What makes a good cook? Why are some really simple meals memorable, and some very posh ones, not so much? Do you remain within your capabilities and not get too fancy? Is it someone who follows the recipe to the letter? Or perhaps it's that person who can deviate from the recipe and still manage success. Is it precise weighing and measuring, or the ability to know what a cup of flour and a tablespoon of butter looks like? Is it the person who knows how to make the perfect al dente` pasta, or sublime peanut brittle, or crispy salty pork crackling? Or the one whose roast chicken is talked about for decades, if not generations?
For sure it's about using the senses....the colour of a fresh salad or the way a dish is presented (sight), the crunch of perfect pork crackling or pine nuts (sound), the scent of earthy spices or a smoky barbecue (smell), the balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy (taste), and the surroundings in which it's served such as location, table setting (touch..which encompasses skin sensations like breezes or warmth, and the mouth-feel of foods) all make a difference. How else can you explain that a fresh fish caught on the beach and immediately cooked over open coals, can remain in the memory forever, while five star restaurant meals come and go with no one thing standing out?
So here are some thoughts from me on what makes a Good Cook and a Memorable Meal.
1. A good cook will focus on a handful of simple meals, done really well.
Pasta Pomodoro for example, is the number one choice of many Italians for their main meal, and is nothing other than pasta cooked al dente`, and coated in just a little home made tomato sauce (no meat at all) that has been simmered down with garlic and seasoning, and topped with a few slivers of Parmesan from a wedge in the fridge. Right there, with the addition of a fresh crisp salad, you have the makings of a truly memorable meal. That definitely falls into the category of 'something from nothing' for me. After all, who doesn't have tinned tomatoes, pasta, and cheese in their kitchen?
2. A good cook creates their own traditions.
There's nothing like the aroma of a pot roast in the slow cooker in Winter, a fresh and tangy and super moist lemon syrup cake on a hot Summer day, fragrant and fudgy chocolate chip cookies cooling on the bench for school lunches on a Sunday afternoon, fruit cake or cinnamon cookies leading up to Christmas, a special chocolate cake for birthdays, or simple, earthy roast garlic pizzas for supper on Saturdays.
Scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers, and to this day, I cannot smell apple cake or vanilla, without thinking of my Nanna, with whom I baked as a child.
What cooking scents would you like to be remembered by?
3. A good cook grows a few things and uses them generously to make simple meals, more memorable.
Have you ever had scrambled eggs with fresh herbs straight from the garden? A caprese salad made with juicy tomatoes still warm from the sun? A pizza topped with rocket (arugula), feta and cherry tomatoes from the bush outside the kitchen door?
These things are all super simple to create, yet have the potential to create lasting 'good cook' memories, and the secret is to grow just a few simple ingredients yourself.
Now don't be alarmed and don't be frightened off by the blogs and websites that lecture you about dig or no-dig, mulching and so on.
I grow my few little things in large pots on my sunny verandah, and the pleasure we all get from snipping a bit of rocket for our salad, sprinkling some freshly cut garlic chives on our eggs, or pinching a sprig of basil for our pizza, is immeasurable.
Are you a good cook?
What do you think makes a memorable meal?