cooking

Why I Am Cooking in Advance Now?

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Once upon a time, I learned how to cook and would prepare many meals. That was… until I got my driver’s license and was ready to drive alone. I would eat out more, whether it was takeout, delivery, or dine-in.

Then in March, the world went on lockdown. I could no longer go out to restaurants, except to get takeout. Once the times when restaurants could re-open their dining rooms drew nearer, I started getting takeout a little more. Then when I could finally dine out again, I went crazy. I was so happy that I could finally enjoy my favorite places and commercial foods again.

But then I gained weight and felt kind of sluggish and unwell. My mom even got tired of me eating out so much. It had become a daily routine for me.

Then I discovered that my interests have changed since graduating college. Despite earning a BFA in studio art (big mistake!), I now am more passionate about writing. That being said, I still like doing art—I’d just rather keep it as a hobby.

Anyway, I want to get an online certificate in communications. I promised my mom that I would contribute to part of the tuition. That meant I had to cut down on eating out, not just for my health, but also for money purposes. So, that is when I started cooking more homemade food. For the first time ever, I am planning my meals in advance and cooking them ahead of time.

Guess what—it was a smart choice. Not only did I lose weight, and enough that many of my clothes got big on me within a couple of weeks, but I felt better about myself, too. My thinking and productivity sharpened, as well.

I will continue cooking in advance forever. After all, when I live on my own, I will have to watch my spending habits on unnecessary items, including commercial food.

cooking

How I Made My Gnocchi Healthier

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I love gnocchi! I used to order it a lot in restaurants, if they had it, before I developed a tomato allergy. 

For some reason, however, I couldn’t find the traditional potato kind at my local grocery store. So, I made it from scratch, which I have done several times before. But this one differed. 

How, you might ask? I added chopped broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs to the dough, as well as protein powder. Regardless of those ingredients, I didn’t use whole wheat flour. I stuck with all-purpose flour. To be honest, I never really liked wheat flour.

Anyway, another perk is that I know what went in the gnocchi since I prepared it from scratch. I also tried cooking it in my pepper marinara sauce (obviously without tomatoes), something I learned from my mom. But I needed to add more water since the dough wasn’t cooking right. Nevertheless, it came out delicious. 

All you need are 2 pounds of potatoes, 1 ½ cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 slightly beaten egg. I cut my potatoes and boil them. Then I puree them in a food processor. I mix the egg with that, too. In a separate bowl or Ziploc bag, I mix the flour and salt. I also added the vegetables, herbs, and protein powder to the dry ingredients. 

I blend the wet and dry stuff together before I roll out the dough, cut small pieces, and boil them. Next time, though, I will stick to the convention way by boiling them in water and letting them ascend to the top.

cooking

How to Cook for Private Events Without Making Yourself Crazy

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I have been cooking for many years, ever since I was 12. I first discovered how much I enjoyed it when taking home economics in 7th grade.

Recent years, I have been cooking for many of my private events, such as birthdays. But the reason isn’t for health or money—it’s because I have a few friends with dietary restrictions. One who has come a lot is allergic to nuts and intolerant of soy. So, I have usually cooked the food from scratch, both the dinners and desserts.

I am turning 27 on the 22nd of this month. Because my friend with the nut allergy didn’t come, I could order a cake as well as dinner. I did cook a pasta dish with garlic and oil for another friend, who is voluntarily vegetarian, although we ended up not serving it. 

But last year, for my birthday, I cooked all day for the party. I did not even get a chance to eat lunch. So, for my birthday party next year, I will cook only one thing: a pasta dish. I will also serve premade bread and butter along with salad. If the friend with the nut allergy comes, I will make the cake, filling  and frosting from scratch. Or I will make a pull-apart cupcake cake.

The lesson I learned is less can be more for food at parties. Although my parents are health freaks, and my dad has enforced protein at every meal, especially when I was younger, I can rebel against that for events. I would gladly order pizza, but I am allergic to tomatoes. I developed the allergy in 2017, right after graduating from college.

Anyway, if possible, cook only a little bit or not at all. If you have to cook, then pick up to a few items that are not super involved. It’s not the end of the world if you have a guest with a dietary restriction and you need to accommodate him or her. If their food intolerance or allergy isn’t too severe, then it’s okay to serve something with the ingredient they can’t have as long as you tell them. 

I hope this helps.

cooking

Mmm… Meaty Marinara Without Tomato

Before I became allergic to tomatoes, I really enjoyed Pizza Hut’s meaty marinara. However, since then, I had to make my own versions of my favorite foods that normally contain tomatoes, except without them. Sadly, they usually don’t taste very good. Or they will only be similar at most. But even that is not satisfying.

Luckily, this one is different. Yes, the recipe calls for tomato sauce and paste. But I use canned pumpkin and puréed roasted peppers instead. I also mix apple sauce with the peppers, which gives it more of a texture like tomatoes. I even include red wine, and that improves the flavor, too.

I think what also makes this taste good is that you have to simmer the sauce for at least an hour. That gives the meat enough time to absorb the sauce and add flavor to it. After that, you mix it with the pasta, top it with shredded mozzarella, and bake it for several minutes. I don’t remember how many, though.

This isn’t something I can make regularly, however. It is time-consuming, so I don’t have the luxury of cooking this often. On the bright side, though, I think it makes the pasta more enjoyable.

I find that when I eat something frequently (not everything), I get tired of it and won’t want it for a while. I’m already beginning to feel sick of eating commercially-made food. When the world was on lockdown in the spring, I couldn’t eat out, although I could receive takeout, curbside pickup, or delivery. But now that restaurants in my area have opened up again, since early summer, I think I went crazy eating out. Now my body hasn’t felt the best. So, I am starting to cut down on the commercially-made food, but gradually, since abrupt changes do not work for me.

Anyway, one thing I am going to try is find copycat recipes of my favorite commercially-made foods. At least I will know what is in them. Hopefully, I will also feel better.

cooking

How I Make Mashed Potatoes

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Many of us love mashed potatoes, whether it’s with gravy or plain. No two versions are alike—nor are two formulas.

Because I have a short attention span and a tendency to be very impatient with food (but obviously polite), I try to get my potatoes to cook more quickly. That is because I cut them into small diced cubes and boil them.

Now why do I boil them instead of microwave them, you might ask? That’s because microwaving them tends to dry them out. Boiling them adds or retains moisture. I don’t know how, though, but it’s what I notice.

Another part of the process, which is mostly due to laziness, is leaving the peel on. That’s not a big deal. In fact, some say that potato peels are good for you. I’m not sure if that’s true.

Anyway, after the potato cubes are fully cooked and softened, I put them in the blender with salt, pepper, milk, and melted butter. Then I combine them. They come out creamy this way. Just be sure not to overmix, or else you’ll have dough-like potatoes. Unless you’re making gnocchi from scratch, I would recommend avoiding the doughy texture.

The amount of other ingredients will depend on your serving size and taste preferences. That is the beauty of savory cooking—there isn’t always a fixed formula.

cooking

My Experience with Cooking Seafood

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I love seafood, both fish and shellfish. Now these days, though, I prefer shellfish more, not just because of the taste and textures, but also that they’re quicker to make.

Sometimes, you can have lobsters steamed in the grocery store. However, that varies. Sometimes, you can buy just the tail. Other times, you have to pick something else.

That’s the thing with seafood. Its availability is not always consistent, especially if it’s fresh. I suggest buying the wild-caught kinds as farm-raised seafood can have some issues about them. I’ll stop there with that.

Anyway, there are a lot of ways you can cook seafood. The sky is pretty much the limit. With certain shellfish, though, it’s best to steam them. Those include lobster and shrimp. You can boil them, but then they lose their flavor. Maybe that also removes their nutritional value.

I learned to steam them after boiling them for a while. Guess what? They tasted better—way better. I like to have butter with my lobster and garlic seasoning on my shrimp.

Regardless of all this, some people can’t eat seafood, whether they’re allergic or for other reasons. But it’s rare that I’m in situations like that.

I will admit that driving has spoiled me a bit and made me too lazy too cook at times. Instead, I’m getting takeout. However, I want to change that—at least slightly.

My family has been kind of strict with protein at every meal, certainly when I was a kid. Now they’re more laid back. Yet, because of that guideline from the past, I’ve kind of developed that rule as a routine. If I don’t want meat or poultry, I get seafood.

cooking

A Trick to Crispy French Fries

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Most of us love French fries, even though too much of them aren’t healthy. Technically, that applies to everything, including food that is good for us. But that’s a different topic.

Anyway, many recipes will tell you to soak your fries for some time before you put them in the hot oil. I supposed that’s a good trick. However, here is the technique I use. It is far quicker and maybe even better. That is…to microwave your potato strips until they are soft enough to poke something all the way through them.

You could boil them, too. But then you have to wait for the water to heat up. Anyway, what I do is cut the potatoes into strips, microwave them till they’re soft (I can’t remember the number of minutes at the top of my head now), heat the oil in a pot or deep pan, put the potatoes in them, and cook them till I like them.

Did you notice that I omitted the peeling stage? You can still peel the skin off, as that’s conventional for making fries. However, I’m too lazy to do that. So, I keep the skin on. Believe it or not, the skin is actually kind of good for you. Or it’s, at least, tolerable.

Another thing to know is that if you use steel pans or pots, you need to heat the object first before you put in the fat, like oil. Then the base has to get hotter, too. Otherwise, your food will stick and cleaning up will be a pain in the butt.

So, there you have it. Does this sound like a good way to make French fries?

cooking

Making Mac and Cheese Without Following a Recipe

Yeah, you read that right. You probably would look at me like I had four heads. But I assure you that this is correct.

It’s no easy task making a meal without a recipe. However, the reason I did that was because I couldn’t find the recipe anymore. Thankfully, though, I’ve used that one enough that I had it pretty much memorized.

That being said, I made a lot of the mac and cheese—perhaps too much. Without a recipe in hand, I couldn’t cut the measurements in half. So, I just had to estimate.

I probably used half a box and elbow pasta, a quarter cup of butter and flour, some salt and pepper, maybe a teaspoon of mustard powder, two cups of milk, and two 8-ounce packages of shredded cheddar cheese. After I cooked the macaroni, I mixed the other ingredients in a pot, blended it in with the pasta, topped remaining cheddar on the mac and cheese (so it doesn’t burn), and then baked it for 10 – 15 minutes. It still came out delicious.

I’ve been cooking since I was twelve. I’m now 25, and will be turning 26 in November, a couple months from now. Anyway, have you noticed that it’s easier to cook savory dishes without a fixed recipe than sweet dishes? That is because there are necessary precise chemical reactions that need to happen for the sweet food to successfully cook. With stovetop savory meals, you have more freedom.

cooking

Sneaking in Veggies… Still So Delicious

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Who disliked vegetables in their youth? Many of you? I didn’t. But I’ve always had a stronger craving for carbs and sweets. Sometimes, in recent years, I didn’t even eat enough fiber.

But then I discovered that you can sneak in vegetables into your favorite meals, including sweets. Yes, you read that right.

Now I chop vegetables pretty small and put them in pasta dishes, mac and cheese, eggs, and more. I have also tried putting beets in brownies, which can actually work. But that one didn’t turn out good.

Anyway, if you’re going to sneak in vegetables into your food, whether it’s savory or sweet, here are some tips.

1: If you find chunks distracting in some dishes (which I do), you can chop them fine. But not too much—otherwise, they make the texture of your meal grainy. For instance, if you put overly finely-chopped veggies in mac and cheese, your cheese sauce becomes rough instead of smooth. I’ve used a blender, but unless you don’t mind the change of texture to your food, I would not recommend this. Honestly, you are better off chopping them on a cutting board. I know—it’s old-school. Yet, it gives you more satisfying results (this varies).

2: If you are making a dessert, be aware that some veggies work and others don’t. For example, while beets are okay in brownies, I would recommend against putting spinach or broccoli in desserts. They don’t mix well. You can use sweet potatoes or carrots, though.

3: Depending on your tastes, you can microwave, steam, or sauté your vegetables before you add them to your favorite foods. Like them firmer? Skip this step.

So, there you have it. You can still enjoy your favorite carbs and sweets (in moderation, of course) and sneak in veggies, whether it is for you, your kids, or anybody else. They may not notice at times.

cooking

Why I Microwave My Potatoes Before Cooking Them

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Many of us enjoy potatoes in various forms: roasted, mashed, baked, fried, and so forth. We eat them at home, in restaurants, and more.

However, when you make them at home, do they take longer to cook? Are they not as soft or crunchy as commercial potatoes?

If the answer is yes, I have a trick for you: microwave them before you cook them. Okay, this obviously depends on how you cook them. If you’re baking or boiling them, then microwaving is unnecessary. But if you’re frying or roasting them, it saves you a ton of time and impatience, especially if you’re in a bit of a hurry.

When the potatoes are already soft, they cook faster. You may have crunchier fries, hash browns, or roasted potatoes. If you like scalloped potatoes, they will be softer when you put them in the oven. Say goodbye to undercooked potatoes.

So next time you make French fries for you or anyone else, consider microwaving them as you heat the oil or oven, depending how you prefer to cook them. I hope this trick works for you as it does for me. Also, if you can, try to use not-very-old potatoes. They get crystalized after some time.