Learning to cook…take some time to find your talent

I am not a great cook.  I am a pretty good cook.  I have never been to cooking school or even spent a weekend at some expensive cooking retreat.  I’ve never even taken one of those turbo-charged classes at a certain high-end kitchen store.  My mom taught me how to make exactly five things: guacamole, chicken enchiladas, chile rellenos, meatloaf, and chicken kiev.  So how did I figure out how to cook well enough to cook my way into my husband’s heart?  The hard way.

I’m going to get on a soapbox for a moment and say that it really annoys me when people say they don’t know how to cook.  My sister says this all the time, and to be fair, she’s the kind of person who burns toast and manages to find a way to screw up scrambled eggs.  She doesn’t know how to cook because she doesn’t want to know though.  I think people who don’t know how to cook generally fall into one of about three categories: those who don’t want to learn, those who don’t have time to learn, and those who don’t need to learn.  Obviously, I don’t find any of those excuses particularly convincing.  Even if you don’t need to know how to cook (spouse cooks, private chef, etc.) or either of the other excuses, you should know how to make at least one or two things for those times when you’re in a real pinch.  Feeding yourself is a basic need after all, and I am pretty lenient about what I consider ‘knowing how to cook.’

And that’s how I learned how to cook.  I needed to learn how to cook.  When I moved out of my parents’ house at three months shy of eighteen to go to college, I never moved back.  Sure, macaroni and cheese from a box is great for a little while, but I think I was born a foodie.  I wasn’t satisfied with mediocre food from a box.  If I wanted to eat well, I was going to have to do it myself.  Unfortunately, that meant eating not-so-well until I figured it out.

Yes, I learned how to cook almost entirely through trial and error.  Well, almost.  The secret to learning something through trial and error without having a decade long learning curve is to seek out some outside resources.  With cooking, we are lucky to have a variety of resources available to us.  There are recipe websites, cookbooks, blogs (like mine), YouTube videos, and entire cable channels devoted to teaching you how to cook.  From these resources, you can learn techniques (t.v. is great for learning knife work) and maybe even more importantly, you can begin to learn what flavours work together.  You can then use these techniques and your knowledge of flavour profiles to begin to create your own dishes based on your preferences (say, creating kosher adaptations).  This is exactly how I learned how to cook.

I’ve made some pretty nasty stuff.  I made a grape-stuffed chicken that made me gag and I’ve made some of the most flavorless soups and stews that have ever had the sad opportunity to boil.  But, I kept at it.  Now, my failures are much fewer and far between (though things still don’t always work out…especially when you start talking about baking).  Come to think of it, cooking is probably the only thing I wasn’t good at right away that I didn’t quit (that’s another blog post).

I guess my whole point is that it’s not that hard.  Just try every once in awhile.  Watch 5 minutes of a cooking show here and there or read a recipe online.  Give it a chance and see what happens.  You might discover a talent you never knew you had, and it will only increase your sources of delicious food.  In the words of the lovely Ina Garten, “How bad could that be?”


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