Anyone can cook, but being able to cook well is an ultimate power move. Your man is acting out? Remind him that a quesadilla-potsticker diet is not a place he wants to return to. Friends being rude? Enjoy never tasting a seasoned vegetable for the rest of your days. In-Laws trying to curse your marriage? Curse them back by upstaging them at every family function with the most tenderly prepared meal their own ancestors would applaud.
I love cooking, but I was not born with some innate ability to wield a spatula with the mighty powers of Domestic Thor. It took me years of cooking on my own to get to the point I’m at now. I want to share a little about the process I went through to develop these skills so that any of you readers out there can snare the hearts of all that come in contact with your food.
Practice Makes Perfect
The year I spent as a caregiver significantly added to my cooking ability because for a majority of the year I was responsible for feeding 11 people dinner. There were limited resources as many of my clients were on restrictive health diets so I quickly learned how to make do and improvise with what I had to create meals that were enjoyable. The first few weeks were terrible, I felt so bad about the food I made, but eventually I was the favorite night shift chef and often switched with my coworkers when they didn’t know where to begin with a certain menu item.
Before that I worked at Whole Foods as a fish monger which taught me crucial knife skills for filleting and preparing seafood. I often had to whip up samples for customers and you learn quickly how to please the palettes of picky granola moms, especially when it comes to something as tricky as seafood.
I’m not saying you need to go find a job that puts you in a kitchen environment to learn how to make a decent meal, but being exposed to cooking on a daily basis more than once a day adds a significant amount of hours into your skill bank.
You Are Going To Prepare Hot Messy Trash
To be honest the only way to learn how to cook for yourself is to not be afraid of the fact you’re going to make an entire meal that looks and tastes like a garbage fire. There have been many many nights I would make an entire meal just to be utterly disgusted by the flavor or consistency. Out of guilt I would choke down my Frankenstein dinners so that I wouldn’t waste food.I have horror stories where I made dinner for guests just to discover half the meal was undercooked and the other half came out a watery noxious mess. God bless the poor souls who were subjected to my “cooking” in my early years out of the house.
Cooking is an Art
Like any art it will require years of work and dedication to reach master levels. It also requires some level of creativity, and that comes from developing your palette. Begin to see individual flavors as colors of paint. In order to make a beautiful picture you need to blend the right colors and textures into a cohesive composition. A delicious meal requires an understanding of the spices and seasonings that are available to you.
Build up a large spice collection. The more the merrier in my opinion. Look for pre made blends of spices in local grocery stores for an easy boost of flavor for any meal. It’s not lazy to take advantage of the knowledge already out there.
My staple seasoning in a lot of my recipes is a Croatian favorite Vegeta.
No, not the DBZ character, but the savory Balkan flavor bomb I use for soups, chicken, pork, and fish. Some Croatian chefs belief it is lazy to use vegeta in their cooking, but they’re just wrong. Don’t listen them, it makes everything delicious. That deliciousness also comes from a load of MSG, but don’t let that scare you away. There are plenty of articles just a google search away about how the MSG fears are really just xenophobic reactions to Westerners being afraid of “scary foreign food”.
Another favorite blend is Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning.
I think it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 90% salt 10% everything else. Listen, salt is not terrible for you. It’s essential to your bodily functions. It also makes food taste better so do not be weary of using either of these! Your vegetables will taste better than they ever have, so grow up use some salt and eat a damn vegetable.
Seasonings are the paint, and utensils are the brushes. If you love making delicious food get ready to invest in appliances. Trust me, it will pay off in the long run.
Currently I am obsessed with the Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer.
You read that correctly. This bitch makes yogurt.
This invention could cure depression with the almost endless recipes you can concoct. It also shaves off a significant amount of time in cooking dishes that normally require all day in the oven. In a pressure cooker, the contents are… you guessed it! Under more pressure! This allows for more heat to build up and cook a brisket in 50 minutes. The fluffiest rice in 15 minutes. Buttery hot pasta in four minutes. Need I say more?
Collecting and Using Recipes
Thanks to the internet there is an endless supply of recipes readily available. If you’re not sure what you want to eat for dinner tonight your next meal is just a google search away. That being said, treat internet recipes the same way you would treat your conservative uncle’s Facebook posts… with heavy caution.
Beware of Pinterest recipes. They are agents of chaos brought into this world by white soccer moms who do not appreciate food and think ranch dressing belongs in every meal. Allrecipes is also a nefarious bin of just terrible terrible concoctions. Not every recipe is bad. I’ve definitely found some gems from both sites, but Jesus Christ sometimes you really have to sift through recipes made by people who think salt and pepper are the only seasonings you need.
The internet is easy and quick, but I still like to have a couple of cookbooks around the house for reference. I know the recipes in the book are a little more curated than some of the slap dash recipes I’ve found online. They also cut out all that excessive writing that food blogs love to add. Seriously, no one needs your dissertation about tasting octopus on the Greek coast in the summer of 2011 and falling deeply in love with a man you could never be with. I saw someone write a full essay about baking potatoes before I could get the directions for how long the potato goes in the oven at the bottom of the page.
Anyway, back to the books. These are two of my most used cookbooks at the moment.
There are so many incredible dishes to make in this book. All of them take very little preparation because the instapot does all of the hard work. A must have for getting to know all the functions the instapot has to offer.
This is the Holy Bible of French cooking techniques. The French are all about the technical skills in the kitchen and Julia Child’s classic work details everything you could ever need to know. Even if French food isn’t your forte, you still need to have a copy of this in your kitchen just for the technique explanations alone.
Building a repertoire of dishes requires many attempts with the same recipe. The first time I will make a recipe, I follow it as close as possible to the original. This first attempt gives me a taste of what to expect. Only after I have felt out a recipe will I begin to add my own flair. Some recipes are terrible because they’re only the bare minimum of ingredients and lack a full robust flavor (looking at you Pinterest and AllRecipes). I’ll make a recipe over and over again until I find the right combination of spices to vegetable and protein so that it feels like my creation.
Common Rookie Mistakes
- Over Crowding — I’ve been guilty of this many times when preparing a larger meal. If you fill your pan or pot with too many items the heat will take longer to distribute and cook everything thoroughly. If you are preparing a large dish consider cooking in chunks at a time. If you can’t see the bottom of the pan, it’s too full.
- Cooking in the Wrong Order — With vegetables you have to cook harder veggies before you can cook softer veggies. Mix up that order and you might burn your onions while you wait for the broccoli to heat up. The less water contained in the body of a vegetable, the more time it requires to cook. Carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and peppers are usually the first to go in followed by mushrooms, onions, and lastly anything leafy or small like garlic.
- Agitation — A lot of people are under the misconception that you have to constantly stir items around in a pot or pan to prevent burning. Stop that right now! Over mixing actually prevents thorough cooking by constantly disrupting the heat flow. If you want that good crispy crunch walk a way for a second and let the sizzle do its magic. Otherwise you’re going to be babysitting a hot pan for far longer than you need to and run the risk of undercooking your food.
- Your Knives are Dull — Not only is a dull knife more dangerous (as you are more likely to slip and cut yourself sawing and struggling to cut), but it can be time consuming to battle against your food when you need it minced or diced finely. Keep your knives sharp with a sharpening stone. This is different than honing steel you find in most block knife sets. Honing steel is used to straighten an already sharpened blade. Sharpening actually removes bits of the knife to create a new sharp edge. Both are essential for proper knife care.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and picked up something new to take with you the next time you’re in the kitchen.