Knowing how to cook is just as important as knowing how to shop for the ingredients. This is a full lesson in itself-- not being familiar with navigating the store can turn one right off from grocery shopping further than their basic needs and thus not inspire regular cooking habits. Being limited to cooking the same thing over and over can easily lead one to reach for a variety of convenience or ready-made meals and take-out menus. If you are not confident shopping for your ingredients, that feeling will spill over in the kitchen when you attempt to cook. Maybe you didn't quite get all the ingredients, or get them all properly, and you start to feel it's a disaster before you even begin.
My approach for teaching cooking basics starts right at the store with the five Ws and a bunch of Hows. Its ideal for me to shop for the ingredients with my friends and clients wanting to learn to cook something specific or get meal inspiration from the store walk-through or just to know where everything is so they won't have to search high and low. Learning from them during these visits are valuable so I can offer suggestions and tips that can make a difference in how they can shop more efficiently and economically in the future. First off WHO are you cooking for? That will determine what kind of meal you will be making, if there are discerning ingredients to consider that may call for substitutions and if it's for a picky eater, whether it is the right dish to introduce those flavours. For the latter an example could be instead of tofu in soup, perhaps pan-fry sliced egg tofu as a tasty bridge to trying tofu for the first time.
Next, WHAT are the recipe ingredients and WHY is it crucial for recipe success? It can be the cut of meat- tougher parts are more economical and better for slow-cooking such as braising and not for fast cooking like grilling. It could be the type of flour-- cake and pastry flour should not be treated like all-purpose flour as they absorb moisture differently. We always think fresh is best but did you know that studies suggest frozen veggies have just as many nutrients (if not more) than their fresh counterparts as they are picked at their peak, so somethings are best used frozen (and cheaper too). Or if some veggies or fruits are not in-season, frozen is a great option and don't go canned. Fresh herbs and spices compliment certain foods known as flavour affinities and you just can't substitute them without changing the profile of the dish, for example parsley instead of cilantro in guacamole. Some ingredients are easily interchangeable so if you can't find asparagus, use green beans in the salad. These are conversation pieces that can be had on the spot in a market setting as you come across or think about certain foods and packages.
WHERE do you find them in the store? Going into say an Asian supermarket may be a challenge when locating a specific item if you are not familiar with the sections. The condiment aisle for example is daunting and the labels could suggest a different name to what you're looking for. Sometimes you think something should be refrigerated and they are actually shelf-stable or vice versa. Maybe you expect to find pork bones packaged in the meat section but they are served at the butcher counter. Or you are looking for sugar in the baking aisle and it turns up in the seasoning section. Lastly, WHEN will you use them? If you plan to cook right away, great, often there are leftovers, so keep that in mind when shopping for quantity and what you will end up doing with the remainder shortly. Of course always look at expiry or best before dates and dig in the back of fridges and bunkers for the latest product dates.
Then the HOWs-- there's so many you can cover while browsing, but essentially HOW do you shop economically, HOW to choose the meat cut or produce, HOW to cook, HOW to store the ingredients and HOW to be creative with leftover ingredients so not to waste! Taking the recipe from store/field to kitchen to fork teaches so much with lots of as-you-go practical tips along the way!
My friend has been wanting to learn make my wonton soup and today was our day! But first a trip to her local Asian supermarket to get the dibs on what to buy and where everything is!
|Shopping with my bestie Kaitlyn!|
One of my favourite soup tips-- keep a couple of frozen cornish hens handy! It is a cinch to take out and thaw over a day to make your own pot of chicken broth, cheaper than whole chicken and they take little space in the freezer. Remove the internals (often you find them stuffed in a small bag) in its cavity, boil then cook on medium heat in a pot of water to cover for 1-1/2 hours, then use a fork to take off the tender meat. You've got a hen doing double duty as soup and meat in the same meal or a separate one.
It is always smart and wallet-friendly to give the reduced-price produce area a once over. Yes these are vegetables and fruit that have slight bumps and bruises, but often if you plan to use it the same day, those blemishes could be cut away and the rest is still incredibly edible. We scored a good bunch of Chinese greens yu choy with a few wilted leaves for my friend's wonton meal being served that night for a fraction of the regular price.
|Don't waste! Check out the produce clearance section!|
It's wonton-making time!
|Salted turnip slices are perfect in flavouring soups-- no additional salt needed!|
Nothing beats hands-on step-by-step cooking to teach a recipe especially in their kitchen! My friend likes to cook simple dishes and she was looking to expand her family meal repertoire with one of her favourites-- my wonton soup. Cooking in her element, using her tools and equipment gives her know-how and the confidence to do it again without me in tow.
|Wonton filling consist of ground pork, shrimps, chives and black mushroom fungus.|
|Eating some tonight, traying the rest to freeze for another family meal!|
Meanwhile, the soup has been cooking for two hours... (and it's done)!
|Pork and Chicken Bones Soup|
|Let's get these babies cooking!|
|For a thorough step-by-step on how to make dumplings see my Wonton Post.|
Dinner is served at Kaitlyn's home to her eager family! And the verdict is written all over her son's face :)
"I just love soup. All kinds of soups. But wonton noodle soups holds a special place in my heart. When I was living with my best friend Susan, she would cook delicious meals for us but the one that I always remember was her wonton noodle soup. It was always steaming hot, the broth was tasty, the noodles tender and the homemade pork/shrimp wontons was juicy. I knew it was a lot of work to cook the soup from scratch but with Susan helping me with the process from beginning to end, the task was not as daunting and quite manageable. My husband and kids loved eating it as much as I enjoyed cooking it for them."
-- Kaitlyn's Testimony
Soup nourishes the soul and I'm glad it nourished your family!
For an alternative take on wonton dumplings, try their heartier cousin Sui Gow Dumplings. Cantonese-style "Sui Gow" (水饺) are large boiled Chinese soup dumplings that literally translates to "water dumplings" made with mainly shrimp, minced pork, black mushroom fungus and bamboo shoots.
|Sui Gow Dumplings|