Monday, September 7, 2020
Happy Labor Day to all.
This week we were inspired by the joys of working hard in the kitchen, but it was hard work born out of love. Our innate gustatory spirit came to light once we put on our cooking aprons, our imaginative thinkcaps and took to YouTube to learn new recipes, get inspiration on home making and also took to making fresh dishes that seemed straight out of Iron Chef and other popular cooking shows.
If you’re a new homemaker, a house owner, or cooking for your sweetie for a hot date, or just trying to entertain, there are many ways to wow your guests. Cooking and entertaining is a way to display your showman / show woman skills and take it to the next level in the kitchen. You don’t have to have a big name fancy cooking show or big crazy expensive fancy tools to make a spectacular meal. We will give you some ideas on how to entertain your guests or bring out your brand of cooking fashion so you don’t overspend. So whether you’re cooking for two or making carnival / fair food we have some fantastic ideas to kick it up a notch and maybe help you notch a good date or get together to remember. Okay so let’s start.
- First off you will need to do research.
- Consider what kind of meals you want to prepare.
- What kind of tools will you need?
- What kind of ingredients do you need to buy?
- When to buy?
- Where to buy?
- How long can you store your ingredients and product?
- How do you store them?
- And finally consider sanitation & disposal
Part 1: Research
It is very important to know who you’re cooking for and your audience. You wouldn’t cook the same way for a football team as you would if you’re entertaining your boss and coworkers from work or if you were cooking for a date night. It’s important to consider their tastes, allergies and dietary restrictions. Know what they like and don’t like. Do they have peculiarities? Some people for instance like ketchup but don’t like tomatoes. Others don’t enjoy coffee but do like tea. It’s important to survey, ask and get information from the people you’re serving. If you’re making a banquet you might have to have a continual dialogue with the host or hostess as plans also change as people make reservations or respond to invitations.
So when you research make sure you consider:
- Dietary restrictions such as something kosher, halal, vegetarian, low salt, low sugar, high protein, etc.
- Consider special circumstances
- How many people are you serving?
- Will the meals need to be heated continuously like fondu or will you have access to a heat lamp?
- What is the class or event type? You wouldn’t necessarily serve weenies and beanies at a big corporate event and not necessarily sushi at an birthday party for kids. So obviously you have to tailor it to your audience.
- How many supplies will you need? Do you need plastic trays or metal trays, will you consider adding decorative flowers or napkins on the side of the meal? Is it easier to add salt and pepper and spork / napkin packets or can you have bulk items that customers can grab?
Part 2: What kind of meals do you prepare
After you have studied what you might be preparing it is time to get inspiration. At this time unless you’ve been explicitly told what to cook (i.e. perhaps you’re told you need a pig roast at a Hawaiian themed event) otherwise you are likely still flexible and able to brainstorm. This is where you should scour the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Thanks to the internet there’s so much information out there available to us and you can see videos slowed down and pause where you need to get some ideas. It’s also not a bad idea to hit the library to get ideas also. It is old fashioned but a goodie. I remember as a kid some of the first lessons I learned about cooking came from cook books at the library where I learned fun facts such as peppers being high in vitamin C and also about using rice to stuff green roasted peppers etc. A good cookbook can last you for years and many old ones from years past are still good. You might even have a hand-me-down cookbook or box of recipes from your family or grandmother. This can be a fun part just learning about the food and history of the food items.
Part 3: What kind of tools do you need?
Most of us have utensils and pots or pans. But I’m talking to the millennials here, not all of you are yet fully established yet. For those that are, be happy you have a head start. A few of us are still moving or transitioning and accumulating kitchen tools, appliances and other items. Some may be from family or you might be able to borrow from neighbors or your parents. But sooner or later you want to accumulate you own and either can reuse them or consider disposable items. They are really an investment for your future. If and especially if you are a cook you’re going to want to have a few staple (regular) kitchen items to stock your kitchen.
Here’s a small list (no particular order):
- Chef’s knife
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Regular cups
- Square plate (great for serving certain appetizers for example)
- Round plates
- Sauce cups
- Fruit bowl
- Salad bowl
- Knives, forks, spoons
- Parchment paper
- Cutting boards
- Baking pans, flat pans (can also double as a serving tray)
- Casserole pan
- Wooden spatulas
- Scissors (for opening packages)
- Rubber bands (for resealing packages)
- Wine glasses
- Regular mugs and glass cups
Part 4: Ingredients
Whew! By now you can see the above list probably costs a pretty penny. It’s no wonder new home owners are often shopping and looking for things over the weekend. One of the best feelings as a new home owner is being able to take pride in things you buy to showcase for your significant other or go shopping together to make a house. Don’t discount the fact that this is often a long term hobby and past time and can be relaxing and rewarding, especially if you find a great bargain that also looks like a quality luxurious item for a reasonable price. Sometimes you have to start somewhere, but don’t spend money on something that you don’t like or wouldn’t enjoy.
Now, when you are out buying tools such as cooking devices, you will need to probably get the ingredients at a later time. This is to ensure freshness. But once you have your recipes laid out and essentially a MENU of what you want to make then you have a great guideline and blueprint of what you will need to buy. If you are cooking for a large crowd or catering and entertaining then you might consider buying in bulk. It might be more inexpensive that way. You also want to consider if something is in season. If you want fresh papaya but it’s the middle of winter you might have issues acquiring or finding what you’re going to need. Also you will want to consider if you want to source from local markets and farmer’s markets to see if you can get the freshest ingredients. And consider if you want to go organic as well to reduce chemicals in your food. Try to get the highest quality true ingredient that you can. For example if you are reading packages sometimes they might add filler ingredients. Or if you wanted salt but use garlic salt instead then you might get an entire different outcome on your dish than you expected. Or if you are trying to get chocolate but discover the package is mixed with nuts then a person with food and nut allergies could have potential serious issues. Try to get isolated ingredients. The reason being is that often you can make youre own version of something that is fresher. For example, rather than buying the guacamole that’s premade if you are deft you might be able to get a few avocados, onions, tomatos, lemon juice, chili pepper and salt and make your own fresh personalized version of the guacamole dip. Sometimes you will also need to price things out to see perhaps it might have been cheaper the other way around. Perhaps you are trading quality or time or money for making things yourself.
Part 5: When to buy
Often you want to determine when is the Big Day? Is the event something like a wedding reception? Or is it a week long event? So you might need to make up food every day fresh or you might only buy it one time. If you’re planning a wedding you might even be able to have it concide with season items or wait for things to go on sale or cheaper. Lot of things like cakes are recommended to be made no more than a week in advance. But something like fruit goes best within 24-48 hours. So you might consider buying the items in advance like tools since those don’t spoil. Get them on sale if possible, but if not you might need to run to the shop.
Part 6: Where to buy
One of the funnest part of cooking is going to the store and shopping or even doing it online. This is one of the biggest variables other than each person having their own customer preferences in diets. But you can control quality and price and quantity yourself the most in this step. Once you buy something then you have to deal with the consequences of what you buy or use only part or all of a product. Again people in different parts of the world have favorite places and so consider all your options. For example:
- Online, so many of us rely on places like Amazon now but you can also go online to places like Walmart or Kroger or Publix and other places to get your food. A lot of people can also just contract out to someone to make certain items. For example, if you don’t want to cook or make something often you can just easily find a vendor or maker and tell them what you want, pay the money and they will send or ship it where you want. I have found myself using this option quite a bit to send things like:
- Petit Fours & birthday / holiday gifts
- Holiday baskets
- Fruit and wine
- Chocolate and similar items
Nowadays you can even send gift cards for people to buy their own stuff or you can send recurring orders and shipments for a pleasant suprising gift every month. There are many clubs out there that send you things such as games, dating items, shaving, and even steaks and snacks every month. The internet has made a lot of things available at the touch of a button that you can even order pizza or dry ice chilled ice cream and they will ship to your door. The hardest part is you usually need someone there. And sometimes there’s also the question of tipping. Most times delivery people for food expect tips, but you don’t really see people tipping for regular delivery for other household goods.
- In store. Nothing really beats in store sometimes because you can get things right there and then and not have to wait for it to be shipped. But nowadays with Covid, lot of people are getting the touchless online option. Some still want to see people (I like shopping myself and find it a therapeutic social people-watching event). You often can find unexpected deals or discounts or other products not listed online. They thing about Covid is that the online inventories have been off lately and inaccurate. I learned that some stores are very real time in their inventory and often do also display a unit count on whether something is in stock, but sometimes it’s better to go online. I haven’t bought groceries online yet, but that’s a personal preference because I want to personally select and see and smell the food I’m wanting to buy.
- Consider big warehouse store for bulk items and a slightly better discount
- Consider smaller stores or mom and pop ones to help support local business and also sometimes get different items compared to big box / big brand named products.
Part 7: How long can you store your items?
It is very important to know how long you can store your items because you want food to be as fresh as possible for the best taste. For example, coffee should be cooked fresh in the morning for the best taste. While items like fruit can often be stored for at least a week. Some fruit is able to be shipped and if done correctly will not bruise or ripen too fast. You also have to take into consideration moisture and heat. For example, some desserts might need to be kept almost frozen like cheese cake while other chocolate covered items might want to be refrigerated only if necessary because the chocolate can “sweat” or have water droplets condense on the surface.
Part 8: What type of storage?
For cookies for example you might be able to use a cookie jar. For rice you might need to chill it down and chill it as fast as possible to keep it out of the food danger zone because rice can develop mold rapidly if left out too long. Certain fruit you might not want to put in the fridge because it can prevent ripening while others you don’t want to put near other fruit like close to bananas because they can make the other fruit ripen too soon. You might consider wrapping certain foods in parchment paper while others are put in wax or aluminum foil. Again consider the food type. I’ve seen cheese start okay but rapidly develop dangerous mold when left in the fridge in a plastic wrap. Make sure you are aware of temperature and moisture levels.
Part 9: It is a good idea to get a book on cooking and take some basic sanitation classes. There is always stuff to learn and modern cooking and food prep is changing over time. There are preservation methods with salt. Some use vinegar. Refrigeration has changed many things. But some foods still use natural preservation methods like lactic acid fermentation or use certain enzymes and salt to reduce surface bacteria. A person that cooks food is a student of culinary arts in the basic sense of the word and should devote a lifelong passion and interest and curiosity to making it better. Not only will they feel more fulfilled and cook better dishes but they will also be able to impress. Food doesn’t last forever and if not eaten by a certain time or even expiration can cause people to get ill from stomachs, toxic bacteria, experience diarrhea and odd interactions. That’s why it’s important to study how to clean your hands and arms thoroughly, to not mix raw meats with vegetables in preparation and also on cutting boards to prevent contamination. It’s important to learn how to dry and wash cooking surfaces and also properly dispose of items in the trash or unused ingredients. The best cooking and chef school instruction manuals will give you guidance but there’s always more to learn and you only learn by doing and practice and dedication to your craft.
You don’t learn to bake a cake over night but through recipes, and family and doing it over and over with changes and special ingredients and adjusting and tasting and varying. It’s a lifelong skill and craft and sometimes hard work. Even the best cooks and chefs are always trying to outdo themselves and make things better every time.
This week I will get to cook and prepare one of my first meals for a special guest. It’s hard work, preparation and sometimes a bit costly. But I know it will be well worth it. It gives me a certain sense of pride and accomplishment to know I can make something that someone will appreciate and enjoy. Little touches like festival food trays, or special deli wrapping paper or decorative flourishes, edible glitter, garnishes and appetizers seem like little things but over all they add to the whole sensory experience. Because what can be more enjoyable than indulging in visual stimuli from sight and colors of the food and cuts and shapes, the smells of a good seared steak, the wonderful sizzle sound as it’s brought to the table, the tastes of course that’s umami or spicy or a sweet Prosecco or a bubbly Champagne and how it feels on your tongue or a nice cool drink going down your throat on a hot day. There’s so many variations and things you can do with cooking and entertaining and we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy the experience and the opportunity to be a host.