Cooking un-science

Puente de las Americas in Panama City

 

I have no formal cooking training. I just stood next to my mom while she worked her magic and emulated her. I also watch lots of TV. You know, the cooking shows. I love to imitate great cooks or chefs. I love the challenge of attempting to recreate a dish that may cost me upwards of $30 at a restaurant IF I were in that city. This means I’m both cheap and lazy; otherwise, I’d have to get dressed up and spend big bucks for some of those meals, lets not forget the wine that MUST accompany.  

I’m also quite comfortable in the kitchen and have been at it long enough to be able to pull it off about 90% of the times. But that’s just it, I tried and tried. I learned not to fret over spilt milk and non-rising doughs, and sauces that separate. I took it on the chin and went at it again.  

Cooking relaxes me. In a weird way I just zone out when I’m in my little kitchen. It’s my own Private Idaho. I am Queen of my Domain. I’m the boss of me and that rocks! eh. OK. So about cooking, here are a few habits of mine. Take them for what they are, just part of my cooking identity. You can copy, borrow and ignore at will.  

Food Prep: I rinse almost every meat before cooking it. Sometimes a quick rinse under running water, or a dip in a water & white vinegar solution. I do the water/vinegar rinse particularly when it comes to chicken and pork. This is common practice in Panama, not sure why, its just the way it is.  I do it because I find that sometimes these meats can feel like they have a film when I pull them off their packaging. It also cuts the odor that chicken has when you boil it.  

I do this by putting the meat in a bowl, adding about 1 tbsp white vinegar, swirl it around. Then top it off with cool water, another swirl, then dump the water and rinse with cool water again. Done. You have to make sure you get the vinegar out, otherwise it’ll change the texture and taste of the meat. For fish and seafood, I use lime or lemon juice instead of water. Same process. Pat dry and get ready to cook.  

Seasoning/marinating: I season/marinate every meat I cook, except for sausage and ground meats. This doesn’t have to be an involved process, but I find that it kicks the flavor of your meats to the next level. Simply add salt, pepper, a bit of garlic and any other seasonings you like or may be adding to the meal you’re preparing. This doesn’t need to be done far in advance, a few minutes before you begin your dish is all it needs. Of course, if you have the time, allowing your meats to actually marinate would make them even better. Check out my favorite seasonings/spices here.  

Browning meats rocks! If you brown ground beef or chicken or whatever you’re making before cooking, you add color, a depth of flavor, and the drippings are the beginning of any magical pot sauce.  

I love ketchup and tend to use it often instead of tomato sauce or paste. My mom did it, so I do too. Ketchup seems less acidic than tomato paste and kinda disappears in the flavor profile.  

Sugar: I add a pinch to any tomato-based sauce I make.  

Salt: I prefer sea salt, it’s gentler somehow. I also add a pinch of it to any sweets I make. It really wakes up those flavors.  

Nutmeg is always on hand in my pantry. I love it in the usual stuff, like cakes and pies. Say you’re making a Duncan-Hines cake mix, add a couple of shakes of nutmeg and taste the difference. Your boxed cake suddenly tastes homemade. I also like adding a dash to my Alfredo and Bechamel sauces.  

Beer – I don’t drink as much of it as I use for cooking. I use in sauces and all sorts of other things.  

Taste your food while cooking. Even when following a recipe, taste it before serving. Everyone’s taste buds are different, adjust the meal to yours.  

I can’t think of any other quirks or habits, but as I identify them, I’ll post them. Welcome to my weirdness.  

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris  

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