Cooking for Hipsters

At some point in your life you will likely find yourself in the awkward position of having to entertain hipsters at your house. If you have enough friends, family, and co-workers, the statistics suggest that there will be several hipsters within your network, and at some point a spouse or close friend is going to invite them over to your house for a dinner party. Though you may be tempted to make that person’s stay as unpleasant as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of them returning, most people will feel compelled to provide their guests with an enjoyable evening, if only to avoid having them bad mouthing your cooking skills to all their friends.

The thing to remember about hipsters is that they feel they are better than the common person and so they cannot like, or more accurately, acknowledge that they like, the food and drink of the common man. The problem is that, unless you did some truly heinous things in a prior life, all of your dinner party guests will not be hipsters, so you will have to strike a delicate balance to satisfy your hipster guests without alienating your less pretentious friends.

Lest you feel it too daunting a challenge to attempt to satisfy such seemingly different tastes, you should remember that hipsters don’t actually have radically different tastes than the average person, they just like to be perceived as such. Rather than taking a negative view and looking at them as a group with exotic tastes, take a more positive view and look at them as not being picky eaters. As annoying as hipsters can be, overly picky eaters are even worse.

Though alcoholic beverages are becoming ground zero for hipsters, with wine snobbery having given rise to both liquor and beer snobbery, it is still quite easy to satisfy a diverse group with drinks than it is with food. You can easily provide multiple types of wine and beer, but you can’t do the same with entrées unless you are a third world dictator. For beer, all you need is something hoppy, amber coloured, and not too popular. Even if you don’t happen to strike on their favourite beer you will still greatly exceed their expectations. With wine, you need to ask someone at your liquor store for something that has only recently come on the market and is not that big a seller, preferably a Zinfandel, Cabernet, or a Malbec. Very few wine drinkers can accurately identify a wine’s grape variety or region, so all you are doing is making sure that you have a wine that does not look too mainstream. If you can start of the evening by providing your guests with enjoyable alcoholic beverages you will buy yourself a greatly increased margin of error when it comes to the food.

Hipsters, to their credit, eat a wide variety of foods, so you have some flexibility in planning your meal. One helpful thing to keep in mind is that eating locally is one of the core beliefs of all hipsters, so you don’t need to procure a list of obscure ingredients. This is helpful because it means that you can serve things that are recognizable to some of your non-hipster guests. Aside from having some local ingredients, if you have anything that is considered artisan or comes in a mason jar, be sure to work that into dinner. You will also get bonus points for working in kale and/or Brussel sprouts.

If you are looking to truly maximize the enjoyment of both your hipster and non-hipster guests, you should consider serving fish, both fillets and whole fish. Unlike commoners who like to eat fish fillets, hipsters prefer when you serve a whole fish, with the eyes staring at you and the mouth hanging open in a permanent deathly gasp. You can easily cook some whole fish and fish fillets in the same oven so it wouldn’t be much extra work, except you may have to scale the whole fish. Unless you are having hipster black bears over to your house, you won’t be able to serve a whole salmon or codfish to a single guest, so you should pick up something like a red snapper or a bass if it is available. For the rest of your guests you could just pick up some reliable cod fillets. You can find plenty of flavour combinations that will work for both types of fish. Aside from allowing you to provide all of your guests with a satisfying meal, allowing your hipster guests to demonstrate to others their superior sophistication will further enhance their experience.

For the after dinner coffee, you would ideally have a French press or espresso machine, but barring that, you should at least hide your Keurig and put some dark roast organic coffee bought from a local indie coffee shop into your old drip coffee maker. For the desert you should serve something with dragon fruit, perhaps sliced with some whipped cream and berries. Dragon fruit looks exotic and frightening, but it has a surprisingly mild taste so all of your guests should be able to enjoy it.

No Need to Knead Bread

Most people, even those who do their fair share of cooking, never bake their own bread, not because they don’t like the taste of fresh, hot out of the oven bread, but because it is just so much work and makes such a mess. When people think of making homemade bread, they typically have visions of a mother or grandmother laboriously kneading bread in kitchen completely covered in a layer of flour, but thanks to a brilliantly simple breakthrough, you can now make your own bread without any kneading at all.

When I say that you can make bread without kneading it, I’m not talking about buying a bread machine or some fancy mixer; I mean that you can make great bread with just flour, water, salt, and a small bit of yeast with about 2 minutes’ worth of active preparation time. All you need to do is mix the flour and salt in a bowl with a larger than usual amount of water and a lower than usual amount of yeast.

Though the active cooking time is minimal, the process does take much longer as you will need to allow the mixture to rise overnight, so if you have people coming over on short notice you will have to pick up a loaf at the grocery store. Once you let the bread make its initial rise over 12-18 hours, then knock it down, put it in a well-oiled loaf pan and let it rise again for 2-3 hours, at which point you pop it in the oven and bake it as you would with any other bread. This works with virtually any kind of bread you want to make, from classic white French bread to any kind of whole grain you’re into.

This is how all bread should be baked from now on. Normally when you find a way to cut down on the work involved in the kitchen there is some sacrifice of quality or taste, but that is not the case with the no knead method. In fact, most bakers will tell you that the prolonged rising period helps to build more flavour. The reality is that you probably wouldn’t be able to detect the difference between a slow rise, no knead bread and a quick rise, kneaded bread, but that’s not the point; the reason for using the no knead method is that it allows you to make a loaf of bread that tastes as least as good as the traditional method but is only a fraction of the effort and mess.

Why Does Anyone Buy Artificial Vanilla?

Last week I ran out of vanilla extract. I’m not sure when or where I bought that bottle of vanilla, but it must have been years ago; it could have come with the house for all I know. In any case, the bottle real vanilla extract was acquired before I became a serious home cook. Since I’ve taken a more active interest in cooking I’ve noticed that everyone recommends that you the real extract versus the artificial stuff. I was actually surprised to see that my vanilla was in fact the natural stuff.

When I went to the grocery store to get a new bottle they had the real and artificial stuff side by side and the real stuff was about three dollars or so more expensive. This was a decent sized bottle that will probably last me several years, so I couldn’t help but wonder who would bother buying the artificial stuff.

I made banana bread this evening and I used a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract. It’s not like there are many recipes out there that call for a half cup of vanilla extract. A bottle of vanilla extract for most people will last several years, so the extra three or four dollars every couple of years will be imperceptible. If you are literally so destitute that you can’t spare an extra three dollars for something that will last for years then you probably aren’t spending your money on vanilla extract anyway. If you are buying artificial vanilla extract there is a pretty good chance that you are cheap.

You Should Cook More Turkey

I had a great culinary epiphany this Christmas season; I need to cook more turkey. I had only cooked two turkeys in my life and then I cooked two over the holidays. I had bought a couple of frozen turkeys in November for $1.49 a pound. I gave one to the food bank and cooked the other Christmas day. Despite my limited experience cooking turkeys, and the turkey being slightly less than 100% defrosted, it turned out fantastic, so fantastic that when I went to the grocery store a few days later I picked up another one, this one a fresh turkey for 99 cents a pound. The turkey cost less than 12 dollars! I’ve paid more than that for a small chicken.

Turkey had become synonymous with special occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving since it they are a great way to feed a large crowd, but turkey is often one of the cheapest meats to buy, particularly if you keep an eye out for sales. Grocery stores are always offloading unsold turkeys at cheap prices after major holidays. If you have a moderate sized freezer you should always buy a couple whenever they go on sale.

Just because you are cooking a turkey it doesn’t mean you have to prepare some kind of elaborate meal with all the fixings, though you certainly can. You can just stick one in the oven around noon on a weekend and by suppertime you have a pile of juicy turkey. When I made my post-Christmas turkey I just had French fries, dressing and gravy with it. After the main meal there is plenty left for sandwiches, and then you can make or pile of turkey soup using whatever dried up leftover vegetables you have in your cupboard or fridge. And if you don’t want to bother making soup you can just throw whatever’s left out for the crows. It’s still a good deal even if you don’t eat all of it.

It’s amazing how much more chicken is sold than turkey. It’s understandable that there is more chicken sold as it comes in a more manageable size. A basket of turkey wings at your local sports bar just wouldn’t be the same. Nevertheless, the fact that that chicken outsells turkey by a thousand to one suggests the turkey industry needs to do a better job of marketing itself. Everyone likes turkey bacon club sandwiches yet no one ever cooks a turkey. It doesn’t make any sense. If you are trying to feed your family quality food on a budget, there are few better options than turkey.