How to Cook like a Chef!
Free Cooking Lessons are on TV
Growing up, my brother amazed me. When he was hungry, he'd just go into the kitchen and whip up something. He'd pull all sorts of items out of the fridge, pantry and spice cabinet, and, with no effort, put them together into something that actually resembled food!
I, on the other hand, had to first summon the courage to enter the kitchen. Then I had to look through scores of cookbooks (my never-ending supply of cookbooks came from my well-intentioned family). Then I had to wield my way through each step of the chosen recipe - with plenty of hand-towels on hand to wipe the perspiration from my brow. I was always ready to find the footstool so that I could take the battery out of the smoke alarm when I (inevitably) burned something on the stove while searching for a measuring cup! Scorched pans, burnt meals and lots of unique looking marks on my fingers and hands was my way of life.
When my Fibromyalgia symptoms forced me to stop working, I had lots of time on my hands and decided that my new "job" was to become a domestic goddess. In addition to discovering that one dusts BEFORE vacuuming, I uncovered the secret of the art of cooking.
While I'm no chef, I am now a "Gourmet-Wanna-Be" and am ready to share my secret:
ABC's of Cooking provided Free by Chefs
Step 1 WATCH COOKING SHOWS
There's a reason that public television has survived - they were the pioneers of the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement. Now, in addition to PBS, there are plenty of great cooking demonstration shows on television: Food Network, Discovery, Fine Living and Create TV - just to name a few.
So if you want to learn how to be gourmet-like, the next time you're flipping through the channels, don't rush by the hundreds of free cooking lessons available every day!
Step 2: HAVE FUN STARTING WITH THE BASICS
I summoned the courage to enter my kitchen because of Rachel Ray and her 30-minute meals! In addition to being entertaining, she is the queen of "it's not a recipe, it's a method" cooking. Because of her easy, step-by-step way of preparing meals using common ingredients, I was finally able to put edible food on the table with minimum perspiration. "EVOO", "yummo" and "de-lish" are now part of my vocabulary.
Step 3: USE STORE-BOUGHT INGREDIENTS TO PREPARE "HOME-MADE" MEALS
Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee was my next step. She taught me how to creatively use store-bought ingredients in my "home-made" meals. She also gives Martha Stewart a run for her money with her tips on how to create "table-scapes" - i.e. setting your table, and the mood, for your dinner party. She teaches you how easy it is to prepare and serve an "ahhhh" inducing meal.
Step 4: Explore your Kitchen and Garden
I Now Grow and Use my Own Vegetables and Herbs
I moved on to Barefoot Contessa and Giada at Home. While Rachel and Sandra Lee showed me how to prepare basic meals, these gourmets took me to the next level. I began to learn the nuances of different cuisines. Ina, the Contessa, is a great all-around cook and baker. And Giada shows you how to easily prepare fantastic Italian meals, including drinks and dessert.
So, instead of using steak seasoning or jambalaya spice packets from the supermarket, I was creating my own. No longer breaking out in hives, I was able to explore my spice cupboard and found that there are hundreds of ways to use bay leaves, dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg...
I have had a well-stocked spice cupboard because for years I was under the mistaken impression that if you bought herbs, great meals magically appeared! (Side note: dried spices are NOT like honey - they do NOT keep indefinitely. Check the expiration dates and replace them if they start to lose their "unique smell" - usually after 6 months to a year.)
I began to grow my own herbs and vegetables!
As I continued to watch these entertaining teachers, I began to understand that fresh herbs and just-picked vegetables bring any dish to the next level. I now plant rosemary, basil (I make a great pesto, if I do say so myself), oregano, cilantro, thyme, mint and parley. I grow three kinds of tomatoes and two types of peppers. It's a snap to prepare homegrown garden dishes that never fail to impress my family and friends. Just imagine serving roasted tomatoes and garlic with fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and mozzarella cheese!
Step 5: Realize no two chefs cook a dish the same way!
Ahh... anything I try to say about Julia and Jacques' Cooking from Home would do them an injustice. Julia Child introduced America to French cuisine and Jacques Pepin is a premier chef (I love watching his Fast Food My Way). The show they did together as well as their individual cooking shows taught me that no two cooks prepare a meal exactly the same way. They squabble because Jacques loves black pepper and Julia white pepper in a dish... But it still turns out wonderful and they have a grand time cooking together.
They shared basic cooking techniques from two different cooking worlds but made them user friendly. It is a joy to watch these two friends cook together. Jacques and Julia taught me that the art of cooking is developing your own style and creating dishes that make your taste buds sing and dance.
As an aside: One of the highlights of my life was when my husband bought me tickets to a national kitchen expo in Washington DC. There I met both Jacques and his daughter Claudia (I watched her cooking show too). I had them sign my numerous cook books. I was in heaven!
Step 6: Follow the Consumer Reports of Cooking
America's Test Kitchen
My latest discovery is America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country. Think Consumer Reports meets Cooking. America's Test Kitchen rates kitchen gadgets, appliances and food products. Their guidance has helped me select the best "tools" to buy and use as I continue my journey to becoming a gourmet cook.
The "best way to cook (fill in the blank with your favorite dish)" segments dissects the recipe and provides a step-by-step guide to preparing the dish. They share the best product to use (i.e. which type of beef to use when making bar-b-que); cookware to use (i.e. stainless, enameled stainless or cast iron); and techniques to use (i.e. searing the meat before grilling) when preparing the recipe.
Oh by the way - America's Test Kitchen uses testers from around the Country to prepare recipes and then submit a questionnaire about the results. Guess Who's a Tester? ME!
You can cook like a Chef too!
I've come a long way in the past couple of years and you can too. In addition to watching the free cooking lessons on TV, you can also watch many of them on the Internet as well as search for that perfect recipe for your next dinner party.
Watching all of these shows has helped me get over my fear of entering the kitchen. Now I enjoy going to the supermarket to see what vegetables are in season and coming up with creative ways to use them with whatever meat happens to be on sale. I now take advantage of seasonal produce and great sales on meat to prepare dishes that I freeze to use year-round. Homemade guacamole, pesto, pasta sauce, meatballs... are always in my freezer. AND, I got so comfortable that I mastered how to use your scraps to make great, inexpensive and nutritious stock!
UPDATE: I've now expanded my repertoire to include dehydrating and canning! I've come a long way baby!