Does the idea of creating a home-cooked meal seem more like an act of alchemy than an actuality? While the competence to cook a well-composed meal for yourself and others has long been considered a basic ability, so many people in today’s world are intimidated when it comes to even setting foot in the kitchen.
As any chef will tell you, however, getting comfortable at your countertop needn’t be complicated; with a little bit of time, a set list of tasks, and a lot of taste tests, just about anyone can get cooking. So ready your cutting boards Hudson Valley, because we’re proposing a culinary intervention! We asked local chef and cookbook author Shelley Boris how she recommends conquering your culinary nerves, getting more involved in mealtime, and taking charge of your kitchen. Boris, Executive Chef and Creative Director at Fresh Company, a catering and event-planning service operating out of the Garrison Institute in Putnam County, doesn’t believe in defining or living by a regime of “healthy eating.” Instead, she prefers to create meals that can be “nourishing, satisfying, and delicious,” that take time to eat, and cause you to linger around the table with your loved ones. Here’s how to begin:
Create and Care For Your Workspace
Adjust the aesthetic of your workspace so that it is somewhere you actually want to be. Make sure that it’s clear of clutter, has nice lighting, and that you like the look and feel of things. Then stock it with the appropriate tools — a nice, decent-sized cutting board and a medium-size, sharp chef’s knife — and make a list of everything you are planning to prep beforehand. “Really think things through,” suggests Boris. “Write down the menu you plan to serve, and make sure you know how much time it will take to prepare and make everything.”
Cook From The Classics
An easy way to get started is by attempting trusted recipes; Boris recommends consulting cookbooks by the likes of Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, or other culinary greats. She also emphasizes that it’s equally important to “be respectful of your learning style. If you’re more of a hands-on or visual learner, try watching an instructional video or checking out a blog with a lot of photographs.”
Use Your Senses
Once you have the basics down, it’ll be easiest to start experimenting by relying on your senses. “If you know that a few things taste well together, chances are they’ll come together into something you think is good,” Boris explains. “For examle, you like mozzarella, tomato, and basil, so try to make a pizza using those ingredients.” The more you cook, the more willing to try something new you’ll be. Or as Boris says, the more apt you are to “cook with your head.”
The next time you make that pizza, try adding something new — like fennel: “Maybe it’s not your favorite, but you think it might work well together, so just try it! You might just realize that you’re mostly scared of the new ingredient rather than not liking it.”
Focus on a Few Ingredients
It’s important to stay simple and focus on just a few ingredients at first. Only keep ingredients that you will actually use, and organize your fridge and cupboards to streamline the thought process when you start cooking. “Keeping ingredients on hand that you don’t like will only turn into an intimidating blur, causing clutter and more anxiety about even starting to cook,” advises Boris.
Don’t Skimp on Quality
“I know high-quality food can sometimes be expensive, but buying the best you can is an easy way to step up your food,” says Boris. “Compromise elsewhere; maybe go to one less movie.” She also believes that incorporating local ingredients helps in sustaining the local economy, but “be wary of high-cost gimmicks when purchasing.”
If you’re really anxious about the whole thing, take it one step at a time. Focus on serving as a method of cooking, because that can be what makes people most nervous. “Maybe get some good bread, some good cheese, and dried fruits — so you don’t have to worry about their temperature or whether they’re ripe — and present them beautifully. Ease yourself into the whole thing; remember that presenting can be a form of cooking too.”
Relax: There’s More Than One Way to do Things
First thing to do is adjust your expectations, decide what’s wrong, and “realize that even if something doesn’t come out exactly the way you intended, it may still be good, or just require a different method of serving.” Most importantly, taste everything from start to finish so you can adjust accordingly. “Keep it so simple,” says Boris, and just get cooking.
For more tips from Boris, including Easily Avoidable Culinary Mistakes and Cooking For a Crowd, go to www.hvmag.com/shelleyboriscookingtips