5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking...

I am a good cook.

It's true.

I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn here, but really I'm not and you'll see why soon. I'll spend the next few minutes proving to you that it's not because I am incredibly talented in the kitchen. I was not born with some innate
chef de cuisine genes within my DNA. I simply made a few changes and experimented with some things and voila, tasty food started showing up. I would suspect the same thing would happen to you as well.

1. Get yourself some decent cookware.

I cannot stress to you enough about how important it is to have some good pots and pans. Nice quality, heavy pans prevent uneven cooking and easy burning. How can you know how your food will react if you don't even know what mood your pans are in?

You'll need to have a mix of items depending on what job you're trying to accomplish, but it's not quite as expensive as you might think. I have Calphalon stuff and I've been using it for 5 years now without replacing one item...I'm guessing I'll be using it for at least another 10 years to come. You can get a great set of cookware with pretty much everything you need for under $200. All-Clad makes great sets in the $200 range. Even KitchenAid is putting out some above average quality kits for around $100. Believe it or not this cookware is less expensive than buying cheap cookware. For one, you're not throwing them away every six months. In addition to that, you'll be going out to eat less if you are making consistently tasty foods at home.

*Rule of Thumb for buying cookware: If it's cheap, it's cheap. Don't buy the "27-piece amalgam clad super double nonstick cookware set" for $29.99. I've got news for you, it's not actually a good deal.

* This might help with the why and how for types of cookware---> Wiki: Comparing Cookware

2. You need a sharp knife...or two...or six.

Having a sharp knife in the kitchen is extremely crucial. I use my knives more than any other thing in the kitchen...well, maybe not as much as water. Have you ever been in that place where you're trying to, say, chop up some vegetables and your using a dull steak knife because it's the sharpest thing you can find? I have...and it's not fun. It didn't make me want to cook. I was fighting with the food. It made me want to buy pre-sliced stuff and that my friends, is ridiculous.

I have one expensive knife. It trumps all of my other knives and I use it every day. I have several other knives that are high-quality, but they were much less expensive. I'll often use two or three knives preparing a big meal. You don't want to mince garlic with the knife you just cubed raw beef with...you just don't. Get one of these and you'll be on your way to dicing, mincing, chopping, and chiffonading in no time.

* Rule of Thumb when buying a knife: Buy what feels balanced and sturdy in your hand, not what the guy at Sir La Table tries to sell you. Another Rule of Thumb...keep it out of the way.

3. Stock up on some ingredients.

One of the things that prevents people from trying new recipes or experimenting with cooking is that they don't have the ingredients on hand. Now sometimes it's in the cards to run out to the grocery store to pick up what you don't have, but if you want to get dinner on the table consistently you'll need to have the stuff on hand.

Each time I go to the grocery store I pick up one or two things that I don't necessarily need. These are items that add flavor to all different kinds of foods. I'll grab a bottle of JalepeƱo Tobasco for that Guacamole I make. Or I'll grab a container of Chicken Stock for the next time I make some rice or couscous. Whatever it may be, it's typically something that will give me options for meals to come. Spices, Sauces, Stocks, Oils, Vinegars, etc... These items stay good for a long time and you'll use them up if you have them available.

Once you're cooking for a while you'll start to see what you use and buy more often. This will give you the ability to save money and buy in bulk.

* Rule of Thumb when collecting ingredients: Don't buy stuff that has a really short shelf life unless you know what you're going to do with it. You're wife, husband, or inner conscience will get mad at you if you have to throw something away that you never opened.

4. Use Fresh Herbs.

I try to keep fresh Parsley and Cilantro on hand at all times. Currently there is some fresh Rosemary and Thyme in the fridge as well. Dried herbs are great, but fresh herbs are fantastic. Being able to chop up some fresh Parsley and toss it on top of any dish will give it flavor and presentation appeal. We eat with our eyes first. If it looks delicious, our taste buds will have to argue heavily to prove otherwise.

See that bunch of herbs in my refrigerator? Those cost $1. It was 50 cents for a large bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley and 50 cents for a large bunch of Cilantro. These will last for over a week and I'll use them in several different dishes. Fresh Rosemary and Thyme will last you over a month in most cases. The flavor difference between fresh herbs and dried is ginormous.

* Rule of Thumb when using fresh herbs: Go easy at first...some of these are strong!

5. Learn about Food and Cooking.

I was thinking of bringing in "Experiment: Practice makes perfect" at #5, but you know what, nope, I can't do it. That would be a disservice. You can't just expect to pick up a frying pan, grab a piece of beef and then execute a perfectly pan-seared steak (be on the look out for that post soon). You have to know why certain things work the way they work.

- Alton Brown's book I'm just here for the food gave me great culinary understanding. It's fun and easy to read. It gots' pitchurs in it too. Coincidentally Alton is the only Food Network personality I want to have anything to do with. His show Good Eats makes up for the lobotomy I had to have to remove the other Food Network tripe from my brain. If I have to hear "E-V-O-O" one more time...

- There are many blogs out there that teach people about food and cooking. I particularly like:

* Michael Ruhlman
* David Lebovitz
* ChowHound
* Simply Recipes
* Pioneer Woman

Tons of these blogs exist...look for them and let me know when you find good ones.

* Rule of Thumb when learning about food and cooking: Don't take anything anyone says as gospel. You try it. See if it works for you. If the people you're feeding are smiling and complimenting, then you're doing something right.

3 waggish utterances thus far...:

Ryan Allen Doan said...

one of these days I'll have some utensils to call our own. I'll be home tomorrow afternoon.

Helen Ann said...

#6 - a kitchen with decent work space.


Karen said...

Wow - I think I definitely need a Shun!

A few years ago I worked for a company who used All Clad in their kitchens so I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a whole slew of different pieces at a huge discount and man, was I surprised at what I had been missing all my life. I went for the stainless and all my m-i-l’s only comment was, “oh, you are going to be sorry that is not a Teflon surface!” Ha – what did SHE know? My All Clad makes me WANT to cook. Now, if I can just remember not to grab the handle of a pan that just came out of the oven . . . .

And one more piece of kitchen equipment that I now absolutely, cannot live without is my Kitchen Aid mixer. Another bargain – it was a steal at $50 from a yard sale. I’ve had it for about 6 years now and never did any heavy duty mixing in it till this year – WOW – that baby handles heavy cookie dough like nobody’s business! I now HAVE to come up with some fab recipes for the New Year. I never knew that cooking could be SO much fun!