Ignore the hype – you can cook
Cooking isn’t an art practised only by the talented few, although there are plenty of high-priced restaurants and supermarkets selling exotic ready-made meals that profit by encouraging you to think that is the case. Julia Child, the noted US food writer and broadcaster, who introduced the secrets and techniques of French cuisine to several generations, took issue with the idea of cooking as an elitist pastime. ‘If you can read, you can cook,’ she wrote.
Get a good basic cookbook
Being told that all you need to do to produce great food is to follow the instructions given in a book may not be very reassuring if you have no idea where to start reading. There are so many cookbooks on the market and often they do little more than intimidate the novice – as do so many of the food programs on television. So if you want to learn to cook, don’t start with one of those hyped-up volumes from the latest ‘hot’ celebrity chef. Buy yourself a nuts-and-bolts guide – one that will actually explain terms that may be obvious to an experienced cook, such as ‘roast’, ‘sauté’ or ‘braise’. Look for a book that doesn’t just cover special dinner party dishes, but one that takes you step by step through preparing all the basics – stocks, soups, sauces, pastry and the standard methods of preparing meat, fish and vegetables.
Once you have acquired some skills, expand your range by trying out recipes given in magazines and newspapers. Supermarkets sometimes produce their own collections of recipes or have free recipe cards on offer.
Find out what your family likes
Nothing will boost your confidence in your cooking skills more than having satisfied customers – that is, family members and friends who really seem to be enjoying the food you serve them and who show their appreciation. Ask everyone what their preferred foods are and try to get them involved in menu planning. Make a note of the dishes family members tend to choose when eating in restaurants. Ask them what they’ve enjoyed at friends’ houses and – where possible – get them to ask whoever cooked the meal to supply a recipe; home cooks love praise and most will be happy to oblige. Or consult your own cooking books and surf the Internet for similar recipes, then surprise everyone by serving up their favourite dishes at home.
Read through recipes
Don’t start cooking until you’ve read a recipe from beginning to end and assembled all the ingredients on the kitchen benchtop. That may sound obvious, but many dishes fail if you don’t do this. You may not be told you need softened butter until the middle of a recipe, when what you have is still rock hard in the fridge. Or you may not have been told to preheat your oven at the outset, so that it is still cold when you’re ready to bake your carefully assembled cake.
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