by Jolene Adams
Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day. Busy evening schedules and long commutes to and from work leave little time to cook. There are days when making dinner just seems impossible and ordering take-out or grabbing fast food feels like the only option. But it’s not. Cooking meals at home on a regular basis shouldn’t be intimidating. It shouldn’t seem like a chore, and there is time to cook! Let me share some ideas with you.
First and foremost, having the necessary skills and tools to cook will help you become more efficient in the kitchen. A good knife and the right type of knife are essential. I cannot stress this enough! Having a good quality chef knife and knowing how to use it, care for and sharpen it is very important. A good, sharp knife will allow you to chop veggies with precision and break down whole chicken or large cuts of meat with ease. As a child, I did not like to eat cooked carrots. I’d get a scoop on my plate which consisted of mush (pieces cooked to death) and semi crunchy pieces. I now realize the carrots had been cut irregularly resulting in many different size pieces which caused them to cook to different levels of doneness. The small pieces were overcooked and the larger cuts were undercooked. So having a good knife and knowing how to use it can make a difference in not only the time it takes to prep the ingredients, but also in the taste and texture of the final dish. We offer a knife skills class each semester for people to get hand-on experience with different knives and to learn how to shop for, use and care for their knives.
After becoming comfortable with using a knife, the next set of skills to contribute to easy cooking is knowing some basic cooking techniques. Learning to make a soup base, knowing how to cook different cuts meat, knowing what spice combinations to use are a few to start. Many of the typical weeknight dinner foods are available for sale in some processed, ready-to-eat form. Dinners such as lasagna, beef stew, fried chicken and meatloaf can all be found either frozen or canned. These convenient foods were once very popular. Families with busy schedules could just pop a frozen lasagna in the oven and voila, and hour later, dinner is done. As concern for additives and preservatives found in many processed frozen foods continues to grow, people are looking to new ways to conveniently make dinner. The latest trend, home delivery meal kits, is growing in popularity. Why wouldn’t they? They seem like the perfect solution, fresh ingredients delivered right to your doorstep, perfectly portioned with detailed instructions on how to prepare. I personally have not tried them, but a good friend just did. Overall she was pleased with the price, the recipes and the outcome. Her only complaint was that the spices were not individually labeled; instead there was just a packet labeled “seasoning” to add to the dish while cooking. So even if she wanted to cook the dish again on her own, it would be impossible not knowing what spices and amount of each to use. So the concept of meal kits is a good one, but I think there’s a better option: learning to cook a few classic recipes, not from a recipe card, but from learning the techniques to braise a roast, make a batter and fry foods, make sauces for pasta, start a soup base and add leftover ingredients to make a unique soup. This fall we start a new series of classes called Master This. They focus on the art of mastering traditional recipes and a great hands-on approach to learning essential cooking skills that will hopefully provide you with the confidence to start cooking more.
Another easy way to cook in the kitchen is sheet pan cooking. This latest trend is a great way to not only conveniently cook an entire meal, but it makes clean up a breeze. The concept is somewhat like a casserole where all of the components of a meal – the meat, veggies and sauce – cook together in one dish. But unlike a casserole, sheet pan meals aren’t bound to a sauce acting as the base to hold the dish together. They can consist of many combinations of meat, starches, vegetables and spices to create a wide variety of easy meals. Although it is easy cooking, some basic knowledge of flavors and cooking techniques is still needed. There are plenty of recipes to be found online to try out this easy cooking style. With the popularity of sheet pan meals growing, we are working on including a sheet pan cooking class for the spring semester.
Cooking is only half the equation. Let’s not forget that grocery shopping is needed in order to have everything on hand to cook at home. Thankfully this chore is becoming easier and more convenient. Several grocery stores are launching online shopping options. Orders can be placed online and scheduled for pick up at your local store. Some stores even keep a record of your purchased items in the form of a list which makes it easier to just click on an item to re-order it. This is especially handy for those staple items like bread, milk and others you always keep on hand.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out the classes we offer through Community Education and the Culinary Institute at Lincoln Land Community College. There are a number of hands-on cooking and baking classes open to the public. They are a great way to gain the necessary skills to cook like a pro. Here are a few recipes that we have featured in our classes.
Apple, Bean and Ham Casserole
Tracy Stout, LLCC Adjunct Instructor
1 pound boneless ham
3 cans northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion diced
1 granny smith apple diced
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon allspice
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
Preheat oven to 350. Cut ham into 1 inch cubes. Combine everything but green onions in a 3 quart casserole, mix well. Cover and bake 45 minutes. Sprinkle with green onion before serving.
2 and ½ cups flour
On a clean smooth surface, mound the flour and make a wall in the center. Add the eggs and mix until elastic. Roll out to ¼ inch cut into strips to fit into pasta machine.
1 pound ricotta cheese
8 ounce mascarpone cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 pinches nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Lay ½ pasta sheet out. Place a teaspoon of filling at 2-inch intervals. Place the other ½ of the pasta on top. And press around the filling with your finger. Cut the ravioli out.
Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Drop in ravioli, leaving plenty of room for pasta to move around. Cook 5-7 minutes or until tender.
Osso Buco Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup celery diced
½ cup carrot diced
½ cup onion diced
1 pound beef bones
1 cup white wine
1 tomato peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups chicken stock
In a wide, heavy casserole with a snug-fitting lid, over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the celery, carrots and onion, and cook until golden,
About 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beef bones and cook until brown. Add wine, when the wine evaporates, add the tomato and chicken stock and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add pepper and salt to taste.
Serve over pasta garnish with orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary and garlic.
Top with Parmesan cheese.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org