I love to cook. Cooking is a way for me to relax and be creative. It’s something that forces me to learn new things. And it also is a way of helping out around the house – needless to say I have been trained well.
I have my favourite recipes – which firmly reside in my head; and I have a large number of cookbooks in the cabinet. Being a sucker for a well-printed book, many of these cookbooks have famous chef names like Jamie Oliver, Michael Smith and Gordon Ramsey on them. Not that I profess to be able to cook as well as those chefs. When I drop a pan on my foot – I have been known to adopt some of Ramsey’s more colourful phraseology.
Since I was a kid I’ve dabbled in the culinary arts. Back then it was the basics like grilled cheese or maybe a spaghetti sauce. My roster of staples has grown since then, but I don’t veer too much out of my comfort zone of cooking because while I like to learn, I hate to fail.
Yes, we learn by failing. It’s something I even say when coaching soccer. While anyone can learn by kicking and missing the net, burning a roast has financial implications which influence my fear of failure. Sure, I could get over it – but have you seen the cost of food lately?
Last weekend I thought I’d attempt a recipe that has stumped me for at least five years. It should be simple. When broken down to its separate components, I could master it all. Combine those parts together and it turns into something I wouldn’t feed to people I dislike – okay maybe to a few people.
I have attempted this unnamed recipe at least 10 times; each time turning into a mess. What is the definition of insanity again? Last weekend was the last straw. Line-by-line I followed the directions. Every ingredient matched. Baking at 400 F for 45 minutes in Canada is the same as baking at 400 F for 45 minutes in the UK, right? When the timer went off, I pulled the tray and compared my results to that of Jamie Oliver’s book. Not even close.
You can Photoshop a lot of things and I have seen a lot of photographers over-saturate photos and doctor photos to make things look great – but there was no saving this. The book had to be a fake. Out of frustration, I resorted to writing in Sharpie across the recipe “DO NOT ATTEMPT” in bold print. What I was forced to learn is: just as the photo of that beautiful bacon cheeseburger will let you down when you see the real thing, so too will some cookbook author’s recipes.
The week was not all a loss though, because I did finally learn how to properly use my good stainless steel cookware.
Just before the pandemic began, I ordered a really good set of Meyer (made in PEI) stainless cookware. It’s something I’ve wanted for years and there was a really good sale. I was sold. I’ve used the usual non-stick brands for decades and again, I wanted to learn something new. And these fancy pots and pans looked cool. The set even came with a Michael Smith cookbook – it was like the sale was tailored for me alone, calling me to buy it.
The box arrived a few days later and after carefully unpacking and washing everything, the items were put away. Old pots and pans were handed down to children who live on their own and the circle of life continued.
These new pots boiled water well, but it was these frying pans that I didn’t know what to do with. I was used to non-stick cookware. Life was easy.
I tried cooking an omelet in the new pan and ended up scraping more egg off the pan than was eaten. Ditto with chicken, fish, and pork chops. “What was I doing wrong,” I asked myself, the internet, and friends. I had a bad result with cast iron frying pans in 2019 and started to think that I was in for a repeat.
After sifting through the non-cooking related answers, the frying pans were placed in the cabinet and I resumed using my old stuff. “That’s what tomorrows are for,” I thought (a phrase I picked up from somewhere.)
It still bothered me that there was this challenge calling to me. This set was not cheap, even if it was on sale, and those pans shouldn’t be sitting there unused. Finally, I did some research, and with the help of a certain cooking columnist I know, I am happy to report that I now know how to properly use said stainless steel frying pans. I made pork chops last night and nothing stuck to the pan. Easy-peasy!
Learning new things is scary. It’s important to still try to do so. Just as important is to learn how to do things correctly. The alternative is to waste money – time – or both, leave your nice things in a box and pick flecks of Teflon off your food. No one needs – or wants – to do that.
Column originally published in the February 8, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.