Five Tips for Learning to Cook
There are very few things that I can honestly say I am incredibly passionate about and frankly, I’m very okay with that. Having a passion, or a few passions, is wonderful because it allows you to place a great deal of focus and effort behind a small group of things. If you find yourself trying to pursue too many passions, your efforts become to thin and soon enough, you’ll just be another person lost in the scramble for an interest or hobby to hold onto.
For me, my greatest passion, besides growing great facial hair and blogging, is cooking and really just food in general (note: I enjoy food more than either of the previous mentioned items, but traffic is ALL about links y’all!). Five years ago I found myself in a precarious situation where I was going to have to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a group of about ten people with very limited ingredients and an even more limited kitchen to do said-cooking in. Lucky for me, I became obsessed with the Food Network at a young age and was able to cook two full meals mostly from various techniques I remembered seeing put into use over and over again by multiple cooks on TV. Long story short, people ate the food I made and f*cking enjoyed it and let me tell you, there is NO greater feeling than being told by someone that they enjoyed the food you made for them. Nothing.
Now, food has become something that I’m absolutely fascinated by and I’ve come to appreciate the craft and pride that people put into their process. However, there are still many people that are A) too intimidated, B) too lazy, or C) too busy to learn to cook, but fear not friends, I’m here to give you a crash course in the basics so that you too can teach a man to fish one day, if you will (note: The Bro Journey™ is non-denominational and we love you all regardless of your religious affiliation).
Keep It Simple
For all of you beginners out there, I can think of no better advice for you than to keep your dishes as simple as you can. You don’t need to channel your inner Escoffier on any given Tuesday. Keep the number of ingredients to a minimum and use simple techniques, i.e. braising, roasting, pan-frying, or baking to ensure both efficiency and success. Cooking doesn’t need to complicated, let’s keep it that way.
Recipe Example: Parmesan Roasted Broccoli
Taste As You Go
Whenever I cook for my parents, my Dad always like to ask me, “Do you put salt and pepper on everything like that Bobby Flay does?” to which I usually chuckle to myself and tell him something to the extent of, “Yep, unless we’re making dessert, pepper isn’t usually called for when you’re making sweets.” Cooking is a process and unless you’re braising something in the oven or slow cooking something in a crockpot, you need to keep tabs on whatever you’re making at all points from start to finish. Tasting the dish as you make it is essential and will help ensure the desired level of spice, salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and consistency. As with many things, it’s best to measure ten times and cut once rather than try it the other way and the same thing can be said for tasting your meal-to-be regularly before the dish hits the table.
Recipe Example: Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew
As with any skill, nothing will help you out more as a cook than practicing. For a beginner, the range and oven can be intimidating places. I remember years ago being terrified when I was making a meal for my parents where I was using all four burners and the oven simultaneously. Since then, I’ve learned to simplify things to avoid ever having to deal with that situation again because let’s face it, I’m not a trained chef working under a tight deadline during weekend dinner rush and I’m okay with that. Besides impressing people at potlucks or dinner parties, practice will allow you to build confidence and ensure success for that time when you decide to invite a new girl or guy over for dinner. Make sure you know what you’re doing before attempting to demonstrate to someone how proficient you are in the kitchen, I promise you’ll thank me later (maybe after you make them a lovely omelet the next morning).
Recipe Example: Sesame Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna
So you’ve got a few skills down in the kitchen and you’re ready to inject some creativity into what you’re making. Well slow it down David Chang, just because some part of you thought that adding hoisin to your maple syrup for your morning waffles was a good idea doesn’t mean that you need to go nuts three meals a day (actually that sounds kind of delicious). I love Indian food and in fact it might be my favorite type of food to make, but that doesn’t mean I make it everyday. Everyone has their standbys for a successful dinner, a great roast chicken recipe, lasagna, maybe a nice flash-fried tofu and broccoli, but once you’re comfortable in the kitchen you start to realize all of the options at your disposal. So go crazy, make that kimchi benedict that you dreamed up hung over at brunch last weekend, but just make sure to take it slow so you don’t end up wasting a lot of ingredients or leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth when you invite them for dinner, both literally and figuratively.
Recipe Example: Moroccan-Style Roast Chicken
Make Stuff That You Like (It Shows)
Listen up newbs, this is incredible important: never and I mean NEVER cook a meal for someone, anyone, that you aren’t personally excited about. We’ll all experience situations where we find ourselves cooking for people with different dietary restrictions or philosophies, but don’t get frustrated – get inventive! More importantly though, I promise you that guests can tell when you truly make something with love and that will ensure that they both appreciate and savor the food you made for them even more. Don’t eat meat? Fine, then don’t make it for other people, there’s a good chance it won’t be cooked or seasoned correctly if you do. Not a fan of Brussels sprouts? Well first off, you’re f*cking crazy, but it’s the same story, you most likely won’t cook or season them right. Bleu cheese not your thing (this is definitely true for me)? Then don’t use it in or on a dish, if you don’t appreciate or want to understand an ingredient, than simply bypass it and let your friends eat it at their leisure.
Recipe Example: Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash
Hungry? Yep, me too.