11/24 2010

Don’t cook the heck out of food

I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. In addition, for each section, I’m food bloggers and culinary experts – for this excerpt, it’s Alex and Sonja Overhiser, authors of A Couple Cooks.

burnt turkey

Years ago, when Rob lived in New Zealand, he ate some chicken which had been sitting out at a photo shoot all day. Eight days after the photo shoot, that is. Needless to say, he suffered a serious case of food poisoning as a result. This seemed to scar him for many years, as he continued to cook everything an extra 15 minutes “just to be safe” (and I used to blame it solely on ESPN).

About a year ago, a few days after Thanksgiving, he had a revelation……

I was elated because Rob had offered to cook dinner (I was still recovering from preparing the annual feast). When I saw a Donna Hay cookbook open on the counter, I was even more excited. I completely steered clear of the kitchen so as not to interfere with Rob’s culinary creation and/or annoy him with my advice, whichever might happen first.

About an hour later, we sat down to a lovely dish of baked chicken on sweet potato rosti with a side of baked broccoli and carrots. In three words, it was magnificent. The only downside was that Rob looked as if he were about to have a nervous break-down when we took the first bite of our meal. I turned to him and said, “What the heck is wrong with you?” (I was seriously worried about him). His only comment was a resound, “You stress me out.” I rebutted with, “But I wasn’t even near the kitchen tonight. I stayed away on purpose.” To which he then responded, “It doesn’t matter. You get upset if dinner isn’t ready until 8,” (well yes, that is true) and “you are a good cook and that puts added pressure on me. You stress me out.” (I decided not to take his remarks personally.)

Truth be known, I have created more than my fair share of flops, many of which he has sampled, so I don’t see why he feels pressured to produce an exquisite meal. But the good news? After he’d finished dinner and admitted just how wonderful it tasted, he began to relax. It was then that he admitted: “I learned something about myself tonight. One, you stress me out.” (Yes, I believe you mentioned that a few times already). “Two, I don’t need to cook the hell out of things.”

Poking fun at Rob’s story, I’m guessing that many of us overcook food, whether intentionally or not. Particularly with pork and chicken, we have heard one too many warnings of botulism. With beef, some prefer a well-done filet or rib eye (God bless them), or simply don’t know how to grill. When fish is overcooked, moisture and natural flavor are lost.

To avoid overcooking food, I offer three suggestions:

  • Use a thermometer, to ensure you’re not cooking the hell out of your meal.
  • Cut and see. Who cares if your soon-to-eat piece of fish or meat has a knife mark in it? Better that than a ruined meal.
  • Remember that all meats continue to cook after you take them off the heating source. So remove your meal from heat and allow this slow and safe form “cooking” while you’re finishing up the side dishes.
  • Turn down the heat on the stove or grill or in the oven to increase your margin for error.
  • Last but not least, take a suggestion from Alex and Sonja: “Another way to avoid overcooked meat is to eat more meatless meals! Even just eating one meatless meal per week makes an impact environmentally, as well as on your own health. A good starter meatless recipe is sweet potato, black bean and green chili enchiladas, which are filling and satisfying without the addition of meat.”

With the holiday soon approaching, I wish you all a happy, relaxing day and a moist and flavorful bird (or tofu turkey, if you go meatless). Try not to overcook your meal; you might discover a whole new world of flavors as a result.

About Alex and Sonja

Alex and Sonja Overhiser are on a journey to eat better and master the art of cooking. They share while they learn via their blog, A Couple Cooks.

Their cooking journey began when they bought a house and needed something to feed dinner guests. They immersed themselves by perusing DVDs from Julia Child to Alton Brown, hundreds of library-loaned cookbooks, and numerous food blogs. In addition, they were inspired by Michael Pollan’s mantra “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants” and Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters.

Cutting out almost all processed and prepackaged food from grocery trips, Alex and Sonja prefer to make most things from scratch. They believe that everyone can cook, and that preparing natural, whole foods can be accessible and fun!

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