Whenever people ask me why I do the blog, I tell them that I want people to know that they don’t need to go to culinary school to be a good cook. First we had decades of advertising telling us that prepared foods — or “meal solutions” … I’m not making that up — are so much easier than having to actually cook. They didn’t come right out and say it, but obviously that meant “real cooking” must be hard.
And now we’ve got the “celebrity chef” culture, with professionals doing things with food on TV that we know we could never do. Is it any wonder so many people think they shouldn’t even try?
Well, I got an email from Roger H that confirmed yes, there are people who don’t think they can cook. And that if they can just get past the first step and try it, they discover an amazing sense of accomplishment. Here’s what he had to say:
For most of my life, my idea of “cooking” involved adding a bouillon cube and a can of cream of chicken soup to my ten-cent package of ramen noodles. My degree of cooking skill (or lack thereof) led me to believe I was a genius when I figured out how to use the coffee-maker on my desk at the office (I spent an inhuman amount of time there) to heat the water and cook my ramen noodles in the coffee-pot itself. Ah, I was so proud!
About a year and a half ago, I started thinking that I should learn how to cook properly. When I first got started actually trying some recipes, about all I had in my kitchen were one or two dented and worn saucepans, a large and small skillet, and silverware. Not really having the tools or the proper ingredients (my “spice rack” consisted of table salt and pepper) handy made things a bit tricky for me. My first attempts were barely this side of edible, and it seemed like making decent food that I could be proud of just wasn’t something I was cut out for. I thought maybe I was better off sticking with just my “Chicken Ramen Gnar-gnar” – named such by a friend because it was “gnarly” indeed.
Since that time I’ve learned a lot, picked up some more of the proper tools and ingredients. It’s been a slow process due to a busy lifestyle (full time work + full time school), one that started off with a crock pot, then some decent skillets and pans, and progressing through to the just recently added loaf pans and microplane grater (more on those in a moment). I’ve gone from splurging on a frozen microwavable lasagna for Thanksgiving a few years ago, to handling all the cooking for both Thanksgiving and Christmas for myself and small group of friends. Cooking ramen in my coffee-pot is now a distant memory, and I couldn’t be more proud. At the risk of getting perhaps a little too personal, in an odd way, cooking (and in a sense – ‘providing’) for the family and friends closest to me has made me feel like a man, not just a boy that happens to be the same age as an adult. It’s tough to explain and may sound like a bizarre concept, but suffice to say that it’s a great feeling.
The reason I’m writing this email and telling you this bit of story is because in a very large way I have you and your site to thank for this. Along my path to learning how to cook, I found myself at a time when cooking felt very much like tinkering in the garage. I still didn’t really know what I was doing, and I wasn’t ever very confident in the results. That’s when I found your site. Cooking from scratch with just the most basic ingredients of flour, sugar, salt and such helped to give me a starting point that I could easily relate to. After all, I had those things right there in my cupboard, and I could take those thing, and make something great out of them, just by following a few simple steps that you provide. I started thinking “Hey, I can do this!” and that thought is what helped get me over the hump from cooking as a hit or miss experiment, to actually cooking with confidence. Because of what I’ve gained from your site (more than just “simple” recipes) and because of the effect it’s had on me, I suppose you could say, in a way, that your site has changed my life for the better. I sincerely want to thank you for that.
So, getting back to the microplane and the loaf pans – my newest kitchen additions. For Christmas, I decided to use two of your desserts with my meal. My meal consisted of Three-Meat Swedish Meatballs (loads of ‘em), Garlic Gingered Green Beans, Cinnamon and Brown Sugar Mashed Yams + Sweet Potatoes, all topped off with your Lemon Yogurt Pound Cake (and glaze) and a Pear Cobbler based on your Peach Cobbler. The only changes I made were to use zest from three lemons (i prefer more of a POW! of lemon) in the yogurt cake, along with an orange and cranberry marmalade. Also with the cobbler I sprinkled some leftover cinnamon over the pear chunks before pouring on the batter. About 5 minutes prior to taking the cobbler out of the oven, I sprinkled some brown sugar across the top of the crust.
All the food was a hit, but what really stood out in everyone’s minds was the Lemon Cake. Impressions all around were that it seemed like such a unique specialty – like something you could only get at some kind of boutique bakery, or a high dollar restaurant.
I couldn’t let that go without giving you proper credit. You and your site has played an incredible part in helping me and my kitchen results go from “gnarly disaster” to “high-dollar boutique specialty.” That’s an awesome Christmas gift.
~ Roger H