5 Tips to Becoming a Better Cook
By no means am I an expert; at work I am reminded daily that I have lots to learn on the road to becoming a professional chef. However, there are a couple general practices I've learned that have helped me a lot and made cooking more enjoyable. I hope they can do the same for you, my dear reader:
1. Take care of your knives. Knives are the most basic tool a cook owns; even without fire, a knife can make a meal. Never put knives in the dishwasher (I know our moms told us this rule, but I forgot it once in front of our chef and I will never forget it again). A little soap and water will certainly be enough cleaning. With sharper knives, chopping and slicing are easy tasks instead of frustrating (or even dangerous) chores.
2. Cook clean. By cooking clean, I do mean hygenic, but I also mean keep a clean work station. Wiping counters as you go, washing tools while sauces simmer or bread bakes- all of these little moves while cooking contribute to a better work station. When cooking at home, these little steps mean you have less to clean afterwards, when the food coma has set in.
3. Be resourceful. Can the little celery leaves from the center stalks be used to garnish even the most simple plate? Can last night's roast chicken be sliced elegantly for a chicken Caesar? Can I keep my stale bread ends for croutons or bread pudding desserts? Yes! Think of your leftovers and trimmings not as scraps but as pieces of a larger puzzle. You'll be amazed how you can lower your food costs.
4. Follow a recipe. Unless you absolutely 100% remember every little piece to a recipe, be sure to read what you're about to do. Respect the food you're cooking; a haphazard, slapdash approach to a dish will show. It is important to a have a feel for what you're cooking, but until you really know flavors and ratios, freestyling can backfire, like my homemade tomato sauce that was more like an oregano-thyme smoothie. Yuck.
5. Go for it. The only way to learn to cook and to improve is to do it. Cook new things, recipes you've never considered, use spices you can't pronounce. I've only scratched the surface of the possibilities in the last six months. Cooking is a trial-and-error activity. What's the worst that could happen? You get to eat your mistakes!