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Taking cooking to the next level


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#1 Mibr01ac

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:08 PM

Hi guys,

I have quite interested in food and reads and cook a lot. I'm looking to take my cooking to the next level. Technical I think Im ok i.e. can cook most thinks to very good structure and know a lot of the basis technic.

I have tried the following:
Read modernist cuisine
Done cooking days where i practice dishes.
Made list i.e. with chicken and then a number of dishes I can make.
Read blogs and cooking books
Look at cookbooks for inspiration before making a dish

What has worked for you guys? How do yo feel you really have taken a leap in your cooking skills?

Would be happy to receive your feedback.

Michael

#2 Baselerd

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:15 PM

Reading cookbooks that are less about recipes and more about technique always helps me. Modernist Cuisine is great, I also would recommend "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen, although it is very dry (a lot of it I didn't read because it's more about restaurant management and logistics). But it does serve to have a great foundation in most aspects of non-modern cooking (although definitely not a standalone for non-western ethnic foods).

I always try to cook different types of food constantly. If I do cook the same ones, I like to try different techniques. I don't think I've ever repeated a recipe, save for a handful of times...

Have you cooked any of the dishes out of book five from the Modernist Cuisine? That's a sure way to escalate your cooking (or put it to the test >_<). Another great book for challenging recipes is Eleven Madison Park.

Edited by Baselerd, 07 January 2013 - 04:29 PM.


#3 weinoo

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:35 PM

Have you mastered roasting a chicken? Making an omelet? Preparing perfect mashed potatoes? A vinaigrette?

All without looking?

Have you read Joy?

Have you read Mastering?

All of the above will take you far.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#4 Syzygies

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 04:38 PM

At a certain point I decided not to fear complexity. The key is to relax and think through workflow on your own. Switching cuisines, such as doing multicourse Indian meals, really forces one to pay attention to mise en place.

In both work and play, one cannot have a keen enough ear for anomaly. Wrong moves always announce themselves in advance, ever so faintly. Find a state of mind where one listens.

One can only cook as well as one can taste, and then only if you cook for your own tastes.

Anytime I read a biography of an artist I admire, I get the impression that for how hard they work, and how talented they are, they should be better than they are. It's the nature of the beast, and it applies to all of us.
Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"
Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

#5 nickrey

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 05:05 PM

Reading, trying things out, watching others, going to cooking demonstrations as part of food and chef showcases. The latter is important because the chefs often say why they do something (or will do so if questioned) so you can get behind the words of a cookbook or video.

I'd second trying other ethnic cuisines. If you look at top chefs they quite often incorporate ideas from other cuisines into their cooking, not the least because they have stagiers who come from these countries and who share their knowledge.

Many recipes from top chefs involve creating multiple elements and bringing them together. Don't be afraid of spending a few days preparing for a special dish.

One very important thing to do is to learn to taste and adapt cooked products to make them better. Work through Barb Stuckey's book 'Taste what you're missing.' Once you understand how food comes together you can work out what it needs to make it more satisfying. Dishes are made on the basis of adding: a bit of salt, a bit of texture, multiple variants on ingredients (eg. onions cooked two ways), learning to harness the brightening power of acid, working out how bitterness adds to a dish, beefing up umami, adding heat or sweetness.

Lastly, keep trying until you get it right. Some of the processes are complex skills and require lots of practice to master. Set yourself a project such as learning to poach an egg properly and consistently. This will take a long time but when you have it, you will always be able to do it and add it as an element to many dishes.

Join a food society and associate with others who share your passion for food.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog


#6 Lisa Shock

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 11:27 PM

"I also would recommend "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen." -me too!

As a culinary school instructor, I feel that it's important to learn about ingredients, and then about techniques. Particular recipes aren't as important as knowing why a braise differs from a grilled steak, and why you want to use different cuts of meat for each of those techniques. Once you have a knowledge of the main ways of cooking foods, and, know your ingredients, individual recipes aren't so important. You can skim recipes and see what's going on with each one, and then decide which one to use, maybe because one recipe retrogrades the starch for you and that's an effect you want.

Memorizing hundreds of formulas just isn't that important. Once you know about ingredients and technique, you can wing it a bit because you understand the effect of adding an acid, or, browning milk solids.

#7 DiggingDogFarm

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 11:29 PM

Work through Barb Stuckey's book 'Taste what you're missing.'


Thanks!
I just put it on my 'wish list'.

~Martin

~Martin
 
Unsupervised rebellious radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, self-reliant homesteader and adventurous cook. Crotchety cantankerous terse curmudgeon, nonconformist and contrarian who questions everything!
 


#8 Ashen

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 02:17 AM

I don't know what level your knifeskills are but I know that personally my cooking really became much better and more satisfying after I took the time to learn and practice the more common knife skills I usually need. I wouldn't stack up against a pro line cook but I can power through prep and have much better looking food/cuts now. Plus learning proper technique and mostly using the muscles of the shoulder/upper arm instead of wrist/forearm, means I don't get sore when doing a marathon prep job.
"Why is the rum always gone?"
Captain Jack Sparrow

#9 Mibr01ac

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 04:22 PM

Thanks to all for your suggestions. Its good fruit for thought. I will try to buy some of the books you have suggested.

I can feel that I'm moving forward by trying to do new and different dishes. Only problem is that I feel that I missing the understanding of what it is that brings it all together i.e. what is that makes certain combinations good. I think the answer might lie in recommend book "Taste what you're missing" which i will consider buying but I would like to hear you guys views i.e. what is key to understand and bring a dish together?

I have tried cooking days as well and that's actually where I have learned the most for technic. What i still don't understand is what to do when I need to mix different things together. An example could be if i need to cook ragu for spaghetti Bolognese.

I know the basics i.e. sauté onions/vegstibles to enhance the teste, add stocking and boil down to the right consistency, add herps in the end. Use garlic/carot/wine is always good. What I feel I don't understand is
- why carrot is good in a bolognese?
- What does the proportion of the individual ingredients mean for the dish?
- I know that if 50 pct of the dish would be made of onion it would probably not be good but what is the optimal and perfect pct and why?

To sum up my question is: How can i get a better understanding of what mixes/ingredients will take my dishes to the next level?

I welcome your thoughts and once again thank you for your feedback :).

ps.
Do anyone know any good food society and associate in London?

#10 SobaAddict70

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 08:58 AM

I cooked seasonal, mostly meatless meals for an entire year.

When you limit your toolbox to food that only appears for a brief window of time, the possibilities expand, and you find that you have more ideas than ever before.

It worked for me.

#11 Mibr01ac

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 12:57 PM

Thanks to all for your suggestions. Its good fruit for thought. I will try to buy some of the books you have suggested.

I can feel that I'm moving forward by trying to do new and different dishes. Only problem is that I feel that I missing the understanding of what it is that brings it all together i.e. what is that makes certain combinations good. I think the answer might lie in recommend book "Taste what you're missing" which i will consider buying but I would like to hear you guys views i.e. what is key to understand and bring a dish together?

I have tried cooking days as well and that's actually where I have learned the most for technic. What i still don't understand is what to do when I need to mix different things together. An example could be if i need to cook ragu for spaghetti Bolognese.

I know the basics i.e. sauté onions/vegstibles to enhance the teste, add stocking and boil down to the right consistency, add herps in the end. Use garlic/carot/wine is always good. What I feel I don't understand is
- why carrot is good in a bolognese?
- What does the proportion of the individual ingredients mean for the dish?
- I know that if 50 pct of the dish would be made of onion it would probably not be good but what is the optimal and perfect pct and why?

To sum up my question is: How can i get a better understanding of what mixes/ingredients will take my dishes to the next level?

I welcome your thoughts and once again thank you for your feedback :).


Hi guys, do you have any feedback on my questions above?

Would appreciate your thoughts.

Thank you.

#12 pbear

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 10:58 PM

I'll take a stab at this. It would help, though, if you posted or linked the recipe you're looking at, as there are several approaches to bolognese and similar dishes (e.g., ragu and genovese) and they're somewhat different. Broadly speakiing, this class of sauces aims for three things: (i) a balance of flavors, both meat and vegetable, (ii) Maillard reactions (also known as browning), and (iii) body from converting collagen in the meat to gelatin. Carrot contributes to both (i) and (ii), as it has an earthy flavor and browns well. The proportions are important mainly for (i) and are a matter of taste. For example, your assumption that a sauce with lots of onion probably wouldn't be good is misplaced. Typical bolognese and ragu use some but not much, whereas genovese is loaded with them (e.g., four pounds to two pounds of meat). The latter recipe works, though, because the onions are long-cooked (similar to French onion soup).

So, to answer your main question, the best way to get a better understanding would be to make batch after batch of the dish you're trying to master, using one recipe for one attempt and a different one for another. With practice, you will get a sense of what each recipe is aiming to achieve and which balances you prefer. There are only two important rules. Don't scorch the veggies (including the onions) and don't boil the meat. Get those two things right and good food will follow. If you want to better understand the process, the other book I'd recommend (in additkon to those mentioned upthread) is Harold McGee's On Food & Cooking. It's a bit wonky, at times, but well written and one of the best resources on kitchen science ever written for the home cook.

Hope that helps.

#13 nickrey

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 11:38 PM

Thai food works on a balance of sweet/sour/salty/hot (piquant). I've often found that this can also be applied to other types of cooking to bring balance to dishes that are out of alignment.

If you want to explore flavour combinations in more detail, you can try:

The Flavor Bible (Page and Dornenburg)
The Flavour Thesaurus (Segnit)
The Elements of Taste (Kunz and Kaminsky)

These all deal with balance and flavour combinations that work.

Questions you can ask include: What goes together? If they are together, how do I prepare each element so it blends well? What happens if I vary the proportions of ingredients? How about if I add one or more of the ingredients cooked in two different ways? Once they are combined how does it taste? Is anything missing (eg. sweet, sour, salty, hot; or texture)? If so, what do I add to bring it back into balance?

Rather than looking at recipe books, look at what is fresh and at its peak at the markets. Choose some key ingredients and then work out what will go with them.

If you are thinking of being creative with ingredients, look at how they are used by people who have a reputation for being creative.

I'm not sure that it is science that will help you to the next level. It is where the artist and the knowledge of the expert combine to produce creativity.

You could also read Tom Collichio's book "Think Like a Chef" where he attempts to take you beyond recipes into his thought process.

One last comment. Reading these books will give you ideas. But if you don't try them out and are not prepared to fail in some of your endeavours, you will not move to the next level.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog


#14 Broken English

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 08:36 PM

The best suggestion I can give is to try and learn about what is happening to your products as they're cooking, and try and work out what flavours the cooking will bring out of the products.

To quote Raymond Blanc, "when making a stock, taste it every fifteen minutes, it will get to the point where it is delicious and if you cook it longer the flavours will die".
James.

#15 Baselerd

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:11 AM

Are you asking how to compose dishes and select appropriate complimentary flavors? I think that is an intuition that is best gained through experience, but several books have been published on the subject. I also know there's a website called FoodPairing that allows you to build a complimentary flavor profile, although the free version is a bit limited.