No Recipe for Life

Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that can boost for your soul or simply make you happy.   Simple things like cooking or baking.  Ever since I was 5 or 6 years old I’ve been baking and cooking up dishes in the kitchen with my picture cookbook (which I got from one of my best friends and still use till today. Thank you!).  Some dishes turned out well, some turned out funny, some turned out to be something else, but overall it turned out to be a generally good experience that can teach one a bit about life.

It is the experience of cooking or baking that counts despite the sometimes failed attempts.  Thirty years on my parents seem to recall perfectly my initial attempts at making brownies that turned out to be little black squares of rock-like substance that seems to have been part of a volcanic eruption or how my “Eggy” bread” gave everyone a good laugh.  My husband reminds me of how my cookies turned out to be scones or how cakes turn out to be bread.

What ever happens in the kitchen though can be a little reminder of life in general.   There is no one recipe that fits everyone.  Whilst the recipe might work for some, for others it might require tweaking, changes in measurements, or need techniques to get the desired outcome.  The outcome depends upon the ingredients, the sequence in which they were combined or how fast they were mixed.  Even things such as humidity (which are hard to control) play a big role.  The trick though, is to keep finding out why it worked (or didn’t work) and to keep working on it.

That too is life.  There’s no perfect recipe.  You may spend your life trying to do everything “right” but in the end, we are all human.  There are good days, bad days and days you wish you could just stay in bed all day.  Life is all about the experience; finding the recipe, getting the ingredients, imagining the desired outcome and finally seeing the ingredients come to life step by step.  I love the thrill of seeing the outcome.

Sometimes it turns out well, sometimes it doesn’t.  Don’t worry when things don’t go the way you want it.  Don’t worry when you find yourself out of some ingredients.  Improvise and find an alternative.  Figure out why it didn’t work and try again.  If you don’t try, you’ll never get it right.

Happy Baking (or Cooking)!

Myth 8: Seal Juices into Meats by Searing

Let’s forget floods tonight and talk about cooking.  If you are a cook, and cook meat, then you are bound to have heard this, “Seal in the juices by searing meats before you cook.”  For the non-cook, what does this mean?  It means basically to fry or expose the outer layer of meat to high temperatures before baking, or continuing to cook it.  My family does it, and so do my aunts.  I thought it made sense.  You cook the outer layer first, so that the raw juice would not be able to come out.  It’s like one of those know hows that gets passed down from generation to generation.  Lifehacker says this is not so.  Here’s why.

The article says that this was first proposed in the 19th century by a German chemist called Justus von Liebig who said that applying very high temperatures to meat would create a “sealed” layer of cooked meat through which liquid the inside meat would not be able to escape. (Wow, I didn’t realize this would go back so long ago!)

Anyways, there is a problem with his experiment in that he compared the liquid and nutrients from a piece of meat that was submerged in cold water. It was then heated, simmered.  This was compared to a dry piece of meat which was applied to an extremely hot surface.  If you think about it, of course the fried meat would be juicier than the one boiled to death..

That’s not all, another book called “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee compares a seared piece of meat and un-seared meat cooked identically.  He says that the seared piece of meat actually retained fewer juices than the un-seared piece!  Searing, according to him, has no effect!

There goes my belief in sealing in the juices.  What this tells you is to question what you hear and what you are told.  Just because a good cook tells you something, it may not always be true.

When you hear a good tip, try it yourself and see what works best.  Searing, I think, may have an added benefit in that it gives the meat a little more taste than if it had not been seared. The crispy outer layer 🙂   As for the juices?  You have to just test it yourself.  Let me know when you find out! Happy cooking!

Myth 2: Food cooks faster in boiling water with salt added.

The last few days have been absolutely hectic as I’ve just started teaching, but now that all is settled today I get to relax and enjoy a few moments of peaceful writing.  It is indeed good for the mind and soul.  Today I write about a myth that is so common that I am sure many of you who cook have heard it before: adding salt to water changes the boiling point and lets you cook food faster.  I’ve heard this on cooking shows, read it in cooking books and yes I have to admit this is something I have believed in pretty much of my life until I read about it on Lifehacker.

Suddenly, I am forced to question my belief regarding boiling water and cooking.  Are there other things I am mistakenly believing in?

Apparently, the article says that to really affect the boiling point of water you would have to add an extremely large quantity of salt, so much that it would most likely render your food inedible.  Even then,
it would only affect the boiling point by a few tents of a degree Celsius at most.  That’s nothing. My pasta isn’t going to cook faster.

Wow. Hm..and then I thought my adding salt to boiling water before cooking pasta made my pasta tastier and was a key part in having it “Al dente.”  I guess I was wrong.   The only thing the salt did was to add flavor to the pasta! I guess that was the secret ingredient.

Are you knowledeable in Chemistry or Thermodynamics? What do you think?

Myth 1: Wooden cutting boards have more bacteria

In our lives, sometimes we hear things, we read things and we live by it thinking it’s right.  Sometimes it turns out it is just a myth.  So tonight, I’m going to start a little series about some common food myths. The first myth being that one should never use wooden cutting board for meat because they are full of bacteria.

It is commonly believed that the sharp knife cutting into the board causes little scratches, through which later juices from meat settle into.  They become a breeding grown for bacteria that cannot be easily washed away.  As a result, wooden cutting boards become a ‘no no.’  Plastic cutting boards are better.  Now some even say they are made with anti-microbial technology that ensures it remains bacteria free.

Sadly, it’s all just a myth.  It doesn’t matter what kind of cutting board you use, wooden or plastic, it does not reduce the number of bacteria, according to University of California: Davis, Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D of the UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory.

Although bacteria does go through the cuts in the wooden cutting board, the bacteria are said to settle deep inside where it is very difficult for it to resurface.  You would have to splot the board open first.  Once they are inside, they also do not multiply and often die.

Plastic cutting boards too result in bacteria even after cleaning.  I suppose this means, that whether you use wooden or plastic cutting boards, there will be bacteria.

The most important lesson though, is to ensure that you keep your cutting board clean.  Clean well after each use.  Which one is better? I cannot tell, but I can tell you I love the feel of cutting down into a wooden cutting board.  Others may like plastic because its light and convenient and feels ‘clean.’  It’s really up to you.   Myth be gone!  Wood is as good as plastic!

The Bread Machine

The weekend is always dangerous. It’s especially dangerous when I find myself in the electronics section or in the kitchen appliances area. If I am in the Apple Store too long, I get tempted by the iPad 2, the MacBook Air or even the little accessories. Suddenly my iPhone feels like it needs a couple more accessories. (I already have three brand new cases waiting to be used. I’m stocking up for when iPhone 3GS cases become hard to find… :P) At the moment, the universal dock is tempting. I can charge my phone on it at night without taking up space on my bedside table and it’ll look pretty on its stand..hmm

In the kitchen appliances area, I’m drawn by all the baking materials. Yes, I enjoy being a girl and cooking although I am also a working woman. I enjoy cooking. For me its like I get to go on a little vacation and create a few things. A stir here and there, pop it in the oven and suddenly you get a new creation. At the same time, it’s also relaxing and gets your mind off things. Yes, my house is full of cooking books, and machines of all sorts. We have the yogurt maker, crepe machine, fondue set, all sorts of baking trays and cake pans. The house is overloaded with cooking materials, utensils and all sorts of machines. This past weekend’s newest addition is the bread machine.

Of course nothing beats making bread the traditional way by hand, but with so many things to do nowadays the machines are always so tempting. Here, I can just pop the ingredients into the machine and roughly three hours later, I’ll have fresh bread. How absolutely wonderful. I can use it to make pizza dough or just bread dough so that I can take it out to put in stuffings. I can make fruit breads, carrot bread, or any kind of bread. All this, without getting my hands dirty. This is exciting stuff.

I can even pre-programme the machine so that it starts later on at night. This way I can wake up to the fresh smell of bread. Ahh…what I good dream. Tonight I’m trying it out. Lets see what the results are like. So far the dough looks promising and thinking about it is giving me little bursts of joy. I’ll have fresh bread soon!

Although I love all these machines and gadgets, I have to admit that I wonder if one day I will be overwhelmed with all these machines. What do we do with all the unused items? What will this earth do with them? I still have my Palm V since the days when PDAs were the chick thing to have. The younger generation no longer know what it is. It still works wonderfully but it is mostly left to sleep in my drawer. I could throw it away, but it’s such a pity to throw something so good away. So what do you do with all your unused gadgets? Do you recycle them or keep them? What do you think?

Not to forget my bread machine, if you have a bread machine, how do you like it? 🙂 Do you have any good recipes to share?

Fitness Tip: Learn to Cook

If you’ve been following my blog you can probably tell that my life revolve around traveling, exploring new places, finding good places to eat and then running it off.  One cannot have all the good stuff without some spending some time to exercise and take care of one’s body.   One important factor to maintaining one’s health is to also understand what we eat.  What goes into our bodies?  What ingredients are used to cook what? 

How is a croissant different from a whole wheat bread? They are both bread aren’t they? What’s in a quiche and fruit tart?

While baking quiche and making fruit tart over the weekend a thought hit me.  This was a wonderful way to learn and realize what really goes into our food!  Here you get to know all the ingredients!

Croissant, a favorite of mine requires lots and lots of butter for it to get all those layers and soft texture.  Oh how divine it is to just sink your teeth into the buttery croissant.  Whole wheat bread, however, requires much less butter and is therefore significantly a healthier choice.

Now I love to cook and nothing pleases me more than baking and sharing them with friends.  I used to cook quite often but since I decided to lose weight (and move house) it’s been off the agenda for awhile.  So this past weekend I got to do what I enjoy and bake my favorite dish: Quiche Lorraine.

I love it and always had since I was young.  Whenever I see at a bakery or at starbucks it is one of my favorite choices for a snack.  Not a good idea I now realize.  I was reminded of its ingredients while making it.  The base ismade of flour and butter. Lots of butter.  The filling is bacon, cream, cheese and lots of egg yolks.  Whoa!

Then I made fruit tart. Hey fruit tart has fruit and is supposed to be healthy right?  Hmm..the creamy custard was full of egg yolk and lots of sugar.  Not talking about the flour base which is rich in egg yolk, butter, and flour.  Mind you, I love them both but the sudden realization that they were calorie loaded and rich in eggs (high in cholesterol) gave me a wake up call.  A big one too.

I’m not saying that I won’t have croissant, quiche, or fruit tart anymore.  That’s unrealistic. One cannot go through life without occasional splurges of delicious food.  (I can’t anyways), but one can control one’s portion size.    I still eat everything (but in much smaller portion sizes) and I find that works just as well.  You don’t crave, and you also don’t blow up your waistline.  🙂

So if you want to be reminded of what’s in that delicious soft baked chocolate chip cookie or other foods, I say learn to cook 🙂  You’ll know exactly what your food is made off!  Even better yet, you’d learn to make leaner and healthier alternatives.  Use less butter, use milk instead of cream, take off the fat from the bacon, etc…. 🙂