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  1. #1

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    Staple (base) recipes

    A friend of mine and I were chatting the other day about staple recipes - recipes you can just add fresh food to, and then you're set. She's just learning to cook (previously, she's sort of been a beans on toast or eat out kind of girl!). I've given her plain bread, pasta, quinoa, couscous, porridge, veggie stock and hummus recipes, since she wants to be "from scratch" and these are the ones I use all the time. She's lacto-ovo vegetarian (no meat, no gelatine, no bone stock). She really just wants the base, so she can add to it for variety and experimenting as she's learning. Can you think of anything else? Mashed potatoes or some kind of potato? Fritatta?

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    Just to be clear, you're asking for ideas rather than actual recipes?

    I'm a lacto-ovo too -- and you've pretty much nailed most of my staples. The ones I'd add to your list would be canned beans (for making bean salad, or adding to other salads or soups), canned seitan, and shirataki noodles (noodles made from soy -- vacuum packed in water and last for months in the fridge).

    Soups are one of my favourite thing to experiment with -- the only downside being I can never replicate the recipe exactly! However I rarely bother with veggie stock: most of the soups I make are of the blended kind (e.g., veggies & onions simmered in water then blended with a stick blender in the pot, then seasoned) so stock isn't necessary. If I do use "stock" it will be apple juice or V8. Or coconut milk. So I usually have those 3 things on hand.

    I'm personally not a fan of mashed potatoes, if you want a potato staple I'd say hash browns. So many options for stir-frying them with veggies. Also baker potatoes -- again you can stuff with just about anything to make a meal. My favourite is baked potato samosas: bake the potato, scoop out cooked flesh and mash with yogurt and curry, add some peas and green onion, and done.

    I also tend to eat more crackers than bread. Just because I only like bread when it's super fresh. So I always have a lot of crackers in the house. And a typical meal for me would be a big salad or soup plus something-on-a-cracker (some variation of hummus or mushroom pâté or red pepper muhammara).

    One more trick: sundried tomato pesto. I always, always have a jar in the fridge and a spare on the shelf. Great for jazzing up a bland pasta, of course, but so many other uses. Like instead of mayo on a sandwich. Or spread on a chunk of mozz or provolone for a quick snack.

    Oh, and tons of nuts of course. In the freezer for freshness. And dried fruits. Add to salad or just eat by the handful.

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    Tomato sauce/crushed tomatoes or a low sugar marinara sauce in a jar. You can add it over vegetables, pasta, meats, and have a quick meal.
    Rice, I make extra and freeze it. Then I make a quick stir fry in a pinch.
    phyllo dough - you can make quick dishes (little cup of brie and apricot preserves baked are a delish snack.

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    Vegetable-bean soups. The recipe I have uses water as the base, but has cooking time of -1.5 hours so that the broth is flavored, and I always precook the beans for a few hours or soak them in boiling water and leave them overnight for fresh or rinse well or soak the canned beans for a while to remove the taste of the can.

    Then it's an hour in boiling water for the beans, 20 more minutes for hard vegetables (any combination of diced celery, onion, potatoes, root vegetables, hard squash flesh, garlic cloves), tomatoes (fresh or canned), and salt, pepper, and any dried herbs or spices, another 10 minutes for soft vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, fresh beans) and fresh herbs, and the final 5-10 for pasta to cook through and for (optional) leafy vegetables like spinach or escarole to soften. If other grains like rice or barley are used, then they need to be added earlier. (I always wash non-sushi rice before cooking to remove the surface starch, and this keeps clear soups from getting cloudy.)

    As long as there's something to give the broth flavor in addition to the spices -- onions are paricularly good -- it's something she can use to empty a larder while having the bean and grain protein mix, and since she's ovo-lacto, grated cheese added before serving will also give it flavor. I usually cut up all the ingredients ahead of time and put them in a couple of bowls, and I only ave pay attention to it when the timer goes off, when it's time to dump in the next bowl of ingredients o turn it off. It's also very forgiving: if you cook the hard vegetables for 35-minutes, it won't make much of a difference.

    I learned to cook making Persian stews, which cook for hours at a time, and are completely forgiving short of forgetting them altogether and burning the pot.
    "'Is this new BMW-designed sled the ultimate sledding machine for Langdon and Holcomb?' Leigh Diffey asked before the pair cruised to victory. I don’t know, but I know that sled is the ultimate Olympic Games product placement.." -- Jen Chaney

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    I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian, though the emphasis is more on the vegetarian part than the ovo-lacto. For someone who's used to eating lots of protein and especially protein from meat and animal products, this probably wouldn't work. But it does for me:

    I eat a lot of soups year-round. I usually saute my onions first for flavor, than add whatever and cook - my quickest soup is veggie-lentil and takes maybe 25 minutes. I also do mushroom barley, a very inauthentic minestrone, and broccoli soup, and less frequently, root vegetable or tomato soup. Cheese will work with some of these. Another good standard soup base is sauteed onions, carrots and celery, maybe some garlic too, with whatever additions your friend likes. Experimenting is fun!

    Other basics - I buy tomatoes at the market and make sauce to use with pasta - other ingredients optional - that usually lasts a couple of weeks in the fridge. I could probably make more and freeze it, but I'm at the market every other week anyway as the difference between market produce and supermarket stuff is huge. I do the same with basil and pesto. I make a lot of stir fried veggies and add them to pasta, rice/lentil or similar combos (barley, bulghur). Roasting veggies work too, with some olive oil, salt and herbs. I always have frozen green beans and peas to add to anything that seems relevant. Potatoes are a major staple for me and I believe that there is no way to ruin a potato unless you add something awful too it (like mayo, I hate that stuff). A regular and sweet potato combination is yummy, sour cream makes it even better because it'll counter the sweetness.

    I also eat lots of salads, usually just something basic like green salad or a slaw with some extras (not cheese; can't stand cheese in my salad). I'm pointing this out because the base doesn't have to be the cooked food, you can flip it and add the cooked ingredients to a fresh base.

    Good luck to your friend as she expands her culinary horizons!
    Last edited by Zemgirl; 07-30-2013 at 06:32 PM.

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    I'm not a a grewat fan od the way most protein tastes plain or lightly seasoned, unlike most fruits and many vegetable and tend to think of food as a carrier for dressing, spice, condiments, and gravy. There's no rule against adding pesto or a little sweet Thai chili sauce into a soup or.atop tofu give it a little extra flavor.
    "'Is this new BMW-designed sled the ultimate sledding machine for Langdon and Holcomb?' Leigh Diffey asked before the pair cruised to victory. I don’t know, but I know that sled is the ultimate Olympic Games product placement.." -- Jen Chaney

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    Another thing I would suggest for the beginning cook is to have one great lunch/dinner menu in your repertoire, and 1-2 great appetizers. That way you can entertain with confidence knowing you've mastered a meal that really works, and you've got something to bring when it's potluck or you want to offer to help another host/hostess. Doesn't have to be fancy, just something that you can make, and make well - like a great pasta dish and fresh salad with your own dressing, served with fresh bread and a simple fruit and ice cream dessert; perhaps a family main dish recipe you can learn from them and make your own; a really good dip to serve with a pretty plate of veggies or chips; etc.

    If the beginning cook reads English, I think the best all-round cookbook is Better Homes and Gardens with the red check cover. Every recipe is thoroughly tested and nearly all use simple techniques and basic ingredients you can get in most cities around the world, and once you get comfortable, you can adapt the recipes to the ingredients available in your region. I go back to my copy all the time when I'm trying something new or looking for basic techniques, and it's never failed me.

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    I just remembered this pasta recipe, which looks very easy and quite fun! I should really buy some cherry tomatoes and make it myself soon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zemgirl View Post
    I just remembered this pasta recipe, which looks very easy and quite fun! I should really buy some cherry tomatoes and make it myself soon.
    That looks yummy, I may try this tonight!

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    The pasta recipe looks quite good, but one question: I always thought that you shouldn't put oil in pasta water (oil no, salt yes) because the oil coats the pasta and presents it from absorbing any of the yummy sauce. Is that not the case in this recipe, which does call for oil in the cooking water (along with a bunch of other yummy stuff)?
    Creating drama!

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    My basic recipes for vegetarian food has always been pastas, burritos made with various vegetable and bean combos, and quiche. Oh, and soups! I love soups. Making soup is one of my favorite things. Anyway, there are at least 50 different variations on each of those four things.

    And yes, oil in the cooking water is one of those things that people say you should do but you should not for exactly those reasons.

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    Total waste of oil, and you're right, it stops the sauce from absorbing. To stop the pasta from sticking, use the right amount it water, and a good sized pot to keep the pasta moving when boiling!

    Thanks for the ideas - especially the tomato sauce! I added passata to the list. I always use that!

    She doesn't eat soup (has trouble with the "drinkable meal" concept, she says she likes to chew her meals).

    I've also added some different pestos, including traditional basil and my own basil and walnut no-oil pesto, which I love, and some simple salad dressings. And a falafel and a veggie patty recipe.

    I almost never eat dry pasta, I make my own, but will pass along the one-pot pasta dish!

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffisjeff View Post
    The pasta recipe looks quite good, but one question: I always thought that you shouldn't put oil in pasta water (oil no, salt yes) because the oil coats the pasta and presents it from absorbing any of the yummy sauce. Is that not the case in this recipe, which does call for oil in the cooking water (along with a bunch of other yummy stuff)?
    I think this is because it's an absorption pasta, which is a method that does include oil in the cooking water, and calls for very little water - the pasta gets flavored during the cooking process. You can read a little bit about it in this blog post, which is where I first heard about it.

    I don't really like onions that are just cooked in water, so I may saute them first and then follow the rest of the instructions.

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    One of my basics is roast potatoes. I roast them in lots of olive oil and chicken stock - the chicken stock needs to be replenished as it evaporates - and add a ton of chopped fresh garlic for the last five minutes before broiling. It's delicious. Sometimes, I'll add parmesan cheese and fresh tomatoes, which is even better.

    Another easy dish is ground beef with tomatoes and tofu. I don't use any proportions, just cook the three up together and add salt (always kosher) and fresh ground pepper. It's very flavourful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffisjeff View Post
    The pasta recipe looks quite good, but one question: I always thought that you shouldn't put oil in pasta water (oil no, salt yes) because the oil coats the pasta and presents it from absorbing any of the yummy sauce. Is that not the case in this recipe, which does call for oil in the cooking water (along with a bunch of other yummy stuff)?
    I've heard that a lot, but maybe it depends on the type of pasta?

    Gordon Ramsay puts olive oil in the water to prevent the pasta from sticking together

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    Quote Originally Posted by Japanfan View Post
    One of my basics is roast potatoes. I roast them in lots of olive oil and chicken stock - the chicken stock needs to be replenished as it evaporates - and add a ton of chopped fresh garlic for the last five minutes before broiling. It's delicious. Sometimes, I'll add parmesan cheese and fresh tomatoes, which is even better.

    Another easy dish is ground beef with tomatoes and tofu. I don't use any proportions, just cook the three up together and add salt (always kosher) and fresh ground pepper. It's very flavourful.
    She's vegetarian, so no beef or chicken stock. I thought a roast was done dry? I've never heard of putting stock on potatoes. Could I use veggie stock? Are the crispy? I love crispy roast potatoes, crispy and crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

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    I make a pasta fagiole, that does not have stock in it. Pasta fagioli is prepared differently, in different regions - some with a clear soup base, some with tomato base. This is the way my Grandmother (from Italy) made it. Saute a chopped onion and some minced garlic, add two cans of tomato puree, and two cans of ceci (garbanzo) beans. Let that slow simmer for about a half hour. Cook a pound of ditalini pasta, drain and add to the tomato base. Serve with a little grated cheese on top. You can add some vegetable stock, if you like a thinner soup, but we like it thick.

    I roast potatoes with olive oil, minced garlic, chopped onion, a little salt, and pepper. Sometimes, I'll cover the pan with foil and let the potatoes steam and stay softer. Then I mash the whole thing - it's really good!

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    Another thing I used to do when I was learning to cook was to cook a mixture of vegetables in parchment paper with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever herbs I wanted to accent them. You place them in the center, roll and fold the paper around them, and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes depending. They steam in the bag and it really brings out their flavor

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffisjeff View Post
    The pasta recipe looks quite good, but one question: I always thought that you shouldn't put oil in pasta water (oil no, salt yes) because the oil coats the pasta and presents it from absorbing any of the yummy sauce. Is that not the case in this recipe, which does call for oil in the cooking water (along with a bunch of other yummy stuff)?
    Quote Originally Posted by michiruwater View Post
    And yes, oil in the cooking water is one of those things that people say you should do but you should not for exactly those reasons.
    Quote Originally Posted by DAngel View Post
    I've heard that a lot, but maybe it depends on the type of pasta?

    Gordon Ramsay puts olive oil in the water to prevent the pasta from sticking together
    The New York Times explains it all for you:

    Does it do any good to cast oil on boiling pasta water? Can the oil keep noodles from sticking together? These days, the position of many Italian cooks is a firm no.

    Not only does the oil float aloofly at the top of the pot, they observe, but oily pasta is less able to hold sauce on its surface. It is far better to use a great excess of water, stir the noodles constantly and toss them with the sauce immediately after draining them.

    That makes good sense. But if my biggest pot is otherwise engaged, or I can't give my undivided attention to the cooking noodles or my children like to do their own saucing on the plate, can a bit of oil help?

    To find out, I dyed some oil a contrasting dark orange with annatto seeds, then brought a large pot of water to the boil, poured on a scant tablespoon of oil, dropped in a pound of spaghettini, stirred the pot for about a minute and watched it cook. The falling pasta and roiling water broke the initial floating oil puddles into hundreds of droplets that dispersed in the pot and then rose only slowly to the surface.

    When the noodles were done, I removed some by scooping with a strainer, and the rest by pouring the contents of the pot into a colander. Just as the noodles had passed through the oil on their way into the water, so they passed through again on their way out, with both methods of removal.

    All the noodles were tinged with orange! Sure enough, after pulling and probing them, my fingers took on a light sheen of oil. And given my minimal stirring, surprisingly few noodles were glued to each other. After sitting piled in the colander for 30 minutes, many more had become stuck, but not irreversibly: I could tease them apart.

    So some of the oil in the cooking water does coat the noodles, enough to help keep them from sticking to each other. But does oil compromise the marriage of noodle and sauce? Chinese cooks don't think so; they often oil their noodles before saucing. I put marinara sauce on side-by-side plates of oiled and unoiled spaghettini, ate both and found little difference in the amount of sauce left on the plates. Most of it is cradled in nooks between neighboring noodles.

    So if you're worried about sticky noodles, forget the prevailing opinion and cast that oil.
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpag...51C0A96E958260

    Also, putting oil in the water at the start of the cooking process lowers the boiling point, thus speeding things up.

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    Very few vegetables taste good frozen - the exceptions I have found are unseasoned french green beans, petite peas, and white corn. I always have these in the freezer to round out a last minute supper. I can add what is in the produce drawer with one - for example corn and zucchini. I also keep nuts in the freezer - almonds and green beans are another simple dish. Or corn and slivered green onions.

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