Lesson 1: Choose your kitchen companion wisely.
This is a classic case of life imitating art. Or to be more accurate, life that imitates art imitating life.
After watching Julie and Julia, the film based on the stories of writer/aspiring home chef Julie Powell and the famous Julia Child, I felt invigorated. Eager to write, blog, cook, and eat all at the same time! Just as Julie Powell was inspired to go through Julia Child’s entire cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the film inspired me to also be ambitious in the kitchen. A week later, one purposeful trip to Border’s with a friend led me to purchase Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook.
Browsing through all of the glossy covers of grinning Food Network stars, unknowns, and cheesy titles (e.g. The Cooking Bible), I found there are two types of cookbooks: 1) Ones with only recipes, 2) Ones with recipes and cooking techniques. There are far more “recipe” cookbooks than there are “comprehensive and technique” cookbooks. Most already assume that you know the basics, something that I did not have. Others, like Julia Child’s and the popular Joy of Cooking, seemed intimidating and looked like encyclopedias – not too appetizing. However, like Goldilocks who found Baby Bear’s porridge to be just right, I discovered that Martha’s book had everything I was looking for: a credible author (alright, so the lady embezzled. That doesn’t discount her culinary and creative talents!), diagrams and descriptions of basic things like herbs, cookware, and cuts of meat, how-to lessons (I never truly learned the proper way to chop onions, to “sweat” them, or even how to blanch vegetables!), delicious recipes, and all complemented by gorgeous step-by-step photos.
I thumbed through the Basics chapter, and then worked my way into the first culinary challenge:
Chapter 1.8. How to make vegetable pureed soup
My vegetable of choice – the lovely butternut squash. Slightly sweet, creamy, and a beautiful orange color.
Split the butternut, scoop out the seeds, salt and pepper, and roast in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. These things are not only hard to cut, but I felt clumsy trying to de-skin it after I took it out of the oven. It didn’t peel off as easily as I had hoped and I lost precious chunks at the hand of my knife. *sigh
The “proper way” to chop an onion is NOT EASY. This is my unimpressive attempt. Note the irregular dice.
Letting the onions, garlic, and pear “sweat” in butter and medium heat. I learned that the purpose of this is to extract the flavor, in addition to cooking it. I later added the chunks of roasted butternut and chicken broth to simmer.
A few minutes in the blender and a beautiful orange colored puree emerged. In less than an hour, J and I enjoyed our freshly made butternut soup as a healthy appetizer. It tasted way better and heartier than the kind I buy at Trader Joe’s. Why buy canned when you can make your own? Excuse the “velociraptor” style arrangement of the pear slices. I still have some presentation skills to learn. There is, in classic Martha Stewart style, a garnish chapter somewhere in her book.
My goal is to be able to get through at least 1-2 “lessons” a week, eventually gleaning and utilizing all of the techniques she covers. And just like Julie Powell, I plan on capturing this personal project via my blog. Please feel free to post any tips or words of encouragement as I fumble my way through the culinary world. Cooking School is in session!