How to cook, properly.

How To Cook (Beyond Boiling an Egg)

Learning how to cook.

I am a lover of homemade meals. Not quite a foodie, but definitely interested in the preparation, sourcing and seasonality of food, I fall neatly in the category of, “she can make a good (nutritious) dinner, but it’s not absolutely life-altering.” I listen to a few foodie podcasts here and there and occasionally read the NY Times food column(s), but I am no means an aficionado. Try as I might, I have the hardest time following a recipe, probably because I have absolutely no idea how to organize my grocery list when I’m at the store. I wander through the isles pulling randomly at ingredients I either have a craving for or because I know they’re “good for me,” seldom choosing the smaller garnishes like fresh parsley or red wine vinegar, because really, what are they for? I still haven’t quite figured out how to properly chop an onion, and I despise mincing garlic because of the smell that lingers underneath my fingernails. But alas, I will admit that their presence in a dish is necessary.

I’ve willingly labeled myself an “ingredient prepper” because in a nutshell, I can saute eggplant marvelously and roast sweet potatoes to perfection, but ask me to make risotto and you are shit out of luck. As I approach my twenty-third year of solar rotations, I want to expand my culinary skills to include more than honing a perfect chicken soup and mastering 5-minute instant pot meals. Though my grocery shopping will continue to remain a discombobulated array of frantically shoving as many vegetables in my cart as possible, I want to stretch myself to learn how to chat with butchers about good cuts of meat as well as learning to understand how to put together meals that reflect seasonality and not just convenience. Moreover, I want to prove to myself that I can change, I want to prove to myself that I can learn how to cook.

I’ve been asking myself a lot lately if it’s possible to undergo personal reconstruction in the name of authentic change. For twenty-three years I’ve evolved in a myriad of ways (duh), but there are definitely still parts of me that I want to expand. Since shying away from diets and vowing to let myself experience food freedom and body acceptance, I want to make sure I continue doing myself justice when it comes to owning my personal growth. So I want to learn how to cook. I want to use butter and marvel in its golden phosphorescence as it magically heightens a perfectly seared scallop. I want to waltz up to a fishmonger and confidently order sea bass without feeling like an imposter waiting to be uncovered, “sea bass is for people who actually know what it looks like before ordering it,” I imagine she would yell from behind her smelly outpost.

Needless to say, I want to be better. I have four cookbooks to my name, plus one extra I stole from my mom’s house. I don’t think she even knows she used to own Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year. With these five manuals resting lazily above my fridge, I decided to finally use them. Sitting down to a warm cup of coffee on a rather hungover Sunday morning, I cracked open my newest obsession, Dining In by Alison Roman. Immediately in love with her preamble at the front, I felt like she was talking directly to cooks like me. Not quite a novice, I can boil an egg, okay, but not quite professional, what on earth even are gizzards…her recipes finally felt doable, like they could legitimately teach me how to cook.

To begin, I chose a recipe I wouldn’t otherwise opt for. Seared scallops with brown buttered corn and fresh cilantro, and a refreshing bean salad with homemade green Romesco dressing. Thinking pictures of the recipes on my phone would suffice at the grocery store, it took me far longer than it should have navigating the isles of Berkeley bowl searching for each ingredient in the coagulated mess of pictures saved to my camera roll. Nevertheless, I succeeded, and made it home (much later than I thought) but with every necessary ingredient and not a single one skipped! I actually bought the red wine vinegar *hold the applause*. To learn how to cook means to learn the art of patience and organization as well.

After the groceries were unloaded, I poured myself a glass of white wine from a bottle that’s been in my fridge for so long I forget how it even arrived there, and set about preparing each component. Chopping cilantro, smashing my peas with a skillet, and letting the spices open up from the heat of the stove and the fat from the butter, a smell like that from a real restaurant began wafting through my kitchen. After the scallops had browned and the salad plated, I toasted a fresh baguette and set our kitchen table for two.

Elan and I enjoyed that meal very much, despite our puppy Penny staring at us square in the face while proceeding to pee on her bed just as we sat down to eat. There were things I could have done differently, the beans needed a little more lemon and the scallops needed a touch more salt, but I followed three distinct recipes, start to finish and it actually turned out edible. And pretty delicious if I do say so myself.
I was listening to a podcast the other day where a chef was being interviewed for her cookbook that had just been released. While I forget the main thread of their conversation I do remember one thing she said. She mentioned that cooking from a book requires trust. The chef/author compiling the recipes is giving a little piece edible delight in return that you trust what she’s laid out in front of you. With thoughtful attention, it’s not hard to realize that the heavy lifting has already been done before you even preheat the oven or peel your potatoes. All that’s left to do is trust the process and enjoy it for each of its parts.

I suppose this little byline is important to remember for a lot of other things too. To trust the process. Not all recipes turn out…burnt toast happens to all of us, but understanding that if we let ourselves trust that it will all be okay chances are it will be. So here I am, learning how to cook! I still love frozen veggies in a pinch, but now I trust myself enough to know that with a little love and attention acquiring a new skill is possible.

About the author

Gabi Maudiere enjoys eating rice cakes (smothered in crunchy peanut butter) despite popular criticisms and adheres strictly to the notion of reading before bed, even if it's just half a page before falling asleep.