Not all of us cook the same way. Some of us are super structure, some are on the fly, but at the end we all end up doing what works for each of us. Case in point, the upside: Tom likes to cook – the downside: he is a mess in the kitchen! Every time he finishes cooking the kitchen looks like a hurricane went right through it. For my compulsive self, this is just too much for me; I’m totally neurotic when it comes to how I cook and the state of the kitchen while I’m doing it. The pre-prepping, the actually cooking, the cleaning. At the core, messiness (for me) has no place in my kitchen, that is why I usually try to be as far away from then kitchen when Tom is cooking something.
Or my head explodes.
But regardless of how you utilized your kitchen, it has been proven that people who lurch from task to task become frazzled, get poor results and eventually abandon the task all together. And for most frazzle first time cooks, after a kitchen disaster (which can totally be avoided) they simply announce that they cannot cook and loose the opportunity of experiencing such a gratifying talent.
Cooking is an ordinary, everyday occupation, but when rightly done is not only easily performed, but becomes a delightful labor. Raising it to its true dignity. Giving it its rightful place among the arts.
Through the years I have found that if you follow a few golden rules, anyone can cook and be good at it. Here are a few that make for good practices when you want to start out:
- Don’t be afraid of the kitchen, embrace it and make it fun.
- Read a recipe from beginning to end before you even lift a knife. I know it sounds like a no brainer (and I, more than once fail terrible at this one), but it’s amazing how often in the middle of cooking you realized that you are missing a key ingredient, or can’t understand the method.
- Break the recipe down into small steps, in most cases the ingredients in a recipe are noted in the order that you are going to prep them and then cook them. So as you read the recipe image your kitchen set up step by step.
- When a recipe offers metric and imperial amounts, don’t swap back and forth between them. Stick to one or the other, this is specially true when it comes to baking.
- The fewer the ingredients in a dish, the finer their quality should be.
- Practice “Mise en Place” religiously. This French term, meaning “setting in place” is the art of having all the ingredients prepped, measured and set out in little bowls, and all the necessary equipment laid out before you start cooking. Yes, you may be cleaning a bit more, but I think that is an easy price to pay for “stress-free” cooking.
- When prepping, put a discard bowl next to the cutting board. Discard your food trimmings into it as you are chopping, peeling, opening cans, etc. This way you are totally in the moment and the trips to the garbage pail way over there don’t break that stride.
- A recipe can’t be indefinitely doubled or quadrupled, or halved. Most problematic are soups, stews and other wet dishes and stir-fries.
- All kitchens are not the same. Ovens and stovetops temperatures vary from home to home. Cooking in gas and cooking in electric stoves are totally different. Pans vary from shiny metal to glass. Even mixers vary. So rely on clues in recipes, such as “until fluffy” or “golden brown”, rather than slavishly sticking to cooking times.
- Also set the timer for a few minutes less than the recipe calls for. It’s easier to deal with undercooking than overcooking.
- Use the right tools. Don’t switch skillet or pan sizes indiscriminately. This will affect the cooking time and evenness. Measure the diameter across the top, not the bottom, to find out what size you’ve go there.
- Taste, taste and taste… as you cook along, make sure you taste the dish as it moves along, this way you can adjust the seasoning as the dish develops the flavors.
Finally, live in the moment when you are in the kitchen. A watched pot may never boil, as the saying goes, but an unwatched pot seems to boil over immediately.