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Lots of home cooks, a few good home chefs

Many home cooks struggle with the challenges of making interesting, delicious tasting, everyday family meals. They vow to never make their mother's Sunday pot roast smothered in Lipton's Dried French Onion soup again or quake at the prospect of another uninteresting eight-hour "meal the CrockPot,"

Many home cooks, in search for something different, now to turn to cooking websites or order multiple subscriptions to food magazines... only to find themselves trapped as slaves to recipe regimen or ingredients/spices/herbs that they purchase for one meal and never again use . Becoming an experienced and accomplished home chef is a challenging endeavor that takes time and energy, made all the more complicated when meals have to be appealing to individual family members' palates.

Most home cooks want to "elevate" their game and move to "Home Chef" status. The first fundamental of becoming an experienced Home Chef: a well-stocked "pantry" (liberally defined to include your refrigerator as well). In the early years, home cooks quickly learn that having even the simplest ingredients readily available can shortcut meal preparation time, thus reducing the inevitable pre-dinner angst that 90% of most new cooks endure.

Most of these ingredients are store-bought, e.g. good versions of extra-virgin olive oil, low-sodium chicken broth, a piquant dijon mustard, soy sauce and balsamic vinegars, dried pasta and rice assortment, diverse rack of dried spices and simple fresh herbs, to name only a few. Most home cooks start and many remain in the "recipe reader/follower" stage and remain tied to cookbook dispensation of ideas, ingredients and how-to.

Many become very accomplished and skilled or, as a close friend says pejoratively about himself. "I can cook the hell out of a recipe." However, an inexperienced home cook with a culinary passion needs to learn about food itself, i.e. the chemical interplay among meats, fishes, oils, spices, herbs and citrus, essentially the ABCs of "cooking."

Becoming familiar with basic food principles (e.g the Maillard reaction when cooking meats, the release of starches from foods like potatoes and rice and the impact on taste, texture and consistency) et. al. will allow the interested cook to make even daunting looking recipes seem easier but also provide a base for creative cooking without the recipe crutch.

Once these principles are better understood, the interested home cook should revisit his or her pantry (and refrigerator) with the idea of experimenting with as many new ingredients, herbs and spices as his or her budget can accommodate. At the same time, the aspiring Home Chef should also become a voracious reader of "all things food", not with the idea necessarily of focusing on particular recipes but just increasing knowledge about food preparation. The goal at this point?

Arriving at home on a work-night and creating a simple delicious meal, without a recipe and without a a time-consuming, detour to the local market on the way home. Becoming a truly accomplished Home Chef takes time and energy. The Home Chef never stops looking for new ways to improve upon existing favorite foods or using different spices. The Home Chef knows how best to use a CrockPot for convenience without sacrificing taste or what foods are best braised.

Home Chefs are always picking up ingredients, herbs and spices and storing them in the pantry with only a general idea how they are going to use them. Every home cook with a passion for food and willing to spend a few hours a week can become an accomplished Home Chef by application of these principles.

Any Home Chef worth his or her salt can intuitively make a healthy, delicious version of that Thanksgiving Day favorite, Green Bean Mushroom Casserole, without that can of processed Cream of Mushroom soup. The trick is being prepared and knowing what to do.