I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Mainly, I’ve learned from horrible mistakes that were embarrassing, painful, or yielded in friends and loved ones consuming something horrible.
Don’t be like me.
Here’s what I know so far:
- Measuring is very important in baking. In cooking, how YOU like things is much more important. Use recipes as a guide, but adjust them according to what you like!
- People are polarized about cilantro: they love it or hate it! Often, people who hate cilantro will love a dish with a little cilantro that they are unaware of mixed in, which brings me to my next point….
- People often don’t know what they don’t like. EVERYONE (except, like, half the world) says they hate anchovies, but the salty goodness they add to Caesar dressing, shrimp scampi, and pasta dishes is amazing and everyone loves that without knowing where the flavor actually came from.
- Simple advice is often the most important. Once when I was around 14 I lamented to my grandmother that my chicken was too dark on the outside but nearly raw on the inside. She said “turn the heat down.” Duh, right? It’s true about SO many things. If you cook chicken slowly, it will cook all the way through without burning on the outside. If you salt water before cooking pasta, your pasta will taste good. Things don’t have to be hard to be delicious.
- A teaspoon is different than a tablespoon. Once when I was a little girl I made corn muffins according to a recipe my mother provided, but I used TABLESPOONS of baking soda instead of TEASPOONS. Have you ever eaten a spoonful of baking soda? It tastes like salt mixed with flour mixed with eye boogers mixed with nickels. Grody. Really, really grody. My family isn’t one that wastes, like, ever, so I’ll be darned if we weren’t forced to eat the whole batch. Bless my family’s heart, they were nasty. I don’t make that mistake anymore.
- Adequate butter must be used to produce a crispy grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t skimp. Brown, buttery food is the best kind.
- Keeping jarred pickly things in your fridge allows you to be a leeeetle bit fancier most days than you normally would be. Marinara with a pat of butter, splash of white wine, and a spoonful of capers? Fancy. Turkey and swiss sandwich with sundried tomatoes? Fancy. Orzo with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts? Fancy!
- If you don’t work in a restaurant or have the palette-sensitivity of the Princess and the Pea, most things can be substituted. Crushed red pepper, fresh fresno pepper, and cayenne pepper all produce basically the same result. Ground beef is sorta all the same. Fish sauce and anchovy paste do the same thing for salt content. Flour OR cornstarch mixed with a few tablespoons of water will thicken almost anything. If you know these things you won’t be rushing to the store all the time and wasting money when you probably have perfect substitutes at home!
- Cooking something for people that they actually enjoy is the best thing in the entire world. So, take the time to remember some things that your nearest and dearest don’t like. My father is a health nut, so I try to make things other than mac and cheese when he’s around. Jay doesn’t like olives, but he’s wrong so I just make him pick them out.
- Cook lots. Wolfgang Puck said that we should stop studying and just BE in the kitchen – that’s how you’ll do most of your learning! Even if your family has to endure some nasty things along the way, they’ll love you more for it when you hone a few dishes that you’re great at making! And, obviously, reading food blogs is a great way to gain new knowledge from people that have no clue what they’re talking about.