My friend, whose recipes have won prizes, once said to me, “You’re a great cook.” I was surprised at the compliment. “My mother was a great cook,’ I replied. “I just cook basic recipes.” It’s true. I don’t pore through cookbooks or seek out special ingredients like my friend does. I enjoy cooking, but I don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen. “Yeah,” she replied. “But when you serve chicken, it’s moist and flavorful. Do you know how many people serve dry chicken?”
I’ve often thought about my friend’s comment.Tens of thousands of cookbooks, websites and courses teach people how to cook. Collecting recipes, experimenting with spices, techniques and food combinations are important. But if you, as a home cook, master only one thing, you will be ahead of the pack: Cook food until it is done, and no longer.
You can take a chicken, wash it, and put it in the oven. If you like, first rub it inside and out with the cut edge of a garlic clove. Don’t open the oven for at least an hour, then check the chicken with a thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, cut between the thigh and the drumstick. If the liquid runs clear (not pink) it’s done. That chicken will be devoured. Fresh vegetables don’t need fancy treatment either: steam, microwave or roast just until you can pierce them through to the center with a fork. Add a little salt, oil or butter if you like. Herbs will make it even better, but youdon’t need a cookbook for that.
That’s why beginning cooks should stick to simple recipes. More steps mean more decisions along the way, and more chances to get distracted. Because when it comes to cooking, putting in extra time and effort doesn’t always bring better results. You can spend hours making a complicated recipe, to ruin it at the end when the phone rings or a child has a melt-down (and why wouldn’t she, when Mom (or Dad) has been in the kitchen the whole day?).
Serving food cooked to the right degree is good value. You will have preserve nutrients and have fewer leftovers. Undercooked food, especially meat and fish, can be harmful to your health. Undercooking or burning food often means throwing it out.
It’s not always easy. Even when you turn off the heat at the right moment, you may have more time until dinner and a chance to burn or dry out your meal. Plan how you will reheat food or keep it warm.
Learning to cook food to the right degree is a skill like any other. Some people catch on right away, while others take longer. But it’s worth the effort.
Understanding of ingredients and learning advanced techniques will improve your cooking. Fortunately, your family and guests are not comparing your food to restaurant or gourmet cooking. They are hungry and the food is in front of them. If it’s good, they’ll eat it. And simple food cooked well is tasty, very tasty. So if you like playing around in the kitchen, go ahead and enjoy yourself. But rest assured, you can make great food even if you are not a gourmet.
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