Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crawling Before you Walk

Prior to the last 5 years, my way of making dinner was more like making dinner happen, rather than actually cooking it. And make it happen I could, by using one of two of my favorite methods – calling for delivery or calling for reservations. Voila – dinner is served! It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered that the phone is not traditionally considered a cooking utensil. A culmination of things gradually changed my point of view. For one, I started having children. The idea of eating out with three small children would make me lose my appetite before I’d even looked at a menu. Then of course, there was the expense of two adult dinners (eaten cold, as any parent can tell you) plus three barely touched kids’ meals. I knew I needed to start cooking at home but I also knew I’d have to dig deep to figure out how to do that, and more importantly, how to stick with it -The Garden Wok was on speed-dial after all!

As a child, I was my grandmother’s junior souse chef and she would show me all her little tricks of the trade. I could remember some of them, like never using a baking rack to cool cookies hot from the oven but to use a paper grocery bag instead (absorbs the grease while cooling), and to always drop a pan full of cake batter a few times onto the counter before placing it in the oven (removes the air bubbles so you don’t get a holey cake). But there was much I was clueless about – like how do you pan cook meatballs without them collapsing into meat triangles? That one I still haven’t figured out but thanks to the Food Channel, the many cookbooks I’ve collected, and good old fashioned giving it a try, I have become a confident (mostly) and competent (again, mostly) cook. While my enthusiasm will probably always outweigh my skills, I can now hold my own in the kitchen and you can too!

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1.) Start simple. The first dish you attempt to perfect should be something like scrambled eggs, not hollandaise sauce. If you lack confidence in the kitchen, don’t set yourself up for failure! Most cookbooks don’t just contain instructions on how to make the perfect soufflĂ©, they also have recipes for stuff like grilled cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes – seriously! You’ve got to crawl before you walk.

2.) Follow the recipe to a “T”. This one was hard for me. I wouldn’t always have what the recipe called for so I would offer my own little substitutions. The result? - my food didn’t turn out the way it should have. It’s not until you have followed many, many recipes exactly as written that you start to comprehend what works, what doesn’t and most importantly, why it works or doesn’t. In my amateur cook’s mind, if the recipe called for margarine, I saw no problem using whatever stick of lard I had in my fridge. I didn’t know it mattered (it really does, by the way – see below). If the recipe called for half and half, I discovered that 2% milk didn’t work. Eventually, you will begin to notice how the separate ingredients complete the whole. If you don’t add eggs, your cake won’t rise – a ha! – egg’s are a leavening agent. If you use table sugar instead of confectioners in your frosting, it will be gritty – a ha! – confectioners sugar is finer and thus dissolves better. Vegetable oil sticks contain less fat than margarine. Less fat means more water in the product which can affect the texture and the quality of many baked foods. One more cooking mystery solved!

If you start by following the two tips above, it won’t be long before you gain enough confidence in your abilities to branch out and attempt some more complex dishes. Just remember that every cook is a work in progress – even the best of them burn the toast from time to time. So roll up your sleeves, give yourself a break and learn to have fun in the kitchen!

Scrambled Eggs
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes 4 servings

6 eggs (room temperature)
1/3 cup of milk (whole is best but any kind is OK)
¼ teaspoon salt
A pinch of black pepper
1 tablespoon margarine or butter

-Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper with a fork or whisk until mostly all yellow with just a few streaks of white.
-Heat margarine in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat until melted. Pour egg mixture into pan.
-Let the mixture begin to ‘set up’ (turn from liquid to solid) in the skillet then gently lift the set portions with a spatula so that the uncooked eggs can flow to the bottom. Do not continuously stir the eggs – just lift the set eggs and rotate the pan until all the eggs are thickened. Remove eggs from the skillet when they’ve all thickened but still appear moist – the eggs will continue to cook slightly when placed on a plate.

1 comment:

Michele said...

Welcome to the blogging world! Your approach is unique and I love it!