The Gleeful Gourmand: Shortcuts in the Kitchen - Or, How Chopping Garlic Changed my Life

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shortcuts in the Kitchen - Or, How Chopping Garlic Changed my Life

The first thing I think of when it comes to shortcuts in the kitchen is Sandra Lee. If you’ve ever caught her show, you pretty much know her shtick: Her food is “semi-homemade” which means she uses about 70% packaged products, and 30% fresh products in her dishes. I tried to like Lee at first, but her dishes turned out to be idiotically simple, and not very appealing (If you want to laugh and be horrified all at the same time, see this video of her making a Kwanzaa Cake). Plus, she spends an inordinate amount of time each show making cocktails and working on her tablescapes. Now, if you’re actually someone who enjoys her, I say good for you! I wouldn’t go as far as Anthony Bourdain and call her the spawn of Satan, but she just doesn’t float my boat.

On the other hand, I completely understand the draw to Lee’s show. If you’re a working mom, or a mom with a gaggle of kids, or maybe someone just starting out in the kitchen and you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, her types of dishes can be a real lifesaver. Lord knows when I started out cooking in our married kitchen I was far from awesome at it. I grew up with a mom who really knew how to cook, and I learned a tremendous amount from her. But during my single days when I was working and living with a roommate, it was so much easier to pop a Healthy Choice meal in the microwave than to cook for myself. I didn’t see the merit in it at all.

Then I married a man who actually knew how to cook quite well, though as he tells it, most nights on his own he was eating some salmon over a bowl of rice, or sardines over rice. Gah. To my amazement, he actually knew how to use fresh garlic, not the stuff that already came pre-chopped in the glass jar, which is what my mother used as one of her shortcuts. Get ready to laugh: I thought dicing garlic cloves was the most intimidating thing ever. In fact, well into that first year of making meals I went out of my way to use the stuff in the jar; even if a perfectly fresh good garlic bulb was sitting right there in my kitchen.

Well, eventually I bit the bullet and learned how to use fresh garlic. And as ludicrous as it sounds, learning to do that was the catalyst to my becoming more adventurous in the kitchen, and trying more and more difficult recipes. It was simply the act of doing it once or twice that made me stand back and wonder what in the world I was afraid of in the first place.

I started looking at other areas where I used shortcuts and began to re-examine, like Parmesan cheese. Now, I knew that Parmesan cheese of course did not really belong in a green can, but it was so efficient to just pop the lid and shake. And then one day I bought a real wedge of Parmesan. It rocked my world. Grating it myself into fluffy, airy mounds of salty goodness while stealing slivers to snack on was suddenly so worth it. The green can went in the trash for good, and I’ve never looked back – especially when I realized that one good wedge could last me two and a half weeks, and at the end I could throw the rind into a soup or sauce for extra flavor.

Another dish I no longer cut corners on is garlic bread. Out with the frozen, butter-slathered mess that I was used to. Once I realized how ridiculously simple it was to make your own (I use the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for Herb Garlic Bread), there was no looking back. One good loaf of crusty bread, some herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and it only takes 10 minutes start to finish. Literally. In my opinion, it just tastes better.

The same goes for salad dressings and vinaigrettes, and now, spaghetti sauce. Up until this past year, I always used organic spaghetti sauce from a jar. Then I found a recipe so simple, yet so delicious that there was no contest. (The secret is the butter)

Now, lest we get carried away here and you start to think that I always make my own stock, and make my own bread, here’s where I do use shortcuts:

• I buy my bread at the store.
• I get my chicken stock from Mrs. Swanson
• Even though I make them both ways, I prefer brownie mix from a box.
• I sometimes use canned produce even when the recipe calls for fresh. But it is always organic.
• I use a special contraption to hard-boil eggs instead of in a pot. Because I’m a nerd.
• I use pre-made piecrusts. But I do want to start making my own. I’m just scared.
• I made my own baby food for all of a week. Then I promptly switched back to Gerber and didn’t feel guilty at all.

I know there are more, but I can't think of any at the moment. Do you have any time-saving shortcuts you're not willing to part with? Share them in the comments!


Tricia said...

I agree about the brownie mix. And even though I want to soak and use dried beans, I can never remember to do the soaking ahead of time, so I mostly use canned.Also, just b/c I'm lazy I sometimes buy bell pepper slices from the freezer section for using in things like chili. Btw- I'd love to hear about that Spaghetti sauce recipe.

Shauna said...

I used to be afraid of pie crusts too, but then my pie-crust making sister moved far away and someone else had to take over her Thanksgiving job; two Thanksgivings later pie crust is no problem. Martha Stewart's recipe is the best and wax paper is your friend!

Jenna said...

Tricia - I will post the spaghetti sauce recipe next! Shauna - I'm glad to know I'm not alone! After reading too many articles that talk about how temperamental it is, and how so much can go wrong, I just got really intimidated. But I'm determined!

Medifast Coupons said...

With all the available fast this and fast that, homemade is still the best, and yes only if you have the time.
One of my help in the kitchen, for me anyways, is if I know we are having potatoes tomorrow night, while I am preparing tonights dinner I will do up some potatoes and put in the fridge for tomorrow.
Just a little help for me!

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