Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Secret to Great Cooking

Being an incredible cook, I feel it is my duty to share with the world the secret of my success. Michael is constantly bragging about my cooking. He especially likes bragging about it to friends whose wives or girlfriends CAN not or WILL not cook for them. Like yesterday, our friend Mike (actually half the guys we know are named Mike, it gets very confusing) from next door mentions that his wife does not cook. She buys frozen dinners and she’s really good at thawing and nuking… but cooking? Nada. So of course Michael proceeds to brag about my skills in the kitchen.

Now it should be noted that I have had my fair share of failures in the kitchen. But you see that is part of my secret. I come from a family of great cooks. My grandmother had nine children and I would say that all but one of them are outstanding cooks. And the one that isn’t is not surprisingly the youngest of the siblings my “Auntie Burnswater”… And why should Auntie B have bothered to learn to cook when all her brothers and sisters were doing all the cooking? However where she lacks in cooking skills, she more than makes up for in her ability to clean up the kitchen like nobody’s business.

And in my generation this talent has thus far proven to have a genetic predisposition amongst me and my cousins regardless of gender. With the boys there is not the least bit of shyness or awkwardness when entering the kitchen. And they have an amazing ability to use terms like “Bundt cake pan” and “julienne” without once causing the listener to think “metrosexual.” And all of us who got the “Hummin’ Gene” as I shall call it (as in “Uncle T that roast pork with burgundy glaze is hummin’! MmmmmMMMM!”), all of us have our “family specialty.” It’s that one thing that we HAVE to make for family gatherings or everybody will just complain because it’s not there. Like Aunt P’s apple cake, uncle J’s mac-n-cheese, Uncle D’s Peking duck, or cousin P’s yam & apple casserole. For me it’s stuffed or sauteed mushrooms and various veggie dips.

But what is the secret? - you ask and where did it come from? After deep reflection on my youthful memories of my grandmother’s kitchen I have determined that the secret of being a great cook came from my grandmother’s pizza. Now, maybe you wouldn’t think that a tiny black woman from North Carolina could make a delicious mouthwatering pizza so good it could make an Italian cry with joy … and in this case you’d be RIGHT. My grandmother was a fantastic cook but she could not make pizza to save her LIFE! It was the worse pizza in the world but she kept making it at least twice a month for YEARS. It NEVER got really good. It did however get better. Gradually the soggy-doughed sloppy pan pizzas gave way to something that actually resembled something pizza-ish. We ate it sometimes, and sometimes we fed it to the neighbor’s dog. But more importantly we learned an important lesson about being a good cook.

The secret: Be fearless. That’s it. Just start throwing stuff together. Use your imagination and experiment. If it turns out to be crud you can always feed it to the dog. But don’t quit. Just try it over and over until you get it right. If you are nervous, then start with a basic recipe for something and adlib a few changes. Believe me, it may take a while, but you will eventually be a fantastic cook.

But if you are hopeless here are a few extra tips:
1. Baking soda makes cookies spread out, Baking powder makes them poof up.
2. Never put ginger in a sweet potato pie
3. If you can perfect just ONE sauce and just ONE dessert, you can make the whole world think you are a gourmet chef.
4. Steal everyone’s best recipes (my famous stuffed mushrooms are totally stolen)
5. Use the 3 spice rule. If you are winging it never put more than 3 spices on anything (not counting salt and pepper). This will keep everything from tasting the same and help teach you what each spice really tastes like.
6. Less is more (you can always add more of something like salt but you can’t take it out once it’s in there.)
7. To make a kick-ass spaghetti sauce add 2-3 tablespoons of dark molasses… trust me you will be worshipped for that one.
8. Get one of those Tupperware choppers and you will be a chopped salad god or goddess instantly
9. Almost any salad dressing can be used as a marinade you just have to pace yourself
10. Berries! Put fresh or slightly roasted berries of your choice on just about any meat and you will hear all kinds of oohing and aahing.

Now who can guess what I made for dinner last night?

Update: I almost forgot this one tip... If you create something spectacular WRITE IT DOWN. It could become your personal specialty.


Sara said...

I don't know what you made for dinner last night but I bet it wasn't what I made- mac & cheese from a box lol.
What I do know is that your post just made my tummy growl.

Shayne said...

Great post!!! My specialty dish is red beans. Not sure if a crock pot dish counts, but I've turned red beans into an art form that doesn't give you gas. (as opposed to all those art forms that do give you gas) Even kids love my red beans. Even kids not from Texas love my red beans.

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