Sunday, October 18, 2009

Getting Back to Basics or "Old Fashined" Cooking for the Modern Age....

Getting back to basics, just that term alone evolves nostalgic musings from many of us and takes us back to gentler times. In these times of making everything stretch and make-do or simply trying to produce wholesome and filling food for your family without having to sell your first-born or spend hours upon hours in a hot kitchen, invariably brings us to thoughts of generations past that seemed to do this effortlessly and economically.

A whole sub-culture has risen to accommodate this need I find, having seen many a web site dedicated to the ever evolving culinary scene that deals with not only recycling but takes us back to time tested methods used by our grandmother's and their mothers, who had to fulfill their duties during the depression or world war eras when money was scarce and the economy was terrible; not to say that things are as bad as during those years, with the ever hope of recovery around the corner that seems to be taking longer than most hoped, but we can all afford to save a little, right?

I've always been a supporter of the "old way" of doing things, primarily with Mexican Food which I felt that due to progress and women being out in the workplace had caused people to no longer be cooking the old way opting instead for take-out, ready-made and other methods which were completely obliterating our culinary traditions (I still feel that way...) to the point where people tell me (all over Mexico too) when asked about the local specialties I inquire about, that it was their grandmother or some other relative that used to prepare them and they no longer know how to go about it..... making me thing of what will happen when those matriarchs are no longer with us? Lots of our food will die right along with them, but that's another story and not one we will talk about today.....

Thinking about what entails "old fashioned cooking" brings me to several styles covered by the use of Cast Iron Cookware and Pressure Cookers, all which were in vogue quite some time ago and which seem to have almost been forgotten by present day households.

Cast Iron Cookware brings memories of my Dad and camping. He was responsible for bringing the Boy Scouts to Mexico and we spent much time camping and cooking in the outdoors; later, during my hippie days I had the chance to once again use cast iron cookware (because you could get it for $1 at the swap meet) and have always kept some on hand since I really love it. Versatile, long lasting and great for either top of the stove, oven or right on the fire cooking, it's beloved by Southeners all over as well as mountain folk and is pretty great. Makes the best cornbread, cake and stews but seafood chowders, fried chicken and even steaks benefit from this traditional way of cooking.

A prime example of this is "Granma's Old Fashioned Cornbread", that is THE classic use of cast iron skillet or dutch oven:

CAST IRON CORNBREAD.- This recipe makes a light and fluffy cornbread, not sweet. Southern style with a great bottom crust,

1 1/2 cups white corn meal
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 level tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
1 egg
2 tbsp bacon drippings

Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add buttermilk and egg, stirring until combined. Grease skillet with shortening and preheat in 450 oven. Melt drippings and add to batter. Pour batter into very hot skillet and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.
Note: You could add corn kernels, jalapeno, onion and red pepper slices too. Of course you could sweeten it up if that's your choice as well.
Okra, Pork in Tomato Gravy.- A classic dish from the South and if you're an okra lover, you will love it! This is down home cooking:

oil 12 whole little okra pods
2 pounds pork, cut up 2 cans tomato paste
1 large onion, cut up 1 bell pepper, cut up
water or chicken stock salt to taste
pepper to taste

Heat a little oil in skillet, fry the okra pods on low until brown on all sides.
In the meantime, start cooking down your tomato paste in a little oil, stirring often. It needs to brown some, but be careful not to burn it.
When you
reach this stage, add your meat, onions and bell peppers. Stir well.
Add water or chicken stock to cover meat.

Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour, then add the okra pods and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

Turkey and Pork Meatloaf.- a real camping classic....

1 lb ground Turkey
1 lb ground Pork
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic salt
1 small onion diced
4 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ cup favorite BBQ sauce for the meatloaf mix
½ cup favorite BBQ sauce for the topping (I use catsup or tomato sauce instead)
3 – 4 slices Bacon

Mix all of the above ingredients, except the bacon and ½ cup of BBQ Sauce reserved for the topping, together until blended well. Grease your Pan well. Place the meatloaf mixture inside of the Bread Pan and form into place. Pour ½ cup of BBQ sauce over the top of meatloaf. Cut bacon to size and weave together as in the picture.

Fire up the grill and place your Pan in the middle so that you are grilling with indirect heat (Depending on your heat source, location may vary). Cook for 1 hr at 350°F until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 160°F. Carefully remove meatloaf from grill – the Pan will be extremely hot! Take a bulb baster that can be used with hot grease and remove the excess grease from the Pan before it soaks back into the meatloaf. Let everything rest for 10 minutes, serve and just try to have one piece!
Pressure Cooking or how I learned to cook with a bomb.- There are many advantages to cooking with pressure cookers, especially for Mexican food that can be ready in a snap when it once took hours....Foods are cooked much faster by pressure cooking than by other methods and with much less water than boiling (which I don't like), so dishes can be ready sooner. Less energy is required than when boiling, steaming or oven cooking. Since less water is necessary, the foods come to cooking temperature faster. The food is cooked at a temperature above the normal, killing bacteria and viruses. The pressure cooker can also be used as an effective sterilizer, for jam pots and glass baby bottles for example (does anyone still use these? I did), or for water while camping. Another plus is that it won't heat up the kitchen and when you live in hot weather, this can be quite an advantage....

With pressure cooking, heat is very evenly, deeply, and quickly distributed, vitamins and minerals are not leached (dissolved) away by water. Since steam surrounds the food, foods are not oxidized by air exposure at heat, so vegetables retain their bright green colors and phytochemicals. The pressure cooker speeds cooking considerably at high altitudes, where the low atmospheric pressure otherwise reduces the boiling point of water and hence reduces water's effectiveness for cooking or preparing hot drinks.

Once I lost my fright at using this very effective cooking utensil, I began using it almost every day for so many things that I couldn't dream of living without one. Truly. It also brings back fond memories of Idyllwild and my sister's exploding spaghetti sauce..... but it's a great time and energy saver cutting the cooking time on dishes way down: beans are ready in 45 min instead of hours; Chile Verde in 30 min; Menudo in 15 min; Osso Bucco in 30 min, etc. so you can make long simmering dishes any night of the week! It's especially good for recipes having sauces or liquids, but KFC became famous for frying in pressure cookers! Anyone that "puts up" jams, veggies or preserves is well acquainted with these.....

Grandma's Most Tender Pot Roast.- Not my grandma for sure, but somebody's.... I've had this recipe for a long time......

1 tablespoon oil
2 lbs sirloin tip roast(or chuck)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
4 baking potatoes, peeled
4 carrots, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
3 cups water

Sprinkle salt and pepper on the roast. Warm oil in a pressure cooker over medium high heat. Add the roast and brown on both sides. Take it off the heat. Pour Worcestershire sauce over the roast, and place the onion slices on top. Add potatoes and carrots. Pour in enough water to cover 1" above the roast. Put the lid on and heat on high. When the pressure cooker reaches the proper temperature, the rocker will jiggle audibly. Adjust the heat to low, or enough to maintain pressure, and keep a slow, steady rocking motion. Cook for 45 minutes. Check on it by lifting the pot and shaking gently to make sure it doesn't cook dry.Run the lid under cold water to help release the pressure before unsealing.
Pressure Cooker Ribs.- These are for beef ribs but you can use pork too, just cook a little less.

3 lbs beef back ribs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup beer
12 ounces barbecue sauce

Cut ribs into serving pieces. Mix spices together to create a dry rub. Apply the dry rub to the ribs. Heat oil in pressure cooker and brown the ribs on all sides. Insert cooking rack in pressure cooker (or use oven safe plate), add beer, and load with ribs, not to exceed manufacturer's maximum fill line. Place over high heat until control jiggles. Reduce heat and cook 35 minutes. Let cooker depressurize naturally, just let it sit with heat off. Remove rack from cooker (you can drain some of the liquid if you like thicker sauce) and add barbecue sauce, heat until simmering. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
10 Minute Spaghetti Sauce.- Make your own, leave the kitchen clean and enjoy!

2 tbl oil
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 yellow sweet onion, chopped
2 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tbl sugar
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano leaves, optional
2 tsp basil leaves, optional
2 bay leaves, optional
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup (or more) red wine

Place all ingredients into pressure cooker.Turn on heat to medium high.Once pressure has built (check directions on your pressure cooker) cook for 10 min. If you want to make it thicker, let it rest with the heat off for about 15 min, open it up, turn on the heat and simmer for 15-30 min. Taste and adjust seasonings. You can freeze half and enjoy the rest.
Note: if you want your herbs flavor to really come out, don't put them in at the beginning and wait until you're done and open the pot up, then put them in and simmer 5 min more, opened.
So even though you might call this old fashioned cooking, if you consider the time and energy savings offered by these classic utensils (kitchen equipment?), they're really modern in scope, allowing you to "do your thing" and still come home and produce comfort foods in record time. I use them all the time and for so many things, they were among the first things I searched for when I was setting up the new apartment- they will become old friends and valuable in your kitchen repertoire. The more you use them, the more ideas you'll get in different ways to use them, since there are hundreds of applications for them. In any case, I hope you'll give them a try.

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