My Attempt to Cook (and Eat!) Good Food

First, let’s get up-to-date on my culinary experience.

  • At 6 yrs old I created my own dish of peppered mac ‘n cheese with ketchup. Undrained.
  • From ages 12-21 I was known in my family as the worst cook among us. Teasing commenced.
  • As a newlywed, I continued my long run of culinary awesomeness with creating another of my own dishes, mac ‘n cheese with shredded cheese on top. It was a breakthrough.
  • Still a newlywed, Rob and I were invited to dinner and was asked to bring a side dish. I showed up with Lipton Rice, uncooked and still in it’s package. It was not prepared and served.
In the last decade since that experience, my tastes have matured and so my skills have needed to mature as well. I know how to read and I know how to follow directions so how hard could it be? I started with simple recipes. Slowly and after many hours of being an armchair chef-in-training, I built up my confidence enough to start trying my hand at slightly more complex recipes.

I used to think that all I needed to do was follow a recipe perfectly, but what I didn’t realize is that there is so much technique you need to know in order to cook properly and guess what? None of that is in the recipes! Your dish will only turn out mediocre unless you read between the lines and impart your knowledge of techniques and your experience into it.

For Christmas I bought The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook after sitting on the floor at Barnes and Noble surrounding myself with and studying a myriad of cookbooks. And let me tell you, I haven’t been disappointed.

This book has so many good things about it. Step-by-step instructions? Check. Pictures? Check. Step-by-step instructions alongside step-by-step pictures? Check and check. (Not all the recipes have pictures, though.)

Also, for a bunch of the recipes, it has a list of all the things that can commonly go wrong and then proceeds to answer WHY it went wrong and HOW to do it right.

The 3 biggest game changers for me are:

  1. Fresh herbs. They taste so much brighter and better! I only use dehydrated now when I’ve run out of fresh.
  2. Quality cheese. Costco has a huge wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano for $15. That wedge never goes bad, is used for many, many meals, and makes us all very happy. 
  3. Use the correct cut of meat for the recipe. I used to think many cuts were interchangeable but it’s not really the case. 
  4. Using the proper equipment. I bought a small food processor and I use it way more than I thought I would. I love my nice knife. I love my heavy skillet. Now I’m in the market for a nice enamel dutch oven because my pots aren’t cutting it. They are too lightweight (food scorches) and not ovenproof. A new heavy pot is going to be awesome.  

I could go on and on but I will stop here and just share a few of my favorite recipes from the book (so far). There are hundreds more for me to try including a whole section on roasting and braising meat that I can’t try yet because of my pot circumstance and a whole section devoted to grilling that we’ll be using soon.

These recipes aren’t newfangled or creative. They’re not on Pinterest. They are staples written by the experts (not bloggers) and are very detailed and technically correct so the food will turn out delicious every time. I’ve made many versions of these dishes over the years and these definitely turned out the best.

Enjoy!! We sure have!!

Endnote:
By the sound of things, I must now be a fantastic chef. NOT the case at all. I make mistakes all the time, usually when I’m cooking for dinner guests. There’s something about cooking larger quantities, being on a time crunch, and the stress of having others eating my food that doesn’t bode well for me.

My most common mistake is actually forgetting to buy all the ingredients I need for a particular recipe and then not realizing it until I’m halfway through the cooking process. Happens all the time. By the time it happened for the 3rd time just last week, I was so frustrated that I kicked the bucket. Literally, I kicked a bucket. Then I locked myself in my room and cried leaving Rob in the kitchen wondering “What the heck just happened?” and “What am I going to do about dinner now?”

Grilled cheese, anyone? AGAIN?

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