Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cooking Advice: Never Abandon Ship

I love to cook.  I used to cook professionally, but that was years ago.  These days I enjoy preparing excellent food for my family and friends, which is better than cooking professionally because now I get to eat my cooking.  Seriously…I used to work in a restaurant all night and after feeding hundreds of people delicious dishes like chicken cordon bleu, seafood fettuccini, sole Oscar, ribs, and beer-battered fish, I had to clean the kitchen and it would be way past midnight by the time I got off work.  My meal options would be along the lines of Rally’s, Taco Bell, or White Castle.

Cooking isn’t that hard, though these days many people fear the kitchen almost as much as public speaking (NOTE: On the grand list of stuff people fear, public speaking outranks death.  Just an FYI.)  But cooking shouldn’t be that frightening.  There is some work involved, mostly in post-meal cleaning, but cooking is very rewarding, and it’s quite easy to prepare a meal that is way better than your typical restaurant fare.

There is one common mistake that many aspiring home cooks make, though, and it is easily avoided: leaving the kitchen.  Sure, there are times when you have hours of free time when cooking.  If you are making bread, dough takes a couple hours to rise; feel free to run some errands.  A good pot roast takes 3-4 hours.  Read a book, do some chores.  But for the most part, the leading culprit for burnt food is abandoning the kitchen to multi-task (NOTE: They aren’t burnt, mom, your cookies always look like this!).  Resist the temptation.

Sure, you have stuff that needs to get done.  A floor will not clean itself, nor will clothes, pets, or children.  But even if you have a timer set, you run a risk of burnt food if you leave the kitchen to multi-task.  Here’s what happens: the timer goes off but you don’t hear it over the vacuum (NOTE: I never have this problem, not because I don’t leave the kitchen, but because I don’t vacuum.  See how easy this is?); or you are in the middle of transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer when you hear the timer and you want to finish what you are doing…Then you decide that the empty washing machine cannot remain in that state with the massive pile of yet-to-be-washed laundry next to you, so you start a new load.  Then you smell something coming from the kitchen, or you hear the emergency back-up timer (i.e., the smoke alarm), at which point it’s too late.  

So how do you force yourself to stay at your post?  Simple: find a way to make it enjoyable.  I like to listen to music and have a drink.  Cooking and wine go hand-in-hand.  Or bottle-in-hand, really.   (NOTE: This is not applicable to breakfast, except on Christmas morning, in which case Mamosas are required).  Make use of down time while something is in the oven or sizzling on the stove to set the table, wipe down the counters, or empty / load the dishwasher, or browse a recipe book for new meal ideas.  Just keep your focus in the kitchen.

Stay tuned, future cooking advice posts will include:

Kitchen Safety
The Hardest Part of Cooking: Prep Work
Planning a Meal
Planning a Weekly Menu
My Favorite Recipes


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

"Because I never vacuum" - that's funny!
I actually enjoy cooking. And no, I don't leave the kitchen except to duck around the corner and grab the TV remote.

Rick Daley said...

Alex- When my wife reads this I am sure she will be puzzled regarding my supposed knowledge of laundry, another thing I will never be guilty of doing.

That being said, I do cook a lot, so I am not totally worthless around the house.

D.G. Hudson said...

That's interesting, Rick, that you have a cooking background. I like French cooking, and Southern cooking. I think it's excellent for men to cook. My hubby does too (he's a great cook).

Do you have a preference for a particular type of cooking? (Have you read the Bourdain books - I've read some of them.) He's irreverent but funny.

Thanks for dropping by the blog to comment, too.

Rick Daley said...

D.G.- I like to cook a wide range of things. I'm more toward the line of healthy comfort food than gourmet...I don't like snobby foods where I can't pronounce half of the ingredients. I just like a really good meal.

My staples are: stromboli / pizza / calzones (I make the dough and sauce), ribs, pulled pork, pot roast, carnitas (Mexican pulled pork), lasagne, chicken cordon bleu (tonight's dinner), and a good steak.

I watch Bourdain's show occasionally, and one of my friends has raved about "Kitchen Confidential" but I haven't read it.

I am a big fan of Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen...I like the way they teach why a recipe works.

nutschell said...

Cooking is fun! And I'd really love to do more of it. Unfortunately there are days when I get home so tired and all I can "cook" is a bowl of cereal.

Rick Daley said...

I try to fix things on the weekend that will last through the week...a big salad, a vat of pasta sauce or some soup. That way weeknight cooking is a bit easier. Then we have our freezer staples, like chicken tenders or breaded tilapia, which are still healthy and tasty but much easier to prepare (and clean up).