It’s no secret – I’m a terrible cook. And I don’t mean that in a negative, I’m-being-too-hard-on-myself way, I mean I’m actually terrible at it. It’s not for lack of trying, either. I just lack some basic skills, and I’m also quite awkward in the kitchen. I drop things. I set things on fire. I have grated the knuckle on my thumb more than once while using a grater. I forget steps in recipes, substitute incompatible ingredients, and don’t even get me started on over/under-cooking.
My idea is to simply focus on one goal for 2013. I’m not going to make a long list of habits I’d like to change or goals I want to accomplish. I just have one goal: learn to cook. And what’s the first rule to goal-setting? Have a specific action plan. So here it is. I’ve collected a list of 52 cooking skill categories based on various cookbooks. I want to keep my lessons flexible, so each week of 2013 I’m going to pick a lesson that will fit with my schedule, the time of year, (e.g., I probably won’t do any grilling in January, and even I know certain ingredients aren’t always in season, etc.), and then I’ll select a recipe that will focus on that week’s skill category. In preparation for the week’s lesson, I’ll read the recipe start-to-finish, research any terms I’m unfamiliar with, and youtube any relevant videos that might help. Then I’ll post here about what I learned, what went well, and what I can do better next time, plus I’ll show you a photo of the results, good or bad! To be honest, when I do manage to cook an edible dish on a rare occasion, I’m quick to plop it on a plate and eat it immediately. Ah, the taste of success! But I’d really like to work on my presentation skills in addition to my cooking skills, so the photos will hopefully show my progress in that area as well.
As for the recipes, I’m blessed with a host of food allergies and sensitivities (eggs, dairy/whey, and wheat), so while I might still cook with small amounts of those ingredients, my plan is to try and find recipes that fit with my modified diet. To be honest though, I still eat things I’m not supposed to on occasion, so don’t be surprised if I stubbornly attempt to make and eat Eggs Benedict or homemade pasta from scratch.
Some things to note: 1.) the one thing that isn’t on the list is amazing chocolate chip cookies from scratch, because this is the one thing I can make flawlessly. 2.) I know how to steam vegetables! So I didn’t add that technique. Same with omelets – I even know how to flip onto the plate properly thanks to an Alton Brown demonstration on the Food Network. 3.) If two skill categories happen to get combined in one recipe, I’ll add something else to the list or repeat a more advanced category. 4.) If my attempt at a recipe is a complete and total failure, I’ll repeat it. 5.) If I find a local cooking class that covers any of these topics, I’ll sign up, but for the most part I’m going to try to teach myself, one week at a time. And lastly, 6.) dear readers, I definitely welcome your advice and experience , so please feel free to leave me advice in the Comments section!
So without further ado, here is my Learn To Cook Lesson List, which I will update as each item is completed!
Core Cooking Methods:
- shallow poaching
- deep poaching
Sauces and Soups:
- grand sauces
- compound sauces
- emulsified sauces
- beurre blanc
- cream sauce – completed: Pappardelle in Saffron Cream
- reductions – completed: Chicken and Mushrooms in Garlic White Wine Sauce, and Pan-Seared Chicken with Mushroom Sage Sauce
- vegetable-based soup
- roux-based soup
Grains & Vegetables:
- roasting – completed: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar
Breakfast & Lunch:
- Eggs Benedict
- Huevos Rancheros – completed: Huevos Rancheros
- Asian – completed: Slow-Cooker Asian Pork with Noodles and Broccoli, and Orange Shrimp; Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce
Pastries & Breads:
- puff pastry
- yeast bread
- cake & frosting
And here’s a picture of our tiny little kitchen where all the
disasters magic will happen! Hopefully we’ll be giving the space a mini-makeover soon with new countertops and floors, but this is what it looks like for now. Please ignore the mismatched doorknobs and hinges – we are in the middle of updating them throughout the house from brass to oil-rubbed bronze.