“Tres, I wish I could cook as well as you do.”
I get that a lot. And my reply always is:
“If you can read and follow directions, you can cook well.”
And I strongly believe that. That’s how I learned. I learned to cook well by studying different recipes, learning several universal techniques to prep food and combine flavors that go well together. And the truth is, if you’re not used to cooking more than scrambled eggs (and you may even be doing that wrong), you won’t get it perfect starting out. Cooking is definitely a skill where “practice (and repetition) makes perfect” is an appropriate mantra.
Some tips for learning how to cook, if you’re not that great at it:
1) Learn some universal techniques that apply across several recipes. Learn things like how to handle a knife so you can easily dice an onion, mince garlic, and chop herbs; exactly when to stop mixing a batter (hint: when it’s just combined.); which flavors complement each other (like lemon & basil, orange & ginger, chocolate and coffee, etc.). Get as many little things in your noggin as you can.
2) Start by finding one easy-to-follow recipe. One that doesn’t have a bunch of steps, and uses ingredients you’re familiar with. This is not the time to experiment with making Beef Wellington and Chocolate Soufflé for dessert, especially if you can barely scramble an egg properly.
3) As an addendum to number 2, follow the recipe exactly, particularly when it’s your first time making something. No adding ingredients, no subtracting ingredients, no using more of an ingredient, no using less of an ingredient, and no substituting ingredients. If you follow a recipe to a T, and there’s something about it you don’t like, just make the adjustment next time. One important thing to remember about cooking to your tastes, especially when you’re learning how to, is that when you’re trying a new recipe out, you need to be prepared for some trial and error.
4) Once you’ve perfected your first dish to your liking, pick another slightly more challenging recipe, and repeat steps 1-3. Not only do practice and repetition make perfect, but so does variety. Think of it as “muscle confusion” for your culinary repertoire. Keep doing this and you’ll be up to that Beef Wellington and chocolate soufflé before you know it. And soon you can even make your own recipes once you know what you’re doing. Speaking of making your own recipes, I’d like to share a yummy and easy-to-make recipe that I created for blueberry pancakes.
It’s always been sort of a Christmas morning tradition that we have a big family breakfast. For the last few years, I’ve been in charge of making pancakes. I adore blueberry pancakes, and I’ve been trying to figure out the perfect way to make them my own. So, doing a lot of what I just talked about — starting with a tested recipe, learning some techniques, making adjustments, etc. — I’ve come up with a very yummy blueberry pancake recipe that pleased my mom, dad, and sister this past Christmas morning and I think you’ll agree with them.
The three key ingredients that turn the volume up (Whoa…when did Ina Garten take possession of my body?) are lemon zest, which actually brings out the flavor of the blueberries; ricotta cheese, which helps keep the pancakes good and moist; and whipped egg whites, which makes them extra fluffy. These flapjacks are best served with pure maple syrup (none of that “maple flavored” HFCS crap) and sausage patties.
TRES’ BLUEBERRY PANCAKES
Yields about 20 pancakes
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- 3 mixing bowls
- 1 bowl or 1 saucepan for melting butter
- Hand mixer or whisk
- Rubber spatula
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Electric griddle. I highly recommend using one instead of cooking these in a pan on the stove. They just seem to cook much better on one. But if you don’t have an electric griddle, a pan on the stove is just fine. (Out, Ina. Out.)
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup Ricotta Cheese
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
WHAT YOU’LL DO:
- Melt butter in microwave or in a saucepan
- In Mixing Bowl #1 (the biggest, if they’re different sizes), combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In Mixing Bowl #2, mix/whisk egg yolks, sugar, ricotta, buttermilk, vanilla, and lemon zest until smoothly blended.
- When melted butter has cooled enough, add slowly to your mixture in Bowl #2 while mixing/whisking.
- Pour wet ingredients from Bowl #2 into the dry ingredients in Bowl #1. Stir until just combined. It may be a little lumpy, but that’s ok.
- Add your blueberries to the batter.
- In Mixing Bowl #3, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form (you may want to use a hand mixer for this, unless you just have elbow grease like that).
- Fold the whipped whites into the batter until just combined, being careful to keep the mixture light and fluffy.
- On a medium-high preheated griddle (or a pan) sprayed with cooking spray, spoon 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake and cook completely until golden brown– about 3-4 minutes on each side.
TIP: Since you’ll be cooking in batches, keep the cooked pancakes warm by turning your oven onto its warmer setting and placing the pancakes on a oven-safe plate covered with foil until ready to serve.
Happy cooking and enjoy!