12/27/11

If you can make ________, you can just as easily make ________.

I was sitting next to a gentleman, while flying from La Guardia to Midway in Chicago, who professed an inability to cook. He said that it baffled him how people could make all kinds of interesting things, and all he could ever do was make a pizza. I asked him, "You mean the kind that comes frozen, right?" with a wink. He admitted to using the premade ingredients, but made put everything together on his own. I said, "You do realise that the leap from pizza to casserole is a very short one, right?"

It was like a lightbulb had turned on!

The thing is that we sometimes underestimate our own abilities, because we never saw how what we already know can be reconfigured into new things. In future, I will endeavour to try to relate the recipes I write to things that most people should be familiar with. "If you can make pasta, you can make quinoa." And then, "If you can make a salad, you can make a pilaf." And finally, "If you can microwave a baked potato, you can steam veggies very easily."

If I didn't have that conversation, I wouldn't have thought of phrasing my recipes in such a way, so that they are indeed more accessible. So, let me make those recipes for you, so that you see what I mean.

If You Can Make Pasta, Make Quinoa
2 cups of quinoa, rinsed well, and drained
12 cups of water
A good bit of salt

In a large stock pot, add the water, and enough salt that the water tastes like sea water. Quinoa is often thought of as bland, because it isn't salted enough. Don't worry though. We're going to rinse off the quinoa once it's cooked. While the water comes to a boil, wash the quinoa several times in plenty of cold water, to remove the surface stuff that's not good to eat. Drain the washed quinoa well.

When the water is rolling and boiling, drop in the quinoa, and let it cook for 12 minutes. If you have a crappy stove, as I have had to work with on many occasions, you may need as much as 20 minutes Essentially, you want the quinoa to be cooked through, and go from a tiny little seed that's completely opaque to one that is translucent and where you can see the little swirly thing inside of it. You don't want any white dots in the middle of the thing. The white dot means it's still undercooked.

When it's done, drain off the liquid, and rinse it under cold running water to stop the cooking and get rid of the excess surface starch.

... You Can Steam Veggies
Take 1 pound of vegetables of your choice. Prep them however you like. If this is one of those store bought packs of fresh veggies, I won't tell anyone. In a casserole dish, put in about 1 inch of water. Add the prepped veggies. Cover with some kind of cover, and microwave on high for 5 minutes. They'll be done to perfection.

... You Can Make a Pilaf
Making a salad is essentially a process of taking a bunch of ingredients, combining them with a bit of fat, some herbs and spices, and tossing them together. A pilaf is more or less the same thing, only involving spices rather than just herbs.

1 portion of the cooked quinoa
2 TB oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 TB curry powder, garam masala, or your favourite herb or spice blend
1 handful of nuts
1 portion of steamed veggies
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a small pot, sautee the garlic in the oil over medium heat, and add the spices, nuts, and salt . Cook until the spices are fragrant and lovely. It should take about three to five minutes. Pour the spices and nuts to the cooked quinoa and the steamed veggies. Add pepper to taste, and toss through to combine all the ingredients together. Adjust seasoning to your taste, and serve hot.
The point that I'm trying to get across is that if you break down more complex recipes into smaller, more familiar steps, it starts to gel in your mind, and become way easier to work with.
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