You own good cookbooks, watch cooking shows and frequent the best recipe blogs. You come across a mouthwatering beef dish, you follow the recipe but your version isn’t anything like the recipe described. The beef is tough as leather and you know it isn’t supposed to be like that.
What happened? What went wrong?
While it is possible that there was something wrong with the recipe to begin with, it is also possible that you missed a few basic things.
For instance, the recipe called for a cut of beef called bottom round but you used brisket because when you went to the grocery, the brisket looked better than bottom round, and you bought that instead. Guess what? Brisket is a stewing cut that takes hours to cook while bottom round cooks in a fraction of that time. So, even if you followed the cooking procedure precisely, you couldn’t have gotten the correct result because you used a cut of beef not meant for the recipe.
Sometimes, it’s not a matter of choosing the wrong ingredient but a misunderstanding of a cooking method.
For example. You love chow mein and you found this recipe that looks so easy to follow. But your noodles and the vegetables you tossed them with turned out soggy and greasy. You probably wondered what you missed not realizing that stir frying is not as simple as it sounds. It requires intense heat and just a bit of cooking oil with a high smoking point. That sounds unfamiliar? Well, that should give you an idea why your chow mein was soggy and greasy.
How can I picture scenarios like that? Because I was once like you. When I was a young girl, I thought pasta needed to be soaked prior to boiling. In high school, didn’t know the importance of using bone-in pork when cooking sinigang. I thought I was being smart in choosing boneless cuts because I only paid for meat that we would eat and not for bones that would be discarded. It took me years to realize my mistake.
It makes me cringe to think how clueless I was but I console myself with knowing that, over time, I did learn how to cook. Think of it this way: Rome wasn’t built in a day and cooks aren’t made overnight. Everyone is smart enough to learn to cook. All it takes are an open mind, willingness to learn and the proper foundation.
An “open mind” and “willingness to learn” are up to you. What I can supply is the foundation — just a practical guide from a home cook, nothing more and nothing less — organized to take the guesswork out of cooking.
For ten weeks, starting this weekend, I will publish ten cooking lessons none of which is a recipe. To give you an idea about the topics that will be covered, see the outline with excerpts below (note that the outline has been modified). Each title will become a live link after the corresponding lesson is published.
The first lesson is meant to make you go out and visit a market and a grocery to learn about cuts of chicken, pork and beef, varieties of fish and seafood, vegetables, and basic spices and seasonings.
No, you don’t need tons of cooking tools to come up with delicious meals. You’d be surprised how few you really need.
Lesson 3: Prepping chicken, meat and seafood
Chicken and meat cuts, cleaning fish and seafood, and simple tricks to make cheap cuts deliver the best results.
Lesson 4: Prepping vegetables
Do you know the difference between chopping and dicing? Can you julienne vegetables? Know that proper prepping of vegetables is a huge part of good cooking.
Lesson 5: Basic cooking techniques
When you read saute, does that mean a combination of ingredients or a cooking technique? What’s the difference between poaching and simmering? Is pan frying the same as deep frying? These are just three of the topics covered in this lesson.
Lesson 6: Intermediate cooking techniques
Okay, so by now, you can simmer and fry. Let’s move on to steaming, braising, stir frying, stewing and more!
Lesson 7: Vegetarian cooking
Vegetarian cooking is not my area of expertise but it was something I had to learn, much like a crash course, when my older daughter, Sam, decided to become a vegetarian six years ago. I’ve learned quite a few tricks since.
Lesson 8: Creative cookery (a.k.a. cooking without following recipes)
At this point, you should have developed a considerable amount of confidence in the kitchen. Can you whip up a good meal with bits and pieces from the fridge and pantry?
Lesson 9: Recycling (a.k.a. cooking with leftovers)
It’s a fact of cooking life. There are leftovers occasionally. Do you just reheat them? Why not recycle them into an entirely new dish?
Lesson 10: Exploring cuisines
Learning a new cuisine can feel like starting from Lesson 1 all over again. But, by this time, you already know the difference between shallot and onion, so it’s not really the same as starting from scratch.
If all that interests you and you think it’s worth your time, bookmark this page and revisit it every Saturday morning (+8 time zone). Read and re-read the new lesson then spend part of the weekend practicing what you just read. The saying that “practice makes perfect” applies to cooking too.