Dinners by Dad – The Basics

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Over the past several weeks of cooking dinner I’ve really started to like it.  There’s something very technical about it that feeds my engineering mind.  It’s sort of cathartic actually, in part because it’s different from what I normally do each day.  It’s similar to sailing in that way as well since sailing requires you devote your mind to managing the sails, getting your mind off your day job while still working your brain.

Okay, let’s get started.

Recipe Ideas:

Since I’m not very creative when it comes to meal time I’ve resorted to Google for recipe ideas.  Most of the stuff I’ve found has been coming from the same couple web sites with Epicurious and Allrecipes.com being the most common.  Allrecipes.com has a cool recipe spinner app for iPhone that I’m using now where you select a type of meal (side, main course, salad, etc), then one primary ingredient (eggs, pork, pasta, etc), and a prep time (20 minutes, over an hour, etc) and it gives you a list of matching recipes.  Since it’s on the phone it makes shopping for the ingredients pretty handy.

Planning Time:

On my dinner nights I have set a calendar appointment for 3pm to remind me to start at least planning dinner.  Because my work schedule allows for it, I usually make a stop at the nearby grocery store at around 4:00 or 4:30pm to pick up anything I need and most days I’m browsing for recipes on my phone while I’m in the store.  This isn’t necessarily a good idea, it just happens to be the way it has worked out lately.  Ideally I would plan the day or night before, check the house for ingredients on the morning of, and make a shopping list for the stop on the way home.  Since I plan just a few hours before dinner and go straight from work to the store, I tend to buy things we already have.

Basic Tools:

A tablet, an iPad 2 in my case, is super handy for checking the recipes while you cook.  And since the web browsers typically support tabbed browsing you can have multiple recipes up in different tabs and switch back and forth while you cook.  Also, after I search for recipes on my phone’s browser and use that to shop, I then open the same recipe pages very easily on my iPad once in the kitchen because Safari and Chrome sync the open tabs between devices automatically.  If you use the Allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner app I mentioned above you can save favorites and create shopping lists that are accessible on your iPad and iPhone.

Since cooking is messy, you may want to find a way to protect your tablet from that mess.  There are a variety of cases you can use.  I haven’t personally addressed this issue yet, but I really want this Belkin Chefs Stand and Stylus which unfortunately seems hard to find.

You also need a set of good knives, pots, pans, and a pasta pot or pasta insert for another pot.  If you don’t use a pasta insert, your pasta will sometimes stick to the bottom and burn.  The insert keeps that from happening making pasta cooking almost hands free.

A word about knives:

If you don’t have a really good, sharp, knife you will get frustrated.  I happen to have a couple large sharp knives now and it’s made things much easier.  My favorite new knife is a chefs knife with a curved blade edge so you can rock it over vegetables.  It makes chopping small things (think cilantro, parsley, etc) remarkably easy while saving your fingers.

A word about Garlic:

photo (4)Buy a ton of it! You can put garlic in pretty much anything and it’s good for you.  The easiest way to buy and use it is in the minced form.  You can get this super large container of minced garlic at Costco or many grocery stores and it lasts a long time.  1/2 teaspoon is equal to 1 clove of garlic.  Most recipes call for minced garlic anyway so this saves some time.  If I need full cloves for a recipe I usually just buy them the day of.

Remember the basic tenet of garlic is there is no such thing as too much garlic, so you really don’t have to measure it accurately.

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