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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cooking for the Beginner-A Short Guide for the Bachelor, University Student or Anyone

One of the things I have had to deal with this past week and a half is cooking for myself. I'm used to coming home and having food on the table lovingly prepared by my mother. On Thursday when the family came home, for a change I made dinner. It is surprisingly easy to make something taste good when you get the hang of what combinations are good together and then just playing around with them. Here are some hints to get you started. If I can do this than anyone can.

A little Mexico or Italy
To give any type of food a Mexican taste try the following. Add black pepper, cumin and chili powder.
To give any type of food an Italian taste try adding oregano, olive oil and garlic.

What Simple Things Should I have?
Some basic spices are the place to start. Always have pepper and salt. Cumin, oregano and chili powder are my favorites. I also like Zaatar (a middle Eastern spice) and basil. Garlic and onion powder are also very handy (minced or chopped forms are also useful). I don't really cook with other spices too much (not that I cook that often anyway) but some thyme, paprika and rosemary won't really hurt. Spices can turn any regular meal into something different and is the key to varying an easy to make menu.

Your best mileage will come from buying combination spices and seasoning blends like "Mrs. Dash" Products and "chicken seasoning" or "Steak seasoning". These are great on vegetables or in sauces and are definitely not just for what they say they are. If you don't know what to put on something, these can help push you in the right direction or add a bit of flavor to something that is bland.

A good sharp knife, cutting board, some bowls in various sizes and plates are important. I big wooden spoon is handy too for making sauces (which I like to do for some reason). A hand blender is pretty cheap and a big help. Some pans (big and small) are a must as well as a small pot.

On to the Cooking
In the Mexican department try these:

Through some corn chips on a plate so the whole plate is covered. Cover with cheese and nuke for 40 seconds. In one minute flat you have a great tasting snack. If you want to put some effort in add chopped tomato and chopped onion and some spices. Pepper and chili powder are good especially cause I like spicy food. Chicken seasoning is good and fast too.

Take a tortilla and fill with the same stuff you put on the nachos. Fold in half or top with another one if you're hungry. Fry in a pan, toast in a toaster oven of nuke it. This one is best if you put in the extra effort of the veggies and spices. Cut in triangles.

Cover a tortilla with sauce* and sprinkle with cheese. Roll it. Make a few of these. Cover them in sauce and more cheese on a oven safe plate and cook in the toaster oven. Careful! That plate gets VERY hot. I learned the hard way.

*Regular sauce from a can or jar is fine. The little effort to make the sauce though is worth it in my opinion. I mixed some tomato paste water and a tomato together with the hand blender. Heated on the stove in a small pot and added a few teaspoons of olive oil, some onion soup mix and spices. Lots of cumin is essential, and should be added to and store bought sauce and sprinkled on the enchiladas too. Chili powder and pepper in good quantities is important to make it just spicy enough. Adding some chopped onion is also good as is some garlic and parsley.

For my family I made lemon and herb chicken and some veggies.

Lemon and Herb Chicken
Heated some water with some chicken soup mix and some onion soup mix. Added some salt and pepper, garlic,parsley and chili powder. Juice from one lemon and some orange juice. A bit of brown sugar and a bit of white sugar and some oregano and minced garlic. Poured this on grilled chicken breast from a package that just needs some heating.
For the veggies I fried thinly sliced potatoes and chopped red pepper in olive oil with some spices and minced garlic. A little salt and pepper and that was it.

There you go people. You no longer have an excuse not to cook. These are all very easy to make and pretty quick too. By playing around with just a few ingredients (different spices or different veggies) and the form (chopped chicken pieces / chicken breast or rolled tortillas/ flat out tortillas) you can change the meal completely.
Try different things until you figure out what goes with what. That's all I did.


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