Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The Rules of Cooking
My father has recently become more interested in cooking, and I sent him a copy of one of my favorite cookbooks, Bride and Groom: First and Forever Cookbook. It's basic, has quite a few useful shortcuts, and everything I've made has been delicious. But I've also been thinking about what it takes to become comfortable in the kitchen. How does someone become a good cook? So here are some rules I've devised.
1) There are very few difficult recipes out there. Souffles and other items that demand a certain texture, maybe. But most dishes, even ones that require lots of time, are just a combination of simple steps. Don't be afraid to try a complex dish.
2) The first time you make something, it might take double the time estimate. Or triple. Or all day and night.
3) If you cut the fat, you have to figure out how to make up for it. Apple sauce is just another demon in the form of fructose, so choose your substitutions wisely. On the other hand, most recipes can handle changes, so don't be afraid to try one where you don't have all the ingredients.
4) If you want your food to taste like a restaurant's, expect to use more seasoning and possibly more fat than usual.
5) Expect to taste your food so much that you're eating a second dinner during preparation. You can lay off the tasting later, when you're more sure of yourself.
6) Be prepared for major failures. Always have a backup plan for dinner. Like takeout.
7) Have a partner in crime, if possible. Chopping onions is the worst for me, so I ask Ryan to do it for me. Because he loves me, he does it, even though it makes him cry, too. A partner is also good for holding heavy pots, stirring risotto, and dishwashing.
8) Speaking of dishes, try to clean while you cook. This gets easier as you get more experienced. The alternative is to make sure there is always someone else to clean up after you.
9) Have a few dishes up your sleeve for potlucks or parties. Memorize a couple of recipes for things like chocolate chip cookies or banana bread.
10) Share recipes. It's a crying shame when someone dies and their recipes die with them. And it's honestly kind of dumb--it's unlikely that the person you share with is going to become world famous for making that chocolate cream pie of yours. Don't hoard joy, y'all.
11) Realize that the only person you need to please is yourself. There will be people who hate your cooking, no matter how good you think it is. They might even tell you they love it and then run to the bathroom to spit out that last bite while throwing the rest of the dish out the window. Think that's not true? I've seen it happen to other cooks**, so I'm sure it's happened to me. But that's okay. Also expect people to develop sudden allergies and aversions two seconds before you serve them something, and don't be surprised when you see those same people later order a dish similar to what you made before and the aversion has disappeared (this has nothing to do with people who suffer from real allergies, so don't be offended).
12) Forget the rules. There are none. Except for #11. Anyone who says otherwise is full of malarkey.
13) One more: Champagne makes almost anything taste better. Oh, bother, I could go on with the rules all day. Guess I'm full of malarkey, too.
**I'll never forget watching one of my favorite people politely declare a cupcake was the best ever made and then toss the rest of it in the trash ten seconds later. And that cupcake was made by someone who prided herself on excellent baking skills. In all honesty, that cupcake was terrible.