Cooking like a pro?

A cook sautees onions and peppers.
Image via Wikipedia

It’d be interesting to find out how many average cooks like myself want to learn to cook like a pro.  What do I mean by average cook?  An average cook is someone who cooks for their family because they can’t hire a personal chef.  You know, like me.  In fact, I really don’t like cooking at all.  I’m one of those cooks that has burned water on several occasions.  Yet, despite that, I find myself forced into the kitchen.  However, I have been forbidden by my husband, to never again call myself a bad cook.

Why?  Because it’s been years since I’ve burned the meat and apparently, according to him, that makes me a good cook.  Okay, so the food is not always edible for me and the kids because I was too liberal with the hot spice, but that’s because I experimented and didn’t follow a recipe.  In deference to my husband, I will agree that if I have a recipe I can…usually…cook food that tastes pretty good.  I did a crab enchilada once that had my mouth-watering for a week.  So now I tell people that I’m not a very inventive cook.  I leave experimenting to when I have almost nothing in the pantry and I have to try to put something on the table.  These moments are not very good for my family because it doesn’t always turn out well.  Not to say that sometimes it does.  I once did this tenderloin that was marinated in Worcester Sauce, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, and Rosemary.  It was actually pretty good and I know how to cook meat on a grill so that wasn’t the problem.  I think I added something else to it , but I can ‘t remember what.  That’s not the point though.  What is important is that about 80% of my experiments end up a dismal failure.

Why share all this?  Because I have decided, gradually over time, to teach myself to do better.  Or at least to find better recipes than what is in my nifty Betty Crocker cookbook that can be dated back to prehistoric times.  Okay, maybe it’s not that old, but some of the recipes in it are.  To do this I have started watching the Food Network and the newest channel, the Cooking Channel (pardon me for a moment, but I have to say that while the shows on it are interesting, the title of the channel….ahem).  Now I have a very select viewing on these shows.  I can count them on one hand.

1.  Iron Chef America

I like this one not only because it’s adrenaline packed to a degree, but Alton Brown has his funny moments and his knowledge is astounding.  Any show that teaches me something is always good.  What is funny about this one in particular though, is that every time I decide to try a new technique, if I watch an episode before I try it, I inevitably see one of the chefs on this show use it.  I kid you not, I had decided to try to do a roast beef recipe that required a Dutch Oven.  I had spent a total of 3 hours over a period of two days trying to find information on the net how to use the stinking thing.  If you’ve never used one, you might wonder what the heck to do with it.  What can it handle and where is the best place to cook with it on.  I found information saying to use it only in the over, others saying only on the stove top…basically I was a confused mess.  Then I turned on Iron Chef America and walla, Michael Simon’s side used a Dutch Oven that day.  I practically fell out of my chair laughing at the convenience of it.

2.  Good Eats

Okay, it took me a while to get hooked on this show that stars Alton Brown.  Why?  Because it seemed to me to be more about the science of food instead of cooking the food the few times I caught a glimpse.  I finally sat down and watched a few episodes and I was impressed.  Like I said before, anything that teaches me something I didn’t know before is always good.  That, plus he’s a bit … weird in a good way.  Sometimes I think they go over the top with their theme of the day, but I can forgive it enough to still watch.  My only problem is that sometimes it feels like he goes too fast, but I’m not sure that can be helped.

3.  Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa D’arabian

I got hooked on her when I caught a Marathon running of The Next Food Network star from last season.  I like her because she was/is a home cook.  She didn’t go to the fancy schools, didn’t spend any time in Paris and she has interesting personal stories.  The only problem so far is that two of the three recipes I’ve tried of hers hasn’t worked out.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the recipe or because of me, I’m more inclined to think it’s because of me.

4.  Aarti Parti

The winner of this seasons The Next Food Network star.  I like her because she reminds me of myself, confidence wise anyway.  I’m not quite as bubbly as she is, but I can forgive that.  However, that’s not the main reason why I’m interested in her cooking.  I’m interested because I’ve always wanted to try Indian spiced food.  The reason is because the woman at the corner store is Indian and she goes on and on about how healthy it is, and good for the skin and hair…etc.  (Note:  According to her, if you use coconut Oil in your hair, it produces a natural shine and helps combat that gray without nasty chemicals in your hair.  I haven’t tried it yet but if anyone has I’d love to hear about it).  So Aarti’s show fills that requirement for me in trying to learn about it.

5.  Cook like an Iron Chef

A recent addiction and the first Cooking Channel show I’ve actually gotten hooked on.  It stars Michael Simon, who is, obviously, one of the Iron Chefs of America.  What I like about his show is that not only does he talk to me, but he doesn’t bog it down with “When I was a kid, my Mom”….etc.  I like that because while the chefs/cooks on both the Food Network and Cooking Channel are interesting, I honestly only want to learn how to cook.  My favorite thing about his show though is that he, as he’s said, is not only showing me how to cook the meal he’s working on, but he’s showing me a technique.  Showing me something that I can use not just for the dish of the moment, but in all the dishes that I…try…to make.  And it works, I’ve started using some of the stuff he’s shown on the show.  Not all with great success though, but I understand it takes practice.

So I have all these great examples to learn from, watch, and enjoy.  Which is great, and I have seen some minor improvement in my cooking.  But I also am still filled with apprehension when I decide to take the chance and give something a shot.  I’m always worried that I’ll jack it up in some form or another.  Which leads me to my cousin (who, btw, has spoken to Michael Simon before he became an Iron Chef) who is also a chef.  Yep, went to the fancy school himself my cousin has.  We were talking about Truffles and something Alton Brown said when I told him about my recent addiction to cooking shows.

That’s when he told me that there’s nothing different between him and I.  If I can follow a recipe, which I can, then I can cook as well as any of the chefs that I see in those shows.  It’s nice to hear, but to be honest, I still wish someone would use a magic wand on my head and say “You are now a great cook”, because I do want to cook like a pro even though I never will.


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