There’s a saying that I have always really liked, “When an old person dies, a library is lost.” I’ve been pondering this a lot recently and I think the quote should be modified to “When ANYONE dies a library is lost.”
People, young and old, are amazing tanks full of information. They have ideas, knowledge and experience across a whole variety of fields and subjects. These days we all seem to be in too much of a hurry to sit down and listen properly to one another, to each other’s stories and memories. There is so much we could learn from this too!
Due to us all coming from different backgrounds, countries and having different upbringings with such a wide variety of influences, opinions and beliefs, there is normally way more than one way to ‘skin a cat’ when it comes to doing ANYTHING. This is also true in the kitchen.
One person’s fundamental belief that people must “always keep their eggs in the fridge” is another person’s “always keep your eggs out of the fridge” is a third person’s “Eggs? You shouldn’t eat eggs!” No one is right and no one is wrong. (Well I’m not sure I, personally, can find anything right about “You shouldn’t eat eggs!” But my point is this, there are lessons to be learned from everyone’s beliefs and ideas not only when it comes to cooking, but when it comes to how we live as well.
The lessons that I have learned over the years in the kitchen or about food seem to quite obviously fall into two categories. The first one being “Practical Lessons.” These tips are specific, useful tid-bits about ingredients, cooking methods, recipes and the like. The second category is “Philosophical Lessons.” This refers to the spirit of cooking, the passion, the meaning of it all, the how’s and the why’s. Some would even consider these “life lessons” These philosophical lessons often stem from practical tips but have deeper meanings.
I would like to share with you 10 practical and 10 philosophical lessons I have learned from those around me, namely both of my grandmother’s and my parents. I’ve also thrown in a few from other sources such as books I’ve read, films I’ve watched, experiences I have had and stories that have come to me from friends.
1. Use your senses: Don’t just cook with your eyes. You need to taste, smell, touch and also listen to your food. You will always get a better result if you make use of all five senses when cooking. On the “listen to your food” side of things an example I can give you is if you are frying something and you hear it spitting and popping all over the place, you probably have the heat up too high.
2. Keep it clean: Always keep your workspace as clean as possible. The best way to do this is to tidy up as you go. Instead of creating a mountain of washing in the sink try and rinse dishes and equipment as they are used and place directly into the dishwasher or complete the hand washing process of items once they have been used and are no longer needed.
3. Plan: Place all of the ingredients that you need for the recipe you are about to cook on the bench prior to starting. That way you won’t get half way through your cake to realise you are missing a vital ingredient.
4. Stomach space is limited: This is a bit of a random one but I had to throw it in there. My Mum always told us “don’t waste stomach space on bread.” By this she pretty much meant what it sounds like. Don’t fill up on bread when you are about to sit down to an incredible meal complete with dessert. If you down a hundred pieces of bread with butter before your food has even arrived you might end up being too full to enjoy the main show, and the dessert! And that would definitely be a tragedy.
5. Turn the oven on: The first thing I always do when baking is to scan the recipe to see what temperature I need the oven to be for later on. A good recipe will always state “Preheat the oven to xyz degrees” as the first step in their method. But I don’t rely on this. There’s nothing worse than having a cake ready to bung in the oven only to have to wait for it to heat up!
6. Precision is sometimes necessary: When it comes to cooking I would definitely describe myself as a “freestyler.” I often add a bit of this and a bit of that to whatever I am making and then work later at getting the balance of flavours right. It’s fine to cook like this, however, there is a time and place for it.
Baking requires precision, if it says half a teaspoon of baking powder, it means half a teaspoon. For this, scales and measuring cups are your best friends. Whereas if it says to add a cup of roasted almonds to a salad and you want to add more, go for it!
7. You get out what you put in: Always buy the best quality of ingredients that you can afford. If you can afford to spend a little more on organic eggs and chicken, and top quality cooking chocolate your taste buds and body will thank you for it.
Obviously there are many of us who can’t afford to buy organic for every meal, so a good tip is to budget in better quality ingredients once a week, or once a month or however often is possible, so that you know you are truly giving yourself the best meals that you can.
8. Sharp knives save lives: OK, I don’t know about saving lives, but when I was at cooking school, they told us that 99% of accidents with knives happen when the knives are blunt. This makes sense because when a knife is blunt it struggles to do it’s job properly so we end up using it more aggressively, pushing down harder, faster and so on causing lots of accidents to occur.
Buy a knife sharpener for your kitchen or have sharpening outsourced on a regular basis. This is actually not too expensive. A group of my friends have “The Knife Man” come to one of our houses frequently; we all throw in $20 and bring along every knife we own. We each leave with sharp, sharp knives!
9. You can always add ingredients: Salt can always be added to a dish but it can never be taken out. For a salt addict like myself, this is generally not a problem, but for the average person, if a dish is too salty, it can be inedible.
10. The kettle is your friend: Always have a full kettle ready to boil or at the boil. This is useful for so many different things. It speeds up the process when you are cooking ANYTHING on the stove that needs to be heated / cooked in water, it makes topping up a soup or sauce that much simpler (no carrying / spilling of heavy pots over to the tap) and best of all it makes that emergency cup of tea or coffee readily and speedily available.
1. Patience is a virtue: In the kitchen, as in life, good things come to those who wait.
2. Teamwork rules: It’s a really satisfying feeling to achieve something in partnership with someone else. Cooking with my daughter brings me joy beyond words.
3. Learn to listen: The kitchen table is way more than just a bulky piece of furniture. Spend time at it. Eat together. It’s amazing what people will share with others over risotto that they may not otherwise ever surface.
4. Life is uncertain: Eat dessert first. This one is a well-known saying. How true it is!
5. There is a place for everything and everything has it’s place: Instead of writing something or someone off, it’s always good to think a little deeper about why you might do this. That black banana withering away in the back of your fridge is instrumental in producing the most delicious muffins.
Eggshells are the best tool to use when it comes to removing other eggshells from pancake mixture. The rude lady across the street might be dealing with something really tough in her personal life at the moment. She might need you to cut her some slack.
6. Be prepared: Life throws us all sorts of challenges when we are least expecting them, as does cooking. We can’t always prepare for what comes our way but sometimes we can. Having at least one or two dinners in the freezer helps when unexpected guests arrive, if the kids get sick or if you get stuck back late at work and arrive home really not wanting to order take-away.
7. Less is more: These days everyone runs around like headless chooks trying to get too many different things done. Are all of those things important? Are they all necessary? Risotto with truffle oil and Parmesan does not need chicken, corn, peas, pumpkin and mushrooms added to it.
8. Practice love: Without sounding too much like a preacher, if more of us had love and compassion as a default position, instead of suspicion and judgment the world would be a better place. If you cook with love for those who you care deeply for, I promise you the food will taste better! Cooking with love simply means doing it slowly, with thought and consideration and paying attention to detail.
9. Everything in moderation: Work and Play. Late nights and early ones. Exercise and lounging around. Having serious conversation and having a laugh. Chocolate and leafy greens. We need a little bit of all of it.
10. Never give up: If something doesn’t work the first time, try again. If you want to run a marathon, train and practice and you will get there. Just because you can’t run around the block today doesn’t mean you will never reach your goal. If your cheesecake cracks every time you make it, keep experimenting; at least a cracked cheesecake is still edible. And with a dollop of cream on top, no one will be any the wiser!
Phoodie’s culinary obsession began when she was 3. A move to London in 2009 was the catalyst she needed to throw caution to the wind and enrol is the world famous Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. Upon her course completion, she worked with some of the UK and Europe’s top chefs assisting them in the classes they ran. Phoodie is a cookbook, restaurant, and supermarket obsessed blogger and Mum of 2. Phoodie blogs here, is on Facebook here and tweets here
What lessons have you learned in the kitchen – life or otherwise? What did you grandmother or mum, sister, dad, whoever teach you?