Grad School Cooking

The feedback I got first was …it rambles on and on…so where is the recipe? Feed-back, remember, is the word..eating your word is another. We have just begun, so I sat us down and put on the thinking cap.

While a kitchen is not absolutely necessary to begin cooking, thinking through is necessary.  In the 1980s, money was always a rare commodity…between two people there was just about $20 a week. Naturally, the rum and whiskey was divided between two people, without buying more…and the incentive to cook was to get more time to write, cooking can be inspirational, to say the least. Like while rolling over an intro in your mind, one might like to rustles up a pudding.

But yes, pots and pans definitely are necessary. However, if you think one can’t cook without an well ordained array of utensils, wrong again. Just a few will do. Always go for medium sized cooking utensils. The small ones are a waste of hard earned money. Generally I am cooking for myself or two people. Occasionally, there are friends to cook for, generally two/three…a medium size utensil can be used for both occasions.

It is a good idea to get a Wok or a  ‘Kadai’ as we in South Asia call it. That’s an universal pan. In the West, a flat frying pan is used but it is a good idea to buy one with a rim, that is a pan that has a depth of your thumb, about  5 cms deep. Either of the three will do. They all work in a similar manner!

Teflon and other non-stick pans are generally not recommended. Iron skillets are Grandma’s tried and tested stuff. A Stainless steel or aluminium (Hindalium, an offshoot of the aircraft industry, I presume) one will do. In certain countries, the heavy Russian skillet made of very thick steel is available. They too do just as well.

For a cooking pan one should not go in for a thin surface, because the chances of the utensil burning along with the food is greater. Buy a pan that is easily available in the local market and what the local people use…no matter which part of the world you are in.

The second item is a ladle. It can be wooden, or a large steel spoon with a long handle, or a spatula/spathe. Any one kind will do…you don’t need a dozen different kinds really. All it does is turns things over in the pan.  If you don’t have this, you can very well use a knife and a fork , holding the knife in the left hand and the fork in the right to turn things over. You can use a chopstick too, but don’t ever use a green branch. All the juices ooooozzzz out of the branch into your concoction, and the taste can be quite disgusting. I did that once, learning the easy way!

A medium size pot to boil things in. Preferably with a lid and a handle. If not, a steel plate can be used to cover. It can be used for eating from too. A pressure cooker is one thing you will never find being used in television cookery programme. It is more handy than the boiling pot. If you are traveling to a foreign country and expected to cook, carry a medium sized pressure cooker about 3 liters. Don’t imagine that if you are going from China or India to the USA, you will be able to easily lay hands on a vessel called the pressure cooker. You won’t.

Think of it like an autoclave of Lilliputian size! It is one of the most universal and useful gadgets you can lay your hands on if you intend to cook. Two/three bowls to keep food in. Not too large, assorted sizes. The Chinese, Japanese and many south Asians use bowls to drink tea. The same can be used to drink soup, and eat noodles and rice from,and as a measuring cup. So one does not need separate cups/plates etc. To begin with:just buy utensils that you absolutely need. Plates, glasses,cups, if you must, not really necessary.

One good general knife and a few tea spoons and forks are enough. A fork, I soon learned, is an useful weapon. A multifaceted thing. I could beat an omelette with it, I could use it to stir, to turn over, to pin down, and to eat with, saving my fingers while I am typing!

Get utensils and crockery gradually, as you need, as your expertise grows. It is good to get an electric kettle, if you are in a place where there is electricity/and if you are in a cold country.

We raided our meager savings to buy a medium sized fridge.Not only for some ice and cold water and beer, also to save money and time. The idea was if I cooked one day, I could feed myself for two days at least. Again a medium size is recommended. A fridge is not necessary if you are in a cold or very cold country. But if you are in Asia and Africa, it is a good idea to get a refrigerator, saves a lot of food.

Especially if you are finicky about wasting food. My parents never allowed me to, as they saw starvation, hunger drought…the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. And I am never allowed to forget that there are places in the world still where people are eating leaves and worms to stay alive.

You also need Fire, this could be a kerosene stove/a gas burner/a electric heater/a hotplate. Spend ten minutes finding out how the fire stone works. Especially if it is a micro-oven, you have to deal with. A electric oven can be set. A micro-oven has to be tested. The simplest way of doing this is by toasting a bread. Just note how many seconds it takes the bread to turn deep brown. Put a half full bowl (non breaking glass) of water in the oven and see when it starts to bubble. Either of these experiments, will give you an idea of how long it takes to warm/heat/boil/cook/toast etc.

You must check out the fire before you start cooking. At one point in time, I had to cook on wood fire, at another, on a bukhari, so getting hang of the fire is essential. A gas burner or an electric heater are the easiest to control.

Check out the closest local market. Just window shop for an hour or two to  find out what is easily available and what is cheapest. While this could seem like a waste of time, it can be fun. Begin keeping a notebook where the grocer’s telephone number is a must.

I began cooking by taking it on like a Gradschool project. Do some background checking, get some basic material/data etc.