All the delightful cooking/baking/recipe-laden posts out there which should have an uplifting and inspirational effect on me are just not doing that. Instead they’re making me feel mildly despondent and vaguely depressed. Similar feelings of inadequacy wash over me when I flip through a cookbook full of glossy pictures of perfect end results, supposedly attainable by someone like me. Of course that ‘someone like me’ would have to be able to follow directions and use the proper ingredients and not take short cuts. Or suffer from delusions.
There are a few recipe books in my house which I rarely open. And yet, there are many things I make that are nutritious and edible. Some of them are even delicious. People have asked me for my recipes. Perhaps they were just being kind. It doesn’t matter. My point is, you’d think that after over 50 years of doing stuff in a kitchen I’d be a great source of information and have collected a lot of family heirloom type recipes and have a few priceless and wise cooking tips to share.
Well, I’ve let my sister be the keeper of the recipes since I never follow them anyway. But I do have tips. All gleaned from my culinary experiences of learning things the hard way. And not being an expert on something has certainly never stopped me from sharing advice. So here it is.
1. Do not change your mind about what you’re making halfway through the process. Once I was putting together a lazy cabbage rolls concoction in the crock pot and suddenly didn’t feel like eating rice so I left it out and threw in some beans and things instead, hoping to change the whole thing into chili. The results were interesting. But hard to describe.
2. Set the kitchen timer. Stay within hearing distance of the timer. Do not second guess the timer. The timer was invented so that you would be less likely to end up with results which are black – never a good cooking color.
3. Keep the oven clean. If you paid for the self-cleaning feature, you really should learn how to use it. The next thing you bake does not have to smell like a smoky version of the last thing you roasted to death.
4. Never skimp on wine, regardless of what you’re making. Be sure to consume a sufficient amount of it. I’ve found a good ratio to be 1 part recipe to 3 parts self. An empty bottle should be your ultimate goal.
5. Serve your guests copious amounts of alcohol before the main course. And during, and after. This ups the odds that they will thoroughly enjoy whatever you serve them and have no idea later what it was.
6. If you are following a recipe, right to the end, good for you! Just keep in mind that substitution of ingredients should not be based solely on color. All orange things are not created equal.
7. Give yourself a break and stop trying to make Aunt Edna’s mustard pickle relish exactly the way she did it. Try to accept the fact that it is never going to be the same, and you are doomed to failure. Unless you have some kind of obsessive compulsive glutton for punishment personality disorder, in which case I suppose no one can stop you, so carry on.
8. If you don’t know how to skin a hazelnut, there is no shame in googling it to find out. Although perhaps your basic problem has less to do with HOW, and more to do with WHY you need to know that.
9. Clean as you go. This cannot be stressed enough, especially if something monumental like A Big Holiday Dinner is in the works. The worst cooking experience I ever had was when my kids were small and we invited some other families over for a big meal and it took me all day to prepare everything, less than half an hour for them to eat it all, and all bloody night to clean up the mess. So wash things as you use them and put them away. Especially those sharp knives.
10. Have fun. Be creative. Try new things. Keep that recycle compost bin ever at the ready. It can swallow up a lot of failed attempts even when you can’t. Toss things in a slow cooker and hope for the best. When all else fails, take-out chinese is just around the corner waiting to soothe your battle weary culinary soul.