Kitchen Basics: Bakeware

In addition to pots and pans that are used on the cooktop (burners) of the stove, you also need things that can go into the oven. Some pots and pans can go into the oven, but some have plastic handles that may not be oven proof.

There are two basics I think every kitchen needs: a cookie sheet or baking sheet and a baking dish or casserole.

The difference between a cookie sheet and a baking sheet is the presence of a lip all around the edge of the cookie sheet. There are also things called a sheet pan or half-sheet pan, which usually have 1/2 to one-inch sides. I’ve never used any of these for cookies. But I do use them all the time to put under dishes that might bubble over or to provide support to lightweight cake pans or foil cookware. They’re also good for making pizza if you don’t mind that they’re not round. These cost less than $10 usually.

The other baking dish you need is a 9 by 13 inch pan, preferably Pyrex glass. Be wary of non-stick metal pans because the non-stick coating is easily scratched, making is no longer non-stick. Pyrex is a wonderful invention. Just don’t use one of your good knifes to cut what’s in the dish into portions. Use a butter knife or metal spatula. This will cost you about $15.

A casserole, made of Corningware or ceramic works great for many things, but can be a bit pricey. Stick to the oval shape or something similar. Rectangular casseroles can sometimes lead to corners getting overdone.

Additional bakeware will depend on what you like to make, such as bread, biscuits, meatloaf and other dishes.

One additional note here. To us Americans, an oven, even a small one, is pretty much standard in every kitchen. But that’s not true in other parts of the world. Those places just have a cooktop. Baked goods are purchased from a bakery, restaurant or other food shop. So, enjoy your oven and make good use of it.

Six Uncommon Condiments – Pantry Extras

Here’s a look at some condiments you may not know, but maybe should.

In the beginning there was ketchupketchup.

Ketchup has reigned supreme for nearly 200 years. At its peak, it was found in 97% of U.S. households.

But global influences have perked up our palates. There’s a big world of flavor out there. Clear out some space in the pantry and push aside the ketchup bottle in your refrigerator. It’s time to make room in your kitchen and your cooking repertoire for six new condiments.

Sriracha, oh how I love thee. Squeezed on vegetables, drizzled over noodles, mixed into dressings, dips, and sauces; a moderately spicy chili base with a healthy garlic kick, Sriracha is a condiment chameleon. It transcends cuisines and national boundaries meshing equally well with dishes from Asia, Latin America, and the American South. It rivals ketchup as a tabletop catch-all.

Fish sauce requires a leap of faith. Comprised largely from fermented anchovies, on its own it is potent and smelly. Use it judiciously as a dipping sauce or an ingredient in curries, casseroles, and stir-fries. The flavor is pure magic.

Chimichurri sauce can be green or red (with added tomatoes or peppers). It’s primarily a blend of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and pepper flakes, with different spices added to suit the dish. It’s used as a marinade and as a sauce, mostly with grilled meats. It’s popular throughout South and Central America; especially in Argentina where they know a thing or two about grilling meats.

tahiniTahini has been found on supermarket shelves in the kosher aisle forever. A creamy paste made from sesame seeds, tahini is most closely associated with the Middle East, where it is a familiar ingredient in hummus, falafel, and eggplant dishes. Tahini has the consistency of peanut butter but with a milder taste, and adds nutty richness as a sandwich spread, salad dressing, and dessert ingredient.

Harissa is a chili sauce that appears on every North African table; sometimes in every course at every meal in all kinds of dishes. To my taste, a little goes a long way: a dab added to stews, sandwich spreads, soups, and sauces adds a distinctively tart, fiery finish.

Preserved lemons are lemons that have been essentially pickled in their own juices along with salt and some spices like cloves, coriander, pepper, and cinnamon. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but whatever the preserved lemons are added to take on complexity and a kind of exoticness. Beans or vegetables, sauces and salsas, dips and desserts will all have a little Moroccan je ne sais quoi.

No Microwave Popcorn, Ever! Please?

I was planning on writing about this topic a bit later, but someone beat me to it. We’ve heard from Kurt Friese before. He’s a popular author, chef and restauranteur. He agrees, there’s no excuse for chemical-laden microwave popcorn when making REALpopcorn popcorn on the stove is so easy.

Is there anyone, save Professor Hathaway from the 80s cult film Real Genius, who doesn’t love popcorn?

If you are a regular reader of The Bachelor’s Kitchen, you know we’ve talked before about liking popcorn. To us, it’s an ideal snack — low in fat (unless you heap butter on it), nutritious and easy to eat.

Kurt is a bit Iowa-centric in his preferences of popcorn.

I live in Iowa, after all, and if anyone knows anything about corn it would have to be us. One of the most famous companies to produce the prodigious snack is Jolly Time, of Sioux City, which has been selling popcorn for more than ninety years, but it goes back much further than that. It was a staple for the Aztecs and Incas, used as a food, as decoration and jewelry, and as an offering to the Gods.

Popcorn_rawBut unless you’re a real gourmet or popcorn aficionado, you’ll probably have limited choices at your local supermarket. Popcorn is in the Snack Aisle, probably next to the nuts. You will see a dozen brands of microwave popcorn in several styles, flavors and varieties. Don’t be tempted by that demon seed.

Granted, it is true that the microwave stuff only takes three minutes, and many of us have children who stand in front of said microwave screaming “hurry up” as the LED timer ticks past 1:30. It can be said that there is tradition behind microwave popcorn as well, since according to the Popcorn Board (a nonprofit promotional organization) popcorn was the very first use of microwave heat. Nonetheless, for flavor and yes — nutrition — you can’t beat the real thing. And the real thing takes 10 minutes; worth it by anyone’s measure.

Look below all those brands of microwave crap and you’ll see bags and jars of corn kernels. That’s what you want to get. Personally, we think the white corn gives a better taste, but you may not have a lot of choice.popcorn pot

What’s wrong with microwave popcorn? Well, do you know what’s in it? No? Neither does anyone else. If you look at the ingredients, you’ll see in addition to corn and lots and lots of salt, there will by hydroginated oil which contains dangerous trans fats. You’ll also see “artificial and natural flavor,” which could be anything. Why put up with that?

Making real stuff is easy and better for you because you know exactly what’s in it. Here’s the steps:

  1. Get out a heavy bottomed pot, the taller the better, with a tight fitting lid. If using a stockpot, have oven mitts or potholders handy to hold down the lid when the popping gets going.
  2. Pour in three tablespoons of canola, vegetable, corn or soybean oil. Popcorn oil is available, but it’s just butter flavored soybean oil. Soybean oil has the most flavor, but also more fat.
  3. If you have it, add a pinch of popcorn salt, otherwise go on the next step.
  4. Put the pot over high heat and drop one or two popcorn kernels into the oil. Don’t cover yet.
  5. If you plan on using melted butter and have a small saucepan, put that on low heat and begin melting the butter. Don’t let in boil, you just want it to turn liquid.
  6. When the kernels pop, the oil is hot enough. Pour in about 1/3 cup of popcorn and put the lid on.
  7. Give the pot a shake every few seconds after the kernels begin to pop. You may need to hold down the lid. Try to keep the pot moving so all sections of the bottom get heat.
  8. When the popping slows to about one every few seconds, it’s done. Remove the lid and pour into a large bowl or, even better, a grocery store brown paper bag.
  9. If you didn’t use popcorn salt, now’s the time to salt it, while it’s still warm and a little damp. Use regular table or kosher salt. If you didn’t already melt the butter, put it into the now empty but still hot pot.
  10. If using, slowly pour the melted butter over the popcorn. If not using butter this is time to add what ever other dressings or flavorings you like.

popcorn addinsIn addition to butter, you can also use garlic salt or powder or  a sort of caramel made from sugar, water and butter. For spicier popcorn, add a little curry powder or Old Bay seasoning. You can flavor the corn any way you like. Any leftovers can go into a zip top bag in which you have tried to get as much air as possible out. It will keep for a few days, but not long.

When it’s that quick and that easy, there’s no reason to subject you body to all that crap just because it’s fast.

You Do Have Time To Cook

If you ever said, “I’d like to cook more of my own food, but I just don’t have the time,” this message is for you. You DO have the time. But it takes a little forethought and planning. 

Step one is setting aside one afternoon or evening a week for cooking. I know you might be tempted to say you can’t squeeze out that much time in your busy schedule. If that’s the case, you better make sure your affairs are in order, your will up to date and your bills all paid. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will, except the funeral director.

I suggest the best day for most people is Sunday afternoon. That gives you time to do your shopping, run other errands, have a social life and still be able to have good homemade meals all through the week.

I suggest doing your grocery shopping either Saturday or Sunday morning. You don’t want that fresh food sitting around too long when you get home. That leads to you throwing away lots of rotted food. That’s not only waste of money, it’s a waste of a valuable resource.

Step two is knowing what you need to be healthy. That means knowing your medical condition and what your body needs. And that means a trip to the doctor and, I suggest, a nutritionist or dietician. They will help you put together an eating plan you can use as a guideline for your meals and your grocery list.

Step three is to get moving. Exercise will improve your mood and give you a little larger margin for being able to eat more of the foods you like that may not be that good for you.

Step four can be done during the week. Nearly every grocery store puts out a weekly ad with what’s on sale. You can look through this and circle items of interest while you watch TV or doing some other activity at home. Then when you see what’s available, you can look up recipes that use these ingredients and make a shopping list. This is why making a meal plan is so important. You need to make sure you make some good meals that can be made into leftovers or frozen for later.

I’ve heard it many times: “It’s so hard to cook for one.” So don’t! That’s step five. Make enough for several meals. Many dishes taste better after a day or two. Put them into containers that can go into the microwave. That way you have a good healthy meal ready in just a few minutes.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2020 and a whole new year of learning about food an cooking and making a great kitchen, especially for the single person. We wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

And to make sure you never miss a new post, subscribe to our email feed.

And there’s also our Facebook page. So many ways to enjoy The Bachelor’s Kitchen. We look forward to a new year and more cooking and learning about food.

Kermit Talks Food Safety

Yes, even frogs must be concerned about food safety these days. So, let’s follow the Swedish Chef as he prepares his turkey for the holiday dinner.

UL & Muppet Safe Cooking

Have Your Burger and Slurp It, Too

“The wonderful thing about soup is that it’s easy to make, it tastes good and you can make a lot of it to last all week.” That was me talking to my friend the other night after we had a delicious dinner of soup and my homemade Southern style cornbread.cornbread_in_pan

I’ve talked about my cornbread recipe before. You’ll find it on our Recipes Page. I did make some alterations. Making little changes to meet your circumstances is part of the fun of cooking. This time, we had some leftover buttermilk in the refrigerator, so I used that for the milk in the recipe. It added a little, barely perceptible tang. And since we didn’t have any bacon, I just used olive oil. It worked just fine.

Also in the refrigerator, in the freezer section, was a package of ground beef that had been there for a month or so. Food in the freezer usually doesn’t last forever. Most things can stay in the freezer for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. But once you get over six months, you run the risk of most foods suffering from freezer burn and other problems. There are fluctuations in the temperature, power and content, all of which can affect the freezer’s conditions which affects the food stored there, even when you do all the right things to protect them.

As usual, we also had a few other basics in the pantry: potatoes, green pepper, celery, low-fat milk, flour, chicken broth and onions. So, with just a couple of things from the store, I had all the making of Cheeseburger Soup.

In addition to what I had on hand I had to pick up at the store a carrot, a block of cheddar cheese and a container of light sour cream. Here’s the total ingredient list:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups (about 6 of seven medium) potatoes, cubed
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups cubed cheddar cheese (3/4 of a 16 oz. chunk)
  • 1-1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream

Directions:

  1. After preparing all your ingredients, put a stock pot or other large pot on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Stir in beef until it starts to brown then add in the onion, green pepper and carrot. Stir occasionally until vegetables are soft and beef is fully cooked.
  2. Add the broth, potatoes and spices (note that there’s no salt added, there’s plenty in the broth and cheese). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl or a glass measuring cup, melt the 3 tablespoons butter or heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, then stir in the flour creating a roux. Stir in the milk and blend until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the milk mixture into the soup, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil then reduce heat again to a simmer. Once the soup settles down, stir in the cheese and keep stirring until it’s mostly melted into the soup. Add the sour cream and stir until smooth and heated through, do not allow it to boil.
  5. Serve with a green salad and maybe some crusty bread or corn bread.

Be sure you taste this before you serve it. As mentioned, my recipe doesn’t use any extra salt, but you may find it too bland. This produces at least 8 hearty bowls with about 28 grams of fat and 22 grams of carbohydrate. That’s why I like to pair it with just a little bread and a nice salad. Keep the fat content low by using the olive oil instead of butter, you won’t notice any taste difference.

This soup is good enough to eat all week long. Make plenty of salad. It makes for a very satisfying meal in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

[smartads]

Even More Fish In The Sea

What is the responsible eater supposed to do? First we are told to eat more fish and seafood for better health. Then we are told that if we do the oceans will soon be empty. So which is it?

In reality, there remains a lot of fish in the sea. The problem is that many of our favorite species are being fished into extinction. Add mega-trawler fishing techniques and it is easy to see how many fish are no longer showing up on our dinner plates. Add to that the fact that mercury contamination and other pollutants are ruining many of the most popular fish stocks. It is enough to make a fish lover cry.

But, if you are willing to look at some ugly fish, you might discover a whole ocean of possibilities, most of them very sustainable.

So, why don’t we? According to chef Rick Moonen, we have a fear of fish. We often say we do not know how to cook it. We are afraid of overcooking it. We have bad experiences with smelly fish with lots of dangerous bones.

We often rely on familiar fish that are more forgiving when we cook them. Salmon and codGadus_morhua_Cod are the two favorites in America, because up until a few decades ago they were very plentiful. Salmon is an oily fish that can stand a little overcooking without drying out or turning into fish leather. Mild, flaky cod is easy to cook and was once so abundant you could just stick a net in the sea and wait for it to fill up with cod fish.

But Atlantic Cod and Salmon are all but gone, except in fish farms. The farms can be polluting and the fish are fed an unnatural diet that affects the taste compared to wild Pacific varieties.

So what can you eat? Some varieties of fish are hard to find in the stores because they lack demand. Others are popular in Asia and Europe, but not in North America. If you have the chance, try some of these lesser-known fish.

For example, haddockhaddock is a great alternative to cod. In England, home of fish and chips, the spiny dogfish is another cod alternative that’s being used throughout Europe. But don’t look for dogfish at your seafood counter yet. Nearly all of the U.S. catch goes overseas.

Barramundibig-barramundi is another great choice, one that can be farmed easily. This South Pacific fish, well known in Australia, can be raised in indoor tanks and fed a vegetarian diet which prevents the “swampy” taste many people have expressed about the wild caught fish.

Let’s explore the world of fish over the next few days so you can explore healthy and sustainable options at the seafood counter.

Thanksgiving Plans?

If you’re planning on making a Thanksgiving dinner, whether for yourself, your family or friends, or for a special someone, the first thing you have to do is plan your dinner. That means making a menu. It doesn’t have to be complicated, even if you are having a gang of people for dinner. All you need is a main dish, usually a protein; a starch, which can be bread, potatoes, beans, corn or rice; and at least one green vegetable or salad. That’s a classic bachelor menu: meat and two veggies.

You can, of course, get a lot more elaborate, even if you’re only cooking for yourself. Additions can include an appetizer, a second starch (try not to go too heavy on the starches), a dessert, soup or cheese. If you spread the courses out over several hours, it won’t get too hard on your gut or your blood sugar.

Recipes. Once you have your menu, it’s time to get together your recipes. These can be formal ones, or you can just wing it. In any case, you need to figure out what you’ll need from the store and the timing of when things need to be prepared and/or cooked. If you figure out what things can be made ahead of time, you can save a lot of hassle on the big day. These rules apply to any feast, or even a weekly dinner. Make sure you create a grocery shopping list to make sure you don’t leave anything out.Convenience stores do a lot of business on holiday mornings when the other stores are closed. You’ll pay through the nose for little things you forgot.

Shopping. Try very, very hard to not go anywhere near a store or farmers market on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (or any other holiday, for that matter). The crowds will be ridiculous. This is another good reason to plan ahead. Perishable items can be bought at some other time, like Monday or Tuesday of that week. Remember, the freezer is your friend. If you can buy your ingredients early and stash them in the freezer, you’ll be a lot better off.

And so it begins. If you have a frozen turkey and a more elaborate menu for a group of people, you’ll want to begin your preparations on the Saturday before. Frozen turkeys take at least two to three days to defrost in the refrigerator, depending on size. Then you’ll want to brine your turkey for a day or two. That way, on Thanksgiving morning, your bird is ready to go. Bread, desserts and some side dishes can be put together in advance so all they have to do is heat up before serving. Also, ingredients can be prepared by getting the washing, trimming and cutting out of the way and then storing them in a tightly sealed container or storage bag in the refrigerator. This doesn’t apply to all ingredients, some of which will oxidize, like potatoes and apples. But you’d be surprised how many things can be done in the evenings leading up to the big event.

In future posts, we’ll look at the various components of a Thanksgiving dinner and share some ideas on ways to do things that will make your harvest feast a pleasure rather than a chore.

Chili con Curry, An International Twist

There must be thousands of chili recipes. Nearly everyone has one, even me. Some start with an already made chili base and build from there. Others use all scratch ingredients including chunks of roast beef. Some use things like dark chocolate or coffee. Others use chicken and white beans.

Here’s another idea to try, especially if you like things with an African or South Asian kick. Add curry powder to your chili.

Curry powder is an interesting spice. It is a blend of many spices. There are nearly as many recipes for this as there are for chili. The most common ingredients are  coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and red pepper. Some blends also use garlic, ginger, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper.

As we can see, there’s a bit of heat to this mixture, mostly from the peppers. But you’ll also notice that it has a lot of aromatic spices, which is common not only in South Asia but in Eastern Africa. There may be a connection there.

I like to add a little curry to my rice when I’m cooking it. But only just a little. It adds some wonderful color. But more than anything, it adds a perfume to the rice that’s very enticing. It goes great with beans or chicken.

While we associate curry powder most with Indian cuisine, it goes great with Mexican, African or even Southern European dishes. If you have some more ideas for using this spice blend, let us know in the comments. If you haven’t tried it lately, maybe now is a good time to experiment.