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15 Things I Learned in 2015 - Page 2

The second set of lessons I learned in 2015 focus on something I've never really covered in these annual blogs before: cooking. It's something I don't dwell on here, even though I have an entire subsection of my website devoted to it, but it really is an important part of my life, a Zen-like outlet for my creativity and a way to express my love for my family. If there's a theme to 2015 in terms of my cooking, it's that I really grew to appreciate making things from scratch that I haven't much in the past.

I Can Make Cheese

Blessed are the cheesemakers
I hope most of you get this joke

Last year, my sister-in-law got me a cheese-making kit for Christmas. It claimed that, with just a gallon of milk and the tools in the box, I could make a big batch of Queso Blanco or Paneer. Cheese-making is one of those things that seems really complicated and esoteric to people not familiar with it, and if you want to make something like cheddar or gouda, that does take some time and experience. Still, it turns out making a simple cheese like Queso Blanco or Paneer is actually very easy, even fun, and as with anything else, when you do it yourself, it just tastes better than the stuff you pull out of a plastic container.

Fresh, Living Herbs are Nice to Have Around

Herbs in the window
This is a stock image, because my kitchen windowsill isn't this photogenic

When I first got married, I tried growing herbs in our apartment. This failed miserably for a number of reasons--the cat was always attacking them, I wasn't as good a cook then as I am now, we didn't have any great windows for it, and I was terrible at taking care of them--so I kind of swore off the whole idea. Fresh herbs are nice--and I'd still get them occasionally from the store--but I decided they were too impractical. Now I have a house and a lot more experience, and as a parent and housekeeper, I have gotten a lot better at taking care of things. We also don't have a cat anymore. So now, I can say it's pretty cool to have parsley, oregano, and basil by the window, ready to go at a moments notice. (Okay, so the basil plant died, but that wasn't my fault, and I'll get a new one in the Spring.)

You Can Hide Zucchini in Almost Anything

Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron
I am not referring to a tasteless joke from Age of Ultron

All I have to say about getting a six-year old to eat vegetables is: the struggle is real. I've seen kids who like--even love--vegetables, but my son isn't one of them. If it's green, he won't touch it (unless it's candy). We managed to cut a deal with him that he'd have to eat vegetables every day once he turned seven, which has been working moderately well so far, but in the meantime, I've had to find creative ways to get vegetables in him without him knowing it. The simplest thing to do is puree some vegetables and hide them in whatever you're cooking for dinner, but that method can only take you so far with things like peas and broccolli, no matter what the cooking shows tell you. No kid in the entire world is going to be fooled by mashed cauliflower if you tell them it's mashed potatoes. This is where zucchini comes in. It's a magic vegetable with a very mild taste and an ability to play well with just about anything from meatloaf to chicken soup. You can hide it in pasta, mince it into cornbread, or make sweet, delicious zucchini bread that tastes more like chocolate than squash. If it weren't for zucchini, I don't think my son would have eaten very many vegetables in 2015.

Greek Yogurt is a Miracle Ingredient

Greek yogurt
Fun fact: most people in Greece have no idea what this stuff is

The first time I tried Greek yogurt, I almost gagged on it. By itself, I find it revolting. I know some people love it, but not me. It's like mixing yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese together with freshly ground ass. However, as a yogurt, it is very low in lactose (the bacteria that turn milk into yogurt eat all the lactose), so for people with an intolerance to lactose--like my wife--it can theoretically be a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in recipes. I was wary of trying this, but I did it for love, and to my surprise, plain Greek yogurt is really fricking good in things like Beef Stroganoff or Chicken Divan. Even though I am not lactose intolerant, I actually prefer it to sour cream in a lot of places. I'll put it in tacos or dip pierogis in it. Not too long ago, I tried tasting it by itself again, just to see if my pallette has changed. Nope. It's still worse than licorice-flavored mayonnaise by itself.

I May Never Go Back to Store-Bought Croutons

You can make them out of any kind of bread

Making your own croutons is unbelievably easy. On the scale of kitchen difficulty, it's slightly harder than making prepackaged ramen noodles, and slightly easier than making boxed mac and cheese. I've even found ways to do it that are low in fat by just lightly coating cubed bread in cooking spray. All you do is take slightly stale bread, cut it to size, drizzle it in melted butter or oil of some sort along with some dried herbs, and stick it in an oven for a few minutes. That's it. It tasts so much better than premade croutons, and this is coming from somebody who would have married store-bought croutons in his youth if it weren't illegal in all fifty states to marry grocery items.

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-e. magill 1/13/2016

  • 16 Things I Learned in 2016
  • 14 Things I Learned in 2014