A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Do you find cooking a chore? “A task, especially a difficult, unpleasant, or routine one.” (Wiktionary)
My goal is to simplify cooking, make it a pleasant experience, and uncover your hidden creativity. Why? So you can enjoy food and the process of preparing it, then you may discover that cooking is experienced best when it is shared; companionship in the kitchen is the perfect way to make a friend, unwind at the end of the day, and build relationships.
With just a bit of tweaking I think Omar got it right.
A French baguette, a glass of wine, and you
Beside me in the kitchen –
And my world is Paradise right now.
First step: Quit following recipes.
We have all looked at recipes in a magazine; first we read the name to see if it “sounds good.” If there is a word we don’t understand or an ingredient that is unfamiliar or that we do not really love we reject the whole recipe and move on. If the name does not turn us off then we scan the list of ingredients, concluding that the more there are the more difficult it is to cook. If we have not yet turned the page we count the number of steps, too many and this dish has lost any chance.
Food magazines and cookbooks are wonderful things, they provide ideas and can in fact teach us a new technique, but they are best not treated as an instruction manual. This book will have no intimidating ingredient lists, no “creative named concoctions,” and steps so simple that once you try them you will never forget them.
Second step: Learn basic techniques
Great cooks and chefs do not memorize recipes; they learn basic techniques that allow them great creativity.
If you can do these, you can create wonderful meals, easily.
- Boil water
- Chop or dice some ingredients
- Put a frypan on the stove & turn the stove on
- Poach an egg – this will be the toughest thing you need to learn
- Approximately measure some liquids and powders
- Check your watch or set a timer
- Put a pan under the broiler
- Stir with a wooden spoon
If you can boil water you can
- Make soups and stews
- Make pasta
- Make a hard boiled egg, and with a little effort poach an egg (a mainstay of French cooking)
If you can put a sauté pan (think fry pan with rounded sides) on the stove, set the temperature, and stir or flip occasionally, you can
- Sauté mushrooms for a quick sauce
- Make Panini in a flash
- Sauté a chicken breast to go with the sauce
- Cook salmon, and have people rave over it
- Turn boring vegetables into something amazing
- Prepare a couple of deserts worthy of a white table cloth brasserie
If you can turn the oven on and figure out the difference between the baking and broiling setting you can
- Make a flatbread – and never need to mix and knead dough
- Frittatas and even a simplified omelet
- Roast vegetables, people will ask how you did it
These are all pretty simple, and when you combine a couple of them it just gets better as you have such a wide range of variations that you will never be bored by what to eat.
Third step: This is art not engineering
Good cooks quickly learn that there are very few measurements that must be precise. Here are a few of the terms you will learn to use
- A few
- A little
- A lot
- A dab
- A pinch
If you are cooking and you put “some” in but it does not taste like you put enough in then put in “a little more.” If the idea of using “a lot” seems risky, then start with “some”, adding a “few more” until it is “a lot” and tastes the way you like it.
Now this is important – if you try the dishes in this book and they work for you just as written well that is great, but I doubt that will happen. I rarely cook the same thing the same way twice and I hope you don’t either. The seasonings and such in this book are the way I make them sometimes, I do hope by the time you have tried them a few times you will find that they need “a dab” more of this or “a pinch” less of that. I do know that the way they are written will turn out a dish you can enjoy and be proud of, but it is my desire that you will make each one of your own.
You cannot cook with a stopwatch! Times are approximations, stoves and ovens are all different, even things like altitude, and moisture in the ingredients will affect cooking. The more you cook the better you will get, but rest assured that all of us have taken an expensive steak off the heat too soon and watched in dismay as guests cut into a raw piece of meat, or cooked a piece of fish until it is inedible. You will too, and you will survive.
There are chefs out there with a lot more training and credentials than I will ever have, they own fancy restaurants and love to pontificate on the evils of cutting into a piece of meat to see if it is done, as if you risk banishment from all kitchens should you commit such a sin. Well I agree it is better to not cut, but given a choice of serving under or over cooked meat, I say go for it.
I can only think of a few things that require some precision regarding time, here are two:
- Soft and hardboiled eggs
So the real secret is to simplify, turn disasters into adventures, and escape from perfection. So what if you are not Bobby Flay or Emeril! The goal is to have fun and end up with something good to eat. Remember the old quote, “To make an omelet you have to break some eggs!”