Ever since Karen’s Post on the meal that turned her into a foodist, I’ve been thinking about how I ended up going from a re-heater and assembler of things that come in boxes and cans to a competent, enthusiastic, and dare I say pretty good cook.
For me, a lover of processes and gleeful follower of directions, it all started with the acquisition of some key cookbooks.
While I’ve always been an enthusiastic consumer of great food it was never something I felt the need to investigate further. Good food just appeared on my plate, why question it when there is eating to do?
Unfortunately, when I moved out on my own to go to university, the food ceased to be as good. My complete disinterest in learning how to reproduce the food that had effortlessly (at least on my part) shown up on my plate finally caught up with me. After my millionth meal of Chunky Soup with Pillsbury Crescents (which alternated with a pre-packaged freezer section stir fry and pasta with a jar of sauce dumped on top) I’d had enough. I saved my pennies and invested in the tome my mother always referred to for all things culinary: The Joy of Cooking.
Cue Whole New World soundtrack, complete with flying carpets and cheeky monkeys.
Stupid things that had never occurred to me all started coming together. Broth doesn’t have to come out of a carton? Ranch dressing didn’t originate in a bottle? Doughnuts don’t have to come from Tim Horton’s? AMAZING!
I have no idea why these things didn’t ever occur to me. I grew up eating (even helping to make) homemade jams, preserves and pickles. Homemade bread was a regular occurrence. And there was always a TON of baking around. Again, I just never put much thought into it.
But once I started reading the Joy of Cooking, I started trying out a lot of the recipes. It did not go well at first.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to any aspiring cook is don’t be afraid to throw it away. You will make some entirely inedible things. And the more you practice, the less often that will happen.
After a year or so of using the Joy of Cooking as my kitchen companion I started getting more comfortable with ingredients. Mistakes were happening less and less often. The best part of The Joy of Cooking for me is the level of detail it goes into explaining the ingredients and processes. Not only do I learn how, I also learn why.
Any time I thought about a food I’d have normally bought pre-made, I instead roamed through the book, reading up on the origins of recipes, then trying them out for myself.
Eventually I figured I was ready for something a little less structured and more challenging. So moved onto my next critical cookbook acquisition: Jamie’s Dinners by Jamie Oliver, which I’ll pick up on in the next post…
(in the meantime, if you’re curious about what else I’m cooking up these days, check out CookTheBook.ca)