Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cooking vs. Cookbooks

So, what's the difference in knowing how to cook, and knowing how to read a recipe?  A great deal, I'm afraid.  Many know how to open a cookbook and read a recipe, which is not a bad thing. I have many cookbooks myself.

My Main Cookbooks
(some of my fancy are still in a box in the garage after the move)

Knowing how to read a recipe takes some work and skill.  You have to know what it means to beat or fold. You have to know the difference between a tsp and a Tbsp. Many cookbooks contain just recipes, while many tell you how to cook (i.e.: Julia Child's The Way To Cook) and some are kind of in between, giving hints, tips and glossaries (i.e.: Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book). To me, a cookbook, all of which are invaluable, by the way, is a reference book, much like a dictionary.  They are marvelous for when you are just starting out and learning, and for finding something you haven't made before or made in a while. Or, if you are like me, for that recipe that requires precise measurements and you just can't remember.  Another source of recipes is the Internet. Millions of professional and home-based recipes are to be had for the search words!  Links below.

Knowing how to cook involves developing a skill whereby you don't need a cookbook or a recipe to make a dish.  It's like any other skill, it takes knowledge and practice.  It takes being kind to yourself when you mess up or burn something.  I've burnt and ruined my share of dishes, believe me. You start small. You learn how to boil water. Seriously. I knew someone once who thought in order to get two tablespoons of boiling water, one had to put two tablespoons of water in a pan and boil it. After it boils, there isn't two tablespoons of water anymore. Soon, you move on to other things like boiling foods in water, then simmering, then making complete dishes.  You learn what spices, herbs and condiments go with what food.  Hint on this: it depends mostly on your taste.  You can follow a recipe, but the tastes of the person who wrote the recipe may be different than yours. I like my tilapia baked with white wine and butter, with a bit of thyme and garlic.  Hubby likes his with dill. See? Both are correct. You learn how much is too much or not enough.  Trial and error, I find, are the best ways to really learn to cook. Yes, use a recipe. Use cookbooks! These are your "school texts" to learning a very valuable skill.  Know the rules - cooking at certain temperatures, what works and what doesn't (i.e.: increasing oven temperatures doesn't necessarily make foods cook faster, it could make the outside burned and the inside raw!) Store away common information for later use and "think out of the box".  Keep a notebook or note cards. Experiment. If that roasted chicken recipe says to roast at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, try varying the additives or marinades. Serve it with roasted potatoes instead of rice. The only limit is your imagination. Soon, you'll write your own cookbook.

Knowing how to cook means you can use good, wholesome, healthy foods in your meals. It means knowing how to use these foods, how they cook, what changes when they are cooked, what you like with them, and not having to rely on a box or can.

I learned to cook using two things - cookbooks (mainly BH&G, a very early version, late 50s/early 60s I believe) and observation. My mother cooked. I rarely saw her use a cookbook.  I developed a love of cooking from that very first batch of cookies made from scratch.  In turn, I have taught my daughter the love of cooking. And, at a young age, she is very good at it.  For fun, I took a course in gourmet cooking and loved it. I learned more about cooking, especially commercial cooking and catering.

So what's best? Both. Find your own balance.

My Favorite Cookbooks:

The Way to Cook by Julia Child  This is my all-time favorite cookbook. Most cookbooks are a collection of recipes. This one shows you how to do it.

The Joy of Cooking I like the original version of this cookbook. It's the cook's bible.  Just about anything you can imagine is in this.

Better Homes and Gardens  I grew up with this one. Again, I prefer the original (because I don't like using prepared foods in recipes) but it's still a great, basic resource.

The Tightwad Gazette  Not exactly a cookbook, but it does have recipes.  This is an excellent source (if a bit dated) for people looking to save money and live frugally. There are tons of wonderful bits of information and tips.

Favorite Internet Recipe Sites:

One of my all time favorite sites: The Gutsy Gourmet

A great place to get those famous TV Chef recipes: Food Network

Tons of recipes here: All recipes

I've found some interesting ideas here: Pinterest

Just for Fun:

Gallery of Regrettable Food


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