- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

If this is the year you’ve resolved to lose weight, save money or spend more quality time with a loved one, there’s one solution to all your resolutions: cook. Preparing dinner at home allows you to add more fruits and vegetables and fewer high-fat fried foods to your menu. You can take advantage of supermarket bargains and share your evening cooking and dining with your mate, not a room full of customers.

If your culinary skills are limited to ordering off the menu, you probably aren’t sure how to implement your plans. Start by learning a few basic cooking skills so you can get a delicious and simple meal on the table, says David Kamen, a professor of continuing education at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y.

You’re probably familiar with these concepts even if you haven’t put them to use.


The name says it. Heat a thin layer of hot oil in a pan or skillet and add food, such as a chopped onion or a meat cut such as a pork medallion. Use heat that’s high enough to turn the food from a raw translucent state to a golden exterior while adding flavor.

“Browning will only occur at very high temperatures, and if there’s any moisture present, you won’t get browning,” says Mr. Kamen, a spokesman for a new cookbook from the CIA, “The Professional Chef” 8th edition (John Wiley & Sons). Browning, however, is just one step in cooking.


This step, similar to browning, is the most basic technique people should know how to do, according to Mr. Kamen.

Sauteing is a quick method and requires fast-cooking foods. Tender meat, poultry and fish cuts are your best choices.

“Get a really hot pan, put a small amount of oil in the bottom. Add the food and let it brown.” Turn down the heat to finish cooking the food on top of the stove, or finish the dish in the oven for a few minutes.

Making a sauce. Browning food creates a flavorful layer in your cookware that you can turn into a sauce. Remove the browned food, add a little wine, dry sherry and/or chicken broth, and scrape up the browned bits from the skillet or pan.

“Let it simmer until it tastes good. Finish the sauce with chopped herbs, cream or butter, if you can afford the calories, or thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch,” says Mr. Kamen.


Think of this as browning mixed with the flavor of the outdoors. “Grilled food is so full of flavor and is easy. The secret is to have a really hot grill,” says the chef.

For starters, grill tender cuts of meat, such as steak or sturdy fish steaks seasoned with a little salt and pepper. “You can make your own sauce or open a bottle of salsa, chutney or relish,” Mr. Kamen says.


A weekly pasta dinner can stretch your food budget. You’ll want a pot that’s large enough to allow for a full rolling boil, so opt for a 4- to 5-gallon size, according to Mr. Kamen. Start testing the pasta for doneness two to three minutes before the directions indicate. Take a bite. If the pasta has slight resistance at the core, it’s done; otherwise, cook for a couple of minutes.

Some cooks rinse pasta to stop the cooking process. This usually isn’t necessary, Mr. Kamen says. “If you’re going to eat pasta immediately, you don’t need to rinse it. If you’re going to save the pasta for two days, you need to rinse it, so the pasta doesn’t become one big lump.”

The following recipe, adapted from “The Professional Chef,” includes browning and pasta making. You’re on your own for dish washing.

Orecchiette with Italian sausage, broccoli and Parmesan cheese

2 cups broccoli florets



6 ounces orecchiette pasta (See note)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 uncooked turkey Italian sausages, casings removed (about 3 ounces each)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

2 tablespoons chicken broth, water or red wine

1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil

1 tablespoon fresh minced chives or scallion, green part only

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cut broccoli into bite-size pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook for 4 minutes or until almost tender. Drain broccoli and drop into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and set aside. Again, fill the pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6 minutes, drain and set aside.

While water is coming to a boil, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add sausage and break up with wooden spoon and stir occasionally until mixture is crumbly and browned.

Stir in tomato paste, crushed red pepper flakes and chicken broth (or water or wine). Add the broccoli and pasta and heat through. Sprinkle on the parsley, basil and chives. Sprinkle on Parmesan, or serve on the side. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Adjust the red pepper flakes to taste. The dish should be mildly hot.

Substitute farfalle for the orecchiette, if you prefer.


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