Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I like to cook. I'm not much of one, but some of our friends tend to think I can . The trick to this is learning how to do the big dishes; the type that have been trodden into our Western Subconscious as Real Cooking. Think June Cleaver or any meal as depicted in safe and painfully wholesome Disney movies. Turkey, roast, rack of lamb. Large portions of vertebrates prepared well. I can't bake to save my life, or do much of anything other than roasting animals, but I still bask in the small glory within our circles of friends of Someone Who Won't Burn Water.

There was a certain reader in mind when I wrote this, my little cooking tutorial. Then I realized that this person might think 'learning to cook' as being able to prepare a 6 course meal and dessert cart using nothing less than a Coleman Stove and a rather heat tolerant teacup. I will then presume this little post is for those of you just taking the plunge. Who wish to brandish a spatula with grace and aplomb and who's idea of 'going wild' in the kitchen isn't just adding ketchup to your Mac N' Cheese.

When I cook, I generally go by a handful of rules. Now these rules are written with one objective : Make Stuff Taste Goood. If you have other objectives, you'll likely have different rules. Say, if you wanted things to be Healthy, or interested in Using Semolina In Everything, your rules will be different.

So, with that in mind, in no particular order:

That clogger of arteries, that most hated and revered of all cooking ingredients, fat. Fat in the form of butter or lard or whatever you have on hand, is the foundation of taste. A good steak is a well marbled (fatty) steak. Recipes are invariably 1000% better when you replace it's ingredient of half-half organic no-fat soy with cream. Those fish only served in fine restaurants? Fattier than a State Carnival deep fryer.

I had to attend a potluck way back in my single days, I didn't really have anything GOOD to make, so I just made mac and cheese. I added real cheese, substituted cream for milk, and added entirely too much butter. It was a hit.

More than half your cooking is done in the grocery. Fresh over frozen or dried, choice cuts over that that slab of government beef that may or may not lead to certain, mouth frothing death. Even using, for instance, fresh basil over some dried Mrs. Spice concoction is massive improvement.

For me this is the venerable Joy of Cooking, a half-ton tome that has stood the test of time and fallen souffles and too-rare roasts for the past several decades. It's very old school, which I like, and covers almost anything you'd think of cooking.

It covers quite the detail on topics that you'll eventually need to learn, like what cut of beef is best for roasting, how to make a pie crust from scratch, what's the diff between a pancake and a crepe. All sorts of food nerd things that you'll want to know so you can regale your friends just before they suddenly spot someone they just have to talk to across the room.

When cooking meat, use high heat to sear the outside and seal in the juices. Then cook at a lower temp to finish it. I'm surprised at how many old school cooks (mother-in-law, for example) who just never learned this, and spend hours tending to their roasts, basting and fiddling.

That's it, I think. Well, I'm sure there are others, but that's probably too much already. So go forth! Burn water! Add fat! Bask in the glory!


Greg X Graves said...

Good post!

I'd also add that you need to salt your dish like it's the the fields of your nemesis and want to destroy any chances of them growing crops on the land before, oh, the grim future of 50,000 CE. It makes all the rest of the flavors pop and marries nicely with the fat recommendation, especially if (like me) you prefer to use unsalted butter.

Greg X Graves said...

Plus if you're serving food to a passel of those heathens what doesn't enjoy small, oily fish, you can buy the salt with iodine and not only fill their bellies, but prevent goiter! Make sure to point this out! Ask your party guests about their thyroid! Only you can prevent goiter!

Niteowl said...

I was going to add that salt bit, but I've oversalted a few times, repeating quietly under my breath "ah, salt, amateurs always forget to salt".

The Nighthawk said...

Nice. On top of what you have, my tricks are salt and pepper everything. Add nutmeg to the meats and garlic to everything else.

Good stuff. A proper mac n' cheese is always awesome. :D

Niteowl said...

Oh yeah, I do the garlic to everything, too. I suspect it maybe seen as an amateur move, but it works for me.

Nutmeg to meat eh? Haven't tried that! I usually go rosemary or sage to whatever I'm roasting.