2011/06/19

Zen and the art of cookery

I love to cook. I never had any formal training. I picked up the basics from my mother (who claims she never showed me, but I was observant) and from my first real job, which was working in a restaurant kitchen. I have picked things up over the years, notably from a friend who is a chef and is one of those people who can create a great meal out of whatever is in the fridge, which looks like nothing to start with. I've also watched a lot of cooking shows. I learn from just about any good source I can find.

Most of what I make starts as a recipe. My Ken Hom's Chinese Cookery is one of the most well-used (and well stained) cookbooks I own. We have a few others that I go to fairly often: a low-fat Mexican cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, a notebook of pasta recipes, a collection of recipes from newspapers, and a growing pile (that needs to be put in order) of recipes from the interwebs. These days, that's where I tend to go first, along with the books useful for general techniques: The Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and James A. Beard's American Cookery.

There is rarely a recipe I use that I haven't modified in some way. For Caesar salad, I start with James Beard's recipe, but I cut way down on the oil, and we've decided that even though anchovies are fine, we don't care if we put them in Caesar salad, as long as there's plenty of garlic. I modify recipes by experimentation: this needs less salt, but this one more; that's a ridiculous amount of oil; and "medium" on this burner is hotter than they're expecting.

Sometimes, I've had to substitute an ingredient and have never gone back to the original. I wanted to make a tourtière (pork pie) once and didn't have any white potatoes (my family recipe uses potatoes), so I used yams instead. I also put in some garlic. Both are terribly heretical, and nothing that a Québécois housewife would ever have done, but the pie tastes awesome! I even served it one Christmas to my traditional pork pie loving extended family. It was met with generally good reviews, and it disappeared before long.

I whip things together on my own as well. I don't need a recipe to make pasta primavera, and I'm glad it comes out different every time. I love being able to rescue food, vegetables especially, before they turn into science projects in the fridge. I love when I try something new and it works out, and if something goes wrong (not often, but sometimes), I learn from my mistakes and so better next time.

There are few places where I find a really calm centre like I do in my kitchen. Truly, I can have several things going on at once, all of which have to be done at the same time, and I don't get rattled. I've learned to move fairly quickly but not hastily (haste is what leads to knife cuts and burns). I get such enjoyment out of making food! And I have a very appreciative audience of one, and occasionally more. An audience of two, really, because hey, I like my own cooking! I'd better.

Of course, I like a break as well, which is why I usually make sure we run out of ingredients by Friday. Then it's time to let someone else do the cooking! Much as I love to cook, I also love to be served good food, especially kinds that I don't make myself. And even then, I'm learning.

1 comment:

Aerin said...

I love to cook too! And I'm thankful to have many friends and family members who are experimental in the kitchen. There's always someone with a new idea, a tip or advice.

Lately I've started experimenting with lesser known but equally or more healthy cooking alternatives: coconut flour, buckwheat flour, xylitol, quinoa, amaranth, etc. Yummy AND you can feel proud of yourself. :)