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Tips For the Beginning Cook

 

1 a tips 2The other day some one sent me a tweet asking if I had any tips for the beginning cook.

I thought for a while and then replied something like, “Just do it.”

The Tweep who asked me replied, “So it is just like writing. The more you do it the better you get.”

In a word, yes.

This brief exchange got me to thinking. I should do a blog post on this topic. My new Twitter friend, @Akela encouraged me to do so.

So here goes.
Just cook.

And cook and cook and cook and cook and cook some more.

Don’t be afraid. 

The best advice I can give a beginning cook, and every cook for that matter, comes from my good Twitter friend @sookietex  

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Always remember there are no kitchen mistakes – only opportunities for new recipes.

Don’t spend a lot of money.

You don’t need the best or most expensive cooking utensils or pots and pans to make a delicious meal. It has only been in the last ten years or so that I could afford Le Creuset. Until then I had very inexpensive, even cheap, pots and pans. I still have as many poor dishes as I had before. And food does not taste any better or worse today either. It just looks prettier in pictures.

So save your money to buy good ingredients for your recipes and table.

1 a tips 3Have fun.

Eating is one of life’s most enjoyable pastimes. OK. So it is also necessary to stay alive. That does not take away from the pure hedonistic pleasure of eating. Putting the ingredients of a meal together should be a part of the pleasure. It should be a joy.

We are all nervous at first; especially if we are cooking for someone special. That is to be expected. But try to slip a bit of fun in there too. There are few things as delicious as sampling and tasting your dish as you go along. Do it often.

Don’t let others pressure you to make this or that recipe.You have to be comfortable with what you cook.

Play with your food.

Remember when you were a child and your parents told you not to play with your food as it was bad manners?

Forget it!!!! Bad advice. 

When you are a cook you are supposed to play with your food. Know how your food feels.

Both eating and cooking are sensual, physical, tactile acts. Enjoy them fully with a child like sense of wonder and glee!

Touch your food. Manipulate it. See and feel how it moves; what the texture is.  What kind of sound does food make? I love the loud sizzle when meat meets hot oil. What does the food you are cooking smell like? You need to be aware of these things to be a good cook.

Eating and cooking are sensual pleasures that must not be missed. If you are interested in my philosophy of Pleasurable Eating you can read more here: Eating With Pleasure.

As a cook you will have to mix certain things by hand. Meat loaf mix comes quickly to mind. Can’t do it properly with a spoon or a fork. You gotta get your hands in there and mix it and mold it into shape.You have to bond with your food to be a good cook.

You gotta touch it and play with your food. It is better than being a child and playing in the sandbox. 🙂 The best adults have never fully grown up.

Cook what YOU like to eat.

Don’t fix something because someone else tells you have to be able to cook this or that particular kind of recipe.  Cook what YOU want to eat. If you feel like it, play around with the recipe a bit and see how you can change the taste of the recipe by substituting an ingredient or even leaving it out all together.

Which leads me to……..

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

A recipe is just a guide. Play around with it. Change it. Substitute a different ingredient for one you don’t like. Try1 a tips something new with it just for the heck of it!

Serendipity is a beautiful thing!

I had no onions one day when making Hamburger Stroganoff.  [I am not -NOT- going to talk about it – I tell you, so don’t even ask why I was so unorganized! How could serendipity work its magic if I was organized?] But I did have a few green onions. A new tradition was born that day. And a darn good one too, if I say so myself. Now I always use green onions in my Stroganoff.

Don’t EVER compare your dishes to anyone else’s. NEVER.

And I mean NO ONE ELSES. Not even Food Network. Not any cooking magazine. Or Martha. Or even your favorite blogger. You are unique. Stay that way. I like you that way!

1 a tips 4PLUS I’ll let you in on a little secret: ‘THEIR’ FOOD DOES NOT LOOK THAT GOOD EITHER.

What you see on TV and in magazines is like seeing model Cindy Crawford in full make up and false eyelashes.The food you see on TV and in magazines is just as made up and posed as any fashion model.

Food photography is a very high paying specialized skill, complete with false eyelashes, push-up bras, and make-up.

Know why ice cream does not melt under hot photography lights? It is not ice cream. It is probably mashed potatoes.

And in the computer age most food photos have been digitally enhanced as well.

Heat changes how food looks. Your home made food is perfect if it tastes good and people like it. Don’t worry that it does not look like the cookbook picture. Neither does  the food in that picture!!!!

Laugh at your mistakes.

First of all, we all make them. Years from now your mistakes will make wonderful, heart-warming stories to tell your grand kids, or on Twitter. And then you will finally know that we have all made them or worse………but best of all we are still alive to tell about it and share our humanity with each other.

And that brings us back full circle to eating. Cooking is all about eating.

Remember eating is all about sharing, loving, giving thanks, support, and sustenance.
Learn From the Best
Julia Child On Learning To Cook

…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.

Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell?’ attitude.

Featured Recipe        Chicken with Lime Butter Sauce

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I love the taste of limes. The thing I don’t like about most lime recipes I have tried is the lime flavor is so weak. I want a full-flavored and bold taste of lime; an almost pucker-up type of flavor! You will definitely taste the lime in this recipe.

I made this recipe because after years and years, and years of searching and cooking I could not find any recipe I really liked. So I created my own.

I think you will like it for how easy it is too.  

This is what you will need for 3 people:

3 chicken breasts skinless, or bone in with skin

½ cup lime juice 3-5 limes

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoon lime zest, divided

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish – limes slices for garnish

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Here is what you do:

Pat the chicken dry.  Salt and pepper chicken breasts on both sides. Set aside.

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Wash and zest the limes.

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Then squeeze the limes until you get ½ cup.

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NOTE: Sometimes I can get ½ cup with 3,  sometimes it takes 5 limes. Here are some tips for picking the juiciest limes and how to get that juice rolling. Heaviest limes generally have the most juice. Do not refrigerate. Roll the limes back and forth using the heel of your hand on the counter before squeezing. This literally gets the juice moving. Place the lime in the microwave for about 3 seconds.

Place 1 tablespoon of the zest, the sugar, and using a press add the garlic to the juice too and whisk together. Reserve the rest of the zest to top the finished dish.

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Also slice the butter into 8 individual tablespoons. Remove paper. Set aside.

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Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat until very hot.

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Place the chicken, in the oil and sauté until nicely browned on both sides, about 6 minutes per side if boneless; longer if bone in. Cook until juices run clear.

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When the chicken is cooked through remove it from the pan to a serving platter and keep warm. I just place in a warmed oven.

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Add lime juice mixture and sugar to the pan, mix and cook over medium heat. Whisk, scraping up any brown bits on bottom of pan, until it begins to boil, about 1 minute.

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Lower the heat to medium low. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Let each pat of butter melt thoroughly whisking all the while before adding the next.  The butter will become opaque and reduce to form a thick sauce. If the sauce does not thicken add a pinch or two of cornstarch. This should take 5-6 minutes.

Butter pat #1

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Butter pat #5

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Beginning to boil.

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Starting to reduce and thicken.

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Reduced and thickened. In other words – a Sauce.

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Remove chicken from oven and place on a serving platter. Remove the sauce from heat and spoon over the chicken.

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Sprinkle with the remaining lime zest. If using limes slices as garnish add them to the plate now too.

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Serve with Cucumber Pineapple Salad. Just cut an English cucumber and pineapple into bite sized pieces. Salt and pepper the cukes and pineapple. Mix together ½ teaspoon lime juice, ½ teaspoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon olive oil and mix well. Pour over salad mix and serve. Salad inspired by Martha Stewart.

Bon appétit!!!

Cost

3 chicken breasts                             $6.09

2 tablespoon lime zest                      $0 in cost below                               

½ cup lime juice                              $1.50              

1 clove garlic                                   $0.11                          

2 tablespoons canola oil                    $0.13

1 tablespoon sugar                           $0.08

1 stick butter                                   $0.63

Salt and pepper to taste                  ——

Garnish – 1 or 2 limes for slices for garnish.          $1.00

Total cost = $7.54
Cost per person = $2.51

With limes for garnish $8.54 total cost; $2.85 per person

Quote of the Day

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

Julia Child

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7 comments to Tips For the Beginning Cook

  • You are absolutely right. Gadgets make things go faster but they don’t make anyone a better cook. That comes from practice. You need a good knife and a whisk.

    I can’t wait to try that chicken.

  • Practice makes perfect. One of my daughters NEVER EVER cooked. Then she ended up in Montana on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. She learned to cook and she’s now a great cool! Lesson Number One: Follow a recipe when first starting out.

  • Perhaps a can opener is the first utensil to start with.

    Seriously, though Roberta you are absolutely correct, like most things in life, just do it. The height of my cooking expertise came about because my wife at the time became very ill on the morning her parents and siblings arrived from afar. It was before the days of cell phones, I could not contact them to cancel the visit.

    I prepared without ruining it, roast leg and shoulder of lamb, roast potatoes, several veg, mint sauce and gravy, totally unaided by my mother-in-law or sisters-in law.

    Although not perfect, it was all consumed with relish, compliments flowed. However I never repeated the performance, did not want to create a rod for my own back!

    • Roberta

      And you keep trying to tell me you can’t cook. LOL A can opener is good too. Sorry I did not think of that one. 🙂

      If you prepared roast and leg of lamb without ruining it, you are a natural. And all those fixins. too boot!

      Congratulation, Peter. You are a cook whether you want to admit it or not.

  • Now that my cover has been blown by my ill-advised confession about the lamb roast, I will admit to an ability to prepare a few different meals. It is not a skill I like to boast about as it can result in too many calls for it to be demonstrated.

    Many years ago on a 6 week tour of duty in the army, I injured my back and was put on “light” duties as an assistant to the camp cook, preparing meals for around 60 men 3 times a day on a huge propane range in a tent. I certainly learned a few tricks then, but heaving the massive pots around made my back more painful than if I had been out on patrol every day.

    • Roberta

      Your secret is safe with me……and MTTD readers. 🙂

      Back injuries are not nice. Cooking and heavy pots are killers on the back.

      Some day would like to hear about your cooking “tricks.” I see a blog post there – Tips and Tricks From the Reluctant and Anonymous Cook. I am serious.