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Everything you ever wanted to know about cooking, but were afraid to ask

Updated on April 25, 2015

The good old days?

History of cooking, my version!

In the beginning there was Man.

In order for man to survive He had to provide his body with adequate nutrition.

This was known as eating.

There was no Supermarket, No Butchers Shop, Bakers or Greengrocer. No Maccers, No Pizza, Not even a drive thru.

In the hostile environment Man found himself, opportunities for sustenance were not guaranteed.

Man had to actively seek sources of nourishment to survive.

Man had to decide what was edible & what were not, what items were readily available;

What provided nourishment & which ones were far too risky for the required effort.

Man had Food, he also had choice.

He could choose which food to partake in, this was Mans diet.

Over a period of time Man mastered the flame.

He discovered that heating food changed its texture & gave rise to a more palatable experience.

Also this is the basic definition of cooking; the application of heat to a raw ingredient to render it more palatable.

Interestingly, this is what separated Man from the apes, cooking His food; The process of cooking made the digestion of food much more efficient.

More time went into the development of Man as a species; The gut shrank, Mans posture improved and his brain became larger! (If you believe the 'theory' that is).

Man was not alone, he had Woman, and at first they were all called Eve until this became a tad confusing... Man also had children to clothe, feed & protect, bills to pay...

He discovered that by pairing up with the Woman they could share tasks.

Man could go out & slaughter the Wooly Mammoth; Woman could tend the crop & keep an eye on the kids.

Man utilised this concept harmoniously; when man came back from the hunt He was provided with his share of the food that had been prepared by his partner in his absence.

This became known as a meal.

It just made sense to hunt by daylight, then to recoup, reinvigorate & reproduce by the light of the moon.

Thus setting the pattern for millennia to come & coining the expressions toil, & nine to five.

Eventually man found safety in numbers,

Developing communities, for protection & the pooling of resources.

He harvested the wild seeds, domesticated the wild animals for his own need.

Meat, milk, fur.

At some time or another Man made various discoveries, food had seemingly magical properties; surplus milk could be made into cheese, seeds ground for starch etc.

Ruminants were far greater value for money, the net return being greater than the risks involved in sourcing these animals, as opposed to say a sabre toothed tiger...

Perhaps for the first time in history Man had a surplus of food & was able to store goods for future use.

Also this led to a quirky little trend that has stayed with us 'til this day, Trade.

The exchange of goods or services soon caught on, this led Man to be more mobile.

Man was able to preserve His surplus goods & travel to another region to trade.

What he had to offer held little value at home, where there was a surplus.

This is the origin of Supply & Demand.

Eventually Man invented money as a means of exchange, this freed up trade as never before. Traders were able to more conveniently complete their transactions.

Sharing had been the caring thing to do for a long time; it just made life easier to prepare larger amounts, as this was pretty much as the food was delivered. 1 animal would feed 40 people.

This became the origins of Hospitality.

A group of people sharing a table,

With the advent of trade, came travel & the Travelling Salesman was invented.

The Salesman or trader could be out on the road & away from home for periods of time that required shelter & sustenance.

This gave rise to establishments being developed to cater these needs.

At first it was the largest family in the village, they always had room at the table for an extra mouth & there was always a bit of room on the stable floor.

This is the origin of the B&B & the home stay experience.

Then two things happened, someone had an idea that since these travellers dealt in cash, they could provide them with an improved service, in exchange for an actual room & a meal they could lighten their load of some of that cash. (some would argue this is where it all went wrong, inventing money...)

This was known as the upmarket experience.

This evolved into different markets for differing clientele.

The tavern & inn were invented as purpose built facilities offering shelter, nourishment, and a new concept, alcoholic beverages.

No longer were they the sole realm of travellers, they became the origin of the entertainment venue & socialising was invented.

Folk didn't take long to figure it out; that they had surplus cash, the cupboards were full, the kids were fed, He could now go & do some socialising.

This was the advent of the tavern, the Inn, the Saloon bar, Public House, Pub; or Local watering hole, as it became known; a refuge to the hard working peasant.

As this concept caught on, & with what became known as capitalism, the more successful traders with the larger surpluses of money looked to find an experience befitting their status; where they did not have to share with the peasants.

Work

A more diverse market was established to cater to the nouvelle riche.

The taverns & ale houses remained fairly low brow, offering basic service & traditional fare.

The grander establishments that popped up now to cater for this growing demand were the origins of 'Otels, another French word, spelt with an H, but they don't pronounce it with an H... To complicate the matter even further the French have trouble with their T's, seems to me they should have kept it simple & called them Odels... But I digress;

As the bourgeois separated themselves from the plebeians' the scale of these establishments increased.

The market became further refined & more demanding.

The ruling classes began to stage events whereby the chosen few would be invited to a formal meal.

This is the origin of the banquet.

These functions spurred the Cooks of the time to invent new dishes; different ways of preparing ingredients, exotic ingredients were sourced.

Out of the need to be organised & streamlined kitchens became more organised, some enterprising individual split the various roles of the kitchen into departments.

No longer did the butcher & the baker have to share with the candlestick maker.

The person who was appointed to coordinate all these activities was known simply as Chef, a quick abbreviation from Chief.

As these Chefs’ began to record their finer moments, the dishes that received the greatest positive feedback, now known as the compliment, were recorded for future use, giving rise to the Recipe.

Fast forward to the modern age & we have compilations of recipes, known as recipe books.

These are often an anthology of the authors

Most revered dishes, printed in full colour glossy photographs, by professional photographers.

Recipe books become like Exercise equipment, they look good when you buy them & you have every intention of using them, but still they end up on a dusty shelf somewhere.

What you didn't realise at the time was that what you had purchased was indeed a credit to the author, but it wasn't much use to you.

You did try a few of the recipes but gave up, the ingredients were unfamiliar, you had to buy in a bag just to use a pinch, and you will never use it again.

You got stuck 1/2 way thru a recipe, it took you much longer than you anticipated, it sounded pretty simple, but maybe you missed a step?

When you did finish a dish, it looked nothing like the picture & even the dog wouldn't eat it...

You blamed yourself as a bad cook & hid your shame at being unable to cook.

But fear not friends, help from those ego sapping recipe writers is at hand.

Someone who is willing to go into battle to decipher all those points where you gave up...

You see folk there is a code of silence exists, as strong as the caper nostra, Chefs maintain their prestigious air by maintaining these secrets from mere mortal cooks.

Imagine if everybody could cook like we Chefs do, the illusion would be gone, we would be back to merely functioning cooks without the romance of the flashy names & the big hats.

A thin veil protects us from one another, you don't see what goes on behind the scenes, and you are captivated in awe & fascination.

In return we begrudgingly accept the adage ' the customer is always right'.

We allow you to think that, rather than share with you our innermost secrets

Now some chefs know some of the tricks, but I know all of them, something that has taken me my whole life to acquire.

Now I am prepared to share some of these secrets with you.

This Hub is intended as a guide to the novice Chef or the home cook, with my help & guidelines you will soon be preparing food which actually looks like the photos & the leftovers will be looking so good you will frame them rather than give them to your dog.

More coming soon!

Abalone

Abalone, The aardvark of the food phone book.

Abalones are what as a kiwi I have become accustomed to as Paua. A long time ago, in a land far far away Paua was a shellfish an individual could still harvested from the wild.

I was amongst those who can recall personally harvesting this delicacy from the rocky shallows of a Southern beach.

The Paua differs slightly, it has a 'green foot' the meat is actually still white, as the abalones'

There are several edible varieties; even some sea shells are similarly edible. The kiwi classic is;

To mince the meat, add a few crusts of bread to it, clean the mincer with them to get the last bit of Paua thru, and then mix them in with an egg.

Paua Patties can be thinned down to suit your needs, bacon is nice with them, dice it into the raw mix, pan fry the paua patties on a low heat, in butter.

Paua Steak, the entire paua, minus the shell can be tenderised by striking the back part of the meat, where it was adhered to the shell with a blunt object.

I suppose a mallet would be appropriate, but a beer bottle will also do...

The whole steak can then be gently fried, again butter being the medium of choice.

Paua's in cream, the French don't know about this one, but will wish they did now;

Slice the paua into thin slices, about 5mm, sweat some diced onion & some bacon, again in butter, throw in the paua then add cream to cover, simmer until it thickens.

I made friends with a Mangu Kaha with this once; I was intimidated by this Maori warrior, until I introduced him to Pauas in cream.

All men are equal at the trough!

Expect to pay a caviar premium on abalone no matter where in the world you are!

Absinthe, the Green fairy?

Absinthe; The green Goblin

Absinthe: The green goblin, the green fairy… Just a couple of names for this distilled alcoholic beverage.

It was first produced in the 18th century, when people were a bit more relaxed about what they were consuming.

Traditionally Absinthe was made with the leaves and flowers of Wormwood (if a worm could?), which contains Thujone, and lends it’s reputation to Absinthe, as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug.

Really it only contained traces of Thujone, but it was typically bottled at anywhere up to 75% Alcohol, by volume.It is double distilled!

They took the Thujone out of it, but people were still getting into it, and getting out of it while they were on it.

Probably more due to the alcohol, and the reputation…

There are still a few countries in the world that are permitted to produce genuine Absinthe, Switzerland, France; countries of origin.

There’s a product called Absinthe you may see at your licker store, but it’s a knock off. Genuine Absinthe is a blend of herbs and spices, kinda like KFC; These herbs are macerated in alcohol, then it is distilled again! No wonder it has a reputation for madness!

The correct way of drinking Absinthe is to soak a sugar cube in the spirit, and ignite it on a spoon over the drink, add cold water to dilute, tip in the sugar, and drink!

True Absinthe will go cloudy when you add water; called the ‘Ouzo effect.

Acetic acid, Citrus, Vinegar.

Acetic Acid

Acetic acid; far distant runner up to abalone. If you had acetic acid you would be a bit sour.

It is the major constituent of lemon juice & vinegar; it's pretty much what vinegar is.

We'll talk vinegar later, but as a condiment, for use in flavouring a dish.

I like to use vinegar to clean things, especially following the use of caustics.

Heavy duty cleaners will react to fat & cause it to break down prematurely if it is not entirely removed, say cleaning a vat or a fryer.

So wipe it out with vinegar when you're done.

With the likes of grill plates etc, instead of using heavy duty caustic, oven cleaners etc. Use Lemon juice, or vinegar, the cheap ones work just as well.

Very important. If you are using concentrated caustic as a cleaner, keep some vinegar nearby.

If you notice a soapy feel to your fingers, or a burning sensation anywhere exposed to this chemical, immediately wash it down in vinegar, the acid will neutralise the alkaline cleaner.

Use Vinegar to clean your bathroom, clean up soap scum, it's a lot kinder to your environment too, it all goes somewhere.

Aioli

Aioli, notice how it's spelt? There are many variations on the spelling & nobody seems to agree. Basically it's Garlic mayonnaise, that's the modern take on it anyway.

Traditionally it was more of a garlic paste, like a mayonnaise, but it was made with mashed potatoes.

Roasted Garlic bound with egg yolk & mashed potatoes, mmm. Who knew that would become such a catchy, Aioli with everything...

Spell it anyway you please, there's 100 ways of making it too, apparently...

Alcohol

Alcohol

Alcohol; One of my favourite things... I could write a whole book, but to be concise...

Alcohol & food go together, they come together.

The alcohol can be a beverage served alongside the food, or the alcohol can be part of the food.

Technically this is incorrect; if you are making a dish with alcohol in it, by heating it you evaporate the alcohol.

But you are still left with the flavour.

Watch out for flames, this can be a serious hazard at home with curtains & the like catching fire.

A glass of Brandy thrown into a pan of smoking hot cracked pepper will ignite in a huge fireball.

There are lots of different liquors that impart a unique flavour to any given dish, but this is not a recipe book.

Alcohol is of course a drug; legally sanctioned, but no less a drug for that reason.

As with all drugs, moderation is the key; if you overindulge you are likely to experience the symptoms of an overdose.

Alcohol is pretty hard on the human body, we are pretty hard on ourselves; the tongue & the brain enjoy the current effects of alcohol, but it’s the liver that pays the price...

The liver is evil; it must be punished?

Allergies

Allergies

Allergies; Nuts, flour, dairy, racial intolerance.

Personally I think the world has become too sanitised, the foods we eat are so far removed from the origins of our diet, they are sanitised, sterilised UHT treated, pasteurised.

This destroys all the microorganisms including those that may be of benefit.

A bit of dirt in our diet is the answer, get back in touch with your environment, don’t be a stranger to a bit of nature, build a resistance!

Honey from the local area is a remedy for hay fever, the cute little bees make honey riddled with the pollen from around you, here's how to acclimatise yourself to it, eat honey.

I don’t get how people can be allergic to nuts, and not eat peanuts? Peanuts are a pea, not a nut...

Revisiting this point... Apparently Peanuts are such an allergen because of the consistency, size and texture of chewed up Peanuts, it does tend to stick in the throat, that’s where the troubles begin.

Then again I have heard Peanut oil is used as a base in some Vaccines, But don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist, or a doctor, I am for real… Trust me!

Alfalfa

alfalfa

Alfalfa; Trade name; pubic hair, just look at it & you'll see why! You can actually go into a grocer’s store or the relevant section of your supermarket if you prefer spending more money than you need... And ask for a punnet of pubic hair, they will bring you alfalfa & keep a straight face!

Almonds

Almonds; if you had a nut allergy eat your heart out, or your kernel out. That’s what an almond is, a kernel out of a fruit, not even a real nut.

Ground Almonds are used as a flour substitute in some sweet dishes, Flourless Chocolate Cakes etc.

Al foil

Aluminium

Aluminium Foil; say “Al Foil”, everything’s gotta have a funny name, Teresa the freezer. Brenda the blender, Mandy the mandolin...

The only thing I have to say about Al foil is; don’t let it touch your food.

Sounds a bit bizarre? Well the foil will react with acidic foods & corrode.

You’ll be left with rust holes in your foil & small areas of metal fused to your dish.

Easy solution; Line the surface with kitchen paper, formerly known as grease proof paper; Then, cover it with foil.

You will find it a lot easier to remove the paper & the foil in one go, when you are done...

Don’t store food in Al foil, use cling film!

Beware cooking with Aluminium, any acidic food will react with it, and taint your food. Just avoid them altogether, every time you scrape an alloy pan with a metal spoon it rubs away a little bit of Aluminium, and that stuffs not good for you.

Don't spray stuff under your arms, that's aluminium too!

Anchovies, love 'em or hate 'em!

Anchovies

Anchovies; salty little fillets of fish, packed into a can of oil.

Love them or hate them you can't make a Caesar salad & not put anchovies in the dressing.

They are utilised as a Condiment, you add a small quantity of anchovy to a dish, and you wouldn't want to tuck into a plate full of them...

Anchovy butter is quite pleasant as an appetiser. Hors’d oeuvres or antipasto.

Myself I'm a great fan of Olives & Anchovies blended to Tapenade.

I'll also have them on my Caesar, thank you very much; I'll just about eat them from the can!!

Anise

Anise Aniseed.

Anise; a seed, therefore a spice. Called Aniseed when it’s a flavour, and used to flavour lots of things.

Star Anise is something else, close in flavour, and cheaper to produce, but not Anise.

Careful with your pronunciation, sounds awful close to Anus, and especiall Star Anise, brings about connotations of Starfish, chocolate starfish…

Fish like Aniseed too, I’m told a drop of aniseed on your bait will have every river monster within miles homing in on your hook!

Aphrodisiacs

Aphrodisiacs

Aphrodisiacs; I've heard legend of a few, a ground tigers penis will get you hard like candy cane... I've heard Cashews, pistachios, but all unsubstantiated in my limited personal experience.

I am fond of an oyster & I believe their reputation is not entirely without merit, they are loaded with zinc, a mineral associated with sperm production.

Where I come from, the home of the Bluff oyster & definitely the most succulent on the planet. There is a guarantee which applies to Bluff oysters, which goes a little like this;

"Hello, I bought a dozen of these oysters last night, but only ten of them have worked, I think the other two were duds"!

Also on my list of 'horn tucker' is the humble sweetbread, the thymus gland from a young ruminant, packed full of hormones.

much easier to get than a tigers Willie, keep away from the zoo, just visit you local butcher instead, veal, lamb, venison..

The shape of an object seems to determine its reputation, rather than chemical property.

Asparagus have a phallic image; avocado's an egg shape representive of a teste...

An Apple a day...

A is for Apple!

Apple; It's true 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' Apples are also a whole lot cheaper!

An apple is also a rose by another name, hence rosy apples? An apple is a member of the rose family!

Apples recently have had an upgrade; they are now credited as being an appetite suppressant. (What’s worse than a worm in your apple? half a worm!)

Apparently an apple in the morning will keep you more awake than a coffee!

Good news if you're a smoker of cigarettes, an apple will make that fag taste like arse!

Everybody knows when you peel or dice an apple, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over it, a pinch of sugar helps with the acidity.

There are about 100 varieties of apple grown commercially throughout the world.

There are three types of apple.

Sweet or table apples. Cooking apples & even lees sweet, cider apples

As Nature cannot be dictated to, many varieties ripen all at once.

Man has skilfully employed a technique known as controlled atmosphere storage.

He can then govern the supply to meet the demand.

The downside of this of course, the apples may be weeks or even months old before they reach you & they will deteriorate in flavour & crispness.

A is also for Apricot

Apricot

Apricot; I'm not sure if it was named for its colour, or vice versa, Apricot jam is used as a base for everything in baking.

Apricot technically is a rose, so is a plum.

Don't eat apricot stones, they contain cyanide, but relax you would need about 30 to be a lethal dose, hard to do by accident, difficult to surreptitiously slip into ones soda...

Actually I read recently Apricot seeds, the bit inside the stone, is bad for cancer! Cancer apparently loves sugar and gobbles up all that it can. The Apricot stone contains traces of cyanide, whammy for the hungry cancer cell... Kind of natures Trojan horse!

Before the advent of refrigeration, surplus harvest was preserved, a tradition now fading.

Tree ripened apricots, like apples are naturally the premium condition for the harvest.

Of course, nowadays we merely buy our apricots as is, take it or leave it.

Artichoke

Artichoke

Artichoke; the first person to try upon eating this must have been mighty hungry, "Hmm, let’s eat these thistles, they look good, positively mouth wateringly delicious, mmm thistles..."

These take the prize as being the most difficult vegetable to prepare; you must trim the top out of them with a sharp knife, to reveal the inner woody 'choke'. Aptly named as you will choke on them.

Then they will oxidise on you, they will go brown immediately.

And all to eat an insipid flavoured thistle.

They also have a queer reputation of being able to change the flavour of water or wine, whatever you drink with it to choke it down.

I may be a bit biased here?

Artichokes can be bought pickled if you were really eager, like pickled bamboo!

Asparagus

Asparagus

Asparagus These are a lily, as opposed to a thistle.

The spear is the bit to eat, hopefully blanched in salty water for only a few seconds!

I like the canned stuff, like comfort food, but it's not the same as fresh.

You can buy special pots for steaming asparagus, long tall pots, but why would you?

I like asparagus, it is nice. It's also good to work with; you can stand it up like a row of picket fences, lots of presentation options.

Cut the bottom 1/4 off, save it for asparagus soup! It's too woody to eat...

Avocado

Avocado

Avocado I like these too, but as with a lot of things I have difficulty buying them. They’re relatively plentiful, I can just remember times when we used to pick them up off the ground!

Possums like them too; the monkeys would eat anything we didn't take.

Take care peeling an avo'.

Hold them in your hand & run a knife around them, down to the stone. If they are ripe, a quick twist, of the avocado, fool; Will separate it into halves. A very careful downward movement with the sharp part of the knife into the stone & another twist will see the stone free.

There's a simple rule when it comes to using knives 'stop before you get to your fingers'.

Failure to abide this anecdote has negative side effects

A large spoon will then scoop out the 1/2 avocado.

Everybody has their own 'Guaca-mole' recipe.

I remember my mum telling me they used avocados as a child. It was known as poor man's butter. I'm thinking maybe I've confused avocado with dripping?

To ripen an Avocado, put it in a bag with an apple or a banana, they give off ethylene gas, which will ripen Avocado's.

Avocado is ancient Mexican for testicle! Think about it? What do they look like? Oval and crinkly!

Arrowroot

Arrowroot

Arrowroot; is a tuber off an herb known as Maranta.

Or on a less technical description, the root of an Arrow tree?

The root is powdered & used to thicken sauces etc, in much the same manner as cornflour.

The major differences being arrowroot will not cloud your sauce, it will remain clear.

Also it is gluten free.

It is not affected by acidulation, making it popular for sweet & sour dishes.

But it will turn dairy products slimy!

Most starch sold today as Arrowroot is in fact tapioca.

Mix arrowroot, cornflour, tapioca, potato starch in some cold water, and then whisk it into a hot liquid.

Arrowroot will thicken at a lower temperature, but take it off the heat immediately or it will begin to thin again.

One Tablespoon will thicken a cup of liquid.

Aubergine aka Eggplant aka Egg fruit...

Aubergine

Aubergine; Egg plant, or egg fruit. It actually a berry & is closely related to nightshade, potato & tomato.

These are a pretty fruit or vegetable if you prefer.

They tend to be bitter so are traditionally salted before they are used.

They are fairly bland but tend to soak up flavours from whatever they are cooked with.

Also they are sold marinated in cans & jars.

They have a meaty kind of texture & are popular with vegetarian dishes.

Personally I wonder why a vegetarian would want to eat something with a texture akin to meat if they don't like meat in the first place.

B Be Bee

Coming next, you guessed it, 'B'

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    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

      I want to congratulate you for writing such a superb post. Well done. I'm going to refer to it often :)

      May i ask you - have you ever tried Indian food ?

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