7 Tips To Be A Better Cook

 

A few tips to help you improve your game. We can ALL improve, no matter what our level!

A few tips to help you improve your game. We can ALL improve, no matter what our level!

This post was sponsored by The Fine Print, which is the blog for Readers.com, who invite their audience to focus on what makes them happy — whether it’s exploring new things, trying new trends, or simply taking a little more time for themselves. I did receive compensation for this post but all thoughts and opinions are STRICTLY my own.

So many of my friends are finding, as I am,  that as our kids get older and begin to leave the nest, we have more time in our days than we have ever had before. As we think about the next portion of our lives, we want those years to be productive, worthwhile years, spent doing things we really enjoy – things that make us happy. We want to do things that matter. We hear people urging us to follow our dreams – although, sometimes, after spending most of our lives helping others reach their dreams,  it takes a little exploration to find out what our dreams are!

I feel kind of lucky, in that I already know that one of the things that brings me great joy is eating good food, and preparing good food for people I love. A delicious meal not only provides you and your immediate family with a lot of pleasure, but it opens up the door for sharing that gift with others outside your inner circle. Some of the best evenings in my life happened because we invited someone interesting to share a meal with us. And let’s face it, don’t you eagerly anticipate going to someone’s house where there will be a delicious meal? Good food takes what could have been just another evening, and turns it into a memory of communally sharing the deliciousness of life. And that memory will last for a lifetime.

 If you’ve always wanted to become a better cook: now’s your time. Seize the day! Julia Child didn’t publish her first cookbook till she was 51 – no spring chicken! A complete non-cook, Julia became inspired by the great food around her in France. She decided to learn to cook, but not till AFTER she’d completed a career overseas in the OSS –  the office in the US government that preceded the CIA. (Julia worked with spies!)  It’s not too late for you, either!

Improving your cooking skill is a great hobby, and it will not only bring you pleasure, but will benefit those around you. No matter what your skill level, from novice, to skilled chef, there are always new skills to learn. Here’s some tips on how you can learn to LOVE to cook.

A source of inspiration, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, lies just beside me.

A source of inspiration, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, lies just beside me.

  • Learn from those who have gone before you. Don’t think you have to re-invent the wheel. Gather inspiration and skills from some of the greats who’ve left you a culinary road map. Julia Child is one chef who inspired me, but I thought I’d mention several other chefs who have written excellent books on technique: Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman, Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, for example, have all written excellent books that teach technique to the home cook, each in a style uniquely their own.
  • Utilize your library! You don’t have to spend a fortune buying cookbooks right off the bat! By all means, utilize the wealth of cookbooks that are available at your local public library to investigate the method of cuisine, the style of writing, the level of technical difficulty, and the cookbook layout that most appeals to you. When you fall in love with a particular cookbook, you will know it! Then, by all means, purchase that one for your very own, and use it! Checking out cookbooks from the library was how I stumbled upon a cookbook I use often, even though it’s not written by one particular chef, or from one particular school of cuisine, but just because it’s practical, approachable, and seasonal. It’s not necessarily a best seller, either, but it’s been very helpful to me on weeknights, when I want something good, that can be prepared quickly. The book is called Great Food Fast, and it’s published by Everyday Food, from the kitchens of  Martha Stewart Living.
  • Watch cooking shows on TV. Presently on Food Network, there’s a fantastic show that teaches very basic dishes for the grill, called Barbecue Addiction (with Bobby Flay, who is a master of the grill). Also on Food Network, “The Kitchen” is a weekly show, filled with tips, techniques, and recipes. On Public Television, America’s Test Kitchen has taught me so much about the science of food: what makes one recipe work better than another. Cooking is an art AND a science, and America’s Test Kitchen does a great job of explaining the science in an interesting and entertaining way. (I love their cookbooks, too!)
  • Take a cooking class! My local Whole Foods has classes year round at their cooking school, “Salud!”, and so do many other Whole Foods locations.  They have flyers with their scheduled classes at the Customer Service desk in the store, but you can also check out the schedule online. Classes have varying levels of participation, so be sure to choose the level that you prefer. Some are purely for demonstrations purposes, and some are completely hands-on, with students actually doing the cooking. I found out that my favorite  local chef was offering a demonstration class, took my courage in hand, and registered and attended, all by myself. And I had a WONDERFUL time! But a cooking class might be even more fun if you signed up with a friend. And even more fun than that might be turning it into a date night with your significant other, so you both could learn how to prepare a special meal together.

    Using beautiful, fresh ingredients will ensure a delicious meal.

    Using beautiful, fresh ingredients will ensure a delicious meal.

  • Start with great ingredients. Determine in your mind that as often as possible, you’ll avoid processed foods. If you don’t have a garden, search out the nearest farmer’s market, or join a CSA – a community supported agriculture group. You’ll be helping the farm families in your area, and in general, improving your cooking game by leaps and bounds. Think fresh, and local, whenever possible. 
  • Consider allowing what’s in season locally to drive your menu. Plan the rest of your menu to showcase the fresh produce ingredients you’ve gathered.

    You can grow your own fresh herbs even with minimal sunlight and bad soil. Try using an Earth Box!

    You can grow your own fresh herbs even with minimal sunlight and bad soil. Try using an Earth Box!

  • Grow your own herbs. This is one easy, practical thing you can do that I guarantee will up your culinary game. I am not a gardener, because we just don’t have the sunlight we would need to grow vegetables,  living here in the woods. But I have just enough sunlight in one teeny area of our patio to utilize Earth Boxes where I grow fresh herbs. This summer, for example, I have basil, thyme, marjoram, lemongrass, rosemary, chives, parsley, oregano, lemon geranium, pineapple mint and chocolate mint growing.  The simple act of adding your own fresh herbs to your dishes really makes flavors come alive. If you have a flower pot, you can grow a basil plant, or some parsley.  Do it! You’ll be feeling like a budding culinary genius in no time!

Here’s a super simple, sure-fire recipe that will utilize that lovely fresh basil you planted. I first saw chef Jamie Oliver prepare this on Oprah Winfrey, many years ago: he called it Funky Spaghetti. It is super fast, and super fresh, and you won’t believe how delicious something this easy is!!! I altered the recipe a bit to suit my taste, because when I only used red wine vinegar I found the recipe too tart. So I added a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar as well, to add a note of sweetness to the dish. I had never prepared this dish with fresh marjoram until this summer (because I never grew marjoram till this summer!), so it’s perfectly fine to just use basil, or to use a combination of basil and fresh parsley, if that’s what you have. The marjoram tastes very perfume-y on its own, but I found that once the dish was all stirred together, I liked the note it added very much. 

How can anything this simple be so delicious? It is!

How can anything this simple be so delicious?
It is!

Lovely Summer Linguine
Serves 4
A lovely pasta that tastes like summer.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb. linguine (or spaghetti)
  2. 1 lb. assorted colored tomatoes, chopped
  3. 1 large handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped just before you add them
  4. 2 T. fresh marjoram leaves, separated from the stem, and chopped
  5. 1 clove of garlic, peeled, smashed, and finely chopped
  6. 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  7. 1 T. red wine vinegar
  8. 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  9. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions in a big pot of boiling water. (I add about 3 T. salt to my pasta water - I want it salty as the sea.) Cook just till it's al dente - which means there is still a little bite to it. Taste it when it's approaching the low end of the cooking time so that it doesn't overcook. For linguine, that's usually about 9 minutes.
  2. While pasta is chooking, chop your tomatoes so that they're bite sized. Add herbs, olive oil, garlic, and vinegars.
  3. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Taste again, and add more seasoning, if needed. If tomatoes aren't overly juicy, use your hands or a potato masher to scrunch them a bit.
  4. Drain pasta, dump it back in the pot, and pour tomato mixture over steaming pasta.
  5. Mix thoroughly, and serve.
Notes
  1. Don't be afraid to add more olive oil, or vinegar, or pepper. Taste as you cook, and adjust the flavor and seasoning to what tastes good to you.
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
That Susan Williams http://www.thatsusanwilliams.com/
Lovely Summer Linguine

The balsamic vinegar deepens the flavor and color of the dish.

Lovely Summer Linguine is unbelievably delicious, and amazingly quick and easy. It's a Desperation Dinner Recipe you'll return to, again, and again.

Lovely Summer Linguine is unbelievably delicious, and amazingly quick and easy. It’s a Desperation Dinner Recipe you’ll return to, again, and again.

 Be sure to pin this post on Pinterest, so you’ll know where the recipe is. Or even better, share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

What holds you back from cooking?


Yum
All images and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply link back to this post for the recipe. Thank you.
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