Promises, promises. I sure kept mine! As per my recent post on the culinary mission of the "Worst Cook in America", voilà just a few of the essential dos and don'ts worth considering once you make that delicious commitment to embark on your culinary journey.
Easy recipes, realistic expectations, mouth-watering results:
Do yourself, your wallet and your nervous system a favor and please avoid complex recipes à la Top Chef or Chopped. If you set realistic expectations for yourself as a culinary beginner, you're less likely to get discouraged in case the final masterpiece from the oven is less than what you had originally aspired to. Personally, I made my first steps in the kitchen as an avid follower of a well-known Russian actress and TV personality, Julia Vysotskaya who, aside from hosting her own cooking show on Russian television, is also the editor-in-chief of a successful culinary magazine KhlebSol (translated from Russian: BreadSalt). Unlike some of the enticing but mostly challenging recipes from the likes of Food Network and Cooking Channel, I found her approach to be quick and easy but nonetheless delicious. The essential key for a culinary debutant is finding your own "mentor" -- whether it's a TV presenter or a cooking website you end up bonding with, something or someone you're most comfortable with. As a relative beginner, after several failed attempts to follow beautifully complicated recipes on some of the leading television shows, I had long given up on mastering the craft of gourmet cooking... That is, until I realized not everything I cook or bake has to be Martha Stewart Show worthy.
Keep those ingredients simple and affordable:
Beaver meat, bamboo shots and imported Chinese mushrooms are just not going to cut it -- even if you live two blocks away from Whole Foods. One of the reasons I felt discouraged at the start of my journey was because of these ridiculously extravagant and next-to-impossible-to-get-hold-of ingredients. So if you can't get those Bulgarian bell peppers, does that mean you cannot stuff them with minced meat and rice? Nope. Sorry. It simply does not have to be so complicated.
Find a willing, hungry guinea pig:
Cooking for a supportive, encouraging but honest friend who is willing to embark with you on this culinary mission is a must. Who's going to hold your hand through yet another burnt batch of crepes and tell you to keep at it until you get 'em right? Now, honest does not mean brutal, mind you. However, don't forget that it's not in your best interest to recruit a good friend with a hefty-happy appetite who, in order to avoid upsetting you, their best friend, will never once admit that the frittata you made for breakfast was way too salty or the pumpkin pie much too sugary even for his super-sweet tooth.
Compile a Facebook photo album:
Aiming to keep those dishes both delicious and enticing to look at is worth considering. Make sure your friends can admire your gourmet accomplishments with you... at the very least via the visual aspect of your creations. A few "likes" here and there, and you won't believe the boost you derive from friendly (albeit virtual) encouragement. Like my mama always told me, "presentable can go beautifully hand-in-hand with yummy." So keep those colors vibrant!
Don't give up:
As beginners, we rarely succeed at nailing the dish the very first time. It's quite alright to fail to deliver a "top chef" quality meal each and every time. Come on, let's be fair -- even top-notch chefs don't get it right each and every time. Relax, keep experimenting and whatever you do, don't throw in the kitchen towel just yet!
Wishing you all "Happy Cooking, Baking, Steaming, Poaching" or whatever else you may be inspired to undertake after reading this post. Bear in mind, not everything you make will be a culinary masterpiece, but you may just be that one dish away from becoming either the next Julia Child or, God forbid -- the next "Worst Cook in America." Either way, have fun and be willing to take risks.
P.S. Just in case you were wondering: the photo of a chocolate, vanilla, blueberry and almond cake above is the offspring of one of my very first attempts at baking!