I read those 4 words in a book the other day and the have been resonating ever since. They very simply summed up a thought process that I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to explain.
As you may have read in my “Why I Like To Cook” post, I haven’t always liked to cook…or known how. It wasn’t until right about 3 years ago that I really started to allow myself to learn. Sure, I’d cooked spaghetti and heated frozen garlic Texas toast once or twice. I made tacos and had a baked chicken recipe out of my Betty Crocker cookbook that I managed to successfully make once. I didn’t really know how to cook though. I could follow a recipe, but I wasn’t always happy with the results.
“I cooked it for 15 minutes like it said. Why is it overdone?”
“It said to use 1 teaspoon of salt, but this tastes so bland.”
“Where in the world am I going to find that ingredient? Guess I can’t make that.”
Cooking is more than following a recipe — it’s understanding the recipe. It’s knowing what signs and smells to look for to know when something is done. It’s knowing to taste as you go and not completely rely on the recipe to give you precise measurements. It’s knowing that if you don’t like or can’t find something, what will work in it’s place. And most importantly, cooking is not genetic.
I had (and still have) many failures in the kitchen. From the time that I marinaded chicken in lemon juice for a few extra hours thinking it would add great flavor, only to have chicken that was bone dry and so sour it reminded me of a Sour Patch Kid. Not delicious.
Or the time that my cheesecake was still soft on top, so I thought if I turned the broiler on that would make just the top cook. I ended up with a burned, smoky mess.
Or just tonight, when I attempted to make Portobello Philly cheesesteak sandwiches that I had been dreaming about for several days now. Turns out I’m still not a mushroom fan, the bread was soggy, my cheese sauce was too liquid-y, I cooked the onions and peppers too long and it was kind of bland. (I took a picture, intending to make a recipe post about this. Instead, I made a fail post. Enjoy! 🙂 )
Failures happen, but it’s what’s after the fail that matters. I learned that acid cooks meat — that’s why ceviche is possible. The lemon juice cooked the chicken before it even went in the oven and really permeated the whole thing with sourness. I learned that a broiler is not meant to cook the top of food, it’s meant to brown and char it very quickly. I learned that I still don’t like mushrooms, that Rye bread does not replace hoagies and that I need to cut back on the milk.
This isn’t to say that the next time I make these things they’ll be a success. It just means that I’m one step closer to it being a success. I’ve gained knowledge through experience.
People often say that I am a good cook. While I certainly appreciate those sentiments, I also have to point out that most of you have never actually tasted anything I’ve cooked. I don’t consider myself to be a great cook and I have no dreams of owning a restaurant. If I were to compete in a cooking contest, I likely wouldn’t place. The only difference between me and someone who claims to be a bad cook is that I keep cooking and I keep learning. Food doesn’t have to be restaurant worthy to be good. You won’t succeed every time. Even great chefs have ended up with a batch of pizza dough that didn’t rise or a cake that stuck to the pan. Things happen. And that’s ok. Get in there and try again.
I’ll say it again, cooking is not genetic. It’s not a natural talent. It’s learned, through trial and error and another trial and another error and another trial and eventually something that tastes incredible.
Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve made a homemade meal for yourself, your spouse or your family. Maybe you’ve relied on frozen dinners and drive-thru restaurants because you have no confidence in the kitchen. I encourage you to get back in there and try again. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow for mistakes. Be ok with eating simply “ok” dishes now and again because they’ll just make truly appreciate that time that you pull a whole roasted chicken out of the oven that has a crispy, buttery skin and juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone. You’ll appreciate the bowl of homemade chili that you threw in the crockpot in the morning and came home to on a brisk Autumn day. And you’ll appreciate the burned cookies and that gravy that’s way too salty, because you will have learned something to apply to the next time.
So…what are you going to cook next?