Chef Lorna Sass reveals everything you need to know to become king of the kitchen
The last thing you want to do when you get home from a tough day at the office is strap on an apron and start chopping veggies, grating cheese and heating pans for dinner. If the trusty pizza/Chinese/Mexican food delivery service hasn't been alerted to send over "the usual" STAT, that's probably because there's leftovers from last night's order in the fridge.
But really, guys: cooking a simple, healthy, hearty meal is one of the fastest, easiest ways to chill out after work. Plus, healthy cooking is a great way to whip the beer gut back into fighting form (how long has it been since you've seen your abs?) and most of all — impress chicks with your Renaissance Man culinary skills. (Hey, she doesn't need to know that you cooked the masterpiece in less than a half an hour using only one pot.)
Luckily for you, Lorna Sass became a cookbook author after she stumbled upon a manuscript of recipes dating back to 1390 from the royal household of Richard II and became inspired by what she found. Sass was a medieval scholar at Columbia University, but decided to ditch the dusty library stacks for the chaos of the kitchen.
Don't be Afraid to Experiment
Sass, who has no formal training as a chef, taught herself everything she knows about nutrition, food and cooking methods, and learned through trial and error how to create delicious, uncomplicated meals that fill you up without filling you out.
"Cooking good food shouldn't be a painful, stressful experience," Sass says. "Every time you follow a recipe, it's going to turn out a little bit different, and that's okay."
Everyone wants their food to turn out perfectly if they bother to cook: for guys, their downfall is often sticking a little too closely to the recipe, Sass explains.
"If you have some basic recipes and you learn to relax and follow your instincts, any guy can cook. But if you smell scorching after six minutes and the recipe says to cook it for 10, it doesn't matter &mdash turn it off! The biggest mistake beginner cooks make is following the recipes too precisely out of a sense of nervousness and insecurity."
Get Your Grains On
Sass created a cookbook modeled on her James Beard-award-winning book (the equivalent of an Oscar in the culinary world), Whole Grains, Every Day, Every Way. It's called Whole Grains for Busy People (Clarkson Potters, 2009) and it serves up a delicious bounty of dozens of main-dish soups, stews, salads and skillet dinner that feature whole grains.
Why whole grains? As Sass notes in the aptly titled Whole Grains, white grains are stripped of up to 90% of their nutrients, phytochemicals and fiber in the refining process, making them essentially empty calories that fail to fill up your tank and keep you satisfied — that's why you have so much room for yet another slice of grease-soaked pizza or another spoonful of deep-fried General Tso's and white rice.
Fiber-packed whole grains have both soluble (helps get rid of LDL or bad cholesterol) and insoluble (acts as a broom to sweep waste out of your fast-food clogged system) fiber — basically a calorie free cellular structure that makes you feel full, Sass explains. And some studies have even found that whole grains are actually more healthful and a better source of disease-slashing antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. Sass' favorite grain is quinoa — not only is it one of the few non-meat products that is a perfect protein (it possesses a balanced set of all eight amino acids — NASA is considering adding it to its list of must-haves for long-duration manned spaceflights), it's delicious and versatile.
"For guys without a ton of time, quinoa is the best whole grain around," Sass said. "They can cook up a big, plain batch with nothing more than water on Sunday night, throw it in the fridge and just toss a few cups into a bowl and add black beans, salsa, sour cream, cheese and cilantro one night for a Mexican twist and lemon juice, garlic, Parmesan cheese and a little tomato sauce for a Mediterranean twist the next night."
But don't just leave it at that. With Sass' more complex recipes and basic whole-grain cooking techniques you'll eat less, feel full longer, learn how to whip up some mean recipes to impress the lady(ies) in your life — and save a wad of cash on takeout bills.
Ready to get started? Here's what you need:
Mise en Place
Literally, it means "everything in place." It's impossible to cook well without being prepared. Think of cooking like a battle: you'd never storm the field with an unloaded gun and your bullets back in your tent, right?
"The first step to making a successful meal, is making sure you have absolutely everything you need," Sass says. "From the pot you're cooking the meal in, to all of the ingredients you need." The last thing you want to do while sautéing meat is running to the cabinet to look for paprika or a measuring spoon.
Tools of the Trade
"Invest in good equipment," Sass stresses. "I know people often have a heart attack when they see how much a 3-quart Le Creuset pan costs, but that's literally the only pan you'll need for the rest of your life. Get that and an All-Clad Wok with a flat bottom and you're set. You can use it as an all-purpose skillet for everything from an egg to a huge stir-fry."
You'll also need a basic set of measuring spoons, cups, a few spoons and spatulas and a sharp Chef's knife; every other tool you can make do without.
Now it's time to get cooking! Try one of these easy-to-make gourmet recipes: