I love cooking. It is one of life's great joys. There is something incredibly special about taking a bunch of different ingredients and interacting with them through various tools. Knives, pots, pans and fire combine to create a beautiful result - and I then get to enjoy the result with the amazing people I am lucky enough to surround myself with.
When cooking for other people you are delivering something that is a physical representation of the love you have for them and more often than not you have prepared a dish with your guests' tastes in mind. Even cooking something as simply as an omelette for breakfast conveys something of the care you have for the person that it is intended for. I have a new copy of Kitchen Confidentials by Anthony Bourdain - it's new because I keep giving away previous copies to friends. My dad gave it to me when I was younger and starting to show a real interest in food, and I love this book dearly because it captures the fun as well as the madness that can be associated with cooking. It has influenced how I cook and why I cook. I hope that throughout my time writing recipes and making knives that I can pass on some of the joy that cooking gives me to you. This article is my thoughts and suggestions on cooking.
Mood Have fun! This is the most important thing to remember.
Recipes, all of them, are guidelines. Don't be shy about changing them and adapting them. Add more chili, less salt, two types of cooking fats - just engage with the recipe and make it yours. Have a pen when following a recipe and write notes next to the text when you touch on something that you have improved or a change for next time.
Make yourself a drink, relax and engage with the cooking experience. Cooking is work, but it is not painful. Create a culinary work environment the reflects you when you are relaxed.
Ingredients Crap food is made out of crap ingredients. Buying decent ingredients is a huge step towards making great food. Buy natural and buy local when you can.
This does not need to be an expensive endeavour. You can get huge savings on good high quality ingredients if you go to any of the fresh produce markets across Australia.
I have a good relationship with my fruiterer and with my butcher. They are infinitely more knowledgable about their product than the 15 year old at the chain supermarket, and it is always nice to go to a place and have a conversation with people that know you and understand your palate. *Beyond this supermarkets are stressful places and inevitably you will bring that stress back into the kitchen. I don't want to sound like a whiny killjoy trying to ruin your life by making you move away from the convenience of 24 hr supermarkets - they do have their place. That said, supporting local industries is as much about getting good ingredients as it is about helping out your neighbour and your neighbourhood.
Sauces Make your own sauces. I once asked a chef friend what small thing I could do to improve my cooking and she told me to make my own sauces - I have never looked back. Making your own tomato sauce, bbq sauce, mayonaise and mustard is not hard; they last for a long time in the fridge and once you have settled on a recipe that you like you have created a signature taste for when guests come over.
The same goes for stock. It's really easy, and mostly it uses your left over vegies and chicken bones. If you only ever eat store bought ketchup and mustard with your bbq you are a chump. It's time to up your game!
Seasonal Eating This is one I struggle with, but I'm going to say it in the hopes that it will make me stick to my guns. Eat Seasonally. Eating seasonally is important. It carries benefits to your health, the planet, and your wallet. More than that it adds a yearly variety to your cooking. Shifting from Summer fruits to artichokes and beets in Autumn and over to Winter roast vegies will push you as a cook. It might take a little thought in the beginning but the reward will be in the taste.
Communal Eating I feel that there is something wrong with how we eat communally. The food culture of everyone having their own plate with their own dish stymies interaction. It could be associated with the rise of restaurants where we each order our own item that is a special little parcel just for one and the desire to replicate that style in our own home kitchens. In Chinese food culture large dishes are brought out, and then it's shared around from there, with everyone diving in and passing dishes around. I LOVE this! Shared food creates interactions. It creates shared memories. For me a great dinner party is one where there is lots of food, lots of dishes, and those dishes are constantly circulating around the table. (I still love going to restaurants and having my own dish - and then sampling the food off my friends plates as well)
Kitchen Tools Invest in good kitcehn tools. Good tools make cooking a joy. Knives should be sharp. Non-stick should be just that, and pots should heat evenly.
Having good kitchen tools defines your cooking narrative. Everytime you use that beautiful cast iron pot that your aunt gave you when you first moved out of home will add to your kitchen experience. I have a knife that my partner bought me and everytime I use it I get reminded of her generosity and her ability to tap into my interests. The stories behind your tools become additional ingredients that enhance your time in the kitchen. Here is a basic list of cookware that will serve you well in the kitchen.
(while I would like everyone who reads this to own a Cut Throat knife, just investing in something good quality is the most important thing) Wooden Chopping Board Plastic Chopping Board (for uncooked meat) 10 inch saucpan 2 litre Saucepan 5 litre Stock Pot A Large Roasting Pan (it having a rack is a plus)
Non-Stick Fry Pan (sometimes these are just the best) Cast Iron Skillet Dutch Oven
Most of these things are not expensive. Find a kitchen supply store and go there. In Melbourne they are on Victoria St in Richmond. Cast Iron can often be bought second hand and can then be reseasoned.
Season and Taste
This is important. Taste your food as it is cooking. Season your food regularly. Learn to enhance the flavours by adding acids at the end of cooking and salt early on. Vinegar is too often overlooked.
Final Thought I try to push myself and try new things. It's fun and that enjoyment is hopefully contagious. So have fun and happy cooking.