Friday, April 27, 2012

7 Tips for the Truly Cooking Impaired

You don't have to keep your fire extinguisher here, just close.

I know who you are. I’ve seen you furtively throw away a baking dish too burnt to clean, and I know there are 22 Lean Cuisines in your freezer. While other people peek into your medicine cabinet when they use your bathroom, when I hit your kitchen for a drink of water, I look in the fridge and the trash. Now, just admit it, you're cooking impaired and let me help. OK? If you even try one or two of these tips, I promise you'll be that much closer to not needing to keep the pizza guy on speed dial.

1. Buy a proper fire extinguisher. All of us who cook should have one, and it should be one that is rated for all types of fires, but if you are a little, um, clumsy in the kitchen, this one tool is something that can turn a possible disaster into a good Happy Hour story. Every kitchen absolutely, positively has to have one. Mine doesn’t live there on the stove, but I needed to show you what a good fire extinguisher looks like. It lives under the sink, in the front, left hand side. Always.

2. An actual, full sized kitchen knife, that never goes into the dishwasher, and never gets used to pry open a stuck pull-tab. Honestly, I don’t know how many times at work I hear “I’m afraid of big knives”. Now, I’m not talking about a machete. I’m talking about a standard 8” cooks knife (my favorite Shun Classic is pictured) or a 7” santoku. I get customers in the store regularly who apparently prepare whole family holiday meals with something the size of a pocket knife. Now it’s certainly possible to do, but it makes the job so much harder and you are MORE likely to hurt yourself with an inadequate tool. Go to a good kitchenware store and find someone knowledgeable to help you select a good one and ask how to care for it properly. Do what they tell you and it’ll last longer than you will.

I love this knife so much I'd carry it from my burning home after the dog and Chuck.
 In that order.

3. A good all-purpose cookbook. Like the classic Fannie Farmer Cooking School Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking or Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Anything”. Those books are like having a smart Mom or Dad or a good cook friend right there. Before disaster strikes. Especially on the last Thursday of November and the turkey STILL isn’t thawed.

4. Cook something once a week. A grilled cheese sandwich and a salad.  Bake some chicken parts. You may not even WANT to become a good cook, but you DO need to be able to get by in the kitchen when circumstances warrant it. You should know how to use every appliance in your kitchen. In the sad-but-true- category: I once was hired by a mother to give her daughter a few private cooking lessons. Turns out the daughter had been married 2 years lived in a palatial house with a to-die-for kitchen, and hadn’t even taken the packing material out of the microwave. She could sauté a chicken breast and could roast a few vegetables confidently after our second lesson. Her husband was so elated he bought her a Tiffany bracelet. Really, he should have bought ME one, too!
5. Keep the kitchen clean, and empty the fridge every 2 weeks. Please. Try to learn to clean up as you cook, or at least resolve to have the kitchen tidy before you go to bed each night. NOTHING is worse than coming home from work to fix a meal and still find the remains of the last one piled up in the sink. That makes you get takeout, and blows the budget. Honestly, you really don’t need to pay the electric company to keep that mold going in that container, either. Clean out the fridge, and if you’ve still got any restaurant leftovers or take out more than two days old, toss it out. Especially grains like rice or pasta. Bacteria LOVE that stuff.

6. Learn how to shop for great ready-made dishes if you don’t cook. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless because she has passed off some pretty spectacular meals as home-cooked. I can’t give her away, since if you really are a non-cook, it’s something to emulate. Know where you can buy the best already prepared foods in your area. It there’s a little Mom & Pop Italian deli that has wonderful lasagna, ask if the next time you need to feed guests, if you supply a baking dish, they’ll make one for you. Bet they will. You just bring it home, heat it up and reap the compliments. Same goes with just about everything. Most good, high end supermarkets have fairly sophisticated take-out catering, and that catering manager can be your best friend. Go to a good cheese shop like DiBruno's and have them prepare a tray with cheeses, olives, fruit and crackers…who’ll know? Just take the catering containers out to the trash before the first guest arrives.

7. Reciprocate to the good cooks who DO feed you.
Mom, friends, etc. While most cooks are happy to have appreciative mouths to feed, a little gratitude (or wine, flowers, a movie) can go a long way. Or, ahem, a gift certificate to their favorite kitchenware store. 


  1. I wish I could hire you to come teach my daughter how to cook!! Although....she's getting better.

    You are so right about the knives. Nothing is worse than a dull knife or one too small for the job.


    1. Well, at least it sounds like your daughter is doing some cooking. Like everything else, it takes practice, and mistakes that you learn from, too.