Cooking Skills

The Kitchn tweeted about a zillion years ago, asking what cooking skills people deemed the 10 essentials.  The ones everyone should know.  What a good question.  Y’all smell a list coming, right?  Forgive me for taking some liberties with the term “cooking” skills.

hub1.  Know how to chop an onion.

You have to.  How many dinner recipes start with somewhere between 1/2 and 2 cups chopped onions?  Answer: almost all of them, especially if you’re cooking from The Moosewood Cookbook (hi, Wooden Nickels).  It physically pains me to see people who take longer than 60 seconds chop an onion.  It doesn’t have to be that way, kids.  You too, can chop onions faster than a speeding bullet.  Almost all of my (mad) knife skills come from watching copious amounts of The Food Network from tenth grade through college.  Chopping an onion is something I am so glad I can do in the blink of an eye.  If you can’t dedicate the next 6 years to watching The Food Network, check out Ree’s post.

aglio e olio2.  Know how to cook pasta (and other grains).

Sorry to you no, or low carb folk, but a day isn’t a day without a starchy element of sorts.  Pasta has long been a favorite of mine, and over time, I’ve honed my cooking method.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add at least a tablespoon of salt, and cook the pasta a minute less than the package suggests.  Drain and drizzle with olive oil.  Or pile on the butter and cheese.  If pasta isn’t your thing, perfect the cooking of your grain of choice.  By itself, it’s something you can eat when you can’t think of anything else.  Accompanied by other ingredients, the possibilities are endless.

family style3.  Know how to plan meals for you or your family.

This is something that looks different for everyone.  For me, it means setting aside between 10 and 30 minutes one weekend day to page through cookbooks, plan our nightly dinners, and write out a grocery list.  Then, at least during a good week, it only takes one trip to the grocery store to be all set.  The weeks I plan out my meals (and stick to the plan) always run more smoothly than those that don’t.  Nights are less stressful because I’ve already anticipated how much time I will or won’t have for dinner, and adjusted accordingly.

carmelized onion spread4.  Know how to season (and re-season) a cast iron skillet.

I don’t have this one mastered yet, but I hope and pray that in 30 years, the floor of my cast iron skillet looks as slick and well-loved as Grandma Glass of Milk’s.  Now that we’re talking about it, I think I’ll try this technique again this weekend.

helen palmer's delmonica pudding5.  Know how to make something by heart.

Everyone needs a go-to recipe, and Wooden Nickels’ macaroni and cheese is mine.  I’d love to say it’s for those times when I need something and I just can’t think of anything else, or when I need to feed others on a minute’s notice, and it is indeed perfect for those things.  But the real reason you need to master the art of making something by heart is because life is hard.  Bad things happen.  And when life gets harder, or tough times strike, if you can walk into the kitchen and pour your heart into something you’ve done a million times, and have it turn out exactly the way it always does, you get a little bit of control back.  And that’s an immensely good feeling.

birthday_cake_gold_candles6.  Know how to make a layer cakeFrom scratch.

Cupcakes had their moment, and everyday cakes are always a welcome addition at the table, but layer cakes are for celebrating.  There’s something about their height that makes their presence at the table exciting.  Find a favorite flavor combination and challenge yourself to think outside the box mix.  Glam your creation up with tall candles, and no matter how cluttered the rest of your house is, the party’s in your kitchen.  Look for a new recipe on this here blog soon!

chips-and-dip-for-blog-2-ed7.  Know how to pop champagne.

I have an immense fear of champagne being popped.  Just the sight of a beautiful, but corked, bottle is enough to send me ducking for cover.  I’m convinced this is linked to my fear of the sound of balloons popping.  Regardless, champagne is my favorite beverage of all, and this is a fear I have no choice but to conquer.  Opening wine is kid stuff.  If you know how to pop champagne, you’re in another league.  There’s no occasion you can’t tout with a pop, fizz, and clink.

062711-basicvinaigrette8.  Know how to make salad dressing.

In my dream world, I never buy anything pre-made from the store.  You could come over, and when you helped yourself to a drink, you wouldn’t see any jars with labels in my refrigerator, just mason jars full of jams, sauces, and stocks.  Alas, we don’t live in my dream world, and while I’d love to have you over, and you should feel welcome to help yourself to a drink, you’re not going to see those jars.  You’re going to see the same stuff that’s in everyone else’s pantry–Heinz ketchup, Rao’s spaghetti sauce, and carton upon carton of low-sodium chicken broth.  The one thing you’ll note missing, however, is salad dressing in a bottle with Paul Newman’s face on it.  Not that I have anything against Paul Newman’s face, because, duh, his eyes are so dreamy.  But making your own salad dressing is easy as pour, seal shut, and shake, and I dare you to find me someone who doesn’t have time for that.  Leaving out sugar and artificial colors and flavorings is an added bonus.

place setting9.  Know how to set the table.

Sure, you’re in that young phase of life where more often than not, dinner happens in front of a coffee table instead of a formal table.  But setting the table is a skill everyone should know how to do.  Regardless of the formality of your nightly dinners, there will come a time when you invite someone you want to think highly of you, and it would be terrible to be judged simply because you didn’t know that a spoon goes on the table, whether or not your meal requires one.  Let your guests save judgement for your conversational skills.

roast-chicken10.  Know how to roast a chicken.

If you can’t make any other entree, get roast chicken under your belt.  Not only is it one of the most inoffensive foods around, but, when perfected, with crispy, golden skin giving way to rich flavorful meat beneath, it’s divine.  You can serve it on a weeknight, as it requires little to no hands-on prep, or you can serve it on a weekend, and let the leftovers carry you through you your Monday-Friday sandwiches.  Though all you need to make perfect roast chicken are butter, salt and pepper, you can get as fancy as you like with it.  This Giada classic is one of my favorites.

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3 thoughts on “Cooking Skills

  1. This is some seriously good writing, Ms. Glass-of-Milk! And Wooden Nickels is honored to be honored in this blog. Also, here’s an idea–how about we (and by “we,” I actually mean “you”) make that Delmonica pudding and take it to Grandma Glass-of-Milk when we see her in June? Sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, coffee, and lady fingers? Sounds like a winner to me!!! And I think she’d love it! That is my fave photo of all–lovely handwriting, and what a beautiful book–lucky you!

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