by Nancy Sweet, director, culinary programs and operations
It’s a new year and often times that means new resolutions. Lose weight, improve finances and be a better you! But sticking to those resolutions is certainly tough. Some studies have shown that a third of resolutions are already forgotten by the end of January.
However, one resolution that I think can be a little easier to get behind is cooking from scratch at home. It saves money as compared to going out to eat and is usually healthier too. Plus, the rewards are pretty instant with a nice meal on the table for family or friends.
I know there are many, many books, magazines, blogs and websites out there about quick, easy cooking. Videos on Facebook with the help of good editing show the latest cooking “hack.”
Yes, some days just getting a hot meal on the table during a hectic week feels like an incredible success. But sometimes, it feels really great to take the time to do things the long way.
A fun cooking resolution can be to get back to basics. Really think about the hows and whys of the recipe. Don’t use shortcuts. Hone different techniques you may not feel comfortable with. Learn why technique really matters, such as how you stir your eggs for an omelet (faster stirring equals smaller egg curds) and that yes, a higher oven temperature to roast the perfect chicken is absolutely necessary. With this arsenal of just a few basic recipes that really wow, you can feel like you have not just the confidence but also the competence to take on new, even more involved cooking.
There are a few recipes that I think everyone should know how to make well from scratch. These include an airy omelet, a perfect Caesar salad, rich cheesy macaroni and cheese, silky mashed potatoes, a beautiful roast chicken, chewy chocolate chip cookies, and a good cobbler are just a few basics to get you started. Master those and move on to quiche, chicken and dumplings, braised short ribs, scones and yeast breads. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to cook anything!
Below are a few of my favorites.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced capers
1 tablespoon minced anchovies
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup + ½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese, divided
1 cup croutons, homemade ideally
1 large head Romaine lettuce washed, outer junky leaves removed, and cut up to fairly equal bite-sized pieces
Combine garlic, capers, anchovies, mayo, mustard and lemon juice in bowl with a whisk. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with some freshly cracked black pepper.
Taste for balance – if it seems a tad “zingy,” that’s OK because the Parmesan cheese will balance it. If it seems very zingy, add a little more olive oil. If it seems a little flat, add a little more mustard or lemon juice. Once it seems pretty close to right, add ½ cup of Parmesan cheese (saving the remaining ½ cup to finish the plated salad with).
To assemble salad, add Romaine to a large mixing bowl. Mix in 3 – 4 tablespoons dressing and mix thoroughly. Taste a leaf of lettuce to determine if it has enough dressing. If not, add more and toss again. Make sure it is well coated so that the croutons can soak up some of the dressing but do not overdress it as that makes the salad soggy and limp. Start with less dressing and toss very well; you can always add more. Add croutons and do a final toss. Plate salads and serves with remaining cheese.
Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Bon Appetit
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
¼ ounce Parmesan, finely grated (about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more
8 ounces cavatappi or other short curly pasta
2 ½ cups whole milk
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Fontina cheese, grated
1 cup Gruyère or Swiss cheese, grated
1 cup sharp white cheddar, grated
½ teaspoon English mustard powder (such as Colman’s)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko and cook, stirring, until crumbs are golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and toss with Parmesan and ¼ tsp. salt.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (the noodles will continue to cook in the cheese sauce, so take them out a minute or two before you think they’re actually done.) Drain pasta; let cool while you make the sauce.
Bring milk to a bare simmer in a small saucepan; keep warm. Melt remaining 2 Tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to stick to bottom of saucepan, about 1 minute. Add warm milk in a few additions, whisking to combine after each addition.
Bring béchamel (milk and onion sauce)sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring, until sauce is thickened and doesn’t feel grainy when a little bit is rubbed between your fingers, about 6–8 minutes (cooking the flour thoroughly at this stage ensures a creamy sauce.) Add Fontina, Gruyère/Swiss, cheddar, mustard powder, cayenne and ¾ tsp. salt and stir until cheeses are melted and sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and mix in pasta; transfer to a 2-qt. baking dish.
Bake 10 minutes. Top with Parmesan breadcrumbs and bake until sauce is bubbling around the edges, 8–10 minutes longer. Let cool in pan 15 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 – 6
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook
1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
5 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove the chicken giblets and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again generously with salt and pepper.
Place the onions, carrots and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.
An alternative to Roast Chicken: The purpose of the onions and carrots is for the chicken to sit on top of them to allow better air circulation for more even roasting and browning. If you wanted to try something different, take two piece of bread and place them on the bottom of your pan and place the chicken on top of those. You can use regular loaf bread or cut a couple thick slices from a baguette. When the chicken is done, the bread slices have turned into the most delicious croutons that have sopped up all the chicken juices during roasting.
From Tracy Stout
Chef Instructor at Lincoln Land Community College Culinary Program
1 cup plus ¼ c flour, divided
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup milk
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cup raspberries
2 cup blueberries
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, baking powder and cinnamon.
In a small bowl combine egg, milk and canola oil. Whisk together until completely blended. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spread over the bottom of an 8 inch by 4 inch pan.
In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup flour and salt. Next add in raspberries and blueberries (fresh or frozen will work) and lemon juice. Stir to completely and evenly coat the raspberries and blueberries with the sugar-flour.
Evenly distribute the raspberries and blueberries over batter. Bake in oven for 25 minutes and top is golden brown. Top with ice cream or frozen yogurt if desired.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts