Thus far we have studied the fundamental principles of cooking and have seen that some knowledge of the chemical composition of each food is necessary before we can secure the best result through the application of heat and moisture. But this is only the foundation of the art of cookery.
The form in which our food is served may attract or repel, and the flavor may make it appetizing or the reverse. We must depend mainly for sustenance upon a few kinds of meat, vegetables, grains, and fruits, and unless variety were secured in some way we should quickly tire of them.
Through the ingenuity of cooks of all times and countries, so many combinations have been devised, by changes in flavor and form, that some of our common foods might appear in different guise every day in the year.
The multiplicity of formulas in our cook-books, even when well classified, are puzzling to the beginner who has not learned to analyze each recipe and thus find the simple processes of which it consists.
What is generally termed "fancy" or "high-class" cookery is merely the application of the simple processes to costly foods or a further complicated preparation to foods which have first been cooked as perfectly as possible, according to the principles already outlined.
For example, if we have learned how to make a white sauce and how to cook meats and vegetables, we do not require separate detailed recipes for creamed chicken, creamed oysters, creamed potatoes, creamed cauliflower, or creamed asparagus; we only need to make the sauce a little thinner or thicker to offset the dry or watery nature of the article with which it is to be put and to vary the flavor slightly to adapt it to another material.
Furthermore, any such creamed meat or vegetable may be served plain, or on toast, or in timbale cases, or combined with buttered crumbs, as a "scallop," or by the addition of stiff egg whites it becomes a "souffle" when baked. When the sauce is made of double thickness, and combined with the meat or vegetable and chilled, the mass may be shaped into croquettes or cutlets which are then coated with egg and crumbs and fried.
Thus any intelligent woman knowing something of the nature of foods and the effect of heat and moisture may to some extent make her own recipes or adapt others to the supplies available at the moment.
No cook-book can be sufficiently expanded to provide for great variation in climate, food materials, and utensils. The cook must constantly adapt to her conditions, she must be observant of the changes of temperature and learn when one food material or flavor may be substituted for another.
If uncertain about the wisest combination of articles of food, whether in a single dish or for the different courses in a menu, it is safe to follow the plan of contrast. Thus the cream soup is served with crisp crackers or croutons, the creamed fish is covered with buttered crumbs and baked till crisp, the croquettes are crisp outside and creamy within.
Another point is to add to any food, substances supplying any of the food principles it lacks. Potatoes are mashed with cream or butter because they lack fat, are blended with egg for croquettes or souffle because they lack protein. Eggs lack starch, so we serve them on toast or use them in puddings with rice, tapioca, etc. Composite preparations of food, often classed as entrees or made dishes, are known by many names derived from different languages, especially from the French.
Principle of Contrast
Here is no place to attempt to define all the terms used on a menu card, but we may group some of these compound dishes under a few general heads and study their characteristics.
Soups have as their basis either animal or vegetable stock or both combined. Stock is secured by the aid of heat and moisture from portions of meat and vegetables too tough to be used in other ways. Flavor and some nutriment are soaked, cooked and strained out, and this water is the stock which is then further flavored and garnished by the addition of some contrasting substance. Thus a meat stock is usually garnished with grains or shreds of vegetable, and a vegetable stock is often combined with milk and thickened.
Creamed Fish In Ramekins
Stews are thick soups containing larger portions of the meat and vegetables. These are also known as chowders, ragouts, salmis, etc., etc. Sometimes a stew has dumplings steamed over it, sometimes it is covered with a crust of pastry, mashed potatoes, or cooked cereal and baked as a pie. Here again are combined contrasting food principles.
Hash is a term that also may include the assortment of foods known as scallops, timbales, etc., since the substance giving a specific name to each of these is minced or chopped fine before it is combined with other materials. Meat and fish are put on toast or mixed with potatoes or bread crumbs or encased in rice or in a pastry shell. The exact proportions of the contrasting ingredients is of less importance than their proper moistening and flavoring.
The scallop owes its name to the shell in which it is often served. Au gratin is another name for the same combination of a meat or vegetable with sauce and crumbs. The croquette gets its name from its crisp crust, the timbale from its thimble-like shape. Rissoles and kromeskies are kinds of fried meat pies or croquettes in a pastry crust.
Souffles have as a foundation fruit or vegetable pulp or minced meat in a sauce and are puffed up by the introduction of stiffly beaten egg whites. The name is sometimes given to cold dishes where a similar effect is gained by whipped cream.
Salads may consist of cold cooked meats, fish, etc., vegetables cooked or raw, fruits and nuts. Almost any food may be served in a salad, singly or in combination. The distinctive feature of a salad is the dressing of fat, oil, butter, or thick cream, which is variously flavored.
Many of the most satisfactory of these made dishes doubtless had their origin in an effort to use left-overs.
Milk surplus may be used in many ways. Skimmed milk answers as well as full milk for soups and doughs when fat is also used. Even if otherwise likely to curdle in heating, the addition of a little cooking soda makes it possible to scald milk, and then it may be used for custards, puddings, etc. Sour milk is available for doughs and cheese, and cream may be substituted for butter and milk in simpler cakes and cookies.
Eggs left at the table in a soft-boiled condition may be cooked again until hard and then combined with sauces and served on toast or used as a garnish in soups or salads.
Meat left-overs should be carefully sorted.
The obloquy heaped upon hashes is due to carelessness. All uneatable portions, - bone, skin, and gristle, should be removed, but may yield a little stock if put in cold water. The clear lean may have about one-fourth as much fat with it if it is to be used in the combination with potatoes, bread or cereal. There may be two grades of the lean, one cut in pieces of uniform shape an inch or more across, to be served in a sauce or moulded in a jelly; the other to be chopped fine for hashes, croquettes, etc.
Vegetables. Cooked vegetables spoil quickly but often may serve as soup, or a scallop, or a salad for a second meal.
Fruits. It seems practically impossible to put together several kinds of fruit without good results. Combinations of left-over fruits, raw or cooked, will serve as the basis of a gelatine dessert made like the jelly described elsewhere, or may be frozen alone, or combined with cream, or thickened for a pudding sauce, or diluted with water for a fruit punch. Add sugar as desired.
Meat Left Overs
Bread. No scrap of bread of any kind need be lost. Brown bread and muffins of different kinds are sometimes wasted when they might be steamed, or toasted and served in cream sauce, or made into puddings like a baked Indian pudding. Slices of stale raised bread, dried, gives us croutons, cut in cubes, or crumbs white and brown, coarse and fine, to use for scalloped dishes, stuffing for fish and poultry, and for many kinds of sweet puddings.
The use of gelatine is an instance of our endeavor to make foods attractive in form. It has doubtful food value and no agreeable flavor, but it gives solidity to fruit juices, or in aspic jelly to soup stock, and in such jellies we may mould fruits for dessert, or meat and vegetables for salad.
Garnish is often desirable to make foods more appetizing, but it is a question whether this purpose is served by the addition of unedible materials which must be laid one side before the food itself is accessible.
The truest art does not waste effort on useless things.
The form of foods is further varied by utensils producing different shapes, the meat choppers with adjustable knives for particles of different sizes, the fancy knives for making thin slices or balls of vegetables and fruits, the muffin pans, waffle iron, the timbale iron, the many cutters and moulds for puddings, etc, The tendency of the present day is plainly towards small portions for individual service, and here again a new recipe is not required, only the necessary changes in time of cooking which would result when a mass was divided into several portions. Moulds in which a food is to be cooked should be greased, but rinsed with cold water when the food is only to be cooled in them.
Scales and measures are lacking in many kitchens and accurate work is impossible without them. The average kitchen need not be furnished with many special utensils, but there should be a full supply of "general purpose" articles of the best grade of material and finish.
The utensils should be adapted to the size of the family and to the physical ability of those who are to use them. The saving of human life and energy is more to be considered than the durability of implements.