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Soup's on for the single man

Basic cooking tips may benefit novice cooks of both sexes

Basic cooking tips may benefit novice cooks of both sexes

January 28, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

George Wilson isn't a culinary connoisseur - but he knows his way around a grill, makes a mean bowl of instant oatmeal, keeps plenty of fresh vegetables in his crisper and owns a few cookbooks that he's actually opened.

"The Thrill of the Grill" is a favorite. And he's peppered "Especially for Men: A Beginning Cookbook for Men" with various recipes clipped from other sources. Wilson may never make many of those recipes, but the retired college professor cooks enough to get by - and has a standing reservation at the Shepherd College food court for dinner.

"I do packaged scalloped potatoes quite well," said Wilson, of Shepherdstown, W.Va. "Jimmy Dean makes marvelous sausage patties."

Maybe it's a myth that many single men can't - or don't want to - cook. After all, some of the world's most famous chefs are male. But just in case there's some truth to the commonly held belief, Tri-State area culinary instructors offered a few basic cooking tips that will benefit novice cooks of both sexes.

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Tip No. 1: Keep it simple.

You don't have to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare a tasty and healthy meal. Own a crockpot? If not, it might be a good investment, said Judy Stains, culinary arts instructor at the James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg, W.Va. Many crockpot recipes require little more labor than minimal slicing and dicing - then simply throw all the ingredients in the pot and let it do the work while you go about your business.

Stains also suggests grilling a steak or chicken breast, steaming some fresh or frozen vegetables, and baking - or microwaving - a white or sweet potato. White or brown rice in ready-to-cook boiling bags is a fast and healthy alternative to potatoes. Remedy a burnt entree with a slice of white bread, suggests the AskMen.com Web site at www.askmen.com. Take the pan off the stove and plunge the bottom of it into cold water. Scrape off any nonedible food parts. Place a slice of fresh white bread on top of the food and reheat to dissipate the burnt odor.

Steamers that work in the microwave are especially handy - and help prevent the overcooking of veggies. (If you do overcook your vegetables, the AskMen.com site suggests dicing them up for soup or vegetable broth.)

"As long as vegetables retain their color they retain their nutrients," Stains said.

Few meals are more simple to prepare than a pasta dish with a fresh salad and crusty bread, she said. Just follow the cooking directions on the package of dried or refrigerated pasta and add a jar of sauce, which can be spiced up with such herbs as basil and oregano and meats such as sausage or ground beef.

A salad is a healthy addition to any meal - and packaged lettuce mixes make salad prep easier than ever before. To keep costs down, purchase such nonpackaged greens as romaine, green- or red-leaf lettuce, which are more nutritious than iceberg lettuce, said Ron Berger, culinary instructor at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center in Chambersburg, Pa.

He suggests a salad, pan-grilled fish, rice and a fresh steamed vegetable such as green beans for a "good and nutritious meal in 30 minutes or less."

Tip No. 2: Avoid too many processed foods.

"Most people who don't know too much about cooking or cooking well tend to purchase pre-packaged or processed foods," which often are high in fat and don't contain the nutrients essential for good health, Stains said.

She suggests "shopping the perimeter" of the grocery story, the outside areas where you'll find fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, meats and fresh breads.

Tip No. 3: Cook in bulk.

AskMen.com advocates cooking once for the whole week. Make a few sauces that can be frozen and then easily thawed for quick use another night. Create two or three pasta dishes that will freeze well and can be defrosted as they bake or boil. Stains suggested roasting a whole chicken, and using leftovers to make easy dishes like chicken fajitas - just saut onions, green peppers and tomatoes, add chicken, and wrap in a flour tortilla with cheese and salsa - chicken cacciatore and chicken salad. (The AskMen.com site suggests soaking onions in water for an hour before you cut them so the skin peels away with ease.)

Tip No. 4: Read a cookbook.

Many cookbooks contain recipes easy enough for first-timers and information about food preparation, meat cuts and cooking times.

"One of the things that amazes me still today is that people have cookbooks in their homes and never use them," Berger said. "Cooking isn't rocket science, but you do have to do some research."

Tip No. 5: Take a cooking class.

Educational facilities throughout the Tri-State area offer culinary classes for adults. Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator for the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County, will teach such a class - "Cooking Solo" - at Hagerstown Community College in April. For more informaton, call the college at 301-790-2800.

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