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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Can’t Cook?

January 5, 2011

Tags: food, herbs, breakfast, brown rice, Can’t Cook?, cheese, coconut oil, cooking, cooking course, dairy, dill, fats - hardened, fish, frying pan, garlic – dry and minced, garlic - fresh, grains, hake, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), kale, lamb chop, legumes, lentils, lentils – French, lentils – red, meat, mini-cooking course, New Year resolution, olive oil, oregano, pepper, pork cutlet, rice – brown, salt, shelf-life, side dish, sirloin stripes, skillet, Standard American Diet (SAD), starch - white, sugars, vegetable dish

In a country where the kitchens all look like out of the movies, and people read cookbooks like mysteries, few actually cook a warm meal every day, and some have not even the most basic of cooking skills. If you can’t cook but have resolved for the New Year to eat healthier - here is your mini-cooking course, easy as 1-2-3:

1. Vegetable: Go to the supermarket and look which vegetable is affordable, looks very fresh, and is organic (in that order!): Buy it.

What you need also for a vegetable dish: a mid-sized skillet with lid, olive oil, pepper and salt, dry minced or fresh garlic (if you have never cooked, take dry garlic – it is no fuss at all). Don’t opt for garlic already minced/peeled in a jar – it spoils fast.

Say you bought kale. Cut in broad stripes, wash it fast, put in skillet. Add about a finger or two deep water, olive oil, pepper, salt, garlic. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low, until the kale starts looking like wilting – takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

Eat and enjoy! If you really can’t cook, making a beginning with a single vegetable dish and experiencing the different flavors, will get you hooked. Nearly all vegetables are good with garlic and olive oil. In the future, I will post some more very easy recipes.

After you have tried several different vegetables, you graduate to fish and/or meat.

2. Fish or meat: Buy a filet of fish (about half a pound per person) that looks fresh or a small piece of meat for pan-frying, for instance: a lamb chop, a thin pork cutlet, some sirloin stripes.

What you need for fish/meat: A small frying pan with lid, some fresh or dried herbs (like dill for fish, oregano for meat), coconut oil, pepper and salt.

Say you bought a piece of hake: Melt a teaspoon of coconut oil in the frying pan. Wash the fish, dry it with a paper towel, put it into the pan. Cover it with dill that you have finely chopped, or with dry dill (don’t be a miser!). Heat until you hear it sizzling, then turn to low heat, and let simmer for about ten to twenty minutes, depending on the size of the piece of fish. It should easily break apart when you probe with a fork.

In fish and meat, salt should always be added AFTER cooking. Pepper can go in whenever you want it.

Frying meat is a bit more tricky – do you like your meat more raw or more done? Usually, when blood seeps up to the surface, it is time to turn the meat and fry from the other side.

Don’t be afraid of frying! Coconut oil can stand heating better than olive oil. And what kills us in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not this little bit of meat but sugars (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup ((HFCS)), white starches, dairy (especially cheese) and hardened fats (which are used in processed foods to increase shelf-life).

3. Ready for a side dish? They are easiest! Rice and lentil leftovers also make a wonderful breakfast the next day. For breakfast, warm the grains/legumes amd add some olive oil – that way you get hungrier later. A handful fresh (or dried) herbs makes it a rounded breakfast.

Grains/legumes: You need a small skillet with lid. You also need brown rice or dry lentils, and salt.

Say you bought small green lentils (also called French lentils, Champagne lentils). Take one cup of dry lentils and add two cups of water. Plus a pinch of salt. Here I publicly admit to that I never wash lentils and rice. It might be better – but then the ratio of water is not that simple 1 to 2. So I don’t wash - I seem to be less worried by germs and crud than other people; a certain amount might even strengthen our immune system. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and simmer on low, until all water is gone. For French lentils it takes roughly 45 minutes.

Red lentils (same recipe, same grain/water ratio) cook must faster – they are done in about twenty minutes. I always add cumin to red lentils, for a great taste.

“Normal” lentils, the plain old variety, cook the same. Only they taste a bit boring. To vamp them up, add a small onion and/or a carrot, or both, finely chopped. The cooking time for normal lentils is somewhere between green and red lentils. You don’t have to worry about cooking times: Grains and legumes are always done when the water is gone.

Now you can make a whole meal! Everything else will be just variations on the themes.

P.S. If you live in the Boston area, and like to hear me speak, see the calendar on "events" for a January 30th event.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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