Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reorganizing my thoughts

I'm still cooking! And I'm noticing that I am now thinking of recipes now as categories. First it was the pancakes. I made several kinds of pancakes in a short period of time, just winging it, and that taught me that one master recipe would be more useful in a cookbook than several variations. This week, it has been balls and patties. There is amazing variation in what you can glue together with egg. Maybe it makes more sense to put them all into the same technique bucket, instead of splitting them up by ingredient, as I had been planning. Here is what I am thinking:

Balls, Patties, and Loaves

What do fish cakes, meatloaf, rice balls, hamburger patties, and chicken nuggets have in common? All of them are made from ingredients which have been ground up or finely chopped. Most involve a combination of meat and some sort of non-meat filler, as well as spices, and most are glued together with egg and breadcrumbs.

Balls, patties, and loaves can be made from almost any ingredient. The possibilities include minced vegetables, fresh or otherwise; ground meats; grated cheese; canned tuna; canned or frozen beans; cooked rice, or other grains; uncooked oatmeal; crushed tofu; chopped nuts; and seeds. The mixture can be made up of whatever is on hand. If the mixture is too crumbly, add more egg to stick it together. If it is too gooey, add breadcrumbs to firm it up.

How much time do you have to cook? If you are in a hurry, form the mixture into hamburger-sized patties. Pan-fry the patties on medium heat for about five minutes on each side. Serve as a sandwich, or on top of some salad greens, or with a side dish, or with a sauce on top.

If you have a little more time, or you are cooking for young children who would prefer finger-foods, make small balls or nuggets. Pan fry them, or bake them. Small shapes freeze particularly well, and can be quickly reheated in small or large quantity under the broiler or in the microwave.

If you don’t have much time to fuss with the mixture, but have time for it to sit in the oven, then squish it into a loaf pan or casserole dish and let it bake in the oven. Depending on the shape of the loaf, this may take an hour at 350 degrees.

In all cases, the food is done when it reaches 165 degrees in the middle. For balls and patties, you may be able to judge doneness by cutting one open to see if the mixture has lost the look of gooey raw egg. If the mix contains meat, the meat will be gray rather than pink. A thermometer is advisable for loaves - but you may find that after making the same sort of loaf two or three times, there may be visible clues (such as meatloaf pulling away from the side of the pan) that you can use to judge doneness.

Balls, patties, and loaves are a great way to include foods in your family’s diet that are otherwise rejected, such as leafy greens. These recipes are also a good way to use up leftovers, such as cooked rice, or a stump of cheese, or a fresh vegetable that no longer looks its best.

The following recipes are just a small sampling of you can make into balls, patties and loaves. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This would be a chapter heading, followed by a few sample recipes. The organization of chapters would look something like this:

Eggs (scrambled, fried, etc.)
Bread (simple stuff-on-bread recipes)
Bread puddings and French toast (bread plus custard)
Pancakes (the humble pancake has so many variations!)
Beans (boiling and freezing)
Salads, salsas, and marinades (raw veggies, salad dressings, and meat salads)
Whole meats (whole chicken, roasts, chops, pulled pork, etc.)
Balls, patties, and loaves (tuna patties, meatloaf, etc.)
Stir Fries and Sautees (simple cooked veggies, stir-fried combinations)
Pastas and Grains (plain pastas and grains for other food to be stacked on)
Sauces (marinara, cheese sauce, gravy, pureed veggie)
Soups (stocks, soups, chili, stews, curries)
Casseroles (enchiladas, gratins, baked pasta)

This would shift the structure of the cookbook away from nutrition, but towards technique and learning to cook without being confined by recipes, which might make the book more useful. Perhaps along with this, I could include an index of the most-used ingredients and their nutrition? Or should I leave that out in the name of keeping the book small and getting this thing done asap? Crap, I'm not sure. Maybe a short chapter on nutrition would suffice.

It's past my bedtime and I'm cranky because someone left an obnoxious comment on my gardening blog.

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