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In this post, I’ll offer you seven basic tips that I used to help myself be a better cook.
My Nest is Nearly Empty
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.
Now’s The Time To Become a Better Cook!
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.
Seven Tips On How to Become A Better Cook
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’ve thrown this in for free, to get you started on your journey to be a better cook. You won’t believe how easy and delicious it is!
The Recipe for My Lovely Summer Linguine:
Lovely Summer Linguine
A lovely, fresh, easy pasta recipe that tastes like summer.
- 1 lb. linguine (or spaghetti)
- 1 lb. assorted colored tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped just before you add them
- 2 T. fresh marjoram leaves, separated from the stem, and chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled, smashed, and finely chopped
- 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T. red wine vinegar
- 1 T. balsamic vinegar
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste
- 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.
- While pasta is cooking, chop your tomatoes so that they're bite sized. Add herbs, olive oil, garlic, and vinegars.
- 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.
- Drain pasta, dump it back in the pot, and pour tomato mixture over steaming pasta.
- Mix thoroughly, and serve.
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.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 448Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 85mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 4gSugar: 4gProtein: 8g
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?
Tuesday 12th of August 2014
I'm so curious about those earth boxes and I'm with you all the way on cooking for friends, etc. A lot of people would like to get together, but have no practice cooking, or think everything has to be perfect and this prevents good fellowship. We would love to get together soon, either on a Saturday or Sunday. We can come to you. I'll message you some dates. My recent post Asheville Wine and Food Festival 2014 and a Blueberry Old Fashioned Celebrating Elixir
Thursday 7th of August 2014
Hi Susan! What great tips. I actually enjoy cooking but frequently just fall back on my "usuals" when I have company because I would so rather sit and talk with my guests than fuss in the kitchen. But with that said, I'm still open to new ideas and that pasta recipe sounds easy and delicious. I will definitely try it!
Tuesday 5th of August 2014
A few years ago, I planted a small herb garden. Herbs are now overtaking my yard! However, I don't grow marjoram because I don't know how to use it. Besides this recipe, what are other dishes it goes well with?
Tuesday 5th of August 2014
Becky, marjoram is a variety of oregano, with kind of citrusy, minty notes. Because it's related to oregano, in general, you can use it where you might use oregano. I did a little research for you on an herb site, and they said this: "Marjoram leaves are best fresh because of their mild flavor. The delicate flavor of marjoram may be lost if it is added too early in the cooking process, therefore add at the very end of cooking. It goes well in salads, dressings, eggs, and mushroom sauces. Marjoram is suitable for thick vegetable soups, pasta, fish, game, beef, chicken, sausages and meat loaf. The flavor also works well with cheese, tomato, beet or bean dishes. Marjoram is most often used in recipes of French or English origin. Create a tasty grilled chicken rub with garlic, salt, course black pepper and marjoram."
Tuesday 5th of August 2014
Yum! The pasta dish does indeed look delicious. And your advice to grow your own herbs is so true. So easy to do, pretty to look at and nothing makes a dish better than the smell and taste of fresh! My recent post Please Let There Be Nametags...
Monday 4th of August 2014
You are hired, Susan! My husband and I have a deal that he cooks and I clean. When my son was younger I cooked. I grew herbs but the deer always ate my veggies! Everything you wrote about is so true, and your herb garden looks marvelous.
A wonderful post!