Being a Master Chef at Home

20Mar13

I’ve loved to cook since I was a pre-teen. Mom cooked great dinners, but I always wanted the exotic; crepe suzettes or fancy salads. I’ve had many passions throughout the years, but cooking has remained my all-time favorite.

I remember my worst dish. I thought it would be great if I baked chicken in red wine. It was so strong and potent that we had to go out to dinner that night. What I’ve learned from experimenting is that it’s important to learn the right approach when attempting to cook without a recipe. You can learn a lot from Googling your questions. YouTube has some great instructional videos for cooking methods as well. I also use The Cooking Encyclopedia by the Culinary Institute of America. Along with foundational methods and preparations, it has recipes for making stocks and sauces.

My favorite magazine is Cooking Light. Their recipes always turn out perfect. (AllRecipes.com is an archive of all the Cooking Light recipes.) CDKitchen.com is a great website for copycat recipes.

If I could say which are my favorite learned skills, I’d have to say having knife skills and cooking with a well-heated skillet. These are important skills to master.

I love using spices. It’s a freebie when it comes to calories. It’s possible to have a great dish without a lot of calories just by using spices. When I go out to eat and I love a meal, I always ask myself, “What spices are in this?” Using this knowledge as I cook, I remember what spices pair well together and use it to my benefit. Let your taste buds be your guide.

What inspires me about innovative cooks is that they make what doesn’t seem likely work; like chocolate and chile, stuffing waffles, or garlic souffle.

I make all my recipes for scratch. Making dishes from scratch isn’t much more work than using a box. (Besides, you’ll always know what’s in it.) You can make your own spice mixes in batches and put them in containers to be used whenever you find yourself with less time.

Making something out of nothing was a gift of a former employer of mine. You really can make something out of nothing if you think about what you do have in the frig or pantry. You can even use your leftovers pretty creatively. For instance, one morning, I made a frittata out of eggs, and leftover chicken spaghetti. It was really good!

I can’t remember when I’ve ever followed a recipe exactly. I just like to make it my own. Making small adjustments doesn’t alter a dish too much. I alter a recipe if I think substituting, adding or deleting an ingredient would enhance or improve the dish. I substitute when I want a meal to be healthier than what it is. It is important for me to use less fat, no sugar, gluten-free and low sodium. Believe me, there are substitutes for all of them and it would blow your mind to know how good they tasted!

What I love most about cooking is bringing people together. I’ve learned to entertain small to large groups in the most efficient way possible. When my party begins, I like it to take care of itself. For example, I do not usually prepare food when my guests are present. My philosophy is that I like to enjoy myself too. So, why work when you can party?  Have everything ready when people come. If you have to prepare anything while someone is there, make sure most of the prep work is out of the way before they come. This has saved my nerves on many occasions. Remember, a relaxed chef does not burn the food! One other thing I do when giving a party is to strategically place trash cans everywhere. Most people will use them and it will reduce the amount of clean-up you’ll have to do.

I love the cooking journal I’ve created for my favorite recipes in OneNote. (If you have Microsoft Office, the app is included.) No recipe makes it in my journal unless it’s really great. I include any modifications I’ve made and a photo of the dish. It’s a living cookbook that gets used every week. I am always adding something to it. I guess you would call this my living legacy that I can pass on to my family and friends.

I hope what I’ve written inspires you. Whatever you do, have fun in the kitchen, cook with the ones you love and enjoy yourself.

Love,
Michelle

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4 Responses to “Being a Master Chef at Home”

  1. 1 lavI

    I will take your cookbook any day u make delicious food

  2. Thanks Lavi! I’ll send one your way!

  3. 3 Carol

    Thanks Michelle, what a lovely letter, like I’ve told you before, you are beautiful, smart and a great cook!


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