A wise woman once told me, “Excuses are tools for the incompetent that build monuments of nothingness.” Did you know that some excuses have become so popular, so widely accepted, that they have propagated potentially harmful myths? Many people have decided to use the same excuses repeatedly about cooking and their actions have have constructed misconceptions that have created monumental barriers for those lay people who want to learn how to cook. In this blog series, we are going to tear down the myths about cooking.
Cooking is hard! It is so arduous and taxing that when I even think about cooking, I can feel the life getting sucked right out of me!
If you were living in 18th century France during the time of Marie-Antoine Carême, or you happened to be Laura from The Little House on the Prairie, this wouldn’t be be a myth, it would be a reality. I may love to cook, but I am not trying to churn my own butter either. However, in the age of electricity, one pot cooking, and easy access to quality food (for most Americans…don’t get me started on the lack of of American nutrition), cooking is much easier than you think. The problem is in the misconceptions created by overworked home cooks. For most would-be novice cooks, the image of slaving away over a hot stove for hours while the life drains out of you, puddles on the floor and mixes in with your own sweat and tears keeps you as far away from the kitchen as possible. While that image does ring a bit true when you speak about professional cooking (gotta keep it real), everyday culinary expression doesn’t involve nearly as much melodrama. In fact, it can be quite pleasurable (don’t give me that snarky look. Yes, I said you can have FUN while you cook).
Start simply. When you first begin to cook, you may not have perfect knife cuts or intricately layered flavor profiles, but making yummy, nutritous meals is as easy as 1, 2, 3:
1. Embrace one pot cooking.
One pot cooking not only makes the cooking process easier, but it minimizes the amount of clean up required. Starting off by making casseroles, lasagna, stews and braised meats will help you gain confidence in your own culinary skills and spark ideas that will help you continue to improve. These meals tend to be quickly prepared on the stove top and then popped in the oven, which means that you can spend your dramatic slaving away over the stove time on better things, like drinking a glass of wine and dancing around in your underwear to your favorite Beyoncé song (please set a timer so you don’t burn the food, you dancing machine you).
A quick one pot recipe to get you going:
Braised Chicken Legs & Thighs (Serves 4)
- Chicken Legs & Thighs (attached (4 pcs), or detached (8 pcs). Skin on)
- Mirepoix: 2 cups onion, 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrot (all rough chopped)
- Herbs: Bay Leaf, Parsley Sprig, Thyme
- White Wine (1/2 c)
- Chicken Stock (enough to cover meat 2/3 up)
- Garlic Cloves (2, rough chopped)
- Cayenne Pepper
- Neutral Oil (enough to coat bottom of pan/pot)
- Heat a saute pan with oil
- Season Chicken on both sides with Cayenne Pepper and Salt
- Place chicken skin side down in the oil and cook until skin is golden brown.
- Flip the chicken over so that it is skin side up
- Add Mirepoix, Herbs and Garlic
- Add White Wine and reduce
- Add Chicken Stock 2/3 of the way up the Chicken
- Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until chicken is done
- *Note: Chicken is done when it is firm to the touch, 165 degrees F internally, the juices run clear, the joints are loose and the meat pulls away from the bone.
- Serve the chicken with or without the Mirepoix
2. Educate yourself.
We all know the now cliche adage “knowledge is power.” However corny that may sound, it is very true. Cooking is about flavor and pleasure, but you cannot evoke an emotional response (the ultimate goal in my opinion), from your diners unless you first understand cooking and its proper techniques. Only when you move away from being a strict recipe thumper and into the realm of flavor connoisseur, can you truly begin to fall in love with cooking.
The most traditional way to learn anything is by taking a class. While I think Culinary School is awesome, the average person just wanting to learn how to make better dinners for their family may not want to devote that kind of time to food. Luckily, many culinary schools, such as Le Cordon Bleu, offer one-time Master Chef Classes that teach you techniques and new dishes. Not only will you get to learn from the pros, but you will feel pretty spiffy in a working professional style kitchen. Culinary School classes too heavy for you? How about some light and fun ones instead? There are many different classes, such as HipCooks, that will teach you how to make some great meals in a light and friendly atmosphere.
If you are more of a bookworm, one of my favorite new books is The Flavor Bible. While it does not focus on how to cook, it will tell you about various flavor combinations and affinities so that you can walk away from the recipes on the back of the Campbell’s Soup cans and start creating your own signature dishes. Other must haves in your collection are Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Escoffier by Auguste Escoffier, and The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher.
3. Get a cooking buddy.
Try out your new recipes on a willing participant. You get to spend quality time with one of your closest friends while cooking for someone who is intently interested in the speedy improvement of your culinary abilities. You can bounce ideas off of each other while growing as partners in your passion for food. Cook for each other once a week, alternating weeks. Step out of your comfort zones and encourage each other when things turn out a little “Cajun” (or burnt for those of you who have never used that excuse). You can even go grocery shopping and farmer’s market hopping together to see what new ingredients you can play with. Never offering advice I haven’t tried myself, my friend John N. and I started doing this when we were neighbors in college. Not only did we grow closer as friends, but our food got better too!
Next time: Myth #2: I am too hungry to cook!
Until we meet again, treat the kitchen as your friend, take baby steps to master your food and stay blessed!