Improving Your Cooking is Simple
Published: 02/22/2011 at Richard Gonzalez
I love to cook. That’s not a big surprise for the people that know me to hear. I find it to be more of a passion then anything else. Of course, it is a necessity, but I take great pride in preparing a meal for someone and having them look up at me and say, 'this is really good'. Instant gratification, that’s what cooking brings me.
I am no where near approaching the Food Network and asking them for a time slot to show off my cooking abilities, but I am far removed from buying frozen dinners as well - of course, having said that, there is nothing wrong with an occasional pre cooked meal.
I began my passion right after I discovered that eating out every night, although fun, was putting a significant dent in my wallet. I would go to the grocery store and with the help of my mother on the other end of the phone, get a few cooking tips. More times then not, my apartment would end up carrying the aroma of whatever it was that I burnt that night, but it was a good learning experience.
Start with something small and then add to it. Nothing really too it, just remember the single most important lesson...you can always add to the dish, you just can't subtract from it – words to live by while in the kitchen thanks to mom. So, with that piece of sound advice, I would like to share with you some other very good hints that will make you a much better cook.
#1. Get rid of the microwave. Not long after I discovered that I can live without it, I threw it out of my house. With maybe the exception of defrosting your food, the microwave leaves absolutely nothing in the way of real cooking. It makes food taste bland and removes every nutritional value. I do have a microwave now - we remolded our kitchen - but I assure you it is only there for resale value and an extra place to put my pots and pans.
#2. Follow the recipe - at first. Cookbooks are great ways to jump start your cooking passion. These folks writing these books know what they are talking about...so just follow what they say. Don't have a cookbook? Jump online and find some great recopies and print them out. I would suggest keeping it simple at first...there will be time to adlib on some of your favorite dishes, but that will be down the road when you trust yourself a little more.
#3. Season well. I went to a friend’s house for dinner a few nights ago. My wife and I brought the wine and they were going to supply the food. It was a pasta dish, with shrimp. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, but the pasta was so bland I couldn't finish it. Something as simple as boiling pasta is a perfect example of how seasoning is such a crucial part of cooking. When cooking pasta, make sure that the water is properly seasoned with salt. The water should be as salty as the sea. Believe me, it makes a difference.
#4. Use butter. If I had to pick one ingredient that takes a plain dish and transforms it into something special, this is it. In every great recipe, there is some calling for butter. Want to make a great steak, use a knob of butter with the cooking oil and continue pouring the mixture on top of the meat while it’s cooking. Choose the unsalted butter variety, that way you control the sodium intake.
#5. Don't overcook. Remember the main rule, you can always add...you can't subtract. It’s better to be undercooked if you're going to make such a mistake. One of the worst things is when you buy a good piece of fish, for instance, and you overcook it. Ruined! Be sure you are always checking your food. Cooking isn't about setting it and forgetting it, it’s something that needs constant attention.
#6. Always taste your food. I have to admit, I don't always do this - but it really is one of the most important things that you should add to your repertoire. If you continue to taste your food as you are cooking it, you can make sure that it is flavored exactly like you want it. Don’t worry if you feel that your palate isn't perfect, most people's aren't. The more you get into the practice of what tastes good, the better you will be. It’s something you work on, like everything else.
#7. Cook with someone you love. This won't make your cooking taste better, but it will make you appreciate cooking more. It is suppose to be fun, and if you make a mess; don't worry about it, you can clean it up. When I was a kid my mother always let me help out around the kitchen. Those are the memories that stick with you your entire life.
These little hints will not make you the next cooking superstar, but I'm certain that it will help you in starting to discover the joys of cooking. Bottom line it’s about creating, much like art, and if you have the patience and the determination, your art will be appreciated by all those that sit at your table and consume your work.