In some cases though, the more ingredients you have in a dish, the bigger it is. When you’re living on your own, do you really want five days worth of the same meal? I sure don’t.
So it’s with a little sheepishness that I have to admit for the first month on my own I did not eat well. It mostly consisted of Kraft Dinner, frozen entrees, and larger meals that ended up in the compost when I couldn’t face them anymore.
I’ve mentioned before I went to culinary school about five years ago, but the thing about the school is you learn big batch cooking first - as in feeding 100 or more. I didn’t make it to the second year, which was a smaller restaurant type setting. Even in a small restaurant though, you are preparing meals for 20 to 50 people an evening.
I wrote a few weeks ago about hacking a recipe down to suit your lifestyle. There’s another part though that is also important. Simplicity.
Sometimes it doesn’t involve cooking at all. Cheese and crackers, almonds, carrot sticks and a small bowl blueberries can be divine on their own. It hits all the right food group, and can be easily substituted with your favourite fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Simplicity is also about quality. For a meal of mostly raw foods, they need to be ingredients you would enjoy snacking on anyway. There’s no sense buying cheese that you only like melted or nuts that have a strange chemical after taste. Both of which I have done and learned from.
When cooking involves simplicity, it requires vigilance. A properly cooked piece of chicken can be perfect on its own. An overcooked piece of chicken can be drowned in sauces, side dishes and casseroles. Those all add ingredients to your meal however, making it bigger overall. Your chicken is still mediocre, and you are more likely to throw the whole dish away. To borrow another expression, when you hide a badly cooked ingredient in good ingredients, you are throwing good food after bad. It is better to cook the piece of chicken well the first time. The same goes for all meats and vegetables as well.
It seems like an obvious rule, but it is probably the one most neglected. In the rush for a perfect meal, the meat stays in the oven too long and becomes leathery. The vegetables in the steamer aren’t poked soon enough, and end up mushy.
There are ways to overcome those challenges though. The first is to slow down. Your kitchen is your sanctuary after all. Stressing over the perfect cooking time is counterproductive.
The second is preparation. If you are distracted by cutting an onion, and the inevitable hunt for a tissue for your running eyes, you will miss the cues for when to take your food off the heat.
The third is an instant-read thermometre. There are many methods I have heard to use for telling if a piece of meat is done. None can beat the thermometre. Learn the temperatures to take meat out at, and you will rarely be off.
A note of caution though: food safety guidelines tell you to cook pieces of meat to a certain temperature for safety. They don’t talk about carryover cooking however. Depending on the size of your cut, it can increase in temperature anywhere from five to 15 degrees Fahrenheit as you let the meat rest. Keep that in mind as you are cooking, and take the food off the heat a little early.
Perfection sounds like something to stress over, but it really isn’t. Perfection is about enjoying the food, and being satisfied after the meal is over. Even if it isn’t every day, a few perfect meals a week is fine with me.