Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beyond The Mac & Cheese – 20 Steps to Becoming A Better Cook in 2010

You’ve mastered the basics and decided that you really do LOVE to cook. Here are 20 easy ideas that have helped to improve my cooking skills over the years.

1) Use Good Ingredients:
Good ingredients are the key to a fantastic meal. Buy local from farmers markets, family farms, farm stands and other growers in your area.

2) Explore The Internet:
The internet connected me to hundreds of chefs from around the world. The internet has made the world teeny tiny. I love this tiny world.

3) Buy A Set of Good Quality Pans:
Good pans really improve your cooking. My pans still look and perform as well today as they did when I purchased them 30 years ago.

4) Try A New Recipe Every Week:
A new recipe will force you to expand your knowledge of cooking and go outside of your box. Pretty soon, you’ll not have a box to go outside of!

5) Explore Ethnic Grocery Stores –
There are hundreds of ethnic grocery stores in the city. This is one of my favorite weekend activities. The best part of the hunt is talking with the staff who will direct you to some of the finest ingredients, many of which you have never heard of before.

6) Use Fresh Herbs:
The taste, smell, and healing properties of herbs and spices make it so worth it to grow your own or buy them fresh.

7) Order Something Out You Have Never Cooked At Home - Then Go Home and Cook It!
I have discovered so many outstanding dishes this way. Ask a lot of questions and take mental notes. Go home and analyze recipes online to find a good match. Cook it the first time to the letter of the recipe. Next time, be your creative self!

8) Watch The Cooking Shows:
You learn so much about food and ingredients from watching the cooking shows on TV. The TV chefs are also pretty entertaining so its well worth it to be amused and educated at the same time.

9) Devour The Food Magazines:
There is no better avenue to feel your way around the kitchen and get into new recipes than from the pages of your cooking magazine not to mention the photographs that go with them. They have taken me on journeys outside of my kitchen and are often added to the growing list of the places I need to go next.

10) Take A Cooking Class:
Many cooking stores have classes to challenge even the most seasoned cook. If you don’t have time to go to class, Rouxbe ( online classes may be the perfect solution.

11) Experiment With the Old Standbys:
Pillsbury’s refrigerated pizza crust can give you a fast shortcut to a really great dish. I got an email from Betty Crocker the other day on her best recipes for 2009 and every one of them looked great. Don’t forget to be loyal to the brands that have pulled you through some of the most challenging times in your kitchen.

12) Travel:
No matter what your culinary aspirations are, you’ll find lessons from the markets of Tonola to the kitchens of Singapore. Travel expands your cooking knowledge like nothing else can.

13) Cook For The Ones You Love:
Trying a new recipe out on a friend or family member is half the fun of cooking. Who do you trust more to tell you if your dish is out of this world or if it still needs a little more of your TLC?

14) If A Recipe Fails - Go To Plan B:
If a recipe fails, don’t throw it out. Someone loved this recipe enough to put it together in the first place. Plan B is a lot of your own ideas on how to improve it and make it better. Plan C? Keep it or toss it.

15) Take Risks:
If it looks like a bit of a challenge, take a deep breath and go for it! A quick study and a huge leap of faith is what cooking is all about. Confidence is everything in the kitchen.

16) Stay Calm:
If you are in the middle of cooking a meal and your blender suddenly explodes, stay calm. Always ask for help if you need it. You’ll be surprised at how many would-be chefs you have in your inner circle.

17) Participate In Local Cookoffs:
Participate in local, regional and national cook-offs. They are the quickest way of gaining self-confidence as a cook. It’s also fun to be around so many inspired chefs.

18) Take Cookbooks Out Of The Library:
My library knows I love to cook and will call me when they are expecting a new cookbook in. Get to know your local librarians. They will take good care of you.

19) Drink Wine:
I can give you a thousand reasons why you should drink wine. In this case, a few glasses of wine will make you brave and creative – two absolute essential qualities of a great chef.

20) Call Your Mother:
You know the drill. Nobody knows cooking better than your mother.

Bon Appetit!