Some people believe that not just anyone can be a gourmet-quality cook, but that's simply untrue. Learning to be a great cook takes a little time, a little effort, and a little willingness to try new things... and to have things go wrong occasionally. Getting the most out of the experience, however, comes by following some directions, a recipe for better cooking, if you will. Focus on these four simple areas, and your cooking is bound to improve dramatically!
Pay attention to quality in choosing your ingredients. Try to choose good quality, fresh ingredients whenever possible, particularly produce, meat, and seafood. It's possible to save money by cutting corners here, but the compromise to quality, and possibly even to food safety, simply aren't worth it.
- Look for firm, fresh vegetables with the proper feel and bright, healthy colors. Some good places to find them in Knoxville, other than the local farmers' markets, which are hard to beat, are the EarthFare and Fresh Market locations, one each in Bearden and in Farragut.
- Choose meats that have a healthy color and feel to them with no off odors. Both the EarthFare and Fresh Market stores mentioned above carry great meat, as does Laurel Creek Farms, now available in five locations in Knoxville and the surrounding communities. Their meat is superb and is raised locally with grass-fed and pasture-fed products across the board.
- Select seafood that has a clean smell and fresh, healthy look. Fresh fish shouldn't smell too fishy. With seafood, it's also an excellent idea to always strike up a conversation and develop a relationship with the person selling it. They can give you the right information about freshness and quality and can point you toward better buys easily. Try The Shrimp Dock Market in Bearden for top-quality seafood in Knoxville.
- When buying herbs and spices, lean toward small containers of fresher spices. Over time, they go bad as well.
- In selecting other cooking-related goods, pay attention to quality and choose things that you know are good for you and for your palate.
Learning proper cooking techniques makes a huge difference in the outcome of your cooking adventures. Good techniques come into play in a variety of areas in the kitchen: knife use, pan and utensil selection, temperature control, execution, and finishing touches. Any of these areas can be improved by taking some cooking classes, and in Knoxville they are offered regularly through The Glass Bazaar on Kingston Pike on Bearden Hill. Proper techniques make more difference than almost anything else in becoming a great cook.
Though this is something of a technique, falling into the "execution" phase of cooking, proper timing is so important that it has to be mentioned separately. It is critical to pay close attention, gained through classes and experience in the kitchen, to add ingredients or perform certain steps at the right time. For example, when making a dish like this delicious pasta dish with eggs in tomato, adding the tomato even a few seconds too soon, before the eggs have come together all the way, will ruin the dish. Similarly, when making bread or other baked goods, taking your creation out of the oven a few minutes early or late makes for a bad experience that could have otherwise been great.
How can you improve your timing in the kitchen, then? Take classes to get a feel for it and then put time in the kitchen, since experience is where timing and execution really develop.
A good recipe, even if it is impromptu, is the last step to good cooking (not the backbone that many people feel it is!). When the ingredients are good, the technique is appropriate, and the timing and execution are honed, a good recipe to put it all together serves as a map to create the gourmet dishes that epicureans dream of. A good recipe created by a master chef, combined with those other elements and maybe a little bit of personalization, brings the entire food experience together excellently.
So, don't be shy. Get out there, get some good ingredients, learn some good techniques, find a great recipe, and start creating meals of the highest quality!