A good meal is one that has the desirable qualities which distinguish it from ordinary meals (American Heritage Dictionary).
Therefore, a good meal should be tasteful, healthy and nicely served. This includes proper selection of ingredients, food preparation, cooking, garnishing and presentation and considering the time and environment of the meal. Making a good meal starts by selection of ingredients. Always select canned and dried food first. Cans should be intact i.e. no bulging, leaking or dentations. Sell-by date should be looked for in every purchase. Dry food (e.g. spices) should be well contained or enveloped (air-tight) to keep the flavor and aroma. The second purchase is for fresh vegetables and green herbs (e.g. parsley, green beans). Green vegetables should be vividly green with no yellow patches on leaves. The package should be uniform with no other herbs included. Finally, refrigerated food, poultry, fish or meat are the last to be selected. Any purchase that is felt worm to touch or packed in a leaking package should be discarded. Once at home, preparation of the meal starts by proper handling.
The main objective is to prevent a possible food poisoning that may result from growth of bacteria. Therefore, always keep the food in the refrigerator till its use, keep every thing clean (utensils, hands, towels, cutting boards) and do not allow juices of fish, poultry or meat to reach readily prepared other ingredients. Marinating serves the purpose of tenderizing the meat so it cooks faster and become juicier. The basic elements of a marinade are a mixture of vinegar and/or lemon juice, a finely chopped onion, herbs and spices. Additional elements are added according to what is marinated are yogurt or wine for poultry, olive oil for fish and Soy sauce for meat. Spices (the dried parts of aromatic plants except the leaves) can be hot as dried hot chilies, black or white pepper or ginger or they can be mild as dry coriander. Fresh herbs (basil, mint, parsley…) and spices serve to change basic foods into flavored ones. The best marinating methods is to put the marinade and the ingredient in a nylon bag, mix well then squeeze to get the air out, tightly seal and put in the fridge for 2-4 hours. A good delicious meal does not necessarily mean that it should be unhealthy. A report released by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health; stated six rules for a healthy diet namely:
A variety of food, mostly of plant origin should be included. A meal is to include starch in the form of bread, rice, pasta or cereals. A meal is to have low fat content (<30% of the total calories needed). Intake of sugars should be kept to a minimum and women are particularly encouraged to consume low fat dairy products to combat osteoporosis (Tanne, 1999).
Cooking methods are many. They include baking, boiling, grilling, roasting and steaming. Choosing a particular method depends on the flavors and nutrients one wants to keep without adding or consuming extra amounts of fat. Baking is used for cooking bread, potato and sweat potato in addition to poultry and fish. The concluding step of preparing a good meal is presentation. It does not only mean garnishing and preparing the plate, but it should occupy the five senses of the guest. Seeing or garnishing the plate, table clothes, and possibly flowers and/or candles. Accompanying soft music should occupy the sense of hearing. Smelling the aroma of the food, tasting the meal and the served beverage and touching whatever he/she can reach. The most important single item is garnishing the plate and it should start by the ingredients of the meal itself as regards colors texture of sauces and fresh green or colored vegetables added at the end. As regards the rim or edge of the plate, it can be decorated using a pâté of red, yellow and green pepper or use cut pieces of vegetables (carrot, potato, or green beans) that are geometrically matching the main item in the plate. Always keep in mind that the additions should add color, flavor and preferably nutritious value to the meal.
To practically apply the principles discussed, a baked fish fillet meal will be described:
Selection: A good fish fillet is characterized by being moist, firm and elastic. It should have a fresh mild odor (fish odor comes with time). It should have fresh non colored or dry cut edges.
Preparation: If fish fillet is bought frozen, it should be allowed to thaw gradually. Avoid thawing in room temperature.
1- Two tablespoons of olive oil. 2- Half a cup of finely chopped onion and another half a cup of chopped green bell pepper. 3- One tablespoon of all purpose flour. 4- Half tablespoon of fried marjoram leaves and a quarter tablespoon of thyme leaves. 5- One can of canned tomatoes. 6- One pound (4 pieces) of cod fish fillet. 7- Salt and black pepper to taste.
Cooking: Put olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Put the chopped onion and stir till it becomes pinkish, then add green bell pepper. Add marjoram, thyme, salt and black pepper. Add the canned tomatoes gradually. Stir till the sauce is thickened. Get a baking dish, brush it with olive oil, and arrange the fish. Add the sauce and put in a preheated oven (400 degrees F) for 12-15 minutes.
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