I’ll admit, I have quite a few pet peeves: global warming, income inequality, lazy cooking, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I too come home late from work, or I can’t bring myself to clean up the dishes from the meal before, or maybe I just want a bowl from Chipotle. But none of those would qualify someone as a lazy cook. I’m talking about the people who take the time to set the table, bust out some candles, scrub themselves clean and plop down in front of a plate of store bought sauce atop box pasta with some mushy thawed frozen vegetables. NO! Put some freakin effort into your food! It doesn’t mean more time, or even more money (though the results are usually correlated to those points). It means taking time to learn basic cooking skills, choosing a kick ass recipe, and busting out a five star meal.
Even taking little steps in your old go-tos can take them to a whole nother delicious level! Spices, marinades, and changing up the cooking method can add some fancy pants to your meal.
Perhaps I should start by writing a little about my cooking background, and those-I-mooch-off-of’s cooking background. My parents were not fancy eaters (not a bad thing), so I grew up on basics, boxes, and simple vegetables from a can. All of which I loved and rarely did I turn down seconds. But that usually meant the extent of cooking (not including holidays and special occasions) was boiling water, pan frying meat, and the microwave. All of which I was masterful at by an early age.
So, naturally since I loved food and I loved television, out came the Food Network, where I learned the rest of the skills to make almost any recipe I find. I soaked it all those shows in like a sponge. My favorites were always the more explanatory chefs. Alton Brown was the best. He goes through everything about the food he is cooking that show; giving you not only a recipe, but skills you can use throughout any recipe and the science behind it.
Ben, on the other hand, is a special little snowflake who had a dad who sent him to school with hand-rolled sushi. He then had a stint in a butcher shop and some time in culinary school as I’ve mentioned before in my steak post. He was born with a wooden spoon in his hand.
Which brings me to one of the elements you need to make those fancy pants recipes you see me posting all the time on my Instagram:
Almond crusted trout on a bed of balsamic greens.
None of these recipes are difficult. None took more than a half hour for all the prep and serving, which may seem like a long time, but it’s not intense by any means (including some TV and conversations). They all were taken from the internet, and they all tasted scrumtrulescent. But they all required basic cooking skills. Starting with knife skills.
Knife skills is seriously the number one thing anyone who wants to make a good meals should learn. Learn how to buy a good knife set, or even just one or two good ones for those not looking to invest an arm, leg, and child of their choosing. One should go to a kitchen store (yes, even Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Crate & Barrel) and give them a test run to see what feels good in your hands or even online with Amazon if you are desperate or hate social interactions. Ben has a gorgeous set of Wusthof knives including a honing steel, which this dude can tell you all about. Seriously, a sharp knife is everyone’s best friend.
Then you need to learn how to wield it!
The main take-aways are how to hold the knife, how to protect your hands, and how to cut properly. Like he said, if it take a while to cut something the first couple times it’s ok! Better to learn good technique then risk losing a finger, or worse ruining that beautiful knife you just bought!
Now you have a knife, you know how to sharpen it, you know how to use it. Now what the hell is a julliened carrot? Recipes usually call for things chopped, diced, minced, julliened, or in rare cases something fancy that I google, but mostly the former ones. All these things really do mean something specific and can alter a recipe if you screw it up too much (too small and you get an overcooked carrot, too big and you get crunchy mashed potatoes). And truely, different vegetables will look different with the “same” cut. Chopped potatoes tend to be a little bigger than chopped carrots, just because of the shape of them.
Here is a handy chart:
Now. FINALLY. To the good part: the food. The recipe. How the heck do you find a good recipe. They easy way is to go into a book store, or online and find a book with pictures that make you drool. Follow those instructions and blamo, you have something tasty. The other option, which is what Ben and myself tend toward is using the power of the internet to get good recipes.
“But Emma! There are literally millions of recipes for mashed potatoes out there! How will I be able to pick out a good one?” you may ask. Welp, there are options in how to pick a good one. You could literally go to google, put in the title of something you want to make “Mashed potato recipe” and maybe add a desired adjective (“Chunky mashed potatoes”, “red skin mashed potatoes”, “garlic mashed potatoes”, “Twice baked potatoes”, etc.etc.etc.) and pick the first one that pops up. There also tends to be comments or ratings of recipes if you have a second to comb through them. Pick ones with 4 or 5 stars, or lots of positive comments from people who actually cooked it, not people who “totally will make that tomorrow”–they get no say in your dinner tonight.
And don’t be afraid of big words. Those “braised” short ribs? They were made in a crock pot. Don’t know what “tender” really means? Look it up! There are plenty of good sources on the internets for cooks. Or ask ya mama, you need to call her anyway.
You could also take a look at what you have in your fridge, or what you wish you had and go from there. For example, right now I have sage sausage and a butternut squash, so I could google something like “sage sausage butternut squash recipe” which gives me this.
You could even go to the produce or meat counter of your grocery store and try something that scares you! What the heck do you do with a parsnip? Ya know what? They make a pretty tasty mash. Or better yet, head to your local farmers market and pick something up and ask the person behind the table, “Hey, what’s this? How would you cook it?” I’ve never gotten so much as a strange look from these questions. Even if it’s something you’ve cooked a million times, maybe they have a fresh new idea for those tomatoes.
Ben is also partial to this site: GoonsWithSpoons.com. They have recipes by categories, ingredient, course, etc. They also have lots of pictures, and they are pretty easy to follow along with.