PART ONE - WELL-STOCKED COUNTRY KITCHEN
My mother was a good cook but an even better teacher. She was so patient with me as I experimented in her country kitchen, learning the basics of cooking: baking bread, frying chicken, mashing potatoes, and making meat loaf. I also had an inspiring teacher for high-school home economics, a course that one doesn't easily find these days. Cooking came naturally to me, but learning some of the science behind what makes food taste good was illuminating. I hope that this chapter will become dog-eared, a sign that it has become a trusted reference in your kitchen - almost like having your mom at your elbow.
Measurements & Metrics
Many early recipe collections relied on the cook's experience to judge quantities in the kitchen. Such terms as
"a pinch," "a wineglass," "a goodly handful," "until just right," and "a lump the size of a walnut" were as specific as it got. For some recipes you can "eyeball" amounts - do you know anyone who measures how many cups of tomato or lettuce go into the salad bowl? But in many recipes, measuring accurately is essential to ensure consistent quality and reliable results.
To Measure Accurately and Easily
Dry ingredients. Use a metal or plastic measuring cup that fills to the top. Dip the cup into the dry ingredient (but not if you're measuring flour) or fill the cup by using a spoon. You should not dip the cup into flour, because you could pack it down and get too much flour, which could affect the success of a recipe. Spoon the flour lightly into the cup instead. Do not pack unless the recipe specifies that you should. Set the cup on a level surface and smooth off the excess with a knife so that the top is level. For measuring out less than
1 cup, use the size of cup appropriate to the amount specified or fill to the correct mark in a larger cup and shake slightly to level.
Liquid ingredients. Use a glass measuring cup with a pouring spout and clearly marked lines indicating cup increments. Check measurements at eye level; ideally, you should set the cup on a flat surface and bend down so that your eye is level with the mark.
Solid ingredients. To measure solid ingredients in a liquid measuring cup, fill the cup with an amount of water equal to the amount of the solid ingredient your recipe calls for. Then add the dry ingredient until the water measures twice the amount. For example, to measure 1/2 cup shortening, pour in 1/2 cup water, then add shortening until the water reaches the 1-cup mark.
Using an Oven
The following chart tells you what recipes mean when they specify a "slow,""moderate," or "hot" oven.
very slow oven 250-275*F
slow oven 300-325*F
moderate oven 350-375*F
hot oven 400-450*F
very hot oven 475*F and up
Check the thermostat of an oven that you are using for the first time. Buy an inexpensive portable oven thermometer (available in hardware and department stores) and set it on the middle oven rack. Turn your oven on to 350*F. When your oven indicator tells you it's preheated (some ovens have an indicator light that turns off; some make a beeping sound - check the manufacturer's instructions), quickly check the reading on the portable thermometer. It should read 350*F. If it does not, make a note of the discrepancy and adjust your oven setting accordingly whenever you cook in it. Many perfectly good ovens are about 50*F off their thermostat settings. If your oven is temperamental, use an oven thermometer regularly instead of relying on the thermostat.
For cooking roasts, a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer gives you the most reliable temperature control; inserted into the thickest part of the meat (but not touching bone), it gives an accurate reading of the internal temperature, no matter what size and shape your roast is.
The placement of the oven rack can affect the way your food cooks. Unless specified otherwise, place the rack in the middle of the oven for the greatest circulation of heat. If you have several pans in the oven at once, you may need to increase the cooking time; rotating the pans helps ensure even cooking.
Using a Microwave Oven
Microwave ovens can be a great time-saver in everything from defrosting to cooking to reheating. Because models vary widely in power, it is advisable to follow the instructions that come with your appliance. Here are some general tips for all microwave ovens.
When using the microwave, make sure that all items put inside are microwave safe. Never use any metal, including aluminum foil or twist ties.
It is preferable to use paper, glass, or microwave-safe ceramics in the microwave. Plastic containers
may melt slightly, pick up stains, or (some believe)
release toxic substances into the food.
Cover food with a microwave-safe paper towel, paper plates, or plastic wrap. Poke a tiny hole in the plastic to vent steam.
A sheet of wax paper on the microwave tray makes cleaning up easier.
Because microwaves cook food from the inside out, food will not brown attractively; basting or saucing food can compensate for this.
Microwaves are great for precooking meats for the grill. The insides will cook first, so the grilling time will be shorter. This means less chance of burned or dried-out foods or underdone centers.
Microwaves are ideal for melting small amounts of butter or chocolate.
Foods cooked in the microwave without a carousel should be stirred or rotated for uniform cooking.
Great Starts: Breakfasts
We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I'm sure that my mother was the first to discover that fact. We never missed breakfast, and Daddy was her trusted partner in the early-morning feast. "Time to wake up - breakfast is ready!" he'd holler at 6 a.m. without fail. We'd roll sleepily out of bed and scramble down the stairs to a table of warm baking-powder biscuits, homemade strawberry jam, crispy bacon, and eggs scrambled to perfection. Breakfast was hot, hearty, and happy .. . a great start to our day.
Apple Sausage Bake
This is the perfect choice for Sunday morning breakfast when you've taken your weekend guests apple picking on Saturday.
- Egg beater
- Food mill
- Cast-iron pans of different sizes
- Cutting board
- Chef's knife
1 pound sausage links, cut in half (use turkey breakfast sausage if you find one you like)
6 tart apples, cored and sliced but not peeled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Coat a 2-quart casserole with vegetable cooking spray.
2. In a skillet, brown the sausage; drain off grease. Toss apples and sausage pieces together and transfer to a casserole. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and brown sugar.
3. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6 servings
Loaded with vitamins, high in fiber, and naturally sweet, thanks to the pure maple syrup, oatmeal is a "stick-to-your-ribs" way to start the day.
3 1/2 cups skim milk
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped, unpeeled apple
1. Bring milk to a low boil; stir in oats. Add butter and salt and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove from heat and add maple syrup, raisins, walnuts, and apple. Mix well. Serve in individual bowls with warm milk and a tablespoon of maple syrup or brown sugar on top.
Yield: 4-6 servings