Monday, January 7, 2013

Learn to Cook

Being able to prepare delicious meals, regardless of their complexity level, is an essential element of living well. When you understand what goes into preparing a meal, it makes you more appreciative of what's on your plate. Being able to prepare and serve meals is a wonderful talent that is meant to be shared.

In addition to being a great hostess, my grandmother was (and all of my German relatives are) wonderful in the kitchen. Thankfully I have inherited this skill! But if you don't know how to cook, or perhaps you're not skilled at it, I urge you to learn! Practice, practice, practice. My aunt (on my father's side) does catering for small events. (She's in her 70s!) When people ask her what her secret is, she simply states, "If you can read, honey, you can cook." It's simple, but true. Cooking is mainly about following directions. Buy a simple cookbook and practice the recipes. When you feel confident with simple recipes, try experimenting! Add a new spice or seasoning. Try substituting shrimp for crab meat. That sort of thing. As with most new skills, practice makes perfect.

I recommend Betty Crocker Basics: How to Cook and Entertain with Confidence as a simple and accessible guide for every aspiring host or cook. The recipe here are simple and (most importantly) call for simple ingredients. So often I've been disappointed by cookbooks that show beautiful color photos of lovely meals, only to become confused at the first glimpse of the ingredient list-- never mind the actual cooking instructions. Cooking doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes the simplest meals are the best!

My friend and fellow blogger, Sara, shared a lovely anecdote on her blog Tried and Twisted about cooking legend Julia Child, who advised, "The only real stumbling block is a fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." A true statement of her timelessness and wit, Mrs. Child's advice can be applied to most life situations. There is no reward without a little risk! My husband and I have a rule when it comes to trying new recipes. If I try something, and I fail (so what!) we order a pizza. A mistake in the kitchen doesn't mean that you will starve. It's just one step in the learning process. Hopefully you will learn from your mistake the next time around-- and you will remember to take something out of the oven in time, or to taste before you accidentally add salt to a recipe instead of sugar! (I've made-- and learned from-- both of these mistakes!)

But what if things go right? What if you recipe turns out just as deliciously as you have hoped (or close enough)? Wonderful! You now have a new tool in your belt and a new weapon in your arsenal. There are some recipes that become reliable favorites. The next time there is an opportunity to host a meal or bring a dish to an event, you will have a go-to solution on hand that you know you can successfully prepare.

You may find that you are better at some kinds of dishes than others-- that's ok, too! Perhaps you make excellent desserts, but your meals could still use some work. How about inviting friends out for dinner, then coming back to your place for homemade desserts? Or maybe you make really great small plates or appetizers. So why not host a Super Bowl party with plenty of snacks? Not every hosting occasion has to be a full-course meal. Start small and enjoy the little things!

Being able to cook and feed someone is a wonderful gesture. It s a gift of time, food, thoughtfulness, and love. Although homemade cooking isn't a crucial aspect of being a good host or hostess, it can certainly give you a leg-up and make for some memorable times together with your guests.

What cookbooks or hosting guides do you recommend?

Photo is from my cellphone of homemade meatballs and sauce simmering on my vintage stove in preparation for a dinner party on Dec. 27, 2012.


  1. Such a great idea to cook to your strengths! And thanks for the book suggestion, although Google has been a girl's best friend for me. Any time I need an idea I just type in my ingredients available and search for recipes.

  2. Great idea! I hadn't thought to do a search by ingredients. Thanks for the great tip!