Cooking with Bwog: Back to Basics—Starch, Flour, and Nuts

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Seriously mom, it's harder than it sounds

In this week’s Cooking with Bwog, our fearless chef Matt Powell has an existential crisis and begins a series on the basics of cooking for the epicurious collegiate. It’s a lengthy one, but packed with useful information.

This week, I started working on “Cooking with Bwog” when suddenly, I came to the realization that the recipe was far too difficult. It was a moment of clarity. Many times people have told me that my recipes are too difficult, or they’re not catered to the student cook. This is why I have decided to start a series on the cooking basics. The series will progress in the following order: starch, flour, and nuts; fruits and vegetables; meats; sweets and pastry; and knife skills and cooking equipment. I hope to cover those aspects of cooking that I feel are essential to any cook.

During this time, if you are still looking for those more challenging recipes, just visit the Culinary Society website.

Starch, Flour, and Nuts: The Basics

Oftentimes in my recipes, I call for “1 lb. of pasta, cooked” or “3 C of rice, cooked.” Yet, many students have yet to master these necessary skills. Here is a guide to preparing these grains.

Pasta: One serving of pasta is 4 oz. Typically, pasta is packaged in 12-16 oz. boxes/bags. To prepare, bring one large pot of water to a rolling boil. Water will boil faster if it is sealed with a lid. Once the water is boiling, add a good handful of salt to the water. This is not necessary, but it will nicely salt the pasta, infusing it with flavor. Once the salt has dissolved, add the pasta. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir occasionally, so as to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Most pastas take 10-12 minutes to cook to al dente. Drain in a colander. If you aren’t using the pasta immediately, add a little olive oil and toss to ensure that the pasta doesn’t stick together.

Rice: The rule of rice is 2 cups of water for every 1 cup dry rice. (That would mean 3 C water for 1.5 C dry, 4 C water for 2 C dry… you get the idea.) Rinse the rice first in a fine mesh sieve. In a large saucepan, bring the appropriate amount of water to a boil. Add rice to the water. I also usually add 1–2 tbsp. Of butter so the rice does not stick to the pot. I also like to add seasonings such as salt, chicken bouillon cubes or dried herbs to the water for extra flavor. Reduce the heat down to low, just simmering, and cover the saucepan with a tightly fitted lid. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until all of the liquid is absorbed into the rice. (I found that cooking times vary depending on the range.) Once the rice is finished, remove lid and fluff with a fork. (The same rules apply for quinoa as well!)

Boiled Potatoes: Potatoes differ based on the size of the potato. For boiled potatoes, wash thoroughly and scrub off the residual dirt. Place in a large pot and cover with water with an excess of 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil. After the water is boiling, give the potatoes 5-8 minutes. Once the potatoes are cooked, they will be easily pierced by a fork.

Baked Potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Once again, wash and scrub your potatoes. Pierce the potatoes a couple times with a fork (This will prevent any crazy explosions). Lightly oil the potatoes and wrap in foil. (You can also add some herbs and spices in the foil along with the potatoes.) Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes–1 hour. The cooking time will vary with size, and it can take up to 75 minutes. To check for doneness, once again, poke with a fork. The potatoes should be nice and tender. The same rules go for yams and sweet potatoes.

Boiled Corn: The most common way to prepare corn is to boil it in a large pot. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and husk the corn. Add a little sugar to the water, but NO SALT! This will toughen the corn. Add the corn to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, the corn should be perfectly done. Some people like to leave it in another 1-3 minutes for softer kernels.

Toasted Nuts: This can be done in two different ways: oven or stove top. For the oven, preheat to 350 degrees. Place nuts on a baking sheet in one layer. Bake in the oven 8–10 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant. For the stove top, heat a frying pan. Add the nuts into the pan once it is warm. Stir with a wooden spoon, to keep the nuts from burning on one side. They should be nice and toasty in about 5–6 minutes.

Another basic is the simple pie crust. Although using a Pillsbury instant crust is oftentimes delicious, I prefer to make my own crust, adding in my own flavorings and adjusting for a savory or sweet pie/tart.

Pie Crust: Ingredients

  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 C flour*
  • 1 tbsp. Sugar, optional for savory crusts
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tbsp. Heavy cream

Directions: Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the egg and cream until the mixture comes together into a mass. Transfer to a work surface and shape into a 6-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. When ready to use, lightly flour a surface and roll out with a rolling pin. Form to the specific pie shell.

*A note on flours. There are several different types, but the ones I find most useful are all-purpose, bread flour, pastry flour (or cake flour), whole wheat flour, and rye flour. For pie shells, pastry or all-purpose flours are perfectly fine. Most recipes on Bwog should be made with all-purpose, or AP for short.

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  1. Anonymous  

    I appreciate this style a lot more than the other campus culinary journals. The other ones are impractical, especially for college students. Like "Ingredients: four whole ducks, two monkfish, pumpkin blueberry mayonaise, fire from Mt. Olympia..."

  2. off topic but i needed to talk to someone

    hey guys,

    new transfer student here. i dropped out of yale 2 years ago to start a company which got acquired for $5 Million. the company is based in NYC so I took up columbia in order to still be able to make it downtown in between classes.

    NOW. my question is this: how the heck do i start making friends and probably go on dates here and also CONCEAL for a while my networth? i don’t want people being friends with me for “connections” or girls accepting dates because of my money.
    but i also dont want to have to make up some big lie about why i’m 23yro already and still a college sophomore…

    suggestions? thanks a bunch!

  3. Anonymous  

    An easier pie crust for the student cook is David Leibowitz' adaptation of Paule Caillat's French Tart Dough:

    The problem with the traditional method is that the perfect sandy-crumb like texture the dough is supposed to have is nearly impossible to achieve without a food processor or pastry cutter. The frozen butter will either paralyze your fingers or melt before you can properly work it into the flour. Hot butter and oil will make the crust just as flaky and the dough much much easier to deal with.

  4. Anonymous  

    You're a bit of a petty prick. There are plenty of extremely wealthy people here who do just fine, making friends, dating even, without having to struggle too much with the heavy burden of having quite a bit of money.

  5. CC 12  

    The combination of wealth-fixation, socia alienation and pie crust minutia in this thread could have been straight out of American Psycho.


  6. what about  

    hard boiled eggs??

  7. Anonymous  

    I always thought matt liked nuts, but I didn't realize he liked them dark

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