Cooking isn’t rocket science. Unless you want to do molecular gastronomy, you can cook well with the most rudimentary equipment. Although it’s nice to have an oven, a cook top and a refrigerator, anyone who has ever eaten a great campfire breakfast, meat grilled over an open fire, or smores can tell you that a bit of kindling, some firewood and a match can do the job.
I define “cooking success” rather simply: making food, enjoying the process (at least most of the time) and savoring the results. Here’s my recipe for cooking success:
- 1% inspiration,
- 25% preparation,
- 25% positive outlook, and
- 49% determination.
This recipe works well no matter who you are or how much cooking experience you have, what equipment you have or what food you’ll cook. It works for baking too.
My definition of cooking success and my recipe for achieving it are not the “be all and end all” when it comes to learning to cook or bake. Have you checked out how many ways there are to boil an egg? There are sources of information galore and many chefs, teachers, and cookbook authors more knowledgeable than me about the intricacies of cooking techniques. But this is about motivation and relatively simple home-cooking, not the most obscure ways for you to cook or the feasts that you will cook once and then relegate to the annals of your never-to-be-repeated accomplishments.
The most difficult part of home-cooking is not trying it, or doing it well. Instead it is about continuity – figuring out how to cook (or pull from the freezer) when you don’t feel like fussing and cooking for yourself, and maybe others, consistently. That’s where the determination comes in – and why that is 49% of my recipe for cooking success. I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.
Let’s start with the 1% inspiration – by highlighting a few who inspire me. I hope my list helps you to consider or find your own sources of cooking/baking inspiration. Do let us know who inspires you.
These folks inspire me to cook (and bake):
- My mom – She learned to cook in the era of Mad Men frozen vegetables and American cheese, but moved on to whole grains, main course vegetables, and sharp cheddar cheese as soon as they came onto the American home-cooking scene in the 1970s. She doesn’t cook much anymore, but she’s always game to try my latest concoction. Selma teaches me to keep learning and experimenting.
- Julia Child – Of course. Ever since my first forays into the kitchen, Julia has kept me focused on enjoying the end result. Watching her savor that first bite of something she made on one of her TV shows says it all.
- Joe Yonan – Although I’ve always enjoyed cooking, most of the time I’m cooking for more than just myself. Through his cookbook,Serve Yourself, and his Washington Post “Cooking for One” columns, Joe reminds me that if I’m the only one eating, it’s still worth cooking – and the result should be just as tasty as when I’m cooking for 2 or 12.
- Grace Young– One of my best decisions in 2012 was learning to stir-fry with Grace and the Wok Wednesdays group. If you enjoy eating stir-fried food in restaurants, then you must try making it yourself. The technique turns out to be much easier and the results much tastier than I could have imagined. Grace’s book, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, is a wonderful guide and I’m excited to continue trying more recipes from the book in the year to come.
- Abby Dodge – I bought Abby’s book, The Weekend Baker, a few years ago because it highlights how you can stop and start baking recipes. Freezing dough or making batches of “ready made scone mix” appeals to the planning-and-hoarding side of my brain. Last January I joined Baketogether, a virtual baking group that encourages participants to take one of Abby’s recipes in a new direction. Maybe I don’t need permission and suggestions in order to experiment, but Abby inspires me to use recipes as springboards, not guardrails.
Next week –
The 25% preparation part of the cooking success recipe or how a scatterbrained, distracted, over-committed person of any age and background can learn to stay focused and cook better-than-decent food on a reasonably consistent basis.