Thursday, June 9, 2016

Culinary 101 - Lesson #1: Keep it Simple!

by Andrea Yoder

As I write this article, I pause to consider the wide expanse of experience our CSA members bring to the table.  Some of our seasoned CSA veterans have been cooking “out of the box” for 15-20 years, while others in our membership may be in their first year of experiencing CSA….with the bunch of hon tsai tai from last week’s delivery pushed to the back of the refrigerator with a big question mark on it. "What am I supposed to do with this weird/unfamiliar food?”  Despite my training as a professional chef and a high level of comfort in the kitchen, I too face my own culinary challenges every day as I stand in the kitchen, tired, hungry and waiting for food to magically appear in front of me. Whether your challenge is limited time and energy or you just don’t have much experience cooking, we can all afford at some points during our lives to come back to the basics of cooking and turn to simple means of nourishing and feeding ourselves. Keeping things simple takes away the intimidation of cooking and empowers us to create meals that fit our own lifestyles and likes.

In her book, In the Green Kitchen, Alice Waters makes this statement: “At home in their own kitchens, even the most renowned chefs do not consider themselves to be chefs;  there, they are simply cooks, preparing the simple, uncomplicated food they like best. Preparing food like that does not have to be hard work. On the contrary, the whole process—thinking about food, deciding what you want to eat, shopping for ingredients, and, finally, cooking and eating –is the purest pleasure, and too much fun to be reserved exclusively for ‘foodies.’ Cooking creates a sense of well-being for
yourself and the people you love and brings beauty and meaning to everyday life. And all it requires is common sense—the common sense to eat seasonally, to know where your food comes from, to support and buy from local farmers and producers who are good stewards of our natural resources, and to apply the same principles of conservation to your own kitchen.” 

So by default we’ve all conquered the first hurdle of cooking which is choosing high-quality, delicious ingredients. The reason Richard and I get up every morning is to do our job of producing high-quality, delicious vegetables for you and your family. If you start with high quality ingredients in the height of their season, you often don’t need anything more than a simple preparation with a little salt, pepper and maybe a splash of oil or vinegar or a squeeze of lemon. That’s something we can all do!

I’d like to introduce another cookbook author with some unique perspectives on how to approach cooking. Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Kitchen, is all about laying out the basics, and making food and cooking approachable for everyone by simply relying on learning the basics. The first section of her book is entitled:  “Start Where You Are.” In her introduction she asks a simple question.  “So why do I cook? To eat, of course. But there’s more to it. And that’s where this book comes in. I cook because feeding myself is the one basic, essential, daily requirement that I can do entirely in my own way….Not only do I get to eat what I’ve made, I also get to delight in my ability to create it.” Throughout Alana’s book, she provides a roadmap for maneuvering the basics of cooking. For example, there are two pages that clearly and simply outline the basic procedures for how to cook an egg. Once you learn how to prepare this simple food, you can branch off and do all kinds of things with eggs! They can make a simple lunch accompanied by a fresh green salad. You can eat them for breakfast scrambled with seasonal vegetables, or you can turn them into a quiche to
serve for dinner. “But I don’t know how to make pie crust!” Don’t worry, Alana guides you through the simple steps for how to make a basic pie crust. And with that basic knowledge you can make not only quiche, but you can create a squash pie to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, make a delicious rhubarb pie in the spring, or enjoy peach cobbler in the summer! As Alice Waters states in her book, this is what all good cooks have in common “…a set of basic techniques that free cooks from an overdependence on recipes and a fear of improvisation.” She goes on to say “The value of learning a foundation of basic techniques is that once these skills become instinctive, you can cook comfortably and confidently without recipes, inspired by the ingredients you have.  …..There is enormous pleasure in cooking good food simply and in sharing the cooking and the eating with friends and family. I think it is the best antidote to our overstressed modern lives. And there is nothing better than putting a plate of delicious food on the table for the people you love.”       

So I encourage you to outfit yourself with a few simple tools and get into the kitchen. Keep it simple and have fun. When you are limited with time or creative ideas, just keep it simple. Roast a potato, steam some broccoli, make a simple green salad with a basic vinaigrette. We all deserve to eat good, healthy, nutritious food and preparing food doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple, eat well and most importantly take time to enjoy the foods that nourish you.
If you’re looking for a basic resource to help you learn some basic cooking concepts, I’d highly recommend either of the books I cited above.  

In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters 
The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila 

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