Cooking Made Easy
Most people understand the link between good health and the foods they choose to consume. And, most also understand that foods prepared by them, in their homes, can be nutritionally superior to anything they purchase prepared and ready to eat. Why then are take-out sales increasing?
Time, or a perceived lack of it, tops the list. In past columns we’ve addressed how to overcome this obstacle through meal planning and reconstructing “planned overs” from today’s meal to create exciting meals tomorrow. Proper planning of meals can mean getting better food on the table in less time than take out. And, you get to control the quality!
The time issue includes comfort with preparation techniques. Try these “how to” tips to make meal preparation easier and faster. I guarantee they’ll help you produce better, faster and healthier meals than any take-out.
Always begin with a large, clean cutting board, a sharp knife and a big bowl or plastic bag for waste collection as you do your food prep. Clean up is done as you go and food prep is fast and easy.
Here’s How To…
Keep a cutting board from slipping
- Evenly dampen a clean kitchen towel.
- Place it on your counter.
- Place your cutting board on top.
- Or, get a rubberized grid style place mat and place it under the cutting board.
Keep a mixing bowl in place as you mix ingredients
- Evenly dampen a clean kitchen towel.
- Grab an opposite corner of the towel in each hand and twist tightly.
- Twist the towel into a ring, tucking the ends in.
- Place on the counter and firmly set the bowl in the center.
- Cut in half.
- Place each half, cut side down, on cutting board.
- Cut in half lengthwise so you end up with a quartered tomato.
- With a paring knife, cut away the stem and pulpy interior.
- Gently squeeze any excess juice.
- Place tomato quarters, cut side down on cutting board and slice into strips.
- Cut strips crosswise to dice.
- Save excess juice and pulp for soups and stews.
Chop round vegetables (carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, etc.)
- Use a sharp, non-serrated knife for best results.
- Wash vegetables.
- Cut in half lengthwise.
- Place cut-side on cutting board.
- Cut crosswise along length of vegetable (half moons).
- Stack four or five half moons on their sides (large, flat side on cutting board)
- Starting at straight edge of vegetable, cut stack into one quarter inch thick strips (julienne or “matchstick” cut).
- To cube, cut sticks crosswise (for even cooking, cut as evenly as you can).
- For cucumbers, after cutting in half, scrape out seeds using a teaspoon and cut in strips; cut strips crosswise to dice.
- Remember to save scraps for soups or stock.
Compensate for cooking mistakes
- Pour too much salt into your soup or stew? Peel and cut a white potato and toss it in. It acts like a salt magnet. Toss the potato out before serving your meal.
- Forget about your veggies and now they’re mushy? Turn them into soup by tossing them into the food processor or blender and hitting “puree.” Add some seasoning and you have a first course or add some bread and salad and you have dinner.
- Not able to use up that great loaf of pricey rustic bread? Make French toast. Cut it into cubes or long sticks and brush with olive oil or spread with vegan “butter” and sprinkle with your favorite herbs. Place on baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until crispy. They’re delicious! Serve cubes as croutons on salads or in soup. Use the sticks as an alternative to rolls or biscuits.
- Wash and dry herbs. For thinner, finer stems like parsley cut lower stems off. The tender upper stem is left on and chopped with leaves.
- Gather herbs in a pile on cutting board.
- Place knife over herbs with tip touching cutting board. Hold tip down with one hand to keep tip in place during cutting. Grip handle with other hand and begin chopping herbs by lifting the handle up and down quickly, using a rocking motion. Keep tip of knife on board. If herbs spread out, use the back of the knife to bring them back into a pile.
- Cut until herbs are evenly chopped.
- Note: always use the back of the knife, not the blade, when scrapping ingredients along a cutting board. Using the blade side dulls it.
Use this method often. It’s one of the healthiest ways to cook.
- Place 2 inches of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.
- While water is coming to a boil, cut vegetables (keep size uniform so they’ll cook in the same amount of time).
- Place veggies in a steamer basket or rack and place over boiling water.
- Cover pot.
- Check in two minutes for smaller pieces.
- Large chunks may take up to 15 or 20 minutes.
- Remove from pan immediately or they’ll continue to cook and get mushy
Sauté Vegetables (Pan fried)
From French word “to jump” because the food is in constant motion. This is a fast cooking method, so do all the prep before heating up the stove.
- Once all the ingredients are cut (veggies and tofu are my favorite), place a skillet over medium high heat.
- After skillet is hot, add olive oil (enough to lightly coat the bottom on pan).
- Begin adding the ingredients. If the first ingredients you add don’t sizzle, the pan isn’t hot enough. If it starts splattering and popping, the pan is too hot. Adjust heat so food just sizzles. If your oil begins to smoke, discard and start over — the oil is too hot.
- Stir constantly so that food cooks evenly. The goal is to brown the outside of the food quickly and retain the moisture inside.
- Pat ingredients dry before cooking; too much moisture will end up steaming the food.
Measure solid ingredients (peanut butter, shortening, etc.)
- Spoon into a dry measuring cup and pack firmly to remove any air bubbles.
- Use the straight side of a knife blade to level off with top of measuring cup.
- Measure sticky liquid ingredients (Brown rice syrup, molasses, etc.)
- Lightly mist dry measuring cup with oil to allow sticky liquid to pour easily.
- Place measuring cup on level countertop.
- Pour ingredient into cup.
- Read amount measured at eye level to ensure accuracy.
Similar to stewing, the vegetables come out so tender they’ll melt in your mouth. Stewing means the vegetables are covered in liquid. Braising means they’re only partially covered. Try with onions, carrots, rutabaga, fennel, leeks, beets, collards, etc.
- Cut vegetables the same size so they cook evenly — large chunks or cut in half works well (I leave greens as whole leaves).
- Season vegetables with salt and pepper and any herbs you like.
- Heat the pan over medium high heat and add olive oil. Add vegetables and quickly brown the outside (adds great color, texture and flavor to the dish).
- When browned, add enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables half way.
- Lower heat to simmer and cover pot (you may also place covered pot in the oven if the pot is oven safe). The key is slow, steady cooking. For a thicker liquid, leave the cover off so that the liquid reduces in volume.
- Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Sweet Nut Sauce
Great warm or at room temperature, this is delicious over grains or steamed vegetables.
1 cup organic apple juice
1 cup cashew nut butter
1 cup brown rice vinegar
1/3 cup Shoyu
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Serve at room temperature or heat over a low flame until warm. Store sauce in a tightly covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Silky Rasberry Vinaigrette
With just the right balance of tangy bite and sweet fruit, this sauce will bring out the best in summer salads. In winter, pour over steamed vegetables to jazz them up.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Ingredients may also be placed in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shaken vigorously. Store the dressing in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature and shake well before using.
This is one of the ultimate sauces for taste and versatility. Dip blanched vegetables in it for a snack or light lunch, toss veggies over your favorite noodle and top with this sauce for a quick, delicious dinner. Prepare it a few hours before using to allow the flavors time to blend.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup brown rice vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 inch piece fresh ginger
2/3 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1-2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Adjust peanut butter and water for desired consistency. To reduce the fat in this recipe, substitute 3 tablespoons of soft, silken tofu for an equal amount of peanut butter. This sauce will store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Michelle Hirsch lives in southern NH and teaches whole foods cooking throughout New England. She is a graduate of the world renowned Kushi Institute where she also worked developing curriculum. She can be contacted at email@example.com.