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Essential Skills for a Home Cook - Page 2

post #31 of 46

 *deleted*  <<<------I'll keep my mouth shut

 

  dan

post #32 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerm713 View Post

So you think every Mexican dish has or should have cumin and garlic? I think Rick Bayless would beg to differ. From his website, a recipe for Cebiche Verde de Sierra.

 

Okay it was a generalization, I don't put cumin in my guacamole. Just making the point that as a rule new home cooks are afraid to spice and season sufficiently.

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post #33 of 46

The challenge of becoming a good home cook is more the willingness to acquire the basic skills discussed in this thread and possibly a few additional attributes, to possess the skills alone is not enough. 

 

A good or general food sensibility or food common sense, for the pro his many years of experience allows him to operate on automatic and get it done, most of the time reasonably well.  However for the home cook, ingredients, equipment, even available time, may present an obstacle to setting a great tasting dish on the table, that is where sensibility and common sense have to kick it to get it done.  Further are we just talking about producing classics or special event meal or every day cooking with the stuff we have in our fridge and pantry.  For me I want to cook a great tasting dish every time, not just for special occasions. 

 

The final missing basic skill for today's modern home cook is............   Basic computer skill to use the internet, including google search.  I sometimes use the internet while I'm cooking just to brush up on a technique or look for an idea to kick up a dish, or I create a dish on the fly that everyone loved and use the internet to find similar recipes to fine tune the recipe.  Recipes, videos on technique, well written descriptive how tos, the internet has made me a better cook, without having to spend a lot of money practicing.

post #34 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by the-boy-nurse View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerm713 View Post

So you think every Mexican dish has or should have cumin and garlic? I think Rick Bayless would beg to differ. From his website, a recipe for Cebiche Verde de Sierra.

 

Okay it was a generalization, I don't put cumin in my guacamole. Just making the point that as a rule new home cooks are afraid to spice and season sufficiently.


I understand. However, I think perhaps the most important skills listed above are the ability to shop for proper ingredients. Choosing the right ingredients doesn't make a dish automatically delicious, but choosing bad ones almost guarantees mediocrity.

 

That's where flavor comes from. Not spices.
 

"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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post #35 of 46

Well, but I think the point is well taken about spices. Some people are afraid of spices: 1 tsp of this or that in a huge bucket of gumbo isn't going to cut it. Some people over-spice in order to cover up absence of flavor generated by things like proper handling of a mirepoix, caramelizing meat, and so on. The spice cabinet is a good thing, but you've got to have some idea what to do with it.

 

For me, I learned a lot from Paul Prudhomme, who uses complicated mixtures of spices at many stages and layers of a dish. In many truly great Prudhomme recipes, if you taste as you go along, you keep getting these dramatically shifting balances of flavors. Only when you get to the end does it all come together coherently --- and brilliantly. Many of his chicken dishes, for example, are "kick-your-butt-hard-spicy" until you complete them, because the chicken fat and juice sweetens everything just that little bit that pushes it over into the "gee-that's-spicy-I-think-I'd-better-have-more" zone. Hard to explain unless you've eaten a lot of Cajun food, I suppose, but this is something Prudhomme is amazingly good at.

post #36 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

 

Some people over-spice in order to cover up absence of flavor generated by things like proper handling of a mirepoix, caramelizing meat, and so on.

 

I think that's another thing I was trying to get at. I think a lot of people, for instance, coat a steak with spices, thinking it will create more flavor, when in reality, they aren't able to create a proper sear. All you end up with there is a piece of meat that tastes like processed garlic powder or something else funky. Not that there are anything wrong with spices, but beef has its own flavor, and that flavor should be enhanced,  not masked. S&P and a hot grill/pan is all you need, IMO.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

For me, I learned a lot from Paul Prudhomme, who uses complicated mixtures of spices at many stages and layers of a dish. In many truly great Prudhomme recipes, if you taste as you go along, you keep getting these dramatically shifting balances of flavors. Only when you get to the end does it all come together coherently --- and brilliantly. Many of his chicken dishes, for example, are "kick-your-butt-hard-spicy" until you complete them, because the chicken fat and juice sweetens everything just that little bit that pushes it over into the "gee-that's-spicy-I-think-I'd-better-have-more" zone. Hard to explain unless you've eaten a lot of Cajun food, I suppose, but this is something Prudhomme is amazingly good at.



There's a lot more to Paul Prudhomme than many realize. He's not just a happy, overweight guy that wears a funny hat and talks strange. He really brought Cajun cuisine to the masses and exposed many people to food that they would never have eaten otherwise. The man is a genius when it comes to spices, as you mentioned. But some of his recipes, especially when working with seafood, are remarkably refined and delicate. His cookbooks are among my favorites to read.

 

"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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post #37 of 46

Thank you all for a fascinating thread! I'll be sure to keep up with this one.

 

I'm a home cook. I learned most of the skills above while learning from my mom and grandmother. Well... maybe not omelets! But I can make soup, braise, etc. Knife skills I learned more on my own for a good reason: my mom never used a cutting board to dice onions; she cut them in her hand using a paring knife. I don't remember that she cut herself very often, either!

 

I've been doing some thinking lately about what basic skills a new home cook would find most useful. My niece, a 20-something with a demanding job, wants to learn two things: how to use chicken breast cutlets to make simple dishes; and how to make casseroles like mac and cheese. I decided she needs to know how to debone a chicken breast and slice it into cutlets and how to make a white sauce. She can make chicken marsala or chicken picatta (for starters) with the chicken breast lessons. Knowing how to make white sauce will keep her away from those ghastly cream of whatever soups when making homestyle casseroles. For her, these are the most useful skills.

 

I'm opening my kitchen to a person as a prize in an auction for my temple. I'll probably go with the same two skills if the winner voices no preference for what they want to learn. In listing those two skills I'm not diminishing the value of the list above- although I do think that making a bechamel sauce could be on there- or how to use a roux.

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post #38 of 46

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

Well, but I think the point is well taken about spices. Some people are afraid of spices: 1 tsp of this or that in a huge bucket of gumbo isn't going to cut it. Some people over-spice in order to cover up absence of flavor generated by things like proper handling of a mirepoix, caramelizing meat, and so on. The spice cabinet is a good thing, but you've got to have some idea what to do with it.

That was my original point, though I think you stated it better. Having an experience base with a wide range of spices and availability of those spices greatly enhances ones repertoire. Knowing from experience what flavors will work in combination is something that comes w/ practice. When a home cook starts leaving the measureing spoons in the drawer, when recipes become ideas to be improved upon rather than strict blueprints. - that's a good sign they have that comfort.

 

Thomas Moser (a rather accomplished cabinet maker) defines handmade as something built with a high level of risk based on the skill of the craftsman. If one uses a bunch of jigs (or needs to) to cut dovetails it becomes cookie cutter reproducible and therefore limits value. If the dovetails a precisely hand cut, much greater risk, greater value both monetarily and asthetically.

When the home cook can transition from cookie cutter to doing by feel, smell, taste, sight. It becomes homemade, unique and their own.

 

Nurses, we're here to get our gloves dirty, and wash our hands frequently.
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post #39 of 46

It is important to know which spices complement what foods,  and/or one another,  and how much of each to use for a good balance in the flavor profile.  However, individual tastes vary,  so what one person regards as essential,  another my not wish to taste at all.  Case in point, since Mexican cuisine was mentioned:  Cilantro seems to be an ubiquitous ingredient,  with everyone raving about how important it is.  yadda yadda.  But I can tolerate the taste only in very small amounts.  I don't use it,  yet no one who has ever eaten my enchiladas, guacamole or chile con carne has ever said "you forgot to add cilantro".   And in general,  a pox on all those who think "if some is good, more must be better".   I cringe whenever I see one of those food show celebs (I refuse to call any of them chefs) grabbing a huge handful of the stuff,  chopping it and adding it to the salad or whatever is on the stovemad.gif

 

Stepping down from my soapbox now. 

"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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post #40 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mezzaluna View Post

my mom never used a cutting board to dice onions; she cut them in her hand using a paring knife. I don't remember that she cut herself very often, either!

 

 



My grandmother never used a cutting board, either!  She always cut onion, apples and neary anything else that would fit directly from her hand to the pot. 

 

As for the list, I don't have even half that down.  I'm reading the list thinking, 'Wow, I suck'. 

 

However, I like that such a list exists.  It gives me something to aspire to.  I don't know nearly as much about the physiology of food as I should.  I don't have proper technique in probably more areas than I care to mention.  I don't have knife skills.  I'm entirely clumsy and my arsenal of cutlery includes two knives from Pampered Chef and some paring knives. 

 

On my side I have taste and a genuine love of learning and doing.  So that's where I am.  I'll set out to tackle each item on that list and once I've done that, I'll learn something else. 

 

I hope you folks are ready.  You shall be questioned and consulted.  You shall be witness to my mistakes, successes and growth.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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post #41 of 46
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by amazingrace View Post

However, individual tastes vary,  so what one person regards as essential,  another my not wish to taste at all.   



I can completely understand that. A lot of people are put off by cilantro. I, on the otherhand, will eat a salad made of cilantro. I love the stuff. I seem to feel the same way about parsley as you feel about cilantro. I think it's overused and overrated.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChefBazookas

 

On my side I have taste and a genuine love of learning and doing. 

 

 

You've got the most important thing then. No one can teach you love for food or a desire to learn. That is something that is a part of you.

"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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post #42 of 46

I have to say I'm getting kind of irritated with all the self-apologetic home cooks who keep kicking themselves.

 

So, for starters, let's get one thing straight: The "right" way to do things, as expressed by professionals, often has little to do with home cooking. Take knife skills. On one hand, it's true whether in a restaurant kitchen or at home, that sharp knives and basic skills using them are the sine qua non of kitchen work. But keep in mind that the "right" ways, for a pro, are based on the most efficient way of repeating a task. Efficient both in terms of the task being performed, and on the fatigue factor of having to do it over and over again.

 

Our mothers and grandmothers did, indeed, cut most things directly in their hands. And the rate that they cut themselves was probably equal or below that of professionals, because they were used to doing things that way (I don't recall my mom ever cutting herself, as a matter of fact). But there are several things to consider: 1. Granny was preparing one meal for a family, not making the same dish for several hundred covers. 2. Granny was not particularly interested in whether or not every onion dice was the same size and perfectly square. 3. Granny was not cutting enough, at any one time, for fatigue to become an issue. What's more, more times than not, Granny had a limited repetory, which she repeated on some schedule. As a result, she was intimately familiar with the techniques needed for those dishes, and had little need for any others.

 

My point here: Whether it's happening or not, tomorrow, who here doesn't want to go to grandma's house for T-giving? Why? Cuz granny is a great cook, despite all her "limitations."

 

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to be better than you are. But you get there by recognizing those areas where you are truly deficient, learning how to improve them, and practicing. It most assuredly doesn't mean thinking of yourself as culinarily second class because you can't meet all the criteria on someone else's arbitrary list of necessary skills---especially when, as we've seen, some pretty fine cooks have taken that list to task.

 

If you never braise, you are not deficient in that skill. It's just one that you don't need to know. Why beat yourself up if you don't know how to do something that you never do in the first place? If you have no plans on making an omelette in the French manner, do you really have to know how? I'm a pretty fair cook, and have made hundreds of American-style omelettes on a flat top and in skillets. But I betcha if you offered me a sizeable payment to make a French-style omelette I'd be just as poor afterwards as I am now. It is not a skill I need, nor one I have developed. According to Bourdain's list, that makes me deficient as a cook. So be it. But it's not something I'm going to worry about.

 

Let's take a close look at Mezzaluna's approach with her neice. She has identified the real need, and designed a session that will simultaneously teach the necessary techniques needed to satisfy that need while providing the student with a building block for further development. That, to me, is a perfect way to go. The girl wants chicken cutletts, not beef wellington. So there's no reason she has to know how to wrap pastry around a hunk of meat.

 

What I'm saying, to the home cooks who feel intimidated, is to stop beating yourself up. At base, cooking should be fun, not frustrating.

 

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #43 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer View Post


 

If you never braise, you are not deficient in that skill. It's just one that you don't need to know. Why beat yourself up if you don't know how to do something that you never do in the first place?



Overall I don't disagree with your thesis, but at the same time, there's joy in getting outside your comfort zone and learning something new.  It's sad if you won't braise!  There are so many wonderful things to do with that!  And it's not like learning latin (ask BDL)- it's just baby steps.  Remember, at one point you knew nothing; who's to say when it's time to learn no more?

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #44 of 46

I certainly don't disagree, about learning or braising. I've been cooking since I was eight, and that's close to 60 years ago. Yet I learn something new every day.

 

But the point was too many home cooks read a list like Bourdains and feel as if they're second class citizens in the kitchen because they're not well versed in all the points he raises. To beat yourself up because you can't meet somebody else's expectations (expecially when its over such a disjointed, inconsistent list at that) makes no sense to me. Braising was just an example. As was omelette making. Etc.

 

The real problem is that it contributes to a negative self-image that is hardly deserved. The only expectations you have to meet in the kitchen are the ones you impose on yourself. You learn, and grow, as far as you wish. The test isn't whether Bourdain approves of your knowledge base. The only thing that counts is this: are the people you cook for happy with what you serve?

 

Could your grannie make it through that whole list? Are you saying she wasn't a great cook?

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #45 of 46

Here Here- Couldn't agree more KYH- Cooking is like kissing, the only thing that matters is what the persons partaking of it think of it.

 

 As for grannies cooking (or Mimi as she's known in my house)- My wife makes killer pie crust, It's the only pie crust I don't leave sitting as a broken smiley face on the plate when I'm finished eating. She learned to make pie crust from her grandmother. My wife has given that recipe to a few people and they always complain that they can't get it right. But the wife didn't learn the recipe by reading it off the index card. Mimi taught her how to feel the dough, to taste it raw and adjust accordingly, apprentice style. Some things you just can't learn from TFN or a textbook. Makes me sad to think that's a dying tradition. Maybe I'm just turning into one of those sentimental old people- it was always better back in the day:)

 

Another skill to add to the list- How to be ok with and capitalize on mistakes. Yall know the legend of fudge.

 

 

Nurses, we're here to get our gloves dirty, and wash our hands frequently.
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post #46 of 46

   Hi Boy-Nurse smile.gif

 

  On one hand you say that thing that matters is what the persons partaking of it think of it.  So true!  But in the other part of your post you describe how your wife makes her pie crust just like your grandmothers, who she learned from.  You also note the distinction about making the pie crust the correct way as opposed to simply following a set of instructions in a recipe.

 

  In my interpretation, of Bourdain's Essential Home Cook Skills list, this goes directly to the heart of his point.  One needs to know how to execute certain cooking techniques.  While it may be true that many grandmothers couldn't verbalize how to braise, knead dough, make pasta, create a stock, roast meat, cook vegetables, make desserts, pick produce and generally cook for the family until they're stuffed and all had smiles on their faces...and then feed them a little more!

 

   To me...this makes Bourdain's point that proper technique is an important part of what makes a successful home cook, and something that we're losing in the common families today.  Many of today's grandmothers grew up in a much different time than "our" grandparents.  Just think about how many grandmothers don't cook at all.  Now think of what that will be like when the next generation of grandmothers takes over.  Your Mimi may not have known it, but I'll bet she would have fell in quite well with a list of essential skills for a home cook.

 

   Myself, I am not anywhere near the point that I would like to be with my home cooking skills.  I would suggest a person just starting off cooking today improve their cooking skills the same way I try to...practice and learn one skill at a time.  I suppose the list may seem daunting to some, but so what?  At the point that you learn that you're performing a skill improperly, you can then start to work on improving those skills.  Who's to say you have to perfect anything...but strive to improve and learn.

 

   This is just how I view things...everyone has to find a way that works for them.

 

   dan

 

  


Edited by gonefishin - 11/25/10 at 1:13pm
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