Welcome back to Kossacks Under 35, the regular series for DailyKos users under 35, and those that just pretend to be on the internet.
As we get back into the regular swing of things, I thought we could talk tonight about an issue that impacts all of us, several times a day at least. A subject that for some has deep political impact, not to mention the ability to both destroy relationships and bring people together.
That’s right, cooking.
Join me on the flip for more.
First off, before we discuss cooking, I’d like to point your attention to our diaries over the past two weeks. theKK wrote about Starting Your Own Online Radio Show and Josh Aronovitch wrote Progressive Local Government: Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is. theKK is a star on BlogTalkRadio and Josh is running for mayor in South Jersey, so give them a read, they know what they’re talking about.
Anyways. On to cooking.
So, there are a few ways to approach this. We can discuss how our often peripatetic young lives cause us to move around a lot, making it hard to build up much of a collection of cooking gadgetry (unless we want to haul it all around). We can consult The Food Network or Cook’s Illustrated to hone our techniques or figure out what those strange tools in the cooking utensil drawer do. (Potato ricer? Why’s it called a ricer if you use it on potatoes?) We can discuss organic food and food safety, and why it’s important for our planet and ourselves that we eat healthily.
Well, all of that sounds like a lot of work, so instead, I decided to make a list of five lessons I’ve learned in cooking for myself over the past nine years or so. Truth be told, I’m not a bad cook--and I am an excellent baker--and I don’t think there’s anyone that can’t become skilled in the kitchen. Or, at the very least, learn to make 3-4 things really well and just stick to that.
In between are a few pictures of some of the stuff I cooked (or ate) as of late.
one: get decent tools. You don’t need a lot of tools, but you do need good ones. I hate to admit it, but better kitchen tools do tend to result in a better end product. My frying pan is $4 and from IKEA, and honestly, it pretty much sucks. Having used some pretty good cookware, I can say that there is a difference. I don’t know if it’s worth investing in a $150 copper-bottomed frying pan (and for most of us, the notion of that is sheer tomfoolery) but better cookware cooks better.
But it doesn’t have to be a big investment. I make do with one two-quart stock pot, one giant pasta/soup pot, and the aforementioned IKEA frying pan, along with a few glass baking dishes and a bundt pan. (Gotta love the bundt pan.) If you’re going to invest anywhere, get decent knives. They make cooking easier, especially preparation. They also last a long time if you take care of them. I’d also cast a vote for chef’s tongs, too. And honestly? My food processor has actually had a positive impact on my life, though it pains me to admit it a little. Lists abound on the internet as to the "must-haves" for the kitchen -- here’s one from gay.com, and another list from the folks on Top Chef. What are your kitchen must-haves?
Everything is better with cheese. Especially aged-four-years Dutch cheese. Mmm.
two: use good ingredients. Start with good stuff, and don’t mess it up too much. This is my Dad’s basic rule of cooking –- if you start with good ingredients, you end up with something pretty good. Well, I guess unless you burn (err, "cajun blacken") it. I also like to follow the rule, "add a lot of butter." Or the other rule, "add some cheese."
I try to buy groceries that are as close to their "native state" as possible. In other words, lots of produce, lots of "scratch" ingredients, even stuff like chick peas in cans. The less processed food you eat the better you feel. Also, if your end product is close to the way the food originally came into being, you’re probably eating pretty healthfully. You should be able to identify the ingredients in whatever you’ve made for yourself, I think. One good example of this is Jaime Oliver, aka The Naked Chef.
Frozen phyllo dough isn't hard to work with -- defrost it, keep a moist paper towel over it. I fill it with spinach, onion and feta cheese and then fold the little bundles up and paint liberally with butter. Recipe here (scroll down). A hit at parties!
three: learn to freestyle. Learn from the pro’s, then learn to do it on your own. I learned to cook predominantly from cookbooks and Cook’s Illustrated, the latter of which is fantastically informative in terms of explaining not just how to cook something, but why it works that way. It’s kind of like the science of cooking, but really intelligible, and full of cool line drawings of the food. (And gadget reviews! And homespun wisdom!)
Ideally, however, I think one should learn how to take any random ingredients at hand and turn them into something pretty decent. That’s why learning the why of cooking is so important – it gives you the tools to improvise. Once you understand how ingredients work and why they work, it’s easy to freestyle.
A few other great resources for getting started? I’m a fan of Epicurious because they archive so many recipes from so many different cooking magazines and whatnot. I also read The New York Times’ The Minimalist. He also has videos, which can be a pretty great instructional tool, and features clever, but easy to implement ideas.
four: go ethnic. one major upside to globalization -- most mainstream grocery stores now carry a wide variety of ethnic ingredients, from sauce packets to spices to grains to... you name it. If there’s a specialty grocer in town or an ethnic neighborhood, you’re in even more luck. Try it, use the Google, experiment. In college I was a vegetarian, so I learned how to cook Indian food pretty well. One of my roommates taught me some Chinese cooking techniques. Since coming to Texas I’ve definitely honed my Tex-Mex skills. If you have friends who might have a particular regional cuisine in their background, ask them to share!
A feast! Roast chicken with garlic and rosemary under the skin, roasted brussels sprouts and asparagus, and potatoes. Best of all, all of this was grown local to Montreal, where I cooked and ate it.
five: stay local. Buy local food as much as possible. Good for the planet, and good for you. Eating foods that are in season are fun, because they tend to have better flavor and you can feel that whole progressive, one-with-the-earth thing while you eat. On this end I’d also suggest go organic as much as possible. The New York Times had a piece on the five first ways to go organic: milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup, apples. Their reasons are interesting and focus on pesticide use and health. Admittedly, I buy organic ketchup, though it’s more to avoid the high fructose corn syrup in the regular stuff.
Find a farmer’s market. It’s getting to be that time of year. Get to know the farmers! My Mom’s been such a diligent patron of one farmer he now sets aside the good tomatoes for her. Mmm, Mom likes those good tomatoes. Look for a local food co-op or farmer’s co-op in your area, and consider splitting a monthly box of veggies with a friend. OrangeClouds115 is probably the best person to ask about that stuff, as food issues are her thing.
So, my culinary friends, what would you add to this list? What are your kitchen must-haves? Got any great recipes to share? This may not be a troll diary (hide diary?) but post ‘em anyways. I’ll post a few more pictures of stuff I’ve cooked if I can dig ‘em up, too.
Ooh, perfect timing, my frozen organic burrito is ready now, too. (Amy’s Southwestern flavor. I recommend it.)
Kossacks Under 35 is a weekly diary series designed to create a community within DailyKos that focuses on young people. Our overall goals are to work on increasing young voters' Democratic majority, and to raise awareness about issues that particularly affect young people, with a potential eye to policy solutions. Kossacks of all ages are welcome to participate (and do!), but the overall framework of each diary will likely be on or from a younger person's perspective. If you would like more information or want to contribute a diary, please email kath25 at kossacksunder35 (at) gmail dot com