Between Dusk and Dawn…

Some *scribble* *scribble* by Ameera

The Reluctant Chef

When was the last time you ventured into the kitchen with determination to cook up something exciting? Don’t remember? This write up is just the thing for you then. Many self-professed drop-outs from the culinary arts will insist on telling me they have no talents to begin with. I disagree – like Ratatouille’s mentor, I say anybody – yes, even you – can cook. All you need is a cup full of positive attitude, one heaped tea spoon of will power and a pinch of all the other technicalities (a stove, for example!).

The exciting world of food has all kinds of amazing recipes out there, something for every taste bud. However, a few simple measures, if ensured, will do away with most of your cooking time troubles. Here are some tried and tested tips:

Clear Worktop

There is nothing more likely to kill my creativity than a messy worktop. If you are planning intense cooking, make sure to clear away unneeded pots and pans, jars, mugs and plates. Go over the ingredients’ list and if bulky items, like the five kilogram sack of flour you’ll measure out into cups from, can be removed before cooking starts, it will make things a lot easier. Trust me, when you are whisking eggs with one hand and moving around things with the other, it can get really messy.

Essential tools

Yes, I know they are all within the kitchen and you can grab them in moments but having basic utensils on the worktop is a big deal when it comes to cooking. A couple of teaspoons, a table spoon and spatula are advisable when baking. Keeping things handy cuts down on cooking time and also helps you stay focused. Plus, you feel more like a Pro!

What goes in is what comes out

The quality of the ingredients you use is very important. It might sound obvious but many aspiring chefs underestimate the role of fresh ingredients, especially with herbs like mint and coriander.  People often complain their cakes don’t rise well and are tough – it’s worth checking out the quality of your baking powder. Some local brands may not be as potent as the imported variety and when used according to an American recipe, will be ineffective. The same goes for cocoa powder – the quality of the cocoa will determine how closely your cake resembles that imported store-bought cake mix which everyone loves. While we are on the topic, it is also advisable to check whether your appliances are in good working order. An oven which does not heat up evenly might be the cause of some recurring troubles.

Experiment wisely

That might sound like an oxymoron but really, ask any professional chef and they will advise you to work with simple ingredients and basic rules to explore endless possibilities. In simpler words, a brownie with veggies inside will probably not make you the next Nigella! Rather than going for radical ideas, play around with the simplest of recipes – even an omelette can open up a dozen opportunities to experiment with new flavors. Just choose your steps wisely.

Don’t give up

Probably the silliest thing to do when you’re working with food is to convince yourself you are no good after a few unfavorable outcomes. Even a warm hard boiled egg with some powdered dry mint, salt and pepper on top is a plate of food. All you need is a little more time, optimism and a one-step-at-a-time approach. Start with an appetizer and work towards a three-course meal. Keep at it and who knows, you could be the undiscovered Gary Rhodes of your family!

(This article was originally written for the Dawn newspaper.)

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2 responses to “The Reluctant Chef

  1. Ambrus Faust March 31, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Well easy for you to say…lol

    Being a Bachelor, I have attempted to take on cooking on many occasions as I got fed up with eating out. It’s expensive and not very filling either.

    Every time I decide to cook at home, I don my chef’s hat and enter the kitchen in full regalia hoping for a culinary home-run. Armed with recipes from the Food Network and some of the online resources, I have set about cooking a decent meal hoping that it would turn out, at the very least, remotely edible.

    But every SINGLE time, it has turned into a disaster. The food is either undercooked or gets 3rd degree burns, sometimes I put in too much spices (can you spell HOTTT), other times, there isn’t enough oil.

    When you have so many failures as I have had to endure, your “cup full of positive attitude” drains PRETTY quickly…

    • Ameera March 31, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      Firstly, thank you for commenting! 🙂 It’s nice to get feedback from “new” readers.

      Your comment reminded me of the words of a cousin who feels the same way sometimes. She’s been through the same and feels the motivation or positive attitude was sucked right out of her after one failed attempt after another. Heck, even I, the one who wrote this seemingly simple post, go through the same when things don’t go right.

      Recently, I had a really bad – BAD – streak of cake baking… made me just want to give up. And I did, for while. But then, I tried a simple recipe from Youtube and went on to make something totally new. Guess what? It was a hit! Later, my cousin and I tried out another recipe in her home and it went really well too.

      So you see, my point is… even though things might not always seem right, there will definitely be one area of the culinary field you’ll discover to be your long lost niche! It’s just about working through the disasters, if you will, and get there in one piece. 🙂 Try a different kind of cuisine, maybe experiment a bit. Sometimes, with spices, we go by the ingredients list and it turns out that it wasn’t a really reasonable amount to put in. With spices, I always try to under-spice my food and then, during the taste tests, I chuck in some more if needed. Same goes for salt. I know this might be pretty obvious stuff but my point is, anyone who’s cooked has certainly been through this. 🙂

      I wish you all the best! 😀

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