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Doing Basic Cooking Tasks Regularly

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Greetings!

To expand my skills, I've come up with the idea of setting myself several daily or weekly cooking tasks. My intention is to learn to execute these tasks quickly and intuitively and so build the foundation for larger, more complex dishes.

The list I have so far is:

DAILY

Make a vinaigrette - use fresh herbs
Make a sauce
Make either an omelet or crepes
Cut up at least three vegetables or fruits

WEEKLY

Cook a steak
Roast a chicken
Make soup
Make bread

Of course, these tasks will vary according to season and who's sitting down to eat with me, but the plan is to do these things regularly enough for them to become second-nature, and to vary the recipes so as to learn to improvise.

Does anyone have any suggestions for additional regular cooking tasks?

Thanks in advance.
post #2 of 12
Do you like fish?

Could start with frying in oil and butter, then another time, grill, another time, poach, and also try steaming.

What about desserts?

Bake a cake
Make muffins
Egg custard
Poach fruit in wine

Good Luck, it sounds like a plan :)

Lots of people here that are willing and able to help, you can also explore the archives here for useful info and hints.

DC
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #3 of 12
Hello, mlw! How many lucky people dine with you on a regular basis? :)

In my kitchen, I go through lots of chicken and veal stock (mostly chicken, and also beef) each week, so I make stock about once every 2 or 3 weeks and use some amount of it almost daily. I make stocks in fairly large amounts here, store some of it in freezer bags and rotate when I do a fresh batch.

It is funny... such a basic thing but whenever you are making it - especially when roasting bones for rich beef or veal stock, people will come out of the woodwork to ask what is cooking that smells so heavenly.

I see sauces on your daily and soup on your weekly lists. You will need some stock on hand, always; it is a base for so many soups, useful in so many ways.
Vera
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Vera
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post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks!

Thanks for these great suggestions. I had forgotten to include making stock - as a 1-2 times a month task.
post #5 of 12
[QUOTE=mlw11743;244822]Greetings!

To expand my skills, I've come up with the idea of setting myself several daily or weekly cooking tasks. My intention is to learn to execute these tasks quickly and intuitively and so build the foundation for larger, more complex dishes./QUOTE]

I think what I'd do is make a list of the different cooking techniques (including mise en place preparation, baking, broiling, braising, frying, etc.)

Then I would exercise my imagination by going to the cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, etc. and see what I have that I could practice the techniques on.

Once you have the techniques down, you can basically cook anything.

Anyway, that's what I would (did) do.

doc
post #6 of 12
I'll suggest basic scrambled eggs as a good place to learn. It is easy to overcook them, ending up with a somewhat dry and chunky result. Learning heat control with the cooktop and pans you have is a good thing. Eggs are relatively cheap and good for practice. Work on cooking them at just the right temp for just the right amount of time so that while they may look a bit underdone as you pull them off the burner, the carryover heat leaves you plating a silky smooth, creamy rich goodness.

Of course, if you like your scrambled eggs dry, tough and chewy, then work on perfecting that technique. Heat control and timing - learn to use it well.

mjb.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #7 of 12
Maybe include one new technique a week, as per what Delta Doc said. Then incorporate that into your regular weekly routine until, as you want, it becomes second nature.

Sure, some things may at first get binned, but how can we learn if we don't try?

I'm scared to death of any kind of baking (except muffins) and the only way I could see I could improve (or start even) is to bite the bullet and just try, try and try again. But I'm chicken :) Don't even mention the word "souffle" to me!

Anything savoury - bring it on - but don't expect a home made sweet when you come to my place for dinner :) Sad but true.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #8 of 12
I think you have a great idea but do you mean cook a steak or a chicken the same way every week? For me and my family, that would be really boring. I like to cook different things and cook several new dishes every week. I have found that I've masted a lot of techniques by simply being in the kitchen cooking, not necessarily planning anything out ahead of time.

Last night, I made my first perfect omelet! I made three for the kids and me. The first one was horrible as I messed with it too much and it was more scrambled eggs. The second was better and the third one was picture perfect.
post #9 of 12
I remember vividly the first time I made a perfect omelette. The key is to have all the ingredients ready, the eggs, butter, and cheese at room temp, the fillings already cooked. It's a fast process that when done right will give the best results.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (in case you want to argue about it again BDL), you can judge someone's cooking abilities by how well they:

- make soup
- roast a chicken
- make an omelette

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

Eggs

Ah... eggs!

No problem there. At least in terms of getting plenty of practice.

My younger son is turning out to be a bit of a foodie - his mother's pride.

At some point he decided he wanted to try eggs prepared in every possible way. Over time we've hard and soft boiled, coddled, poached - in water and wine, fried - sunny-up and over-easy - baked (shirred), deep-fried. Scrambled: yolk and white beaten together and separately for that two-color effect, and cooked in a skillet or stirring constantly in a double boiler for that micro-curd texture.

Eggs!

Did I mention my quest for the perfect omelet? Years ago I read an interview with Andre Soltner, the founder of Lutece in New York. When interviewing a candidate for a cooking job in his kitchen, his first test was to watch them prepare an omelet. Ever since then I've striven for that perfection of technique that leads to a puffy lightness, cooked exterior, creamy interior, neatly folded twice into a perfect envelope.

So many skills and techniques needed - in so sort an interval of time.

Don't beat the eggs too much, adding a touch of heavy cream, kosher salt, a couple of twists of pepper. Using my eye to see that the oil has gotten to exactly the right temperature, hearing that hiss as the egg hits the skillet, and shaking it back and forth to keep the egg from sticking. Tilt away, letting the liquid portion reach the metal and cook. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Tilt away... PULL! Tilt again... PULL!

Then onto the plate.

Doesn't always happen that way, but when it does - what a sense of mastery!

(What passes for an omelet throughout the world is shocking. I once had fully scrambled eggs with peppers and onions placed before me. Lots of curds, fully cooked, all over the plate. Not bad as eggs scrambled dry with peppers and onions, but not an omelet. "I ordered an omelet". "That is an omelet." I don't think they'd ever even seen a picture of one.)

I do put in a filling sometimes, but that's beside the point of the technique. And it took me a while to work up to doing that.

I've thought of going around to various chefs and asking for a quick one-on-one tutorial in omelet making. Take my skillet and whisk on the road and write about it. "Zen and the Art of the Perfect Omelet".

And someday I'll take the ultimate test - blindfolded!

Eggs!
post #11 of 12
Fillet a fish.
Gut and bone out a fish from the back, then stuff or pan-fry with the tail through the mouth.
Cut up a chicken for fricassee.
Bone out a chicken completely.

Make:
  • brunoised mirepoix
  • duxelles
  • Bechamel sauce
  • sabayon without a double boiler
  • beurre blanc
  • demi-glace
  • meat glace
Suggestion: buy (dig it up used -- long out of print) Jacques Pepin's The Art of Cooking, 2 vols. It's all recipes organized around two criteria: main ingredient and principal techniques. It's brilliant in its way, but a little strange... unless, of course, you're the sort of nutjob who thinks it'd be fun to devote some serious time and energy to mastering a number of basic techniques so that they can be intuitively integrated into future cooking.

You know, nuts like you and me. :)

I love this book, but it was a total failure -- Pepin remarked, "Best thing I ever did, but nobody bought it: a total failure." He redid a number of things for his Jacques Pepin Celebrates, but in my opinion The Art of Cooking is the better book.
post #12 of 12
Include sharpening a cheap knife into your every day rountine
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