Sunday, August 5, 2012

Anyone Can Cook!

“Anyone can cook!” - Chef Gusteau, Ratatouille 

Friends often tell me, “I can’t cook.” But what I’m actually hearing is, “I don’t cook.” Or “I won’t cook.”  Cooking is just like any other learned skill, the more you do it, the better you get. I think that's why I love that quote from Ratatouille so much; it is absolutely, one hundred percent true! Anyone can cook! You don't need the title "Chef" to be able to prepare an amazing meal or a kitchen full of minions (although, I have to admit, my own flock of minions would be pretty sweet) to ask "How high?" every time you yell "Jump!" You don’t have to be able to dice an onion in under a second with a giant knife to be a good cook. Don’t get me wrong, that’s really impressive, but my coordination is such that making a simple pot of chili would turn into something out of a Scream movie if I tried it. And I like my fingers right where they are, thank you very much! Cooking isn’t about speed or nifty flourishes of a knife. Most of us don’t plan on working for Chef Ramsay or in some fancy gourmet restaurant. We just want to be able to make tasty dishes for the people we love. But where to start? The kitchen can be a very intimidating place. It’s easy to get discouraged because maybe you burned something once or you mistook salt for sugar or maybe you overcooked something to the point where it was unrecognizable as actual food. Or perhaps you just grew up in a family where cooking was never very important and so you never learned. 

So, I've decided to conduct a little experiment. And you, gentle readers, should you choose to participate, are about to embark on this little adventure with me! I love to cook and I love games so we are going to mash them together and see what happens! I am going to teach you how to cook and it's going to be fun! Or it could be excruciatingly boring; we really don't know at this point and honestly, it could go either way. But we're going to give it a whirl and hope it's not a disaster! 

I play World of Warcraft. One of the skills you can learn for your character in the game is cooking. You start out with basic, simple recipes, gather ingredients, build or find a cooking fire and prepare your dish. The dishes your character prepares go into your inventory for your character to later consume to replenish your "health" after a big fight or quest. Each time your character "cooks," your cooking skill levels up. Your character can then seek out more advanced recipes, with better ingredients which allow your character to prepare dishes that provide a higher level of nourishment or "health." If you are questing with a friend, you can share the food you make which definitely proves helpful if you're out in the middle of nowhere. In the game, as in life, cooking for yourself has definite advantages. Once you learn how to cook, you are no longer at the mercy of those shifty merchants, shelling out hard-earned copper for stale bread or some weird stew that may or may not give you food-poisoning. Okay, so you won't get food-poisoning in-game but in real life, you never know. 

And yes...that really is my little Dranei mage. 

Helpful Tip: Take the time to read the reports from your local health department on the restaurants in your area. You will find them in the food & dining section of your local paper or you can look it up online. This site has each state listed with many broken down further into counties or a list of local sources. You will find your research very enlightening and not a little bit disgusting. Having worked in the food service industry for many years, trust me, it is not difficult for a business to maintain an "A" average. The restaurants that receive demerits are most likely ignorant of the standards (which is really bad) or are simply careless (which is worse).

For the purposes of this blog, you are now an apprentice cook! YAY! You're that little ragamuffin that follows the Chef around, carries a heavy pack with pots and pans clanging loudly with each step, dresses shabbily and is only permitted to perform easy tasks until you learn not to blow yourself up. Okay, maybe you're not a ragamuffin (I just really like that word and the Samwise Gamgee-ish image it provokes for me) but you are an apprentice! As an apprentice cook, you will learn the basics of several skill sets and we're going to break them down in ways that make sense. You are going to learn the basics of baking, pan-frying, sautéing, boiling, chopping, dicing, slicing (again, no fancy knife tricks - it's a kitchen, not a circus), mixing and whisking. I'll post information on the best tools for the job that won't break the bank as well as basic kitchen safety and food storage advice. Best of all, you are going to learn how to prepare simple, tasty meals that you will be proud to serve your friends and family.

You might be wondering where the whole "game" aspect comes in to play. Well, we are going to take a page out the RPG manual and you are going to create a character for yourself along with a character tome to track your progress as an apprentice cook and begin leveling up! Start thinking about who or what you want to be in the kitchen! Use your imagination! The possibilities are endless. 

Be sure to subscribe to the blog because in my next post, we'll talk about creating your character and making your character tome. I'll have some links to online character avatar creators for those of you who want a visual representation of your character that you can easily build, download to your computer and print out. 

So, let the adventure begin!

A little bit about me, in case you're wondering: 

In my family, the kitchen was like the heart of the home. Cooking was a family affair and everyone had a hand in preparing the meal. My mom never banished us kids from the kitchen and wether we were making the salad or the iced tea or just setting the table, we were always involved. By the time I was in elementary school, I could make the easy things like spaghetti with meat sauce, mixed salads, garlic bread, chili, hamburgers, pan-fried pork chops, scrambled eggs and I could even manage a Betty Crocker cake from a mix. Of course, now, poor Betty is banned from my pantry since I began making cakes from scratch. Growing up, surrounded by amazing cooks like my mom, my grandma and my aunt, I couldn't help but develop a love for the kitchen. I don't want to mislead anyone, I am not a professional Chef. I did not go to culinary school and I don't know the first thing about proper, French cooking other than what I've seen Julia Child do on PBS. And honestly, with my Southern roots, I prefer Paula Deen anyway. I will not be teaching you how to prepare veal, truffles or anything involving ingredients that cost more than my car. I am simply here to share my love for cooking and nerd-out with like-minded folks. Fair warning, I am obsessed with Doctor Who, Star Trek, all things Joss Whedon, smutty romance novels and obviously, video games and food. I might occasionally post a themed menu for a season premiere of one of my favorite shows, movie themed dinner or maybe even a game-themed meal. But I hope you'll stick around. I think this could be a lot of fun! 

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