Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gaining Confidence in the Kitchen

Once I made up my mind to start cooking at home, I decided that the best approach for me was a scholarly one. I studied cooking like I was cramming for an algebra test. I started with cookbooks – I would read them like novels. I read everything I could find about the origins of foods – I read about how to make mayonnaise and cheese. Of course, I never had any intention of attempting either of these – that’s why God made Kroger’s. I just figured the more I knew, the better I’d be. From how wine is made to the science behind leavening agents, I read everything I could get my hands on. Through all of this, I was still holding off on the most important part of my self-tutorial – the actual cooking. I had a serious confidence problem. My grandmother had set the bar very high and a couple of burned dinners in early adulthood and the inevitable smart aleck comments that accompanied them had convinced me that I was a bad cook.

I’ve talked to many women friends over the years and have heard similar stories from them. Someone once laughed at a dinner they made or worse, were downright rude about their attempts and poof – they were convinced they were just not born with the cooking gene. Well, I have news for everyone who feels the same way – great cooks are made as well as born! There are some chefs out there who are extremely talented and their ability to pair foods and envision culinary creations is probably coded in their DNA but there are many more that learned the old fashioned way – through trial and error. If you were born with the ability of Wolfgang Puck, you can probably stop reading – for the rest of you, here’s some tips that will help you overcome your own self-doubt …

1. Try, try and then try again! My husband loved the crab rangoons from our favorite Chinese restaurant so I decided to try and make them at home. It took me 9 times before I got it right. The first 8 tries were not a waste of my time though. Every attempt got me that much closer to perfection. I stuck with it until I had all the kinks worked out – just the right amount of garlic, the correct level of ginger, the perfect temperature to fry them. By the time I handed my husband the final version, he was seriously afraid but good sport that he was, he tried my creation one more time and was finally able to declare them a success.

2. Study up. Although I went to extremes on this one, I was on the right track by reading cookbooks. It really did help me to understand the whys of cooking. Get a good cookbook – Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book is a great one – and read it cover to cover. Pay special attention to the section called “Cooking Basics”. You will learn so much and it will make you a much more confident cook. The tips I learned there have helped me many times while attempting a new recipe. The difference between all-purpose and self-rising flour and how measuring brown sugar is different than measuring white sugar is important knowledge to have! Learning the chemical formula that causes wine to ferment however, was probably a waste of my brain cells.

Rangoons to Shut Up the Critics

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes about 40 crab rangoons
8 oz cream cheese – softened and beaten smooth with a fork
2/3 cup of finely chopped imitation crab meat
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 Tablespoon of chopped dried chives
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 package wonton wrappers (found in the produce section)
1/2 inch cooking oil in large skillet

Mix together filling and put a small bit (about ½ Tablespoon) of mixture in the middle of each wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper and fold into triangles, sealing edges together - try to remove all air bubbles. Freeze in a single layer (wax paper on a cookie sheet works well) and put into freezer bags when frozen. To cook, heat cooking oil to a medium heat (this is important – don’t get your oil too hot). Fry rangoons a few at a time until golden brown, turning over once (If they’re getting too brown too quickly, turn down your heat slightly). Serve warm with store bought duck sauce if desired.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Heya Joy! It's Bob from Bakespace. Good looking blog and some advice here. I do however recommend making your own mayonnaise. Homemade mayo is one of the greatest things ever. Put a little garlic and tarragon in there... mmm. Heh, now look what you've done I think I'm going to have to make some. :)