Monday, February 10, 2014

Inspiration Mondays: Kitchen Konfidence

I get a deep sense of satisfaction from making things. For a long time, I could not understand people who did not make things by hand. The older I get, the more I have realized that one of the reasons people don't like to make things by hand is that they are afraid they are going to screw it up. They lack confidence that what they are making will turn out right.

I grew up in a cooking family. I've been chopping onions for as long as I can remember. If you come to my house, my mom will feed you. She has been known to send repairmen home with packed meals. My brother is a chef. My dad can roast a whole pig on a fire on a spit.

So, I know my way around a kitchen.

And because I know my way around a kitchen, that has helped me to feel confident with other creative endeavours as well. It's not that much of a stretch to take experiments from the kitchen into experiments with my knitting, with my writing, and with my work.

I had a day off today. At lunch time, I found myself in the kitchen, about to start making soup, looking at these:


I had no recipe: I was just going to wing it. Inspired by my ingredients, I was going to put together what I knew would work. And it was then that I thought that I should share some of the stuff that is stored in my brain, because maybe that will help someone be a little less afraid to make something themselves. It's not hard, but a little bit of a boost in confidence never hurts.

So here are a few tips to keep up your sleeve for when you feel like experimenting in the kitchen. I hope they inspire you!
  • Never try a recipe for the first time on a weekday. Always do it on a day off to give yourself lots of time to get over the panic and to prepare your stuff.
  • Never try a recipe for the first time for guests. It's not worth the stress.
  • Read your recipe thoroughly from start to finish. Do it at least twice, and envision how you're going to do it, where you will put your bowls, your chopping board, your knives, your dirty dishes, etc. I've burned many things because I've been standing in the kitchen reading a recipe because I didn't know what was coming next. (Same thing applies to knitting patterns. Read them and picture each step in your head so you know what you're doing and what will come next.)
  • Preheat your oven. Don't just throw stuff into a cold oven and think it'll cook properly. You'll either get salmonella or soggy cake.
  • It's true what they say about bacon.
  • Use a timer. Don't just rely on thinking you'll notice when 30 minutes has passed, because likely the only other reminder that you'll get is the burning smell later.
  • When in doubt, check the stuff in your oven 5 minutes before you're supposed to take them out. It only takes two minutes to really burn something.
  • When opening the oven, never stick your head in right as you open it. That's a good way to cook your eyeballs. Step back for a couple of seconds, then look in.
  • When opening a dish that has tinfoil on top that has just come out of the oven, always open the corner furthest away from you first. That also prevents cooked eyeballs.
  • To continue with eyeballs: so far, the only thing that keeps me from crying while chopping onions is to do it under a fume hood/extractor fan.
  • Every single pasta sauce or soup I make starts out by sautéeing onions in a tablespoon of oil. If you can do that, you're already ahead.
  • If you're going to sautée garlic, add them about 10 seconds before you're going to add water or some other liquid. That way, they won't burn, and you'll still get their flavour.
  • Sautéed onions in butter and olive oil + garlic + celery + sage + stale bread cut into cubes in a deep pan = instant stuffing. Toss them in the juices from your roasted turkey or chicken and put it in the oven for 25 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to do it all traditional-like.
  • Keep lots of liquid soap next to the kitchen sink with lots of paper towels. Wash your hands often. You can use your hand knit tea towels instead, but change them every day. That will keep the bacteria out and give you lots of excuses to knit more!
  • If you're boiling potatoes, you know they're tender when the water turns cloudy.
  • If you're roasting potatoes, boil them until they're tender (as above), then drain them, toss them in oil/butter, then put them in a hot, hot oven (at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit). They're done when they look done, usually about 25 minutes.
  • French Toast = two eggs + a cup of milk beaten together + a teaspoon of cinnamon + about six slices of stale bread dipped into it. Heat a pan with butter until it melts at medium heat, put the soggy bread on it and turn it after 4 or 5 minutes on each side. Cinnamon + powdered sugar sprinkled over top makes it perfect.
  • Cut some bananas and put it into the pan after you take out the French toast and brown them. That makes the French toast even perfect-er.
  • Take the same recipe as above, but chop the bread into cubes and put it into a buttered dish with the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over top (and the bananas, too, if you want. Or raisins. Or dried cranberries with grated lemon peel). Put it into a preheated oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. That makes bread pudding. I made it tonight. It looks like this:
  • If you decide to substitute half the milk for Bailey's, I will not be held responsible for the outcome.
  • If it sounds good together, it probably will taste good together. Just try it. Peanut butter and Nutella on a cake? Jam on a cookie? Chicken and gravy and bread? Whack them together and put them in the oven. Remember what Joey said? Check out 2:38:

And one last thing:

Good food is one thing, but good meals are made when people are relaxed and happy and sharing with each other, either with shared recipes or shared stories. Stressed out cooks are no fun to be around. Relax, and it'll all work out fine...

... especially if you keep the peanut butter and Nutella on standby. It's a winner, man. Just sayin'.

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