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I’m of the opinion that westerners, as a culture, are becoming poor cooks. How’s that? I said it. If your feelings are hurt then it’s probably because you too are a lousy cook. Sorry about that…sorry to whomever you’re feeding, that is. I mean, we gotta eat, right? Okay, that’s the last time I’ll poke fun. I get really excited when people master cooking techniques or food cost and my aim here to provide a great deal of information on cooking techniques, so that many people can practice and Master them! I promise, from here on in, to provide only extremely useful information in a clear and simple manner that you may use to prepare healthy (or unhealthy) foods in a wide variety of ways. I’ve been a cook and then a chef for about 17 years. I’ve had the very good fortune of being taught from a young age, how to prepare exquisite, tasty meals. Largely everyone in my family is a good cook; some very, very good, and some better than others. Following those early teachers – my family – were a series of foreign and domestic, highly trained and extremely talented, world class chefs. No one you have seen on the Food Network, and no one widely known to the masses like Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, but most certainly extraordinary cooks by any measure. I think I’m qualified to teach you many skills and cooking techniques which can be put into action immediately. You will have to take my word for it, for now.
There’s one thing that’s really holding households back in terms of cooking and it’s ‘the recipe.’ It’s really a crutch, or an anchor. People are stuck without a recipe and can really only resort back to cooking methods and dishes which they have been exposed to by their past – things they have eaten and old recipes which they have mastered, stuff their grandmother taught their mother and which was then taught to them…it gets tired and weak after a while. In these “cooking classes”, I’ll only use recipes as examples for cooking techniques in action. That’s it. And when I do present recipes, they will be alongside, or in conjunction with, other recipes that utilize the same cooking techniques but not necessarily the same ingredients: braising short ribs, braising pork ribs, braising lamb shoulder, braising turnips, braising spinach, or braising cod, is all braising. So, my purpose is to expose you to the information necessary to mastering cooking techniques, which you can apply to a HUGE variety of meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, vegetables, sea vegetables, herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, dirt, water, air….just kidding about the last three. Anyway…Get away from the recipe books and learn to really cook, utilizing whatever is in the kitchen right now – make your own frugal recipes day after day! You get home from work, look in the cupboards and in the fridge to see what’s there, and just bang out a beautiful meal for you and your loved ones. No recipe book. That’s what you’re going to do.
In keeping with our mission of presenting you with the best solutions we can find for cutting food cost and living a thrifty life (building wealth!), I will outline why this information will dramatically lower your grocery bills, saving money as your learn and apply it. In a nutshell, if you’re constantly using recipes then you’re constantly buying ingredients that you don’t already have in your kitchen. If you’re making these extra trips to the grocery store you’re not only wasting productive time, but you’re also wasting gasoline and risking getting sucked into unnecessary impulse buys while in the grocery store. You want to avoid over shopping. Being able to cook using a variety of fundamental cooking techniques will allow you to cook whatever is in your kitchen. You will steer clear of fast food and dining out excessively, and you will avoid buying processed food from the freezer isle in the centre of the grocery store (no man’s land), because it will be a snap for you to whip up tasty and healthy dishes using whatever you have – frugal recipes
Secondly, in terms of thrift and Thrift Culture Now, being able to learning how to cook anything and turn it into an exquisite meal can turn you into a master buyer of all foods. It’s pretty stupid to buy ingredients that you don’t know how to prepare. You run the risk of destroying the ingredients and thus flushing your hard earned money down the drain. So that’s all about to come to an end. Before we begin to show you how to perform a wide variety of techniques, we want you to become highly skilled in ‘costing’ your dishes. What is food cost? Food Cost is taking the exact measurements of ingredients, as used in a dish or recipe, and calculating the dish or recipe’s cost. By taking a list of ingredients and their weights or volumes, you may calculate how much you have to pay in order to make the dish. This is the type of budget control that’s going to save you money and saving money will help you and your family thrive in the future. Frugal Living means Mastering Food Cost.
Most recipes are written so that the units of measurement are completely out of touch with the units of measure in the grocery store and on the packages of food. This is confusing! I have priced out (calculated food cost) hundreds of my own recipes for restaurants over the years, and I’m telling you that common recipe books are financially treacherous and confusing. In these cooking classes, I will show you that many of your recipes are costing you much more than is necessary, and that there are simple and thrifty ways to create tasty and healthy meals for your family.
How do you use these “classes”? Each cooking technique will feature an explanation of the tools involved, the basic actions, and examples of each of the food groups to which this technique can apply. From there, you will be able to take the descriptions of the techniques and the sample recipes and cross relate them to other similar ingredients. Braising short ribs has a lot in common with braising chicken thighs and blanching asparagus has a lot in common with blanching green beans. The techniques are loosely ordered, starting with the cooking techniques that form the foundation of cooking from scratch, to the cooking techniques that require a little more practice. This will make for a more dynamic learning experience. Even a basic understanding of the techniques will allow you to turn whatever is in the kitchen into beautiful meals – without recipes and extra trips to the grocery store. You now have the knowledge, here in front of you, to cook any type of food. Just apply the cooking techniques.
Basic Knife Skills
Being able to wield a knife like a professional chef will save you a lot of time and money. It’s very thrifty to be able to prepare a healthy meal from scratch, in a short amount of time. The only way to achieve this thrifty feat is through solid knife skills.
Sharp Knives: get the job done faster, saving you time and money
A wound from a dull knife will take longer to heal than one from a sharp knife. That in and of itself, is a good reason to use only the sharpest knives in your kitchen! Beyond quick healing, a sharp knife makes a huge difference in the amount of effort and time that is required to complete simple, but crucial, cooking tasks. Learn the simple sharpening techniques to keep your own knives razor-sharp.
Peeling vegetables like carrots and potatoes shouldn’t be thought of as a punishment. It’s got to be done if you’re going to cook from scratch, and it’s the sort of work that requires little or no thought. It’s as simple as it gets and if you have observed a thrifty, intelligent method once, you will never view the task as a chore and never ever complain about doing it again. Obverse in the video how every stroke butts up against the last--imagine cutting your grass. Would you cut 10 square feet in the northeastern corner of your yard, then move on down to the southwest and cut another little patch, then move into the centre and cut a bit more before moving onto the northwest for a figure eight pattern? No. Peeling vegetables efficiently, and saving time doing it, requires the same amount of skill and know how as does cutting the grass.
Dicing: consistency is a cousin of thrift
Perfect dice are little cubes of vegetables or fruits which are ½ inch by ½ inch by ½ inch. Dicing can be done quickly and is widely used. A dice, however, will take longer to cook through since it’s larger than a brunoise (see below), and it can, therefore, be less thrifty because of the time that it takes on the stove. This means that dice should be used in dishes where the vegetables are cooked for a longer time, such as soup or stew.
Chopping is the Howitzer missile of knife skills. Not too delicate or accurate, but it gets the job done. Chopping is for speed. It’s useful for preparing vegetables that will be used in a stock or perhaps slow roasted with a piece of meat, but chopping is not at all good for items that you intend to caramelize. The size is too big and the shape too irregular for quick, dry heat cooking. Further, scrap meats or fish carcasses can be chopped to rough but similarly sized pieces for use in stocks or sauces. You aren’t looking for precision; the most important thing is speed and getting the job done so that you can get onto the next task.
We refer to ‘chopped’ herbs when we describe herbs that have been cut into very, very fine pieces – chopped parsley, dill, and oregano.
Garlic is chopped if it’s being used in dishes where it will be cooked for a longer period of time, such as a meat sauce for pasta.
More knife skills: slicing is straight and fast and rough – like chopping. You will use this technique often. The term is very over-arching: slicing bread, slicing cheese, slicing pickles, slicing meats, and slicing onions. Chopping, dicing, and brunoise require you to cut and then turn the food 90 degrees, then cut again, to achieve cube-shaped cuts. Slicing, like Julienne, is one directional cutting. Easy peasy, really quick, and very thrifty. Slice onions, carrots, red pepper, garlic, mushrooms, and pork tenderloin. Presto, you’ve prepped a stir fry for the family and it took you less than 5 minutes….it better only take 5 minutes! Slicing is super straight forward and easy to do. Really, it should be the foundation of every home cook’s knife skills.
More exciting ways to cut your fingertips off!!! Just kidding. Remember, a day of skiing without falling is lame – you probably didn’t push yourself to try new things. If you cook, great food from scratch, you’re bound to cut or burn yourself once in a while. Don’t fear because ThriftCultureNow.com’s daily thrifty tips are going to present you with undeniably effective ways to doctor yourself. This may be the thriftiest thing you can do; to learn about health and wellness and how to be in control of healing yourself (note: if you do cut yourself, simply apply direct pressure, goldenseal cream, a bandage and watch the thing heal faster than you ever thought possible!) Okay, now back to how to chifonade:
Chifonade is a technique where you slice delicate leaves, like basil and spinach, into very thin, hair-like strips. The result is light, soft, thin strips of the herb or green that are perfect for tossing into a dish such as pasta, right before it’s plated. The oils in the leaves (which are packed with flavor) will provide an aroma that your guests can’t resist when the plate hits the table.
This technique sounds like the name of a French actress. Julienne is another technique that, through practice, will greatly improve your overall knife skills and allow you to present you dishes like a professional chef. First, make parallel cuts 3mm wide, of any solid vegetable: carrots, leek, beet, potato, etc. Take the ribbons that you have just cut and make parallel cuts 3 mm wide giving you a matchstick shaped piece of food which is 3mm by 3 mm by 2 inches.
Julienne vegetables are useful in a wide range of dishes: blanch carrots and leeks and serve atop poached salmon; potato julienne can be fried together to form mini potato pancakes; beets julienne can be pickled and served on salads. They look good and show that care has been taken in the preparation of the food. If you’re the homemaker, preparing meals for family and friends, know that you have a responsibility to nourish people properly and sufficiently – take it seriously and take pride in it!
Brunoise, like dice or julienne, is a style of cutting. Specifically, the dimensions of brunoise are about 3 mm by 3 mm by 3mm cubes. This is quite a small cut and it’s really an advanced technique for gourmet cooking in restaurant dishes. Is it necessary for home cooking? Not if survival is part of your definition of necessary. Perfect brunoise are certainly not required for your survival. So why even bother? Speed and skill with your knife will dramatically speed up your preparation and cooking times. If you can pump out all of your vegetable preparation and cooking, you can get on to other things. People avoid cooking and many things in life because they’re ‘not good at it.’ Well, how in the heck can you get good at something if you never attempt it? I love skiing and I laugh to hear people say, “I had a great day; I didn’t fall once.” Well, if you didn’t fall, and falling is your criteria for failure, then you did, I guess, have a perfect day. But, in looking at all the possibilities on the mountain, one can see many opportunities to fall. So, if you didn’t fall down, then you probably didn’t push yourself, didn’t try anything that was new and challenging. In cooking, brunoise is an excellent form of practice for knife skills, and if mastered, will offer you thrifty ways to turn dishes into more interesting and unique creations.
Carrots, onions, celery, turnip, potatoes, beets, bacon, dry sausage, cheese….anything that you can get your knife through could be turned into a perfect little 3mm by 3mm by 3mm brunoise.
Start with carrots. Peel a carrot with your vegetable peeler. Cut the carrot in half lengthwise. Place the carrot flat side down on your cutting board. Square up the ends (cut a few millimeters off each end) so that you’re dealing with a four-sided figure. Slowly, make cuts perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ends and 3 mm apart. You will be left with 3mm thick strips (ribbons) of carrot. Place one strip flat on the cutting board and make perfect 3 mm wide cuts perpendicular to the end. You’re now left with 3mm by 3mm by a few inches julienne, like match sticks. Turn the julienne carrots 90 degrees and make cuts 3 mm apart all the way down the strips, leaving you with perfect 3mm by 3mm by 3mm brunoise.
The beautiful thing about brunoise is that you have increased the surface area of the food (vegetable or meat) dramatically. If you now take those carrot brunoise and sauté them, you can create a sugary sweet vegetable preparation that could be served in soup or on top of a piece of meat or fish, or in a pasta dish. Or, if you were to cut many different vegetables in the brunoise style, and sauté them one at a time but put them together at the end, then you would have a lovely vegetable dish that you could serve on its own.
The other great thing is that brunoise cooks very, very fast. So, if you can cut perfect brunoise, you can have a nutrient dense dish prepared on the stove in minutes – saving you time, energy, and electricity. Now that’s thrifty!
You’ve just cooked the most beautiful turkey that you and your family have ever seen. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and everyone is excited to eat this golden, crisp, juicy turkey that you cooked perfectly because you watched all of ThriftCultureNow’s ‘Thrifty Cooking’ videos many times and studied them diligently. It’s now time to carve the bird. Since you were the one who cooked it, everyone expects you to carve it. You begin to shave off pieces of the breast by cutting with the grain of the flesh – the meat begins to dry out the second it hits the plate. Your perfectly cooked turkey is a dried-out, chewy flop because you didn’t know how to carve properly.
You must slice cooked meats across the grain. If you cut with the grain, the meat will either dry out rapidly or be extremely chewy, or both – probably both. The leftovers will be tough and unwanted, and food waste isn’t thrifty.
First, learn to identify the direction in which the muscle fibers (like strands or stings of protein…like the disgusting cheese string you’re never going to buy and eat again) run. Let’s look at our turkey again – you may apply the same principles to chicken and duck. Carving a bird requires the same motions as butchering a bird: you cut both of the breasts off and set them aside, then pop the thigh bones out of their joints and cut along the rib cage, removing the legs. Cut the drumstick from the thigh, through the centre of the joint. Cut the wing off, through the joint where the wing meets the carcass. The carcass must be reserved for soup or stock. This is the beauty of buying whole birds – meat and stock. Now that you have the pieces removed from the frame, take the breast and lay it on the cutting board, parallel to the bottom of the board. You can see that the fibers are running right to left from the fat end of the breast to the thin tip of the breast. You are going to slice perpendicularly through the breast in ½ inch wide pieces. These pieces will retain their moisture and be very tender to cut and chew. Enjoy! The thighs, like in butchering the bird, can have the flesh cut from the bone, making them more pleasant for cutting and eating –put the bones in the same pot as your chicken carcass for soup or stock. Flip each thigh onto its back and, with your finger, feel out the bone running through the centre of the thigh. With your knife, cut along the bone on each side. Pinch the bone and pull it from the flesh. Gently cut around the back side of the bone and remove it from the flesh – put it in the pot for soup.
Red meat and pork are shaped differently than poultry, but the same principles apply for carving. Follow the muscle fibers and cut across them. These (RED MEAT) animals have a lot in common; their muscles are similarly shaped. Some of the premium cuts are very easy to identify because they have only one or two muscles: beef tenderloin, strip loin, or rib eye, and pork rack, loin or tenderloin. With all of these cuts, the muscle fibers run from one end to the other and, thus need to be cut across the tube into steaks or chops, or if cooked, into tender slices of meat.
Many cheaper cuts are more complicated to carve because they have many muscles running in different directions. Cutting in one direction will result in pieces that are inconsistent in their texture– some tender and some chewy. Cheaper cuts can be excellent if you know how to carve them. Pork shoulder, for example, is outstanding when slow roasted or smoked. Lamb shoulder, beef eye of round are much cheaper than premium cuts, and if cooked and carved correctly, will be well received by friends and family. Identify which direction the major muscle group is moving. Pork shoulder, for example, is shaped like a big block. Look closely at the side of the shoulder and find the side that displays many fibers running right to left. Place this side parallel to the bottom of your cutting board and slice across the grain.
Even though they can be at odds with frugal living and thrift, recipe books are so culturally accepted, they have merit as inspiration to cooks. I have prepared a table of conversions so that you can food cost your favorite recipes more easily. If you wish to use recipes, food cost them over and over until prices become common knowledge and you can smell how much a dish is costing you. Then you are truly frugal living in the kitchen – creating your own frugal recipes.
Note: In cases where
higher precision is not justified, it
The equation below allows you to calculate an ingredient’s cost per ‘unit.’ A food item’s ‘unit’ of measure is usually printed on the side of the container that it comes in. For example, a can of beans may be measured in grams or ounces and a package of hamburger may be measured in pounds. To determine the precise cost of a dish, we must calculate the exact cost of the amount of a given ingredient in a recipe. For example: 25 grams of black beans costs us how much? If we know this, then we can work out accurate food budgets that can potentially save us thousands of dollars over the course of a year.
Before using the food cost equation, you must convert each ingredient’s unit of measure (i.e. ml, lbs, grams, etc.), using the above table, to those used in the recipe – this is one problem with recipes. So, if your recipe calls for a quantity of an item in grams, but the amount specified on the item’s packaging is in ounces, then you must convert the ounces into grams. Once you have converted the measurement, you can fill in the rest of the following equation:
Price Paid for Ingredient / Total Amount of Ingredient (oz, lbs, etc.) X Amount Required for Recipe = Ingredient’s Cost for a Particular Recipe
Example: $3 can of peas / 300g per can X 25g per recipe = $0.25 worth of peas per recipe
Use masking tape and a black marker to label the cost of some of your most commonly used foods, like olive oil, or butter, or bread, or potatoes, or whatever you decide. Place the label on the package and write the calculated cost per smallest logical unit of measure. For example: the price of olive oil per milliliter or fluid ounce, bread by the slice, or butter by the tablespoon. Now, every time you use an ingredient the accurate price per unit of measure will be staring you in the face. When you bring food home from the grocery store, food cost it before you put it in your refrigerator or cupboard, and you will be aware of how much money you are spending. Spit out prices to your kids, “Eddy, that’s 75 cents worth of bread you just shoved in your mouth, you know?” This will educate your children about budgets and money saving, sadly an area where I feel many parents in western civilization have failed to provide education. If the price is on the package, clearly written in the most useful unit of measure, your family will learn. This knowledge and way of thinking is required for saving money, building wealth, and thriving.
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