kores_rabbit asks: Give me your best information on cooking with pork.
Okay, I am going to assume you mean my best or favorite way of cooking pork. The best method I can come up with is for pork chops, where you brine the chops for approximately 12 - 18 hours prior to cooking. Get a good heavy oven-safe skillet (which pretty much means cast iron) and heat it up really well on the stovetop eye. Toss in the pork chops and sear on both sides. Thrown in a couple of tablespoons of butter and a couple tablespoons of canola oil. If you like, you can throw a few chopped shallots and onions into the pan and stir around with the pork chops. Give it a few minutes, then put into a 400 degree oven for about twenty mintes. Check for doneness and remove. Feel free to deglaze the pan with white wine and reduce for a nice sauce.
ariedana asks : "I love spaghetti but know that using Prego is supposedly a disgrace to good pasta. However, I don't have enough time to make a really special marinara sauce. So gimme a great, somewhat easy recipe."
This is an example of how our current attitudes of food snobbery have gotten a little out of hand. See, the thing here is that most amateur cooks think that Prego is a disgrace to good pasta and to a certain extent, they are right -IF- you are using it straight out of the bottle. However, you can bet your ass that professional cooks (at least those outside of REAL Italian restaurants) are not too keen on re-inventing the wheel. And unless it's a big ass kitchen with lots of staff or the aforementioned family Italian eatery, you can pretty much that the cooks are doing what I am going to tell you to do.
See the key here is to adjust the Prego to what you want it to be. Prego makes a good base, just like any other tomato product. It so happens to come with some extra spices and herbs in it, so that makes it more a canned marinara than anything else. Canned marinara is a good starting point. For myself, I would recommend sauteeing up some sliced garlic, using some fresh oregano and basil chopped up fine and throwing all of that into a skillet with your can of Prego to reduce down to a nice sauce. If you like mushrooms in your sauce, chop a few up and toss them in. Want some red wine bite? Pour in a couple slugs. It's totally wide open.
If you look at that can of Prego as a starting point and not a finished product, you'll be two steps ahead of the game and two bucks better off from buying all the specialty sauces sitting right next to it.
badbha asks: "What exactly is simmering, and how do you keep it just hot enough yet just cool enough?"
A simmer is basically the point where the water in the part is starting to jiggle and bubbles form. The water is not boiling, which means that the bubbles are not floating to the surface and breaking and agitating the water. The technical definition is water between 130 and 140 degrees. Anything cooler is poaching temperature and hotter is boiling water.
The answer to how to maintain the simmer is heat control and attentiveness. You can't leave a pot on to simmer until you get the stove eye set JUST right. That takes some tweaking, watching and careful work. Electric eyes are actually better for this than gas stoves, since natural gas burns at the same temperature, no matter what. Electric eyes at least let you put out less heat because less electricity is flowing through the coil.
The short answer here is practice, as with everything in the kitchen.
tempest_omouthy asks: "How can I make fried rice at home that tastes.. like real friend rice and not something I immitated in my own kitchen?"
Okay, let's logic this out. Now, obviously you're going to be getting your fried rice from the place down the street because the last time I checked, the cooks in China don't deliver here. Now, if they're down the road, then they have access to most of the same stuff you do... at least for fried rice. Okay, so you can pretty well bet that the carrots, onions and eggs are all the same. The beef is probably going to be worse stuff than what you are going to want to use, but that's cool. Your beef will taste better. Nine times out of ten, the difference between home cooks and chinese cooks in restaurants is the second word in the dish - rice. I recommend using plain white rice. Don't use sushi rice (too sticky), jasmine or basmati rice (too aromatic), wild or brown rice (need I even SAY why) and most especially do NOT use instant rice. Get the ten minute cooktime rice and use that. This is the best advice I can give for you to make good fried rice at home.
i_amthecosmos asks: "For whole grain breads, do you perfer the "sponge" technique or just mixing and rising like any other bread?"
For all breads that have a yeast component, be they white or whole grain, I recommend the sponge technique as I feel it gives a far superior crumb and flavor. For those who do not know, there are two ways in which a yeast bread may be made. The first, called the sponge method, has the baker putting yeast, flour, water and a little sugar into a separate container to rise. This sponge, when it has risen sufficiently, is then turned out into a mixing bowl and used as the leavener for the bread. The second method is to simply bloom the yeast in warm water and dump it in with the flour, butter and other ingredients and start mixing.
The reason I say that the sponge method has a superior crumb and flavor is because the sponge method takes longer, which gives the yeast time to fully develop, start fermenting and add flavor depending on the type of flour used. The longer you go, the more flavor you get. A sourdough starter is simply a sponge that has been left for several days to ferment. Most professional artisinal bakeries have large vats of starters, called "mothers", that they will use regularly in their breads. They'll cut off a big hunk, use it to start their bread, then mix a like amount of flour and water back into the mother so that she can continue her burbling, burping fermentation process.
I recommend anyone with pretentions towards bread baking learn and become familiar with the sponge method. I feel it will really enhance the flavor and quality of your bread.
More to come later.