Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A lady's guide to basic cooking

My mother and I making grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches
Alright.  Since when did cooking become such an impossible, insurmountable task?  I do most of my own cooking at school (primarily because I’m convinced the cafeteria is doing a social experiment as to how much slop they can feed us before we protest), and for me cooking, to use popular jargon, ‘ain’t no big thing.’  Whenever someone finds out that I do 90% of my own cooking, however, they’re quite often stunned.  Sometimes they’re baffled as to where I’m getting my supplies, but more often than not such people are confused as to how I found the time and where I got my skills.

And I know that this reaction is not limited to my isolated, stuck-in-the-armpit-of-nowhere college.  More and more people seem to have gotten the impression that cooking for oneself or others will only end in frustration and food that never looks as good as it does in the cookbook.  One can argue as to where this perspective developed, though I would say it probably stemmed from the twin evils of Martha Stewart and fast food, with the former setting unreasonably high standards for cooking (and table setting, and floral arrangements…) and the latter making it possible to get food that tastes good (but will one day contribute to your coronary embolism) easily. 
Blame aside, however, I would like to enlighten the world at large:  It is perfectly possible to make good, reasonably complex food without attending chef school, setting oneself on fire, spending a fortune on supplies, or taking forever.  Indeed, in some cases one may need nothing but a hotpot or a toaster to get the job done. 
So, allow me to impart a few basic things about cooking:
1.        Before you go out and buy a bunch of pricey ingredients, consider what you’re getting and how often it will be used, and measure that against how long it will last.  As per example, rice, eggs, and milk are all good staples that will either last quite awhile, can be cooked in many ways, or will likely be consumed promptly.  Waste not, want not.  Also note that with the help of spices (which rarely, if ever, go bad) one can put a multitude of spins on a single dish. 

2.       When cooking it is alright to improvise. Unless one is attempting to make a souffl√© or some other temperamental pastry dish, the odds are good that you can screw around with the recipe and make it fit your tastes without destroying it completely.  For myself I’m very fond of doing this with packaged food, where I toss out flavor packets and ignore directions with impunity. 

3.       And the reason I can do the above is practice.  In one’s first forays into cooking, one may very well wreck it or turn out a less than perfect dish, even if you follow directions to the letter.  This, however, is not a reason to give up.    This is the reason to try again and figure out where things went wrong, and correct for them. 

4.       Make sure to do your research and play to your own tastes.  Watch cooking tutorials online, ask your friends and relatives for tips/recipes, read up on techniques, and make sure you’re learning how to cook things that interest you.  Don’t force yourself to learn a recipe because you feel everyone should know it.  Instead, cook what you want, no matter how supposedly weird or difficult it appears to be.  Notably, to help you in this endeavor, I will be recording and uploading a series of my own cooking tutorials, covering ‘simple but delicious’ foods that are easily made on the fly.

5.       Finally, feel free to make up your own recipes.  Take what you learn from all your experiments (successful and otherwise) and cobble it together to do something totally new.  This is the essential fun of cooking; making something that is entirely one’s own.
The sandwich that was the result of the above cooking session

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