21st Century Dad
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10 Ways To Enjoy Cooking At Home More

July 7th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Red Green and Yellow Peppers. Copyright Elliott Kim. All Rights Reserved.

A quick and easy meal doesn’t have to mean, “pierce film to vent. rotate once during heating.” If you make Hamburger Helper often enough to skip reading the instructions, we have a problem.

Step 1 is to take the advice of personal finance bloggers. Cooking at home saves money. Further, it saves time and is an enjoyable activity if you pick up the tips below. You’ll discover some of your own too.

If you make Hamburger Helper often enough to skip reading the instructions, we have a problem.

Cooking is part science, but mostly art. You don’t have to be a creative person to employ these tips. Your taste buds will guide you here. No matter what your comfort level in the kitchen is, you know what tastes good.

I’m one of those “recipe? I don’t need no stinkin’ recipe” type of cooks. Instead, I will share some bits of wisdom I learned over the last 22 years in the kitchen.

10 Ways To Enjoy Cooking At Home More

  1. Mince several cloves of garlic at once. Keep it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Use it instead of garlic powder. Use it liberally.
  2. Not every part of the meal needs to be a “home run.” If you’re doing something elaborate for the meat, go simple on the side dishes. If you’re making a process-intensive vegetable side dish, just add some simple seasonings to the meat and broil it.
  3. Keep frozen vegetable puree on hand. I prepare some vegetable puree about once a month and make “ice cubes.” These cubes are easy to add to spaghetti sauce, shells and cheese, gravies, and other sauces. In a fit of inspiration, I defrosted some of these “veggiecicles” in a skillet, added curry powder, parboiled potatoes, and chopped onions – instant vegetable curry! Just add basmati rice and you have some Indian fast food that’s actually good for you.
  4. Invest in a good chef knife. It really makes a difference. I’ve used the same Henckels chef knife for over 10 years. Food preparation (or any task) becomes a joy when you use high quality tools. A good German-made Henckels will outperform and outlast any late-night infomercial knife. Get it sharpened professionally on a regular basis. Take care of it and it will last a lifetime.
  5. Use fresh ingredients whenever you can. Fresh vegetables taste better than their frozen or canned counterparts. Spices grown in your garden have more kick.
  6. Avoid using prepackaged “seasoning blends” if you have an adverse reaction to MSG. Make your own seasoning blends, or add seasonings individually. Learn about the different spices in your spice rack by tasting them.
  7. Use natural sea salt instead. Do a side-by-side comparison and you’ll really taste the difference. Regular table salt tastes metallic and bitter compared to sea salt.
  8. When you are shopping, choose versatile staples. Spaghetti noodles can be made into spaghetti. You can also add sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger to turn it into delicious Asian-inspired stir fry noodles.
  9. You don’t have to follow the instructions to the letter when making pre-packaged “instant” meals. Be wild. Be adventurous. Use chicken or tofu instead of tuna when you make the box of Tuna Helper. Add some fresh vegetables. Add plenty of garlic. If the instructions call for milk, substitute a small portion of that with whipping cream. It makes it taste better. Add more butter than the instructions call for. It won’t hurt you.
  10. Don’t be afraid to experiment and deviate from the recipe you found online. You won’t ruin a dish because you added more basil or rosemary than the recipe called for. Your taste buds (and your family’s) will guide you. Successful experiments (they happen more than you think) will bolster your confidence in the kitchen.

Since #9 and #10 are actually very similar, here’s a bonus tip – Food handling safety. NEVER use a wooden cutting board to prepare raw meat. The porous surface will harbor bacteria. Designate one cutting board for raw meat. Sterilize it in the dishwasher after every use.

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Crunchy on The Inside – Carnivore’s Edition

May 19th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

What my family eats is on my radar. I’m fighting years of sloppy code, poorly written nutrition updates and buggy performance in general. In my attempts to live a healthier lifestyle, I still get the blue screen of high fructose corn syrup all the time. Au-Teen gives me a Fatal Exception Error when it comes to drinking more water and easing off the sugar beverages

Making The Shift To Vegetarianism

Fresh Vegetables

Growing up in the United States means you were told that meat is an essential source of protein and other nutrients. The livestock industry is subsidized by our government. Vegetarians are seen as weirdos. It’s all about the beef here in the land that brought you the golden arches and hardened arteries.

Eating meat has become less appealing. I still enjoy the taste and texture of many meats, but it takes a toll on my conscience. Stories about factory-farm raised chickens and the treatment at cattle feedlots are almost enough to make me want to swear off meat. I’ve already stopped eating veal. These calves are kept in the worst conditions and slaughtered within days of being born.

Being a better steward of our Earth and vegetarianism go hand-in-hand. There are environmental reasons for going vegetarian. Did you know that:

  • Eating a vegan diet reduces more carbon emissions than replacing your conventional car with a hybrid.
  • Approximately 55 square feet of forest is destroyed for each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land.
  • One pound of beef requires an input of approximately 2500 gallons of water.
  • One pound of soy requires 250 gallons.
  • One pound of wheat requires only 25 gallons.
  • With the water used to produce a single hamburger, you could take a luxurious shower every day for two and a half weeks.

Activism isn’t going to turn us all vegetarian overnight. However, we can all do a little to reduce the demand for meat. A decrease in demand will not go unnoticed by the livestock and poultry industries. Fish farms do their share of damage to mother Earth too. There’s wild-caught fish, but are we fishing faster than the supply replenishes? One has to wonder.

Quitting Cold Turkey Cold Turkey

I’m not prepared to go full-time vegetarian, despite the benefits. Special dietary needs and travel don’t mix well. It really puts a damper on “souvenir dining.” I still know people in Philadelphia. There’s nothing quite like a steak from Rick’s in Reading Terminal. Mmm mmm. And what about sushi? Butter makes everything taste better. 🙂 As of today, going 100% vegan is out of the question. There’s a little thing called feta cheese that’s near and dear to me.

I continue to unsubscribe from long-held beliefs on my personal development journey. Everything is on the table. What I decide to eat is also under the scrutiny of this audit and subject to change. I truly believe there is a better way.

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My Junk Food Dilemma

January 31st, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Randy’s Donuts

Nutrition is on every parent’s radar. Some are better at it than others. I’ve learned over the years what makes for healthy eating habits, so imagine how appalled I was at Austin’s eating habits, which are, for lack of a better term, &*@#$! horrendous. Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn’t seem to do me much good since I encounter steadfast opposition to my efforts to reform this family’s eating habits.

When I met Renee, her eating habits weren’t the best. They weren’t the worst either. To her credit, she eats her food deliberately, takes her time to chew it thoroughly, and doesn’t overindulge with huge portions. She is usually willing to try my creations, as long as it doesn’t have shrimp. Single mothers have it tough, and one of the things that slipped through the cracks was nutrition. As a result, Austin didn’t develop sound eating habits.

The last thing any parent wants to see is their children suffer. It’s especially maddening when it’s the child’s own poor nutrition habits that cause this suffering. Then your efforts to help are met with resistance.

  • He usually struggles with the first class in the morning and the one right before lunch.
  • He has trouble concentrating and focusing.
  • He has trouble waking up in the morning.
  • His stomach is easily upset.

All of the above can be mitigated or even eliminated by making smarter food choices. But like most teenage boys, making his choices is far more important to him than making smart choices.

I was at the classic car show last week when it hit me. I’m the kind of guy who only cares about basic maintenance of a reliable automobile. This is in stark contrast to the level of care these car aficionados put into their vehicles. A car is a necessity, at least in the suburbs. Food is a necessity. I happen to care more about the food I eat. I love variety and I love knowing that what I eat is good for me. Austin only cares about getting from point A to point B, and there’s only a handful of ways he’s willing to do it. I prefer a Lexus and Austin is content with a ratty old clunker that belches smoke and leaks fluids.

A popular piece of advice for parents is to “pick your battles.” Rest assured I have a wide selection to choose from. Will the dinner table be another battlefront? This is my dilemma. His diet is less than optimal. I’ve warned him. He’s chosen to ignore my suggestions. Am I being a bad parent by letting this one slide? When I prepare something healthy, he isn’t hungry. When I stock up on pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets and Capn’ Crunch, his appetite returns. Isn’t it worse to let him starve? Weigh in on this one by leaving a comment.

To his credit, he tries a good amount of what I present to him, but like most teens, he will always choose the path of least resistance for short term gratification. Now that I started adding pureed vegetables wherever I can, he’s eaten more broccoli in one week than he has in almost 14 years. Heheheheheh.

I normally supply my own photographs to illustrate my articles. This one was too cool to pass up. The photo of Randy’s Donuts is by Carol Highsmith, and used here under a Creative Commons license.

Sneaky Vegetables

January 17th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

I don’t post every day, but I write almost every day. There are several articles in the works, both here and over at ReneeAndElliott.com, our repository for off-topic articles. There is other non-writing work that goes on behind the scenes. Then I have to go live my life so I can blog about it. So yeah, I’m toast.

Even in this impaired state, I can still offer you one quick cooking tip. It’s an oldie but goodie with a new twist.

We all wish our children would eat more vegetables. Some parents have better luck than I do. A trick favored by many resident chefs is to puree vegetables and add the mix to various sauces.

The other night, I pureed a pound of carrots, added some to the spaghetti sauce. The remaining puree was poured into a couple of freezer bags. Next time I need some vegetable puree, I’ll just break off a piece and add it to the sauce.

For the next round, I’m going to use the ice cube tray to make things a little easier.

It’s so simple, a caveman can do it.

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One Last Use for a Used Dryer Sheet

November 18th, 2007 . by admin

Dirty WokWashing pots and pans is a fact of life. Anything to make this chore easier gets my endorsement. A dishwasher helps a lot, but it won’t handle the seriously caked-on food particles. For that, we pre-soak the pan. This does the trick, but you can supercharge the soaking method by putting a used dryer sheet in the pan.

This works great for the most stubborn caked-on, baked-on, crusties on the bottom of your pan, casserole dish, or wok.

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