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Saturday, August 1, 2009

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Cook Right Now!

1. Look at several different recipes for a dish, and choose the simplest one. I use recipes to understand the architecture of a dish, then modify it to my own tastes, and the different ingredients that I have in my pantry. For example if something calls for sherry vinegar, I know I can also use red wine vinegar that I have in my cupboard instead of running out to buy sherry vinegar.

2. Learn how to sharpen your knives. Cooking is no fun when you are hacking away at something with a dull blade. Once you learn how to create a nice sharp edge, you'll be halfway there to improving your knife skills.

3. Use Youtube to learn technique. Sometimes it's easier to see how to do something than to read about it in a cook book. I found a great new way to clean lamb ribs using a piece of string.

4. Use your senses. Get acquainted with your sense of taste, smell, touch, and sight. Be sure to taste everything as you are going along. For example, when making a salad dressing, mix together the acid and seasonings and taste them. If your taste buds feel good only then add your oil. If not, you can always adjust it, before adding oil. I often forego a kitchen timer and know that when the entire kitchen smells like chocolate chip cookies, it means that their close to being done. Learn how to tell when meat is cooked by touching it. Use your eyes to create visually appealing presentations, using a prism of different colors. If it looks like you put too much of one ingredient in a dish, you probably did.

5. Avoid overworking your food. Alot of people make the mistake of flipping or stirring their food too much, thinking that they are really cooking now. You need to let the food make contact with heat in order to cook it, and if you move it around too much it will not cook evenly.

6. My friend says that the best meals I make are what we call "refrigerator dishes." That's when I limit myself to cooking with only the ingredients I already have. This is great way to hone your innate creativity and spontaneity and to use up any leftovers you have. Leftover roasted vegetables and the last piece of cheese can be added to lettuce for an exciting new salad. Just about anything can be transformed into exciting crepes, soups, spring rolls, pizzas, fried rice and dumplings. Fried eggs and sriracha are great on top of almost anything!

7. Don't be afraid to mess up. Chances are you won't mess up as much as you think you will. I'm a believer that the only way to truly learn to cook is to make mistakes and learn from them.

8. Take pictures of your dishes. Alright, my dining companions may get a little annoyed when I turn every meal into a photo shoot, but after visually cataloging all the meals I've made I get a sense of accomplishment when I see what I've created. It is also a great reference for what I did right and wrong, and helps jog my memory when I'm trying to improve upon the dish many months later.

9. Your freezer is your friend. Freeze garlic and ginger paste, or chopped herbs that can be used in a pinch for soups, stir fries, Indian food, sauces, salad dressings, marinades, and pasta sauces. I keep hard to find ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, chilies, and fresh tumeric in the freezer for times when I want to add some Asian flavor to a dish. Other items I always have in the freezer are butter, chicken stock, peas, which are great for throwing into rice, pasta dishes, and paella, miso, pita bread, red curry paste.

10. Keep fresh herbs around at all times. At the Vietnamese table you will find a beautiful plate arranged with fresh, fragrant herbs to be used like condiments at almost all times. I keep a "vase" of fresh herbs in my fridge at all times, to add aroma, color, and flavor without adding alot of calories. If you don't use them up by the end of the week you can always make your own pesto and freeze it for later.


Kschenke said...

I'm a culinary student and something I learned early is mise en place... meaning, being completely compared. Read over the recipe a few times and make sure you have all your ingredients ready before you start.

It means you fumble less and are less likely to make mistakes, which makes for better food.

El said...

Very helpful...thanks!