What you need in order to cook successfully

Most people have it in their minds that cooking is something you're born with... like fingers and toes;) It's true... cooking is an art, a skill; however, it's not something anyone couldn't learn to do.

Most people learn to cook at the feet of their mother, grandmother or someone else they saw cook a lot. I learned from four people... mom, dad and TWO grandmothers! I was very fortunate. I grew up around fresh, home-grown food. One of my grandmas lived on a farm, on the property right next to ours. My other grandmother lived in town, but I still went to visit there quite often.

I can recall watching grandma (farm) preparing fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, fresh eggs from the hen house, pie crusts and most, other foods from scratch... so, I had a very good teacher in "grandma #1!" I would often visit and spend weekends with "grandma #2." She was more of an "almost homemade" kind of cook; however, there were some special foods she did make from scratch. Egg noodles, for one! That's where I first learned how to make an egg noodle. Then, there was this very simple, but delicious dish she made for dinners... usually, only when I was there (because she knew I enjoyed it!). We call it macaroni and tomatoes. It was cooked macaroni with stewed tomatoes, and a few basic seasonings.

I don't recall my parents doing too much cooking from scratch, as they were both working full-time back then... in addition to raising a family. There are foods I do still recall them cooking for us. My mom's cubed steak and homemade gravy... I loved that! Her fried chicken was good, too. As for dad... he was famous for his breakfasts. Growing up on the farm, dad cooked bacon, sausage, fried potatoes (with onions, of course!), corn-on-the-cob and other foods I couldn't recall if I wanted to. There were just too many foods from my childhood that I recall... that were delicious!

Moving on to the equipment you need to have, to cook... In my many, many years of cooking/baking foods, I would suggest you have a nice set of stainless steel cookware. I know... some of you out there are thinking, "But, won't the food stick to the cookware?" Yes... it will. This is where proper preparation and cleanup is very important. One thing to remember, is... never turn the heat up to high for the cookware. That is a surefire way of getting burn marks on your pots/pans. With stainless steel cookware, it's important to remember that, each piece needs to be well-oiled before each use. Just, don't use too much oil or you'll end up with more burn marks.

When you do get burn marks on the cookware, simply, fill the pot/pan with water (until it is right above the burn marks) and let it sit... for, at least, several hours- sometimes, overnight. Then, you can go back and add a bit of dish liquid and, with minimal effort, scrub the marks away.

Next, you'll want to have some quality cooking utensils. I recommend the following, to start with: a pair of tongs (which you can use to turn meat, serve spaghetti, etc.), a basic serving spoon or two, a slotted spoon (for anything in water you need to drain, i.e. veggies), a sturdy spatula (for turning pancakes/french toast, moving cookies to cool, etc.) and a potato masher (if you don't have a mixer). You can do most general cooking with these, few utensils.

As far as the pantry goes, you'll want to have many of the basic staples your family uses to cook. For instance... these are just some of the items I keep on hand: white sugar, brown sugar, white flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, white rice, whole wheat rice, white flour pasta, whole wheat pasta, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, corn syrup, cooking oils (olive oil and canola oil), yeast, spices (sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, cilantro, Old Bay Seasoning, seasoned salt, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, dill, etc.), powdered milk, etc.

One, other thing I like to have are my collection of cookbooks. To start out, though, I would get one, quality cookbook with basic recipes, hints, substitutions and baking/cooking advice. There are a couple of books I highly recommend, to start with. One is "The Joy of Cooking." If you know nothing about this book, trust me... it's jam-packed-FULL of good recipes, advice, hints, tips, etc. You definitely can't go wrong with this book! Another book I find myself going to, time and time again, is "Not Just Beans," by Tawra Kellam. It's not an overly-huge cookbook, but all the recipes and advice you find within its pages are high-quality, simple and easy-to-comprehend... not like some cookbooks out there.

The only, other things you will need are the foods you're going to cook.

For me, who LOVES cooking/baking, it's just plain FUN! You can switch one item for another (just make sure they're similar in consistency, composition and weight), substitute something more healthy for something less healthy, add a bit of seasoning/ingredient that's not called for in the recipe, etc. You get the idea.

So... when you're preparing food, don't forget to experiment! That's what really makes the whole thing fun, and you will enjoy the end result even more.

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