Rounding The Food Pyramid

When I was a kid, we were taught in school about the four basic food groups. A balanced diet included foods from each of those basic groups at every meal. When it became clear that the amount of food from each group was also a factor, the U. S. Department of Agriculture came up with the Food Pyramid. The Pyramid contained a greater number of divisions than just the four and also weighted the groups by quantity. Carbohydrates were at the base, the largest portion of people’s diets. Sweets and fats were at the top, the smallest portion.

I have had problems with the Food Pyramid. I feel the organization is wrong. All I have learned about nutrition and diet tells me that the largest portion of our food intake should be vegetables, not carbohydrates. The problem is that most carbohydrates in our diets are simple. Those contribute to our obesity issues. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are a great benefit to our eating, making us feel satisfied and full. They stay with us longer because they take longer to digest. But most people equate carbohydrates with grain products, like bread and cereal. The more complex carbohydrates are usually categorized as vegetables, things like beans.

And I’m not the only one critical of the Food Pyramid. Many nutritionists and educators have called the Pyramid too complicated, trying to do too much and too hard to follow for the average person. One of those critics is former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“Parents don’t have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or to look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving,” she said.

But for all its faults, the Food Pyramid was a good teaching tool for educating us about nutrition and what we should be eating. But now that’s gone.

The USDA has replaced the Pyramid with the Plate. In many ways, this is going back to the old four food groups. But it’s laid out in a much better way. The agency and health officials hope this simplified layout will be easier to understand and follow.

If you look at the Plate, you notice that half the plate consists of fruits and vegetables. This goes along with the changes I felt were needed in the Food Pyramid.

You’ll also notice that dairy is on the side. This goes along with much of the current thinking on nutrition. Dairy is highly processed and usually high in fat. More and more people are giving up dairy and switching to alternatives like soy milk and rice milk. While those alternatives won’t replace dairy in all cases, such as cheese, they are an improvement, being cholesterol- and fat-free.

Another difference is the role of meat. It’s not even mentioned! Instead, we have a smaller proportion of protein, which can be from many sources including vegetables. Grains still hold a big portion on the plate, but that still leaves a lot of options besides bread.

Fruits are the only sweets on the plate, reflecting the need to cut back on sugar. Fruits, like protein, are a smaller portion of the plate. So, it’s not quite like the four basic food groups, but it’s a lot more realistic than the Food Pyramid or the equal portions of four groups.

According to John Stanton, who heads the food marketing program at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, a simple plate is a good idea from a marketing point of view.

“The consumer spends maybe a maximum of three seconds looking at a food in a grocery store,” he says. “Can you think of a busy mother trying to put delicious, nutritious food on the table, looking at a pyramid?”

I like the change and I think it more accurately reflects not only current nutritional knowledge, but is a better fit for modern American lifestyles. What do you think?

Recipe: Artichoke Heart Farfalli

We hear it over and over again we should be eating less meat. There are Meatless Mondays and vegans and doctors, all trying to get us to consider non-animal proteins. For many people, this is a difficult challenge. It’s not so much that they don’t like to eat other things, but that meat and chicken become a habit. Breaking that habit requires a little creativity and broader flavor profiles.

I saw a recipe for an artichoke heart pesto. But it required the services of a food processor or blender. I don’t have either of those appliances and so I was going to pass the recipe idea by. But then I thought there might be another way to use these ingredients that would be just as good, maybe better. That’s how I came up with Artichoke farfalli. For those less inclined to Italian, that means bow-tie pasta with artichoke hearts.

In addition to the box of dried pasta, you’ll need 2 jars (6.5 oz.) of marinated artichoke hearts packed in oil. For acid, pick up a small lemon and juice it. You need a tablespoon each of dried oregano and basil, a quarter cup of chopped walnuts, and three tablespoons of shredded Parmesan cheese.extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. With just these few ingredients, you’re ready to make a tasty dish.

Cook the pasta as usual and when finished, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Meanwhile, combine the other ingredients in a large bowl. Use a spoon to break up the artichoke hearts or chop them roughly before putting them in the bowl. Mix everything up well and taste for seasoning. Add the pasta to the bowl and stir to combine.

That’s it, you’re done. See how easy it is? This can be served hot or cold. In this hot weather, a cold pasta salad sounds really good. It can be zipped up with some ripe olive slices, chopped roasted red pepper, onion or garlic.

Grilling: It’s Not Just For American Backyards

Gridiron grill

Chance are at least some of you bachelors out there will be grilling this summer. Whether you have your own grill station at home or at a family cook-out, the lure of the open flame will suck you into doing some “Man’s” cooking.

Isn’t it funny how so many men are masters of the grill but get lost in their own kitchen?

If you think of grilling as a male rite of passage in America, you are leaving out a whole world of grills, all loaded with local meats and vegetables.

Grilling is probably one of the oldest forms of cooking. It involves applying dry heat to the surface of food. That heat can come from underneath, above or even both at the same time.

Flot top grill

The method we’re most familiar with in the U. S. is Gridironing. This uses a metal grate laid out in a grid, such as the typical barbecue grate. Another common grill is the flattop. We most associate this type with fast food and diners. Japanese chefs use something similar, a teppanyaki. The Japanese also use the ancient hibachi grill, a metal box containing hot charcoal under a metal grate. Most often you will find these grills on carts selling hot meat on a stick, called yakitori, similar to the Persian kebob.

Habashi

Speaking of kebabs, in Thailand and Indonesia, meat is also grilled on a stick. For this, the Thai and Indonesians regularly use a satay grill, which, with its metal rods or checkered-metal top, resembles the yakitori style. In Thailand, you can also find a small tabletop charcoal cooker used to make thinly sliced meat and vegetables, a tool that also gets used to make the famous Korean barbecue.

Tandoor

Argentina and Uruguay are also known for barbecue. Called asado, both for the event and the technique, this style uses an iron cross to cook whole animals. In India they do a lot of grilling, and commonly use a brick oven shaped like a cube called a chula. This device has a hole cut in the front so you can feed the fire. They also use the tandoor, a typically large ceramic pot that gets buried in the ground up to its neck. Unlike many types of grills, the food in this one is cooked inside the device using hot coals, though some people do place a grate over the top for surface grilling.

One of the best things about barbecue and grilling is that you can do it anywhere and with various tools no matter where you live. The basic principles are the same: fire, heat, food and time.

Give Mashed Potatoes A Tasty Tan

Mashed potatoes are one of the most basic comfort foods. It’s also one of the most popular. But after a while, we suspect even a classic favorite like this can become a little boring. And don’t even get us started on that awful instant stuff.

We came along this variation on that traditional classic and it turned out really great. So, naturally, we’re passing it along to you in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Baked Mashed Potatoes takes the same old stuff and turns it into a rich side dish.

Of course, one starts with potatoes. I like Yukon Golds for mashed potatoes. That golden color and slightly buttery taste make simply great mashers.

Next comes the dairy. If you’re lactose-intolerant, this is not the dish for you. But if you love cream and cheese, this recipe will elevate ordinary mashed potatoes into something special. In this dish are sour cream, cream cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese.

Now take all that, put it into a baking dish and top with some bread crumbs, some extra virgin olive oil and a bit more cheese, pop it in the oven and you’ve got a delicious dish for a special occasion, a pot luck supper or any old Sunday dinner.

The dairy portion is where the fat is. But you can reduce that substantially by using low fat versions. Sour cream is available with little or no fat and the taste is close enough to the full fat version that you won’t notice the difference in this application. But I do admit that on a baked potato, you can taste the difference.

The same thing is true for the cream cheese. You can reduce the fat a lot by using Neufchatel, which is a low fat version of cream cheese. You’ll find it right next to the regular stuff. This is the block type, not the whipped stuff in the tub.

This dish starts the way you’d start any mashed potato recipe. This recipe makes plenty for one or two, but easily can be doubled for a group.

Start with four large russet or Yukon Gold potatoes. We prefer gold for this. While peeling and cutting into roughly ½ inch cubes, put a big pot of water on high heat to boil. When boiling potatoes, as you would with pasta, make sure you have a lot more water than just enough to cover. When the water begins to boil, add about a tablespoon of salt and allow the water to return to a boil before adding your potato cubes. Cook at a simmer, not a rolling boil, until the potato pieces are tender enough to stick a fork into them easily. Try not to overcook them. You’ll know you’ve let them go too far if the cubes fall apart when you stick your fork into them. Drain and return to the pot or a large bowl. It’s time to mash.

If you like smooth potatoes with no lumps, then use a hand mixer to whip them well. But I prefer a more rustic approach and just use an old-fashioned potato masher. My argument is that over-whipped potatoes turn into a gluey consistency that reminds one of the library paste we all used to eat in kindergarten. I think a few lumps add character. Also, you still have ingredients to add. So, a quick smash, just breaking the potato pieces up, is all you need.

Add in ¼ cup sour cream, 4 oz. cream cheese, a 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan and a little salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Take a large casserole dish and spray with cooking spray. Pour your potato mixture into the dish, sprinkle another half-cup of shredded Parmesan over the top, along with a cup of Panko bread crumbs ( you can also use homemade) and even a bit of cheddar cheese, about ½ cup. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the dish and it’s ready for the oven.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, then crank up the heat to 450 to brown the top. Watch your dish! Be careful not to burn it. Allow the dish to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

These re-heat very well with a one-minute shot in the microwave covered with wax paper.

Pantry Basics: In the Refrigerator

Now that you’ve stocked up the cabinets and shelves with Pantry Basics, it’s time to turn to the cold stuff. These are all pantry items that will need replenishment whether you use them or not. None of these items will keep without spoiling for more than a couple of weeks up to a few months, depending on what it is. The object of having a well-stocked pantry is that you can make almost anything at a moment’s notice.

Eggs. We’ve talked about eggs before. Don’t shy away from this food just because you’ve heard it’s high in fat and cholesterol. While that is true, if you don’t eat them everyday, the nutritional value outweighs the bad. Get farm fresh eggs at a farmers market if you can. Yes, you will pay more, but it is well worth it. There has been some study that says there’s no taste difference, but I disagree. Learn to compute the cost difference between the different size eggs. If the difference is the same, then it doesn’t matter which size you pick. If there is a difference, take the smaller size of the biggest difference. In other words, if there’s 10 cents between medium and large but 14 cents between large and extra large, the large eggs are the best value. Eggs should be allowed to come to room temperature before use if possible. If you’re in a hurry, you can put the eggs you’re going to use in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Milk. Unless you’re getting raw milk from a farmer, what type or brand of milk you buy matters very little. Organic milk might be available in your area which might have a better taste but undoubtedly will cost more. All milk and dairy products in your supermarket are processed. This is due to federal laws and regulations that all dairies have to follow. So buy the cheapest you can get. Milk is picked up and transported in large tanker trucks like what’s used to deliver gasoline. It is then dumped into large holding tanks and pasteurized. There are two kinds of pasteurization. One heats the milk more slowly and to a lower temperature, thus preserving at least a little of the milk’s natural flavor. The other method, used most often today, is called ultra pasteurization. The milk is brought to a very high temperature for just a few seconds before being rapidly chilled to just below 40F. Either way, the milk is then separated, the cream and fat removed, and what’s left is skim milk. Some of that cream and fat will go to make butter, other portions will be put back into the milk in a controlled way to create whole, 1% and 2% varieties. Some milk will be redirected to make yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese and other dairy products. Most of it will go to packaging. The fat difference between whole milk, which is 3% milkfat, and 2% is pretty small. However, between whole milk and skim, the difference is significant. All milk these days is homogenized,which means it is stirred until the cream (fat) dissolves into the rest of the milk.

Butter. Don’t be afraid to use real butter. There is nothing else to match that wonderful flavor. I don’t care what they say, there is no margarine or spread that can even come close to the taste of real butter. Yes, I know butter has a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol, but if you use it judiciously and with a little thought, you can make it no worse than margarine or other products. I avoid using butter in cooking if I can. Usually extra virgin or regular olive oil can substitute well. If it’s going to stand on it’s own, like on bread with no additions, go ahead and use the real thing. You’ll want to buy a butter dish for it. Keeping butter covered allows it to last unrefrigerated for up to a week. It’s the air that makes it go bad or rancid, not the temperature. If your home is warm, like in the summer months, put the butter in the fridge when not using it. Take it out a couple of hours before you need it so it can soften up. Whipped butter is not a value since it’s still not as spreadable as whipped margarine, which is very bad for you due to presence of trans fats. Besides, butter is all natural, so it can’t be as bad for you as a tub of chemicals.

Parmesan Cheese. A hard, sharp, dry Italian cheese made from skim cow’s milk. It is straw-colored and has rich flavor. It should be aged 12 to 16 months. It is made all over, but the best comes from Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is often aged 2 years. Get the real thing, a wedge, if you can. It costs a bit, but it should last for a while. You’ll need a grater, too. Don’t get the little block inside a plastic grater bottle, it breaks. Also, stay away from the powder-like stuff, too, if you can. You can get it already grated or shredded, I find that works best for me. This can spice up lots of dishes, not just Italian food.

Condiments.  If you have them, put them in the ‘fridge.

Pantry Basics: Roots

The term “root cellar” refers to an underground storage area where fruit and vegetables that didn’t spoil so quickly could be stored. It was cool and dark, an ideal place for root vegetables, often the only food available in winter or during drought. It was protected from the heat of summer and from the cold of winter, usually keeping an even temperature all year. It was one of two ways before refrigeration people in rural areas had to keep things cool. The other was a stream box or stream chest, a slatted box with a lid that allowed extra milk, butter and eggs to be stored in a nearby creek or stream and kept cool for a few days. The money earned from these extra foods was called butter and egg money, which later referred to what was saved out of the household budget.

Root vegetables can keep for several months in a cool, dark environment. These include carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, turnips, radishes, parsnips and rutabagas. Celery, rhubarb, beets, apples, home canned foods and smoked meats could also be stored in a root cellar. Every kitchen should have at least a few basics in their pantry.

Potatoes. This is American’s favorite vegetable. It is often served at every meal. It is as much a staple of our cuisine as bread. It can be served in a wide variety of ways. These tubers are members of the same  family as nightshade, henbane and tobacco. The leaves and seeds of the plant are poisonous. The tubers themselves can be poisonous in their raw state, with dangerous compounds lying just beneath the skin. Cooking or high heat will render those compounds safe. Potatoes originated in South America and were first cultivated by the Incas. There are more than 4,000 varieties grown all around the world. They can be baked, fried, boiled, steamed, roasted and cooked in just about any way you can imagine. The skin, well cleaned, is safe to eat and can improve the nutritional quality of potatoes. Nutritionally, potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fiber and phytonutrients, but very little protein.

Onions. Like potatoes, these root vegetables come in many varieties, sizes and can be applied to many uses. These days, we mostly use onions as a seasoning or flavor enhancer. Onions are not tubers but are bulbs that have been used in cooking since their earliest known human civilizations. It can be eaten raw or cooked or dried. It goes with almost all foods, cuisines and dishes. It is a basic flavoring in French cuisines’ mirepoix, a mixture of finely chopped onions, carrots and celery used as a base for most dishes. Onions contain a sulfurous compound that creates an irritating gas when cut. Learning to cut onions efficiently and quickly can reduce exposure to this tear-inducing gas. Shallots, leeks and scallions (green onions) are also a part of this group but do not store for as long as most common onions.

Garlic. This is also a member of the onion family. It has many uses in both cooking and medicine. The garlic bulb is divided into several sections, called cloves. It is used in a wide variety of cuisines and cooking styles. It is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, but it has been used for so long in so many parts of the world that scholars are unable to pinpoint its source. In the United States, most garlic comes from the town of Gilroy, California. Having been there, I can assure you that the aroma of garlic can be detected for many miles around this coastal town. China is the largest global producer of garlic. It is a must for cooking because it adds a huge amount of flavor and can save many dishes from being bland. Unlike potatoes, garlic should be stored at room temperature and dry to keep it from sprouting. Peeled garlic should be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator. Be careful of using garlic to flavor stored oils, as it can create a dangerous mold that will make people sick. It has been claimed to be beneficial in the treatment of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, but this has not been confirmed in medical studies. It has been found to have an antibacterial quality which can be used to treat wounds and infections. Garlic also causes bad breath and smelly sweat due to a gas produced in the blood during digestion.

Pantry Basics: In The Freezer

The freezer is one of The Bachelor’s Kitchen’s best friends. It enables you to have quality meat and vegetables at any time. It should not be filled with frozen dinners, although one or two for emergencies, carefully chosen, might not be a bad idea. But the following items are things you should try to keep stocked at all times. Buy these in quantity when on sale so you have some fresh meal ingredients available when times get lean.

Chicken breasts. These are often on sale but in packages of three pounds or more. While that’s way more than any bachelor needs, buying in this quantity when the price is low is a good deal. When you get home, or at most the next day, wash and dry the beasts and wrap each one in its own plastic wrap. Wrap them as tightly as you can. If you’re going to be keeping them in the freezer for more than a week or two, also wrap each one tightly in aluminum foil. Place all of them in a zip-topped freezer bag and then the bag into the freezer. All this wrapping may seem excessive, but it will prevent freezer burn from ruining the meat. Use this same process for just about anything that might be left in the freezer for a while.

Frozen Vegetables. We really like frozen vegetables. They are not much, if any, more expensive than fresh. They already are cut and trimmed, so you’re not buying the parts of the plants you don’t eat, like corn cobs and broccoli stalks. They are well cleaned and ready to go into whatever dish you’re making. Do not eat thawed vegetables without thoroughly washing them. Some types of frozen vegetables will get mushy if thawed but not cooked. Avoid those in any kind of sauce or “ready to eat” additives. If unsure, just check the ingredients label.

If you want to make your own frozen vegetables, after cutting, cleaning and trimming them into individual pieces, make sure they are completely dry and lay them out on a cookie sheet with a little space between each one. Put the sheet in the freezer so each piece of vegetable is individually frozen. This should take a few hours. Then put the pieces in a zip-topped plastic bag and back into the freezer.

Ground Beef. For American kitchens, this is a staple, although it’s not as cheap as it once was. Still it’s a versatile beef that can do a lot more than just hamburgers. A pound of ground beef, a little pasta and some tomatoes and you’ve got a quick meal. If you buy this in quantity, separate it into about one-pound chunks before wrapping and freezing each chunk in its own package. If you know you’ll want some hamburger patties, you can make them now and individually wrap and freeze them for quick dinners.

Fish Fillets. You don’t have to be stuck with child-like fish sticks or even breaded fish. You can buy fillets of tilapia, salmon, whitefish and other mild, easy to cook fish in large bags, individually wrapped and frozen. Some people are afraid to cook fish, but it’s not as hard as you think. And there are people who had a bad fish experience in their past and think they don’t like it. But give it another shot, you might be surprised. Fish should never smell fishy. If you smell ammonia, it’s gone bad and should be thrown away. If you can, buy fresh fish just for the day you want it. But that’s hard to do if you live a long way from the coast, thus we have it on our Pantry Freezer Basics list. We’ll talk about some ideas to Bachelor Cook fish later.

You might wonder why I don’t list frozen fruit. It’s great for making smoothies or desserts, but not as just fruit. It gets too mushy after it thaws. Some cooks recommend the individually frozen method I mentioned above for vegetables, but I haven’t found it to work for all vegetables and most fruits. There are good uses for frozen fruit, but not as a Pantry Basic.

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Pantry Basics: Non-Food Items

We’ve talked a lot about the ingredients you need to have a reasonably well-stocked pantry. There are plenty of items we could include, but we’ve tried to concentrate on the basics.

So, while we’re talking about Pantry Basics, in addition to food, you’re also going to need some other items to help keep your food. These are all non-food things your pantry should also include.

Containers. There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive plastic containers from name-brand companies. You can now buy inexpensive containers that can go well in the refrigerator, freezer and microwave. Because they are inexpensive you don’t care if they get stained, lost or ruined. Starter sets are available or you can buy packages of just the sizes you need. Typical sizes are called Entree (about the size of the center of a dinner plate, square), Side/Salad (more versatile cube-like and just the right size for a single serving of soup or stew), and Snack (small, can be rectangular or round, just the right size for dressing, condiments or single servings of protein). You can buy larger sizes, but I find breaking things down to fit these standard sized containers gives me more options, like one-serving meals or portions that can be divided into “use soon” in the fridge or “use later” in the freezer. These are a MUST for leftovers. As I don’t encourage bachelors to make single-serving meals, you need to have a way to keep leftovers and have them available for quick and easy meals when you get home from work and don’t want to cook or wait for a meal.

Plastic Wrap. This has been in American kitchens for many decades and it is so very useful. The advantage is that it keeps air from getting to food, and air is, as I have stated before, a greater threat than almost anything else. Plastic wrap should alway be backed up by other containment if used for storage. It can be used in the microwave, but only for short periods of time, as it will melt if what it’s covering gets too hot.

Aluminum foil. This has been around the kitchen even longer than plastic wrap and just of useful. The good thing is it can be used for cooking, except in the microwave.

Wax or Parchment Paper. To make parchment, fibers are boiled down from plant pulp and then collected and washed, leaving behind just the cellulose which is then dried. This gives it a resistance to grease and a semi-transparency. Wax paper is regular paper coated with wax. These are not always interchangeable. Wax paper is very useful for mixing dry ingredients or coating a countertop to protect it from stains or dirt. It is also handy for covering dishes in the microwave to prevent splattering all over the inside of the oven. However, under high heat, the wax will melt making food taste like biting into a candle. Parchment paper is great for lining cookie sheets and cooking in the oven using a method called “en papier” (in paper). It will burn if it gets hot enough, but in contact with food it is safe.

Freezer and/or Storage Bags. The difference between freezer bags and storage bags is the thickness of the plastic. Freezer bags are able to keep out frost and some freezer burn, while a regular storage bag will not do quite as good a job in sub-zero conditions. Freezer bags also allow less of the food’s scent through making them better for storing vermin-prone goods like flour, sugar or cornmeal. But storage bags are usually cheaper. They both have their uses. Storage bags can usually only be used once, while freezer bags can, if kept clean, be re-used, depending on what was stored inside. If it was meat, do not re-use the bag. But bread or wrapped products might be re-used if clean.

You can probably find other useful things to keep in the pantry, but these are the basics. If you have some tips, please tell us in the comment section below.

Pantry Basics: Dry Goods

In addition to flour, sugar and other baking ingredients, there are a few other dry ingredients we need to have in the pantry.

Rice. This is a staple for most of the world. Only in the more northern climates, like Europe and North America, do people consume more wheat and other grains. You can buy rice in many forms, but I stick with the very affordable five-pound bag of regular long-grain white rice. It is easier to cook and the most adaptable to a wide range of recipes and cuisines. It is true that brown rice, which is exactly the same but with the outer hull still on, does have higher nutritional value. But it also requires longer cooking and can be more difficult to get right. You can buy instant rice if you’re not sure of your ability to cook rice without it coming up mushy or sticky. Instant rice is just rice that has been partially cooked and then dried. An agent to keep it from sticking together or absorbing moisture from the air are about the only things added. The boil-in-the-bag types are okay, too. The microwavable or boxed side dish varieties present a problem since they usually have lots of salt and other stuff in them. However, I will admit they are very convenient.

Cooking rice DOES take some practice. Sushi chefs spend two years just learning how to make the rice. Fortunately, rice is inexpensive. Start out with small amounts until you get the hang of it. Here are the tips:

  • Wash the rice in a strainer. Do it in batches if you have to. Rinse under cold running water and try to make sure every kernel gets doused. Don’t be afraid to get your hands in there and work the water and rice around. You are removing the excess starch on the outside of the rice kernels which can make the rice mushy or clumpy.
  • As a side note, many parts of the world, particularly East Asia, prefer their rice a little mushy and clumpy. They also don’t season the rice, not even with salt. They have rice at almost every meal and use the bland rice to absorb some of any sauce from the usually heavily seasoned entree and side dishes. Also, clumpy rice is easier to eat with chopsticks.
  • Add rice and cold water to a cold saucepan that has a good, tight-fitting lid. The amount of water you use depends on the type of rice and the cooking method. For standard white long-grain rice, you use about two cups liquid with one cup of rice. Brown rice will need about two-and-a-half cups for each cup of rice. See the package directions for the exact information for that kind of grain. However, this ratio changes with quantity. If cooking less than a cup of white rice, the amount of liquid is 1.1:1 rather than 1.25:1.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt, or 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules. You can also use 1 cup of chicken stock in place of 1 cup of water. This is if you like rice to have a little flavor. Omit if serving East Asians.
  • Stir once.
  • Put on high heat and bring to a rolling boil. You may stir once if you fear the rice might be sticking, but that’s all. Any more will make the rice mushy.
  • Turn the heat to very low, cover and walk away for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let the pot sit for 10 minutes.
  • Now, carefully use a fork to fluff the rice and break it up.

It may not work the first time. Every stove and pot is different and can affect how the rice turns out. But once you get it, you’ll find it easier each time. I’m not a big fan of most rice cookers because I don’t think they turn out any better. For the beginner, instant rice is easier but may or may not be fool-proof.

Pasta. My problem with pasta, as I think I’ve mentioned, is that we eat too much of it because it’s cheap. As a processed food, dry pasta is not bad as it usually doesn’t have much of the bad stuff in it. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE BOX! The times they give are usually pretty accurate. Do NOT throw pasta against the wall to see if it sticks. Just pull a bit of it up out of the pot, blow on it to cool and see how it feels in your mouth when you chew it. You’ll know if it’s right.

Previous advice would have said to always use at least 4 quarts of water or more. This is one time a stock pot is really useful. However, for some dishes, like Cacio e Pepe, one uses only enough water to cover. This makes a starchy water used to make the sauce. Personally, I don’t think there’s much difference between one pasta brand and another. Think about using pasta more creatively instead of just a tomato based sauce. Mix with extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese and dried basil for a classic Italian side dish. Pine nuts go great with this if you have some, but they are expensive. Mix vegetables, cheese, herbs and a little oil or butter to make a healthy side. Just don’t have a big plate of pasta with sauce and meatballs or meat sauce. That’s like eating half a loaf of bread.

Bread Crumbs. Like chicken stock or broth, I think you should make your own bread crumbs. It’s not hard. If completely dry, they can go in an airtight container (otherwise, stick them in the freezer). You can save up stale bread or crackers for just this purpose. If you must buy bread crumbs in the store, try to find Panko, the Japanese style breadcrumbs. Your last choice should be that sawdust in the container they sell. I don’t care how they dress it up, it’s still sawdust. It’s just too fine to create more than a mush. If you need bread crumbs for a recipe, put some bread in the toaster on the darkest setting without burning or blackening. If you have a food processor, use it. Otherwise, let the bread sit for a bit and try toasting again until you get as much moisture out of it as you can. Watch it carefully! If the oven’s already on, cut the bread into small pieces and arrange on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown.