Mar 24 2008

The Bachelor’s Guide to Brilliant Cooking: How to Go from Microwave Dinners to Quick and Easy Restaurant-Quality Meals Every Night

Published by at 3:08 am under College,Cooking,Dining

gordon ramsay hells kitchen The Bachelor’s Guide to Brilliant Cooking: How to Go from Microwave Dinners to Quick and Easy Restaurant Quality Meals Every Night

By THEBOSTONBACHELOR.COM / March 24, 2008

It was my senior year of college, and I had had enough. If I ate another Stouffer’s microwave dinner, Pop Tart, or cup of ramen noodles, I would have disintegrated into a mound of MSG, sorbitol, and Yellow 6. So that Fall I made a decision. I would learn how to cook.

Of course, being the stubborn person that I was, I learned not through courses at your local community college or cookbooks, but through hundreds of nights standing over the stove. What follows are some of the most important lessons I discovered during this 4 year odyssey of trial-and-error.

The goal here is to provide concepts, rather than individual recipe. I will also mainly focus on stovetop cooking (i.e. pan-frying, steaming, boiling) as opposed to baking (never had the patience for it) or other means. So if you’re the type of person who’s burned off his eyebrows on more than one occasion trying to make a simple omelet, stick to the microwave, you clumsy bastard.


THE 5 BIGGEST REASONS WHY YOUR COOKING BLOWS:

  • Overcooking: Yes, I’m concerned about e. coli just as you are, but that doesn’t mean you need to go Fallujah on the damn meal. The biggest victim of overcooking is usually chicken breast or fish.
  • Improper Heat Levels: Preheat not only when using the oven or broiler, but when using the stovetop as well. This is crucial if you plan on searing any kind of meat. I’ve also noticed that people tend to set the burner too low for meats and too high for vegetables, soups, and other side dishes. I prefer to set the burner to medium-high when searing any kind of meat, whereas soups and vegetables really don’t need to be set higher than medium-low. Use common sense and as long as you’re not burning down the house or contracting a case of salmonella poisoning, you’re golden.
  • Over-agitation: Turn the meat as FEW times as possible, especially when pan-searing chicken breast, lamb, pork, or any kind of steak. Learn to flip the meat only once during cooking. Otherwise, leave it alone. Why? If you’re constantly stirring the damn thing around, you’re never going to allow the meat to seal and develop that caramelized crust with the tender inside.
  • Inattentiveness: Yes, we’ve all done this before, but running back and forth between the kitchen and living room during commercial breaks is not going to cut it. Set aside the time you need to cook the meal, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Not Trusting Your Five Senses: There’s a reason why I usually prefer the stovetop to the oven, and it’s more than just the time savings. It’s the up-close-and-personal relationship you get with the food. I can easily see, smell, touch, taste, or even hear if the meal is coming along as it should, and adjustments can be made in a split second. Remember, egg timers, measuring cups, and recipes are nothing more than tools; use them in addition to, rather than as a substitute for developing a chef’s intuition.


GENERAL TIPS:

  • The 3 biggest ways restaurants make their food taste better: more butter, more cheese, more butter, and more salt. Any asshole can learn how to add a quarter stick of melted butter to a dish and make it taste better. But for the sake of your health, learn how to cook without using all those artery-clogging cheap little fixes.
  • Know thy oven. Each oven is a unique creature, so adjust cooking times accordingly instead of blindly following the recommendations on the back of the DiGiorno’s box.
  • Invest a quality stainless steel cookware set. Teflon tends to break down at high heat and reportedly contains carcinogens (I’ll let you do the research and come to your own conclusions). For the price, Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty decent 9 piece stainless steel cookware set. You may also want to pick up a cast iron frying pan than can be used both on the stove and in the oven.
  • Watch out for weevils and moths in your pantry and dry starch goods.
  • Don’t cut, stab, or poke holes in the meat while it’s cooking, unless you want it to dry out prematurely.
  • Grilled-cheese sandwich makers and calzone makers can be worthwhile investments for those lazy Sunday afternoons.
  • Trader Joe’s is your friend. Not only are most of its products’ healthier than the typical supermarket selection, they’re also cheaper and taste noticeably better. The Trader Joe’s brand also shares the same supplier as many Whole Foods’ brands—but at much more reasonable prices. Plus, you don’t have to deal with all those Whole Foods snobs (anyone who’s been to a major metropolitan area Whole Foods knows what I’m talking about).
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is one of the greatest foods known to man. Never buy lite olive oil, olive oil, or any of that cooking spray crap. Look for cold-pressed or first-pressed EVOO in glass or metal containers only (plastic containers react with the oil). Like wine, EVOO tastes different per region, so find a brand you like. However, the hardest thing to determine about EVOO is the veracity of its origin and even content, as past international scandals have indicated. Spanish and Greek EVOO may be a more authentic bet than Italian EVOO. If you can afford it, go for estate bottled EVOO. As for my personal picks, I’ve yet to find a favorite, but Bertolli is probably the worst I’ve tasted.
  • It’s ok to wear your girlfriend’s apron to avoid being splattered by grease, but expect to be publicly ridiculed for it.


PASTA:

  • Go for a quality brand made from 100% durum wheat semolina. No egg noodles. Barilla typically gets the most recommendations from pasta aficionados, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of the brand. I’ve found that Barilla and De Cecco have a short life-span; I’ve opened boxes a few months old to find live larva or larva exoskeletons inside. Instead, I prefer San Giorgio or Trader Joe’s pasta.
  • DO NOT skimp out on the sauce. Chances are, if your pasta dish sucks, it’s because of the sauce more than anything else. If you buy your sauce at the supermarket, avoid brands like Ragu, Prego, Classico, Francesco Rinaldi (sorry V), or Stop & Shop (though their homemade canned soup is actually a hidden gem). The only quality mass-market brands of red sauce are Victoria (the marinara in particular) and the Trader Giotto’s (Joe’s) line (look for the ones made from “imported Italian plum tomatoes”—my personal pick is the Bolognese). Finally, Trader Joe’s used to make a brilliant sun-dried tomato pesto sauce before it mysteriously vanished from shelves a year ago; if you know where I can find the original supplier or similar brand, I’ll add you to my Christmas e-card list.
  • Make sure you use plenty of water when boiling pasta; I cannot stress this enough. Add salt to the boiling water BEFORE you add the pasta. The salt will help the pasta retain moisture.
  • After the pasta is cooked, do not cold rinse the pasta unless you plan on using it in a pasta salad. Keeping the pasta warm after draining will make any sauce or olive oil stick much better to the pasta.
  • Before combining the pasta with the sauce, add some flavor to the pasta using garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. Heat up some EVOO in a pot, add some garlic, some crushed red pepper flakes (if you like a little spice), then add the pasta once the garlic begins to brown. Stir/toss the pasta and coat evenly, then add the sauce, coat evenly once again, and remove from heat.


CHICKEN:

  • You don’t have to come up with some brilliant marinade to make chicken flavorful. Some of the best chicken I’ve had was seasoned simply with extra virgin olive oil, pepper, and salt. This being said, those three condiments should be the minimum used when prepping the chicken.
  • Pan-seared chicken breast is one of the simplest things to do, though it took me a few years to figure this out. Add some EVOO to the pan, preheat to about medium-high heat, and then add the prepped chicken. Leave the chicken alone. No touch. When the raw meat becomes cooked halfway through (you’ll see this with your eyes as pink turns into white), flip it over. The side that was face-down should be nicely seared. Leave the chicken alone again. When the juices run clear and both sides of the chicken breast look just as nice, you’re done. Remove from heat and cover, letting it rest a minute or so before serving.


FISH:

  • The fresher the catch, the less “fishy” it smells. (Insert joke about the blind man walking past the fish market here.)
  • Plan on preparing it the same day you buy it, or the next day at the latest.
  • The key to making good salmon lies in keeping it moist and preventing it from drying out. If pan-frying, adding a little additional butter or extra-virgin olive oil during the cooking process can help accomplish this.


STEAK:

  • When possible, let the meat reach room temperature before cooking.
  • Use a dry rub prior to cooking. This usually consists of some EVOO, black ground pepper, (garlic) salt, and whatever else you prefer. For rib eye I highly recommend Emeril’s Essence. I’d stay away from dry herbs such as parsley leaves, which can easily burn in the searing process.
  • Pretty much the same course of action as searing chicken breast, ‘cept this time you halt the cooking according to your desired level of doneness.


VEGETABLES:

  • Rinse in cold running water first.
  • Vegetables should be pretty impossible to fuck up, as you can get away with overcooking them much more than you can with overcooking meat. They’re also much more versatile and can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted, etc. The only vegetable that proves to be a bitch from time-to-time is asparagus. If you don’t cut off the stiff stems or overcook them, asparagus can turn out to be a chewy mess. On a side note, a little balsamic vinegar goes well with asparagus.


RICE:

  • Save yourself a giant fuckin’ hassle and get a rice cooker. Trust me. Who’s the Asian one, you or me? Now if I can only find an Irish reader to add a section on potatoes to this article…

 

Your politically correct neighbor,

-The Boston Bachelor

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “The Bachelor’s Guide to Brilliant Cooking: How to Go from Microwave Dinners to Quick and Easy Restaurant-Quality Meals Every Night”

  1. Von 25 Mar 2008 at 8:03 am

    Kid,

    I eat Francesco Rinaldi by the jar.

  2. The Boston Bacheloron 25 Mar 2008 at 9:49 am

    Different strokes for different folks.

  3. Von 25 Mar 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Kid,

    You have any thoughts on what the Grassfields teriyaki sauce consists of? We should offer a prize for anyone that can do it. I’ll personally arrange a date with the Boston Bachelor himself for any girl that can successfully replicate that sauce.

    ~Jimmy’s Steer House

  4. The Boston Bacheloron 25 Mar 2008 at 11:21 pm

    What you should have asked was, “You have any thoughts on what meaning of life consists of?”

    I wouldn’t be surprised to walk into the Grassfield’s kitchen one day and see an ankle-shackled Morimoto behind the grill.

  5. Matton 26 Mar 2008 at 8:58 am

    What I need is the recipe for the rice.

    My theory is that it is equal parts rice and butter, with a spackling of spinach. Either way, it definitly is the most unhealthy rice dish ever.

    I think we need to start a dialogue on the quality of Bill Grassfields, Vemis, and Roy desserts. I mean the Egg Nog pie and the Cookie Monster were first rate. And I know V and Griff had an ice cream dessert that had candied walnuts or some shit in it. First rate.

    I say we should show up at Grassfields this Friday, park at the mafia table from 6:30pm to close, and plan on ordering multiple aps, entrees, and desserts while the waitstaff stares at us horrified. It would be like the time Griff and I ordered the Italian family platter and a large pizza at a restaurant we have never returned to since. Our waiter had a look of fear on his face, that i’m convinced was caused by his internal monologue: “I wonder if I could perform a traecheotomy with a salad fork”

  6. Von 27 Mar 2008 at 12:02 pm

    We’ve had some brilliant deserts over the years. The worst desert I’ve ever had at a restaurant was that peanut butter pie disaster at TGI Fridays. It was a small lukewarm slice of mush with a spattering of dry Nestle’s Quick powder. I can’t recall a more poorly executed dish.

    I still like their ribs.

  7. Matton 27 Mar 2008 at 1:48 pm

    The Nestle Quick powdered topping was an anti-delight. But the question is, was it a worse dessert than the Flan at Louisiana Grill (aka Jambalayas)?

    The weekend sports pool seems to have stagnated. I’ll check the VIP board for comments…

    Did anyone see that article this week about Rajon Rondo being a roller skating enthusiast? It was a classic over serious article with lines like this one from Ainge:

    “I did research and I did come to conclusion that he is a fantastic roller skater and he does it in his spare time”

    What kind of research could he have possibly done? How did he find the time, doesn’t he run an NBA franchise? I need details on this.

    I personally think this should be a weekly column; “Hobbies of the Boston Celtics”. Every week they could highlight a new player. Just imagine if they had this article ten years ago? We could have found out that Vin Baker likes to pound shots in his spare time and that Mark Blount enjoyed listening to people mispronounce his Christian name. I’m waiting with baited breath for the article where we find out that Brian Scalabrine is into scrapbooking, or that Sam Casell enjoys winning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle lookalike contests.

  8. The Boston Bacheloron 27 Mar 2008 at 2:06 pm

    That last bit on Cassell had me on the floor. Any chance of a TheTwilightAge.com popping up soon?

    And regarding that Italian restaurant incident, are you referring to the time when the entire kitchen staff walked out to see who would actually order a large pizza in addition to their main entree?

  9. Matton 27 Mar 2008 at 2:18 pm

    That would be the time. And you know what, Griff and I really should have just eaten the whole pizza and made them all look like dicks. As it happened, we boxed up the pizza and ate it 45 minutes later on the couch in my room (aka. “The Club”).

    I don’t have the time for twilightage.com. I’m already spending 30 – 40 minutes of every 8 hour workday on thebostonbachelor.com. If I keep this up, my boss will stop congratulating me on a job well done with the occasional fist pump. You know you’ve really made it in the world when the highlight of your day is a 56 year old man touching his fist to yours.

    What do you think would be the reaction of V’s dad if the next time I walked into the house I started executing some sort of complicated urban handshake with him? He’d either throw his arm around me and invite me into the kitchen for some Spanikopida, or he’d stuff me into one of the squirrel traps. There’d be no middle ground.

    Ron may I request that you write a detailed review of Grassfields North, Grassfields South, and Jimmy’s House of Steer? You could even collaborate with V, the Salieri of Teriyaki.

  10. dadshouseon 28 Mar 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Always nice to find another guy who actually cooks. I’m not a big fan of jar sauce – making it from scratch is pretty easy. A basic sauce starts with olive oil, garlic, tomato, basil, and salt…

    As for asparagus – it’s great on the grill. Break off the bottom of the asparagus wherever it wants to break. Marinate it in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. It grills in about 5 minutes – turn it once or twice. Grate some parmesan cheese over it for the last minute of cooking to melt the cheese.

  11. The Boston Bacheloron 28 Mar 2008 at 3:35 pm

    dadshouse-

    Never tried asparagus with parma, I’ll give it a try.

    Roy-

    I already wrote a review of Grassfield’s South on Yelp sometime last year (http://www.yelp.com/biz/grassfields-food-and-spirit-waltham), but I agree that a full feature comparison of the 2 Grassfield’s and Jimmy’s Steer House (aka The Third Place) is in order. It could be the first BGV&RL collaboration.

    BTW, I think the technical term for that kind of fist pump is “the rock.” Can’t remember where I learned this, but there’s a good chance it may have been from Danny Ainge. Any chance I can get a framed poster of Roy giving his supervisor the rock with the caption “That Was Easy” printed under it?

  12. Tigresson 08 Apr 2008 at 1:48 pm

    This was an excellent post! ^5

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