I believe that I have mentioned this at least once or twice in my life; but there was a time when I could burn water. The smoke detector's alarm blaring through the house was how I knew that food was done. I would invite people over to dinner, and it was only after taking a moment to physically cringe would they agree, under the condition that I order take-out. Needless to say, I was never much of what you would call a master of my own kitchen, a cook, or (dare I say it), a chef.
But all that needed to change when I chose to cohabitate. Suddenly there was someone else to prepare dinner for on a nightly basis; and one can only prepare microwave popcorn so many times in a week. So into the kitchen I ventured. With the help of cookbooks (minus all of the years of dust) and a magical nifty little thing called "Food Network", I was soon able to prepare soup that didn't come out of a can, spaghetti sauce that didn't plop out of a jar, and even meals that I had only tried in restaurants; Osso Buco, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Herb Crusted Lamb, just to name a few.
Yet, my thirst for knowledge was not quenched. My question soon became not "how do I make this blasted thing," but, "how and why do these foods work together?" So I ventured forth to learn more; more about foods in general and how they work in conjunction with each other. This brought me to Pima Community College, and the Culinary Principles class. So the following is a summary of the things that I learned in Culinary 140.
THERE ARE MORE TYPES OF OIL IN THE WORLD THAN THE KIND YOU USE TO GET A SUNTAN WITH--
There are many types of oils with which to cook, but the flavor of the oil you use should be related to the food that you are cooking. Some oils are better to fry with because of their high smoke point (the moment at which heated fat emits smoke--the higher the smoke point, the better it is for frying) but may also begin to lose nutrients past 150 degrees. The difference between oil and a fat is that oils are liquid at room temperature whereas fats are solid at room temperature. Different types of fats include saturated fats such as butter, lard and margarine or hydrogenated vegetable oil; saturated fat comes from animals, while hydrogenated oils are chemically altered from liquid to solid form (Crisco, for example).
AN APPLE MAY NOT FALL FROM THE TREE, BUT IT CAN ROLL ITSELF INTO NEW SURROUNDINGS--
I grew up in a family that knew two types of apples, Red Delicious and Granny Smith. However, since taking this class, I have discovered many types of apples I had only passed by while inside the grocery store. To date, I have tried Gala, Fiji, Jonathan, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Cameo and Golden Delicious. Pink Lady is my favorite.
SALT OF THE EARTH CAN ALSO BE FOUND IN THE OCEAN--
All salt is made up of the same compound, but there are different types of salt available for use in cooking. Kosher Salt has become popular recently with its constant use on popular cooking shows; but is simply an additive and iodine free salt that has a courser texture than regular table salt. Salt can be mined or harvested from the sea. Some of the largest salt mines can be found in the United States, Mexico and China; while sea salts are usually harvested from the Middle East, the United States, Mexico and France. There are also salts for specific purposes available, such as popcorn salt or picking salt. But regardless of the type of salt one uses, when it comes to food it's important to remember to not over salt your food; once it's in, it's not coming out.
HAD I ONLY KNOWN YEARS AGO WHAT MAKES A CHILI PEPPER HOT, I COULD HAVE SAVED MYSELF MANY NIGHTS OF HEARTBURN-
The heat of chili peppers comes from the pepper membrane--otherwise known as the placenta--not just from the seeds. For years I made salsa and removed just the seeds thinking this was reducing the heat, and yet still not sure why I'd get hot flashes during dinner. I have since started making salsa with a few more seeds and fewer pepper membranes.
IF CHOCOLATE IS FOOD FROM THE GODS, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE ME WHEN I MAKE GANACHE?--
The definition of the cocoa bean tree - Theobroma Cacao - translates to "food from the gods." And despite its extensive process from bean to yummy goodness found on a dessert plate, many seem to agree with that statement. Cocoa beans are grown 15 degrees of the equator, and are found in pods grown off of trees. The soil the trees are grown in contributes to the flavor of the cocoa bean, similar to grapes grown in a vineyard. There are several types of chocolate available for cooking and baking including dark, bittersweet, milk and white (although white chocolate is not technically a chocolate because it contains no cocoa solids - it is made up of cocoa butter, sugar and milks). Cocoa powder can also be made from cocoa beans by a process that removes cocoa solids. Dutch processed cocoa powder is when the cocoa is put into an alkaline solution in order to raise its PH level, making the flavor milder, the color darker, and making it easier to disperse.
A PARSNIP IS NOT SOMETHING YOU ASK FOR AT A HAIR SALON--
Prior to this class, there were many strange vegetables that I had passed up in the produce section of a grocery store (similar to my experience with apples). I had never seen horseradish in its natural form, and I did not know that carrots were originally white in nature. So feeling adventurous, I purchased some parsnips, cooked and mashed them with potatoes. I will never make mashed potatoes using just potatoes ever again.
THERE IS MORE TO COOKING FOOD THAN JUST PUSHING "START" ON THE MICROWAVE--
There are several methods to cooking food, including deep fat frying, boiling, roasting, stewing, steaming and poaching (actually, there are probably more, but these are the ones I learned about). Which way to prepare your food will depend not only on the type of flavor you're looking for, but on the type of food you're cooking with. For example, foods to be roasted should be tender with some cuts seared to seal in juices. Foods used for stewing should be of a tougher nature, whereas those used in poaching should be tender and require gentle handling; this despite the fact that both cooking methods require the food to be cooked in liquid.
So where once there was fear, now there is confidence as I cross the threshold into my kitchen these days; and not just because I can follow a recipe, throw a few ingredients together and hope for the best. Now I feel I have a better understanding as to how these foods work together...which I think makes my meals come out just a little better...which has made my friends a little less afraid to have dinner at my home now. But despite all the things I learned, all of the new foods I got to sample in class, and no matter how often I use all of this knowledge from one culinary experience to the next, there is still one fact that I will forever carry with me and share; the one that never fails to get a smile and ponderous look from anyone I share it with.
THE COLOR EGG A CHICKEN LAYS IS DETERMINED BY THE COLOR OF HER EARS.