Tuesday, June 29, 2010

6 Things to Consider for the Beginner and the Seasoned Cook

I hear a lot from people who want to get into cooking, but don't know where to start. In general, the question is a very broad one, and one I put a lot of thought into considering the goal of this whole operation is to help people cook more.
Over time I've come up with a few key concepts to keep in mind when getting into cooking. The more I consider these tips, however, the more they influence my own practices. So while they are intended to help people fall in love with cooking, they might help others rekindle the flame.
Here they are.

1. Keep it simple
When jumping into any preparation, keeping it simple will go a very long way.
- You buy less ingredients, spend less money, and are left with fewer specialty ingredients that sit in your pantry for ages
- the process is easier: less prepping/chopping, cooking, and clean up
- Less room for error. A botched effort can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

2. Stick to what you know
At least in the beginning! When you understand what the final product of your efforts should be, the process somehow is more intuitive. When your mind understands the particular flavor profile of say . . . a tomato sauce, or a Vietnamese salad (depending on your upbringing) it will make make more sense to you why a dish might not work out. Maybe it needs salt, sweetness, or a squeeze of lime.
Staying in a familiar arena will help you develop a method for understanding taste, and how to adjust it to your liking. As opposed to when a recipe foreign to you doesn't work, it's much harder to understand why.
Once you have this down pat is when you can start to scribble outside the lines.

3. Adjust as you go
Monitor the process! Every kitchen is different, tools are diverse, and ingredients will vary a lot. As you cook, taste a lot and be aware of changes throughout the process: react accordingly. Many people simply execute a recipe and expect a result, but it just doesn't work that way. You have to learn to adapt as you cook.

4. Do it for you
This kind of relates to keeping it simple, I find a lot of peoples' first efforts are for groups of people. This is a risky undertaking. It distracts from the process, and introduces a lot of variables, meaning it's more likely to bomb. It could be embarrassing. All things that might prevent one from cooking more.
Cook for yourself (and maybe a friend/partner/spouse/etc.) It makes it more enjoyable, and let's you take more away from the procedure.

5. Buy quality
I say it over and over again, better ingredients translate to better food. Of course you have to prioritize this a little. A very common question is "How do I make great tomato sauce?" and the answer is simply, "With good tomatoes." Whatever the recipe, it wont be great with mediocre tomatoes. Again, this is much easier to do when keeping it simple.

6. Screw it up
You're going to fail. New to cooking or not, you'll bomb from time to time. It's the best way to learn and hone the practice moving forward.
You'll realize your boundaries and how to test them. You'll find your groove and develop a true love for cooking.
Just don't miss the learning opportunity that failure presents.
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