Never Settle For The Recipe On The Page!

Let's say you don't do a lot of cooking. You love the IDEA of cooking but you've had some food failures and you're hesitant. You don't want another batch of burned cookies or undercooked pork chops. Yuck! But don't give up hope just yet!

When I was a kid I was visiting my grandparents for the summer. My grandmother was a good cook. With four children and 13 grandchildren, she was always in the kitchen, planning meals well in advance. She seemed to live to plan our daily meals in a very methodical way. My grandfather on the other hand, would plan a meal based on what looked good and what goodies he could find to use.

One night we were having corn on the cob. I was sitting at the kitchen table, watching him as if he were hosting his own personal cooking show just for me. At one point he said "we need butter for the corn." Out of the pantry came an empty, clean coffee can. Onto the burner it went. Next came the butter. One stick, then two, maybe three, four or eight. I don't remember the exact number. All the sticks of butter went in until they melted and filled the can. Then he found sticks and stuck them into the ends of the corn cobs. Into the butter we dunked! Now this may seem like a LOT of work just to butter your corn, but that was my grandfather. If he could try something new, create an adventure out of it and have fun, that's what he did!

I have never forgotten that can of butter. Or the blueberry bushes in the back yard. He would wake us up early in the morning and send us out with a bowl to gather blueberries. He would be inside whipping up some pancake batter and when we presented the berries, into the pancakes they would go. But the message of these lessons was a long time in sinking in.

As a young adult and living on my own for the first time I just assumed that I would be a natural cook. I had been cooking all my life with little failure. Old family recipes, new recipes, it didn't matter. So imagine my surprise when I would take hand to pan and have .... the worst meal ever! So for a while I just cooked basics, nothing special, and nothing fancy. If I wanted lobster or salmon I would head to the local seafood restaurant. If I wanted steak I would head to a good steak house. Then I got fed up! Enough was enough!

I started watching the food network religiously. My TiVo is set to record anything on the food show whenever it can. At first I would salivate and watch with full jealousy as each TV chef would churn out delight after delight. I can do that, I thought. But somehow I also knew I was a failure. The molasses cookies were too buttery, too greasy. The gorgeous steak was overcooked, tough as leather. The pork chop suffered the same fate. The potatoes had little to no flavor. How could this be happening?

Then one day I found a recipe for salmon: seasoned, baked and delicious. It looked good and smelled even better. The best part: it was fantastically delicious! Somehow I had managed to take a recipe, follow it and make a great meal. So I got adventurous and tried another. Then another. Now I love dinner time. I love lunch and I even love breakfast. If its food it will be great and it will be great because I made it.

My secret? I observe, I research, I read recipes, I watch. Then I throw it all away. That's right: I throw it all away and I experiment. Unless I am baking I rarely use a recipe. I know my tastes, what I like, what seasonings I like to use and combine.

Sometimes I will see a spice that I haven't used before. If I think it will work I try it. I know I like my beef rare to medium rare and I have experimented until I know how to bake, broil, sautÃ(c), fry and grill to perfection. I know I like my salmon and pork cooked just right, not rare but definitely NOT overcooked. So when I want something in particular I don't set my sites too high and I cook just enough the first time -- if it's good I enjoy it. If it doesn't turn out, at least I didn't ruin a large amount. If I have something at a restaurant that I like I jot down a few notes and try similar things in my own kitchen. I experiment until I get it right. Once you retrain your brain, what you learn to do with one thing (beef, chicken, carrots, whatever!) you can do with another.

Take things step by step and don't give up. If you want to eat it you will find a way to cook it well. Do your homework in whatever way makes you happy. If you love browsing cookbooks, keep at it and try experimenting. If you love watching TV, find the cooks that appeal to your tastes and style and then watch, listen and learn. Just because TV chef "A" may be the most popular doesn't mean they need to be YOUR favorite. Maybe TV chef "B" is more your style. We all have different learning styles. Whether you prefer to read, be hands-on or observe first and try later, having a sense of your own skills, style and needs will go a long way in getting you where you want to be in the kitchen.

I am no longer a failure and I am no longer afraid of my kitchen. Like my grandfather taught me, never settle for the recipe on the page. And whatever you do: DON'T BE AFRAID OF IT! Try it and you will succeed. Just don't wait too long to learn this valuable lesson. Think of all the great meals you will miss out on if you don't get started today!

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About The Author, Kiezie Rodell
Visit Kiezie at, Resources to Feed the Home Chefs Bliss! Recipes, recipe links, cooking tips and news, kitchen and food shopping, steals and deals and a whole lot more! With a little cooking experience and a love of information you will never go hungry again! Stay tuned for our new cookbooks, too!

Copyright, TL "Kiezie" Rodell (c) 2006 - All Rights Reserved