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June 22nd, 2009, 11:00
This site is almost perfect, but it's sorely lacking a thread on cooking. Perhaps role-players live on Twinkies and Pepsi?

Anyway, those of you who do like to (or have to) cook at home, care to share some tips, tricks, recipes, discoveries, bravuras, and what not?

I can start: The Baking Stone!

I got mine here [ http://www.hukka.fi/leivinkivi_en.html ] but there are plenty of alternatives; Weber is marketing one for their grills, for example, which is just about exactly the same thing.

This is basically a flat piece of soapstone that you put in the oven and heat up before baking on it. It turns a regular electric oven into something uncannily close to a wood-fired baking or pizza oven. We mostly use ours for various types of flatbread -- Arabic bread, manaqish, pizza, and so on -- but it works great for all kinds of baking. You get crispy crusts with an even bake.

Tip:

Also use a bread shovel -- otherwise you'll have to remove the stone from the oven to add or remove things you're baking, which is a hassle, not to mention you risk a burn.

Another tip -- good with or without a baking stone:

Pizza turns out best when baked in several stages. First bake the crust without any toppings until it starts to bubble. Then add the tomato sauce, and bake until it no longer looks wet. Then add everything but the cheese, and bake until it looks almost done. Then add the cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake until the cheese melts and the edges get a bit of color.

If you bake two or three pizzas at once, you can swap them in and out of the oven as you go through the stages, and all will be ready at almost the same time.
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June 22nd, 2009, 12:56
I'm totally not into cooking, but these made me at least a bit interested:

The God of Cookery (watch clip), a comedy about cooking by Stephen Chow, who also gave us movies like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.

Yakitate!! Japan, a sports anime series about baking. Seriously. This made me appreciate baking and all the various bread types. It also made my go to the nearest bakery and try out new stuff.


Anyway, thanks a lot for the pizza info. It so happens that my dad is building a little pizza house in the garden, complete with bricks, a small chimney and a clay oven inside; with blueprints he found somewhere on the Internet. He also made his own bread shovel. The whole neighborhood is totally thrilled - and several of them contributed with things like brick laying, clay and other resources. I said pizza, but it's probably also going to be used for roasted pork, homemade bread and whatnot. It's such a shame that one of my uncles doesn't live anymore, he used to be a baker.

The baking house is going to be finished in fall this year, so if anyone can offer more pizza or bread recipes, or baking tips, that will be appreciated!
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June 22nd, 2009, 13:15
Nice topic. I do a LOT of cooking, so I'll have too see what I can share in the future. I've never used my baking stone, but keep intending to do so; I just forget I have it!!
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June 22nd, 2009, 14:28
Originally Posted by Arhu View Post
The baking house is going to be finished in fall this year, so if anyone can offer more pizza or bread recipes, or baking tips, that will be appreciated!
Wow, that's awesome -- if I had the space, I would love one. :envy:

Anyone building his own baking oven has got to be a much more advanced baker than I am, so I'll hold the tips for now.
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June 22nd, 2009, 14:32
No, please. Keep sharing! He loves building stuff and he loves cooking. Most of what he knows he knows from friends and acquaintances. He's like a sponge in that regard - when he sees or eats something tasty, he needs to find out how it was done so he can repeat it at home. But he doesn't know anything about pizza baking yet. He depends on you.

Seriously, it went like this: During a midsummer party held by new residents in their garden last year he got to taste a pizza made in a small stone oven and exclaimed, "woah! I've always wanted to build an oven like that, they beat me to it!" He liked the taste, but since he's always thinking a little bigger, the next day he started fantasizing about his own baking house, which became a solid plan that was soon put into action.
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Last edited by Arhu; June 22nd, 2009 at 14:58.
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June 22nd, 2009, 15:48
I need to learn how to cook, so I am hoping this thread can become a resource for someone whose culinary skills are sorely lacking.

I uh, can make my own spaghetti sauce from scratch, but I can't make any eggs other than scrambled. :C
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June 22nd, 2009, 15:54
Okay, then.

Bread in general is dead easy. Flatbread -- like pizza -- is the easiest of all. Of course, if you want to get into sourdough and such, you can make it as complicated as you want; I've tried it with some success, but IMO it's not worth the effort -- unless you really enjoy the process, that is.

Here's how I make flatbread.

First, I take flour. I like full-grain bread, so I usually take about one part white flour, and one to three parts full-grain flour -- a mix of wheat, graham, and rye, according to the day and my humor. I usually start with about three cups flour, which makes enough dough for maybe 3-4 portion-sized pizzas, depending on how thick you make the crusts, and how big the portions are.

I add a pinch of salt -- say, one teaspoonful for three cups of flour -- and a bit of sugar -- say, a tablespoonful for three cups of flour -- and a sachet of dry yeast. I mix these together.

We recently bought a Kenwood kitchen machine, the kind that kneads dough, which makes the next bit easier (and, unfortunately, the results somewhat better).

So, in a bowl, I add warm (hand-temperature) water, with a splash of olive oil if I feel like it, and mix. With the kitchen machine, I just run it at minimum speed with the dough hook, adding the water a bit at a time, until the flour turns into a dough; then I run it at a slightly higher speed for a few minutes, adding a bit of flour if it looks too wet and refuses to detach from the bowl even after some minutes. If I don't have a machine, I use a sturdy wooden spatula and knead with that instead. As I knead it, the dough becomes "stretchy;" the machine speeds up this process greatly, and results in a crispier crust.

The dough has to be stiff enough that it detaches naturally from the sides of the bowl, but not so stiff it's hard. Moister doughs make for lighter crusts/breads.

Okay, so once the dough is stretchy enough and detaches from the sides of the bowl, I pat it into a ball, cover it with a tea towel, and put it into a warm spot for, oh, about a half-hour or so. Maybe 45 minutes. Long enough that it rises to about twice the volume anyway.

Then I take it out, knead it again a bit (by hand, usually, since I don't want to have to clean the machine all over again), cut it into pizza-sized pieces, and roll (or pat) it into pizza-sized flatbreads. Then I bake them as above.

It's all very easy and not much work at all; it takes about an hour and a bit total, including the time it takes for it to rise.

For your first crust, it's advisable to start with white semi-coarse "bread" flour -- it's easiest. Adding full-grain flour gives it more body and taste, but if you add too much, it won't develop the stretchiness, and you'll end up with something that's more like a health-food biscuit than a nice, crispy pizza crust.

There are plenty of recipes with more precise measures around; it's not a bad idea to start with one of them, either -- you'll develop a feel for it as you experiment.
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June 22nd, 2009, 16:08
Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
I need to learn how to cook, so I am hoping this thread can become a resource for someone whose culinary skills are sorely lacking.

I uh, can make my own spaghetti sauce from scratch, but I can't make any eggs other than scrambled. :C
Then start with the basics: boiling, frying, and roasting.

When you boil something, you put it in water, heat it until the water boils, and wait until it's done. This usually takes less than you expect, unless you're dealing with meat, in which case it takes longer than you expect. A soft-boiled egg takes five minutes from the time the water boils; small potatoes take about fifteen minutes; soup or stew meat takes up to three hours.

When you fry something, you take a pan, put a little oil or fat on it, heat it until it almost but not quite smokes, and then put the food on it, cooking it on both sides until done. This is usually very quick, and you shouldn't do it for things that need a long time to cook, e.g. the more interesting cuts of meat. Frying also generally works better the hotter the pan -- just be careful not to burn non-stick frying pans.

Fish cooks in about seven minutes per inch (of thickness); prime cuts of meat depend entirely on your tastes -- it can be as little as thirty seconds per side, up to about seven minutes per inch (like the fish), for well-done meat. Veggies take a couple of minutes, and are best stir-fried in a wok or a saucepan. You can also add spices to the oil or fat as it heats -- black pepper and various Indian spices work particularly well this way; herbs not so much.

When you roast something, you put it in an oven or on a grill, and let the radiated heat cook it. This usually takes a while (except prime cuts of meat, which roast about as quickly as they fry).

I like to cook whole fish in the oven: I rub some sea salt on and in the fish and splash a bit of olive oil on it, then it on the griddle, add a pan with water in it under the fish to catch the drips that will otherwise burn, stink up the place, and dirty up the oven. Then wait for about ten minutes per inch of the fish, and it's done -- stick a knife in the thickest part of the back or the side, and if it penetrates easily to the spine, it's done.

We also cook a lot of pasta; it's fast, easy, can be infinitely varied, and it's healthy (especially whole-grain pasta). For example, boil the pasta (with some salt and a splash of vinegar in the water), then drain, add black pepper, olive oil, a fresh tomato cut into small cubes, chopped fresh basil, a small clove of garlic crushed with salt and olive oil, mix all together, and grate some Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or Grana Padano cheese on top. Yum!
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June 22nd, 2009, 16:30
Thanks for the overview, PJ! I manage to muddle my way through these sorts of things, but my parents actively discouraged me from using the kitchen (because they had expensive kitchenware, was their excuse), and then I lost all access to a kitchen in college. Four years of easy mac and Ramen have left me ill-prepared to living on my own as an adult!

Thanks though for those basic tips, they'll certainly help me expand the types of food I currently have in my diet.
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June 22nd, 2009, 17:12
Chocolatemousse:

Ingerdients for 4 persons:
* 2 packages of chocolate c˘te d'or 70% (noir de noir Intense)
* 80 gr powdersugar (no big clumps in it)
* 5 eggs
* a bit of butter

How to:
*Crack the chocolate into tiny pieces
*melt the chocolate on a soft fire (au bain marie is perfect) with a bit of butter
*split the eggs into seperate cups with the exception of the fifth egg: you only add the white of the egg and get the yellow part into a glass (you can use that for an egg the next morning )
*mix the yellow part with the powdersugar and make sure that there aren't any clumps in it.
*Add the mixture to the molten chocolate (it doesn't have to be molten enitrely -> a few pieces make it extra special)
*Beat the eggwhite hardand add this to the mixture of chocolate.
*Get the chocolatemousse mixture in seperate glasses (or do it in one big bowl) and put in the fridge for at least an hour.
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June 22nd, 2009, 18:47
Whoo, when a Belgian talks about chocolate, you had better listen. That sounds delicious!

I just finished dinner: potato gnocchi in artichoke sauce. The gnocchi were made following a recipe, more or less; the artichoke sauce was an improvisation.

We had three egg yolks left over from yesterday, when we made a rhubarb meringue pie, and wanted to use them. So, earlier today I bought 35 eurocents' worth of last year's floury potatoes (about 600 grams), boiled them until quite done, peeled them, and mashed them with the kitchen machine. Then, still in the kitchen machine, I added a bit of salt and pepper, two of the egg yolks, and blended in flour until it looked like pasta dough -- a bit sticky, fairly hard, and quite smooth: it took about 100 grams to get there. I rolled it into thick ropes (about an inch or so) on a floured surface, and cut about 1 cm thick slices out of them; then I pressed a fork into each of the slices to make little grooves.

Too cook, I just threw them into some boiling water with salt and a splash of vinegar in it; when they rose to the surface, I cooked a minute or so more, and removed into a bowl, and poured a splash of olive oil on top to keep them from sticking to each other. There were about 50 largish gnocchi, so I did them in two batches.

To make the sauce, I took the third egg yolk, put it in a blender with some vinegar and Dijon mustard, and added olive oil in a thin thread (yes, we go through a lot of this stuff!) until it turned into something vaguely resembling mayonnaise. Then I added a tin of artichoke hearts, a clove of garlic, a few pieces of Grana Padano cheese, and some fresh basil, and ran the blender at maximum speed until liquefied. Then I warmed it in a saucepan, stirring vigorously, until it was warm but not so hot the egg would cause it to thicken much. I then poured the sauce on the gnocchi, tossed, and served, with a bit of grated Grana Padano and black pepper on top, and a beer to wash it down.

It turned out very nice. In a bit, I think I'll have a slice of yesterday's pie to finish it off.

I wouldn't like to try this without mechanical assistance, though -- there's way too much mashing, blending, and liquefying going on for that to be much fun.
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June 22nd, 2009, 21:18
For reference, I made bacon, egg and beans in tomato sauce. With toast.

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June 22nd, 2009, 21:22
Sounds delicious--well, beans?? Are you sure you're not in the UK?

And Prime J's rhubarb pie is one of my very favorites, and the gnocchi and sauce sounds excellent. Great to have the thread, too.

My contribution for today is to recommend two things to improve the quality of food in your life:

1. Use good drinkable quality wine, beer or other appropriate alcohol whenever and wherever you can. Dry sherry is great for oriental dishes. Beer can work well with sausages and stews, and red or white wine complement almost anything roasted, boiled or casseroled.

2. Use the freshest ingredients you can find. This is pretty difficult in America, where everything is sold in huge warehouses and shopping is treated more like laying in supplies for an extended siege than preparing tonight's meal, but you can do a lot to circumvent this by looking for specialty shops(Asian or Latino ones are usually very good) and my favorite method: growing your own. This is almost the only way you can get a dependable, affordable source of things like herbs, which make a huge difference in flavor.

If you don't have access to a plot of ground for a garden, it's fairly simple to grow plants in containers. Attached are some shots of my husband's garden this year, all grown in plastic laundry tubs costing less than $5. each, and propped up on some trellises for better use of space. These pictures were taken today when the temperature is 104 degrees fahrenheit, and you can see that with ample water, everything is very happy and producing nonetheless. For urban dwellers, this would be an easy design to replicate on a rooftop (if you had water) for instance, maybe cooperatively with neighbors.

A great book on the how-to part is The Bountiful Container, by RoseMarie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey.
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June 22nd, 2009, 21:34
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Sounds delicious--well, beans?? Are you sure you're not in the UK?
*Looks out the window. Notices that it's not raining.*

Absolutely positive.

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June 22nd, 2009, 21:35
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
1. Use good drinkable quality wine, beer or other appropriate alcohol whenever and wherever you can. Dry sherry is great for oriental dishes. Beer can work well with sausages and stews, and red or white wine complement almost anything roasted, boiled or casseroled.
Very good suggestion! Here's a specific one for this: when cooking fresh pasta, especially tortellini or ravioli, instead of boiling them in water, try cooking them in wine: take a saucepan or wok, put a bit of olive oil in, heat it to medium heat, throw in the pasta, toss so that it's coated with the oil, then pour in about one glass of white wine per 250 grams of pasta, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the pasta has absorbed the wine. This will take a bit longer than cooking it in boiling water, and it will taste extremely good -- the method concentrates the flavors instead of dissolving them into the water, and adds the wine taste on top of that.

Bouillon works too, if you prefer.

2. Use the freshest ingredients you can find. This is pretty difficult in America, where everything is sold in huge warehouses and shopping is treated more like laying in supplies for an extended siege than preparing tonight's meal, but you can do a lot to circumvent this by looking for specialty shops(Asian or Latino ones are usually very good) and my favorite method: growing your own. This is almost the only way you can get a dependable, affordable source of things like herbs, which make a huge difference in flavor.
Another piece of very good advice. When we were apartment-hunting, our only criterion was "within two minutes walk of the Hakaniemi market." We have that, and consequently can get very good fresh produce all around the year.

OTOH we have no garden, and not much room for growing anything bigger than herbs. No suitable rooftop available either.
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June 22nd, 2009, 22:16
I'm definitely trying that pasta trick. I do something similar with bratwurst--simmer it in good beer til it's about half-cooked--before we finish it off on the grill. It keeps it moist and the beer and grill flavors meld nicely.

And if you don't have to pick your wilted celery and plastic-wrapped, precut chemical drenched salad greens out of a bin in a store the size of Yankee Stadium, but are instead a few blocks walk from a good market with excellent fresh stuff, might as well leave all the work to the farmers and just enjoy.
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June 22nd, 2009, 22:21
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
I'm definitely trying that pasta trick. I do something similar with bratwurst--simmer it in good beer til it's about half-cooked--before we finish it off on the grill. It keeps it moist and the beer and grill flavors meld nicely.
Hey, that's an idea I'll have to try. We're off to France for the summer next week, and there's a great grill there -- and I'm sure we'll get bored with the pÔtÚ and truffles at some point so we'll break out the Bratwurst.

(Oh, about the pasta thing -- you have to keep a close eye on it, because once the liquid is absorbed, the pasta will very quickly stick to the saucepan. But that's the only trick to it, really.)

And if you don't have to pick your wilted celery and plastic-wrapped, precut chemical drenched salad greens out of a bin in a store the size of Yankee Stadium, but are instead a few blocks walk from a good market with excellent fresh stuff, might as well leave all the work to the farmers and just enjoy.
Well yeah, maybe. Joanna is really good at growing stuff, and would very much like a garden -- perhaps one day we'll be able to have one. Or even a balcony big enough to grow something edible. As it is, the closest we have is a lemon tree, that I'm *positive* will grow a lemon, one of these years. Maybe.
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June 22nd, 2009, 22:23
Can one of you please adopt me? I'll work for room and board!
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June 22nd, 2009, 22:34
Whoa. A cooking thread. Awesome!

At some point I might - just might - share some of my arcane recipes.

But they're nothing as fancy as the stuff PJ posted. I can do stuff like… uh…
Meatloaf! I love meatloaf. The food, not the band. Then a heavily optimized stripped down version of what might resemble pasta carbonara. Also chili-chicken soup. Pan-pizza with bacon and cheddar. Meatballs with feta cheese and chili IN them. And umm… well, I guess those would be my bravuras pretty much. I use ingredients and methods that are quick and cheap and easy but still produce enjoyable meals.

Just made lasagne btw. But I cheated. I used one of those boxes that come with those ready made pasta wafers (whatever they're called) and a spice-mix for the meat. But I tweaked it for a bit and it still tastes very good

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June 22nd, 2009, 22:40
Originally Posted by magerette View Post

If you don't have access to a plot of ground for a garden, it's fairly simple to grow plants in containers. Attached are some shots of my husband's garden this year, all grown in plastic laundry tubs costing less than $5. each, and propped up on some trellises for better use of space. These pictures were taken today when the temperature is 104 degrees fahrenheit, and you can see that with ample water, everything is very happy and producing nonetheless. For urban dwellers, this would be an easy design to replicate on a rooftop (if you had water) for instance, maybe cooperatively with neighbors.
Very cool stuff.

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