Discover Your Inner Chef

As you can tell by my banana bread fiasco, I am not a cook.  Just like the original Miss Corrigan, I too tend to burn whatever it is I am trying to put together.  But, I gotta eat, and I gotta feed my family, so I better learn quick!  So I turned to my cooking confidant, Miss Beaucoup, who always excites me with her love for all things food, except for grapefruit, which we have proven I love the most. I have asked her to light a fire under me so i can light a fire under a good meal.

Without further ado, I present to you Miss Juju Beaucoup:

How to Discover your Inner Chef

Don’t love cooking?  No problem . . . you don’t HAVE to love cooking in order to find the chef within, though it does help.  To start, you simply must love eating food, and when I say food, I mean REAL, fresh-from-the-earth food.  What better motivation to cook than the delightful reward of eating something homemade and delicious?

Though it may come more easily to some than others, every one of us has a chef within that is dying to come out and play.  The key to unlocking your inner chef is a simple as the three L’s:  LEARN, LIVE, and LOVE.

1. LEARN:  As with anything in life, the art of culinary creativity starts with learning. 

There are so many ways to get inspired to find your way in the kitchen.  To begin, just start exploring.  Have a conversation with friends or acquaintances about their experiences with food.  This is a great way to get recipes and tips, or you might even find a cooking comrade.

For those who don’t really love cooking, it is always more enjoyable spending time in the kitchen when you are there with someone you appreciate.  There are also many classes available through community resources that might offer the opportunity to learn with others—check out your local papers or stores for workshops.

Otherwise, find a cooking show you enjoy watching to learn some basics about ingredients and preparation techniques.  Watch before you start or while you’re cooking to stimulate your appetite and get you in the mood.
Jamie Oliver is a great host for those who don’t want to spend too much time cooking; he demonstrates casual, minimalistic and healthy techniques while adding some British wit and charm to the mix. There are endless videos to be seen online, not to mention entire television channels dedicated to food and the culture therein.

The next step to learning is to start trying.  Don’t worry if you feel like you’re going to fail.  Every failed attempt is a learning opportunity to get it right the next time.  When you are first starting, start slowly.  Pay attention to what steps you may have missed or where you went wrong so you can start over or try again another time.  Add ingredients little by little, cook at a lower temperature than suggested (if possible), or eliminate unnecessary ingredients so you can focus more on the interaction of the necessary ones.  Just keep it simple and pay attention to what HAS worked for you.  Success is a great incentive to keep at it!!!

     2. LIVE:  The best thing about cooking is that you can adjust your chef style to your lifestyle. 

One big misconception of cooking is that it has to be time-consuming and impossible to fit into a busy schedule.  With a little planning ahead, the tasks of shopping for and preparing fresh food can be done rather quickly and efficiently.

The best way to do this is to think about your tastes—what do you like to buy at the grocery store, what do you like to eat?  Once you have figured this out, find a couple of recipes that use these ingredients (hello, Google!)  and plan out a few meals for the week that will incorporate them.  Use recipes with few ingredients whenever possible.

A great place to start for simple, quick meals is pasta, sandwiches, tacos or even a good stir-fry.  Virtually any ingredients can be turned into a tasty version of these dishes.  They are all quick to prepare, complete meals, can easily be made with extra leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, and are much more satisfying than yet another frozen dinner.

Once you have your footing with these basic meals, start to be a little daring and try something new.  Maybe you love that coconut curry you always get at your favorite Thai restaurant—go online and find yourself a simple DIY version to try at home.  Chances are you will be able to find the ingredients easily and it might even lead you to a new, specialty grocery store that you’ve never visited or even knew about.

Be creative about where you buy your food. The process itself is an incredibly engaging way to bring out your inner chef.  Finding food locally is much more motivating and rewarding than going to the same supermarket you can find in Anytown, USA.  Going to the farmer’s market to buy your produce and meat for the week is a pleasant activity that will excite you to get home and get busy using the wonderful things you just purchased.  If you don’t have access to a good farmers’ market year-round, try your local-food co-op, health store, or ethnic food stores for some basic ingredients.  Sometimes these stores are more expensive, but without a doubt, the quality of the ingredients you will find here is worth the extra cost.  In any case, being imaginative with where you find food can really help you lively up your chef-self.

     3. LOVE: It’s an age-old idea that the secret ingredient to good cookin’ is love.

This is absolutely true!!!  Cook when you are in a good mood, and if you’re not, then find a way to set the mood.  Put on some good music and relax.  Think of someone you love while you prepare your food, and if possible, share with them when it comes time to enjoy your finished product.  Without a doubt, the more love you put into cooking, the more love will come back to you and the more you will love to cook!  If you don’t love what you’re doing then it’s not even worth doing it—find a way to add some love to your food and the rest will take care of itself.

The bottom line is that we all have our own obstacles that keep us from cooking.  If you think you don’t have time to prepare your own food, you do.  It takes more time (not to mention more money) out of your busy day to run and grab something at the store than to plan ahead and bring something with you before you start your day.  There are endless options for quick dinners and it goes even faster if you have a little help (kids, roommates, husband . . . gasp!).  If you think you simply don’t like cooking, think again.  Think of the satisfaction that comes from eating and allow yourself to take pride in the food you make, especially if you didn’t really want to make it.  If you think you are no good at cooking, then keep learning.  Skill can come from knowledge and knowledge is empowering—with some initial effort on your part, your ability will expand and become effortless in time.  Whatever your excuse is, ask yourself this:  Why do I eat?  That reason in and of itself is a good enough reason to start making your own food, if only once in a while.  I promise you that the more joy you seek in cooking, the more joy you will get out of it!

HAPPY COOKING AND BON APPETIT!

COMING NEXT FROM JUJU BEAUCOUP:

The new chef’s guidelines to using great ingredients!

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