You wake up at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. class, take notes until 3:00 p.m. and study until dinner. It's 6:30 p.m. now, there's nothing to eat, and you are meeting someone at the library at 7:30 in the evening. But wait-- there is chicken in the refrigerator and rice in the cupboard; add some steamed carrots and you have an inexpensive, gourmet meal in about 30 minutes.
Most cookbooks will tell you that it takes time and energy to prepare an elegant meal. Forget it! Cooking a good tasting meal can be easy, fast and does not even require much planning. While students do not have much time to shop for food or prepare meals, they can make good tasting food.
This book is for the student who wants a good meal quickly, inexpensively, reliably and most importantly to some people, without a mess to clean up. Most of the following recipes can be prepared in an apartment, dorm, or house as long as there is some heat source (gas, wood, electricity, propane). In fact, one person I know survived his senior year as a political science major with a barbeque as his main cooking apparatus. Microwaves also come in handy for reheating food if there is one available (cafeteria, dorm). Gas and electric ranges work equally well.
Fresh, rather than frozen, foods always seem to taste better. While the availability of particular fresh items is dependent on geographical location and the time of year, for the highest nutritional value, fresh is best. Frozen vegetables also help in a pinch, but there is no reason to eat a frozen pizza or TV dinner.
The recipes in this book are designed to feed between one and four people depending on the appetite of each individual. The emphasis of each recipe is on taste, speed and ease of preparation, cost, and lack of clean-up responsibilities. You will not find a recipe for beef bourguignonne (I can't even spell it) or sweet breads with cream sauce, but you will see simple tasty dishes that are inexpensive. The manner in which each item is prepared is only one of many variation which are possible. Each recipe should be regarded as a suggestion rather than a rule to prepare the meal.
So, if you need some additional time to cram for your next test but would like a decent meal, try a couple recipes.
Only a few basic pieces of kitchen paraphernalia are really necessary for most cooking. Additionally, most of the new electronic gadgets out on the market do not add any flavor to food and can, in fact, increase the time it takes to prepare and clean up a meal. For example, the use of a food processor to slice carrots requires setting up the unit with the correct blades, feeding the unit carrots, recovering the sliced carrots from the storage compartment, and finally washing the whole apparatus from top to bottom without slicing off your fingers. However, slicing carrots by hand only requires one to take a knife and cut the carrot -- no clean up and it takes a fraction of the time (you do still have to watch your fingers though).
As far as pots and pans go, it's essential to have at least one skillet (frying) pan and two medium sized pots. This allows the preparation of a main course in the pan, vegetables in one pot, and the other pot for additional item if necessary. The best quality material for skillet-type pans is probably of the "wearever" (nonstick) variety. Teflon pans are fine but just are not as durable. Wearever pans are a bit more expensive but in the long run are more convenient, long-lasting, and efficient. The choice of pots is more flexible--stainless steel seems to be the cheapest and gets the job done.
The number and type of cooking tools one owns is really a matter of personal choice. Many recipes require only a spoon, fork or knife for their preparation. However, for convenience sake, a sharp knife, spatula, large cooking spoon, and can opener should really be acquired. Hundreds of other utensils are available from specialty foods but really are not necessary.
Table 1 contains two lists that should give you an idea of what is necessary for recipes in this book:
A number of kitchen chores are made easier with some of the "optional" tools, but you can get by without them. For example, instead of using a cheese grater, you can just slice cheese thinly with a knife; use a pot and cover to drain vegetables instead of a colander; serving bowls to mix rather than "real" mixing bowls; scrape skin from vegetables with a knife instead of using a vegetable peeler; use a fork rather than a wire whisk to beat eggs, etc., etc., etc.....
If you like rice, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in a rice cooker. These cost about $20-30, but last a life time. White rice is quite inexpensive and can go with almost any entree.
Spices and Seasoning
No one can tell another person about the "correct" way to spice and flavor food, because there is no "correct" way. Each individual has his own tastes and prefers more or less of a particular seasoning or spice. This becomes especially apparent when you want to impress someone with your oregano spiced spaghetti sauce and your guest can't stand the taste of this particular Italian spice. Dried herbs are relatively cheap and can last a long time if you keep them out of direct light and away from heat. Fresh herbs, like basil and chives, are available in markets too. Although butter is listed in many recipes, margarine can be substituted. Table 2 lists a number of spices and herbs which are commonly used--many more exist and can be tried to flavor different dishes. This list is by no means complete, but gives you an idea of what is available.
Methods of Cooking
A number of cooking procedures should be explained before launching into the recipes. These techniques are not difficult and you will get faster and faster at each method as you prepare different foods.
Browning Ground Beef - place fresh or defrosted ground beef in skillet over medium heat. Stir meat constantly as it starts to simmer and change color from red to brown. When all the meat has been cooked, the fat should be drained off. This can be accomplished by holding the lid of the pan over the meat and tilting the whole pan into the sink or empty container for disposal. Spicing of may recipes can be done after draining away the fat.
Broiling - whether it is fish, pork chops, or steak, the key to broiling is in the broiling pan. Always place a sheet of aluminum foil in the bottom of the broiling pan so that the food is easy to turn and clean up will take only 5 seconds (just throw away the foil). Often broiling is done close to the heat source, but every oven is different so you will have to experiment with distances of food from the heat source for best results.
General broiling times are shown in Table 3.
Steaming - the only way to steam clams and the best way to cook vegetables is by steaming. Place steamer or metal colander in a pot with enough water so that water level comes up to just below the bottom of the steamer. Add vegetables, cover pot and turn heat on to high. Let water boil. The best way to see if vegetables are ready is to taste them every once in a while. Some people prefer their vegetables crunchy (blanched), others like them soft.
Baking - baking meat and vegetables is essentially the same. Preheating the oven prior to introducing the food is helpful but not required. Choose a dish for baking that will not be a hassle to clean up (or use the old foil-in-bottom-of-the-pan trick). Temperatures for the recipes in this book are in degrees FAHRENHEIT.
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copyright 1996-2000, Eric Chudler. All rights reserved.