garlic (from a relatively fresh jar is fine)
  • 1 Tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of dried italian herbs

Preparation:

While your Simple Pasta is in the boiling water, add three to four tablespoons of EV Olive Oil to a small frying pan (an omelet pan will do) on medium low heat. Note.  Medium low heat.  not high heat.  Low heat.  The whole idea behind making this very simple sauce is that you are flavoring the olive oil with the garlic so you want to go low and slow.  Otherwise you’ll end up flavoring the olive oil with burned garlic.

Add the garlic to the olive oil while it is still cool.  Give it a simple stir and leave it but watch to make sure the garlic isn’t browning too much.  (which is how you know it’s burned – burned garlic is bitter, not good).

Add the red pepper flakes to the olive oil and give it another simple stir.

Once your pasta is done and you’ve added the ingredients in the simple sauce to the pot simply pour this olive oil & garlic into the pot and stir it to combine.  Serve with parmesan cheese.  Enjoy the adulation of your companions.

Sun Dried Tomato, Fennel

Sun dried tomatoes provide a deep, “caramelly” tomato flavor to a dish.  Fennel has the flavor of black licorice and adds a sweet depth to the flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Bottle (provided you bought one of the small bottles in the store) julienned sun dried tomatoes.  If you weren’t paying attention and you bought whole sundried tomatoes just cut them in strips and they will be Julienned.  (which just means cut in strips).
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds.

Preparation

Simply add the sun dried tomatoes and the fennel seeds to the aglio olio above while it is simmering away.  (simmering just means cooking over very low heat).  Finish the pasta in the same way by simply dumping this into the pot and stirring it in.

Chicken or Sausage

It seems strange to think that you could just add a meat, like a chicken or sausage to this and it would be fine, but in reality that is exactly the case.  You can add this either to the sauce with the Sun Dried Tomatoes and Fennel, or you can simply add it to the Aglio Olio it’s up to you.

In either case, check to see if you need to add a little extra olive oil and butter to the sauce base as proteins tend to absorb these quickly.

Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 Package Chicken Tenders cut into bite sized chunks or 2 boneless skinless breasts (thawed if frozen) cut into bite sized chunks.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • McKormick Poultry Seasoning (if available – if you don’t have it just go with salt and pepper)
  • Olive Oil (not EV) or Grapeseed Oil for sauteeing.

Preparation

Heat a medium or large frying pan to hot and add about 2 Tbs of the olive oil.  Immediately add the chicken.  Turn until just beginning to brown.  Remove and toss into pasta, reserving any amount you wish for leftovers.  (there may be too much for the pasta).

Sausage

1 package italian sausage.

With a sharp knife, remove the skins from the sausage.  (cut a thin line lengthwise and it will simply peel off).  Heat a medium to large frying pan to hot and add the sausage.  Break up the sausage while it is cooking.  Reserve about half of the cooked sausage.  Toss the remainder with the cooked Pasta.

I guess the point is, within reason, use your imagination.  Want to add peas?  Add peas.  Don’t add a whole package unless you really like them.  Like fresh tomatoes?  Toss some in.  Want to add a little cream?  Add it at the end over a low flame and stir until the pasta is hot to the touch.  Remove from the flame and you’ll have a nice touch of creaminess.

At any rate.  You are now already on your way to being a bonafide chick magnet.  That’s worth a day’s work, right?

Simple Pasta. First basic recipe for college guys.

Pasta for Starters.  (this post is for beginning cooks.  Preferably college aged boys in dorms in Boston but really for anyone who wants to just make a good, basic pasta without using a jar of Spaghetti Sauce).

There are really only two tricks when you’re cooking pasta. 

  1. Make sure the water is at a rolling boil when you put the noodles in and that you stir the pasta pretty consistently through the first few minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick together.
  2. Cook it for the right length of time.  While there are many comical ways to do this, I think the best way is simply to taste it.

Once you’ve made a pot of pasta the next step is to dress it.  This can be as simple as dumping in your favorite spaghetti sauce and it can be equally simple to do it yourself.

Here then, is Jim’s fool proof method for simple weeknight pasta (with lots of leftovers).

Ingredients:

  • One Bag or Box of Pasta of Choice
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Plus a drizzle for the pot of water.
  • 3 TBS Butter (tablespoons – just look at the markings on the outside of the stick)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Italian Herb Mix
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)

Fill a large stockpot to about 3” below the rim and bring it to a rolling boil.  Once the water is boiling add two to three healthy pinches of salt and a splash of olive oil.  While the olive oil may help to keep the pasta from sticking it’s mainly there for flavor, as is the salt.  The only way to keep the pasta from sticking to itself is to stir.

Once the water is ready (and boiling furiously away) add the pasta to the water.  If you’re working with a string pasta (spaghetti, linguini, cappellini, etc., the noodles may stick out over the water.  Not to worry.  In a few seconds the bottoms of the noodles will soften enough to let the pasta slide in.

As a rule, I stir the pot while I’m adding the pasta and for another 15 seconds or so after.  Then I come back after about a minute and stir it again. I want to see the pasta pieces moving freely and not stuck together.  Then you can leave it alone for a few more minutes while it cooks.

Almost any pasta box will have cooking instructions telling you approximately how long to cook the pasta.  These are not laws such as gravity, they are rules of thumb.  They’ll get you close, but you need to be vigilant starting about 1 minute before and to about one minute after the time on the box.  When cooked properly the pasta should be softened, not chewy, but it should still require you to bite down a little to get through it.  Al Dente is the term.  Literally translated, “to the tooth.”  This means that perfect pasta requires a little bit of tooth to eat.  It doesn’t turn to mush in your mouth and it doesn’t require a lot of chewing.

Reserve one cup (measuring cup) of the pasta water for use in your sauce and drain the rest of the pasta through a strainer in the sink.  Don’t worry about shaking out every last drop of water.  Pour the strained pasta back in the pot.  (Now – there are pasta purists who will tell you you should rinse it at this point.  If you’re making a salad, by all means, rinse away, but if you’re making pasta to eat – like – now, then don’t worry about rinsing it.  I don’t rinse it because I don’t want to cool it).

Once you have the pasta done you’re ready to sauce it.  Here’s my favorite, very simple sauce. 

To the finished pasta add 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 TBS butter, 1/2 teaspoon dried italian herb mix, two healthy pinches of salt and several grinds from your pepper mill.  Then pour in about half of the reserved pasta water.  Stir to combine.  Serve warm with Parmesan Cheese.  You’ll never use a bottled sauce again.

It’s hard to believe it could be that simple!

Tomorrow I will post a series of variations on this theme.  The point though is that you can make this pasta quickly and easily with just a few things that you have around the kitchen.  The leftovers will last at least a week (Under refrigeration) and you can warm them up in the microwave.

 

Time to get cooking.