(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Hello, all! Tonight I am publishing the introduction to a new cooking book that I have in the works. It is not so much a cook book as it is a guide for people who have not cooked much before, or who want to improve their skills. It will also have information that even experienced cooks will find interesting. I do not want it to be a very big book, because I really think that the essentials of cooking well are not that complicated.
Besides, there are lots of good recipe books available, and I want this to be a little different. It is intended to more like a operator’s manual for the kitchen.
The introduction will be essentially all of the extended text box except for my signoff. I would appreciate any suggestions for improvement in the comments, and hope that the purpose of the book is clear from the introduction. Without further ado, here we go. By the way, I have not given the work a name yet.
About this book
This is not a …for Dummies piece. Not only would that be condescending, it would also be inaccurate. This book is primarily directed towards people who have not ever cooked very much, regardless of age. However, there is some information contained inside that even experienced cooks will find useful, and even new to them, I suspect.
The main purpose of this book is to give folks who like to eat and believe that they might like to cook, or for people who would like to cook better. It is not a recipe book, but it does have recipes. It is a collection of concepts about cooking, equipment for cooking, and some of the science behind them. The recipes are used to illustrate these concepts and are pretty basic, but I believe that you could eat pretty well even if the ones here were the only ones that you have, because with understanding the concepts and equipment, you soon will be creating your own recipes.
Some of the concepts are so important that I will give them here in this preface, and reinforce them later in the text. The same thing is true about the equipment. Both are important, and the equipment need not be very expensive except that there are a few things that are so important that you need to obtain the best that you can afford. As the chapters unfold, I will mention what I consider to be the most important items to try to get the highest quality available. I also give quite a bit of my philosophy, and if you find that offputting, just skip those parts, but I think that they are important.
Before we get going, I want to dispel a myth. That myth is that it is hard to cook well. This is just not true. Anyone who is not severely disabled can cook, and cook well. While not all of us are destined to become great chefs, anyone can prepare good tasting, wholesome and nutritious meals IF he or she is willing to learn how. Obviously, some things are more challenging to prepare, but there are plenty of really good meals that can be cooked with simple ingredients, for little money and time, IF a little effort is used and a little guidance taken.
The main misconception is that cooking is complicated. It can be, but not if you realize that there are only about a dozen concepts involved, and that good cooks seamlessly connect those concepts into forming a meal. As a matter of fact, the most difficult concept is that of timing, so that everything comes to the table at the proper time. Only experience can make you a master of that, but I can help. I shall emphasize timing throughout this book, but you will have to learn it for yourself.
The most important concept that I know is for you, whenever possible, to cook for others. I have learnt from personal experience that cooking skills do not improve when you cook only for yourself. As a matter of fact, mine deteriorated after I found myself alone, mainly because I simply did not care to go to the effort to cook well just for myself. So cook for others! If you do not have a mate, find a neighbor, perhaps an older person who is alone, and cook for them. Of course, you can eat some of it too! Or cook for pot luck dinners at your house of religion (if you have one), work (if your work has such functions), or even at a homeless shelter. Not only do you cook better when cooking for others, you get a sense of satisfaction about serving others that is in integral part of the experience.
By the way, I think that pot luck functions are wonderful! Not only do you get to provide your best to others, you get to try their best as well. No one brings a dish that he or she knows to be inferior to a pot luck, but lots of times will cook something at home that is not her or his favorite because of time or other constraints. Now, I know that the safety of eating things prepared by strangers can be questionable, but at a pot luck those folks are not really strangers. And if a coworker is out to get you, he or she will find a medium other than food to get you. Except for accidental food poisoning, it is almost unknown for anyone to be harmed at a pot luck.
Second, cook often. Cooking is a skill that deteriorates if not exercised. There is a sort of a “muscle memory”, especially for timing, that comes from, for lack of a better word, rote repetition. Rote does not have to mean boring! For example, when I cook crepes, I marvel at the unique appearance of each one as I remove it from the pan. By the way, it is easy to cook crepes, although it sounds exotic and daunting. It is not, and they are cheap and good!
Third, start out with the simple things and master them before you expand. Remember, a really good bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is infinitely better than a poor chicken cordon bleu. You will be amazed how fast you increase your personal database with every dish that you prepare, and, if you cook every couple of days, in a month you will be preparing things that are much more complex than you ever thought possible. As the praise from your audience becomes louder, your comfort level will increase.
Forth, expect failure. That is correct. Sometimes your dish will fail, either because of poor preparation by you or by it being something that your eaters just do not seem to like. Do not be discouraged! A closely guarded secret amongst even the best cooks is that they bomb completely now and then. Just learn from the experience. If you made a mistake is preparing something, go back mentally to determine what you did wrong. Then do not do that the next time. Failure is actually one of the best teachers of all, but obviously you want to minimize it. The corollary is that you need to know your audience. For example, if no one for whom you cook likes rutabaga, do not prepare it for them, unless you get really good and find a way to make them like it (advanced cooking, attainable within a year even for a novice).
Fifth, if you get into the cooking thing and decide that you just do not like to do it, stop. I know of no example of anyone doing anything that they do not like to do very well. If you do not get a psychological boost after a few months, perhaps it would be better to find a good, cheap take out place. However, I think that if you follow my philosophy the likelihood of that is pretty small.
Sixth, experiment! After you get a few basics down, think of things that you might believe to be good. Try them. They might turn out to be dismal failures, but more likely they will be modest, if not huge successes. Once you cross that line, from merely copying a recipe to creating a recipe, you are a real cook!
My goal for this book is to demystify the art and science of cooking. While this is a basic piece, it contains some information that otherwise pretty good cooks should unlearn, and for new ones never to adopt. The most common example is “boiling” eggs. Good eggs in the shell are NEVER boilt, but some otherwise good cooks do it anyway. I hope that the readers, both novice and experienced cooks, find more than a few things of value written here.
In this modern day, there is a plethora of information about cooking on the Internet for free. Some are better than others, but most are interesting. There are lots of recipe sites and lots of nutrition sites. I will point out a couple because they are extremely valuable.
The first is the USDA site about the nutritional content of food, usda.gov. If you want to know what any given food has, go there. One part of cooking is assuring that you provide a well balanced diet to your audience. The second is very dear to my heart, and might sound odd at first. On the blogsite Dailykos.com is a wonderful series that appears every Saturday night at 7:30 PM Eastern, called What’s for Dinner?. There you will find contributions (often with actual pictures) from hundreds of people that love to cook, and share their experiences with the entire community. I strongly recommend it. By the way, I am a contributor to it now and then. Less often now, because it has become so popular that rather than being one of only a few contributors am now one of many. Good for the wonderful Cordelia Lear who has run this series perfectly. By the way, if you sign up for a username you can ask questions in the comment section and lots of folks will be quite ready to help you out, regardless of your cooking question. These people are quite like family to me.
So, let us get cooking! The first chapter covers the basic equipment that you will need to cook well. Only a very few are expensive, like a range/oven combination and a couple of good knives. I hope that your interest in cooking turns into a passion for cooking! Subsequent chapters include the topics of food selection, cooking techniques, safety and health considerations, and many other topics.
Dr. David W. Smith, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, February 2011
Crossposted at Dailykos.com, Antemedius.com, and TheStarsHollowGazette.com