It’s just NOT. I figured this out a decade ago, and slowly, I try to convince my friends and family that it’s not hard. I started Michael Ruhlman‘s Ratio shortly after I heard about in on NPR, but I had to return it before I could finish. Thankfully, he has a blog, and one of my Portland food friends posted America: Too Stupid to Cook which is a great segue for this post.
Yesterday, I started talking about cooking in our Culture of Food. I wanted to discuss how diverse we are and how that cultural diversity has contributed to some food confusion. Then, compound that with busier lives — I can see why I have parents who think they can’t cook. I’ve said this before, so if I sound like a broken record, do forgive me, but I learned that cooking is relatively easy with two keys. These worked for me, and I hope they work for someone else.
The first tidbit I learned was that cooking is temperature. I was told to compare a steak, which you seer on both sides that cook for 4 minutes on each side, to a large roast cooked on a low temperature for hours. Temperature. Monitor the temperature, and you watch your cooking. High temps versus small foods and low temps for large foods. I still learn how to control temperature with my cooking, but suddenly this one thing was less of a mystery. Grilled cheese, boiling water, making a nice sauce — the key unlocked the door.
In 2000, I found myself back in Lansing, though this time I was working at a hotel with a kitchen. One of the chefs was a humorous man from Jamaica. Along with querying the number of rules we have governing the land of the free, he made me fried rice once in my apartment. I had, at that time in my life, only recently been introduced to Chinese food. I had only had Thai food once. Fried rice was a complete mystery how all those flavors mingled and how the egg looked so little and shriveled and that there was even egg in a fried rice dish — it was all completely amazing, mysterious, bewildering. So, this young Jamaican chef came into my house, supplying only a handful of ingredients, and turned my kitchen into a gourmet kitchen. This was a one-butt, basement apartment kitchen. It was tiny. And, he made fried rice!
I found myself feeling freer to explore in my kitchen. I’d still used boxed foods as a staple instead of whole, but I was learning. I was experimenting, and I was gaining confidence. A few years later, I found myself among the first wave of my new foodie friends. We started having weekly wine nights, and suddenly my cooking senses were completely awakened. We were making curry from scratch. I figured out how to make bread. I made tabouli and hummus. My aunt complimented my living arrangements as smelling like a coop. I couldn’t have been more proud.
Now, half a dozen years later, I find myself cooking from scratch nearly all the time. We still have processed foods like hot dogs in our house, but that has a lot to do with my husband and what he can think of to make on the fly. Mostly, though, boxed rice has been replaced with rice. Hamburger helper with pasta and the knowledge of how to make a quick sauce. Our quick dinners are grilled cheese, pancakes, and burritos. The burritos are prepped by soaking beans int he morning and coaching my husband through cooking them while I drive home. The meat, if we have it, is from leftovers — like a roast chicken.
I used to think roasts were elaborate, decadent meals. While, I still agree they may look and taste elaborate, I must confess that Ruhlman is spot on with his description. A four pound chicken should take about an hour. A six pound chicken will take about two or two and a half. But, really, all you have to do is pick your seasonings and put it in the preheated oven. Set your timer and then walk away.
Cooking is not hard, but somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that it is. Cooking is simply as hard as we make it. Some of the best cooking advice I ever got was from my mother, one of the women in my life who has professed (time and time again) that she cannot cook. She always likes to remind me how simpler is better. So, cooking is temperature, any kitchen can make fresh taste great, and season simply to have simply satisfying meals.