A few days ago, a friend of mine (who swears she’s allergic
to her kitchen) called me in a panic.
Her in-laws were coming to dinner and she had promised to impress with a
gourmet meal. The trouble was, the only
“gourmet meal” my friend knows how to cook is instant brown rice and ground
turkey (hey, she’s a health nut!).
Needless to say, her lack of culinary skills had her sweating. And that’s why she called me.
As Head Chef for Venice Nutrition, and a Certified Nutrition
Coach for many years, my goal has always been to teach our members how to
create food that helps to stabilize blood sugar, tastes absolutely delicious,
and most of all…….is simple enough that anyone can make! I have had so many wonderful clients over the
years that stick to the same boring food over and over (hello, baked chicken!)
because they claim they “just can’t cook”.
What I have come to find is anyone can cook a great meal….the key is
learning the basics and stepping outside of your culinary comfort zone to try
So , how did I get started?
Yes, I did go to culinary school but I’m truly convinced that though I
learned some wonderful skills there, I have learned just as much on my own! The confidence I possess today as a cook is
not from my formal education, but from the experiments and culinary endeavors
(and disasters!) that took place in my very own kitchen. Below are some tips that have helped me to
become a confident cook and create meals that I’m proud of.
Start by practicing with a basic recipe that can help to
teach you proper seasoning, different cooking techniques and flavor
profiles. A great example would be to
find a recipe for a soup or chili that appeals to you. Soup and chili are very easy to make, and you
can experiment without worrying about drying the dish out or overcooking
it. You can slowly add seasoning and “taste-test”
it as you go to make sure it’s to your liking.
You’ll also gain a great understanding about different flavor
combinations of herbs and spices that work well together. The other bonus about soups and chilis is they are usually on the lighter side and if they are not, they can be with a little tweaking (swap ground beef for lean ground beef, lower the oil to saute the vegetables, etc.)
Once you have
successfully made one chili or soup, it will help to give you the confidence to
make some adjustments. Perhaps in place
of a roasted butternut squash soup, you decide to use sweet potatoes instead. Maybe you add a little diced apple to the pot
to add a subtle sweet note. Or maybe you
toss in a few pinches of cayenne pepper to add some heat. Maybe in the next chili you create, you skip
the ground beef and black beans and try ground chicken and white beans
instead. Noticing a pattern yet? By successfully managing a basic soup or
chili recipe, you’ll have the confidence to switch it up and make it your own,
or try a new soup or chili recipe altogether.
Other simple, basic recipes that I would recommend you try
to master? Roast chicken stuffed with
lemon, garlic cloves, onion and fresh herbs like thyme is sure to impress and
will feed an entire family. Salads are
simply chop, toss and serve and the options are endless. Vegetables drizzled with olive oil and
seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and roasted or grilled go with
everything. A baked or grilled fish like
salmon with lemon, fresh herbs (dill, parsley, etc.) and olive oil is a great starter
recipe for all seafood. Find a recipe
for that particular dish and then use those culinary techniques to explore and
master new recipes.
If you are a Venice Nutrition member, I invite you to check out our database or recipes in the Recipe Tab. I promise that even the most intricate looking recipe has been broken down into easy, basic steps and the end result will be simple but delicious. I'm not into fussy food and when I design recipes for our members and clients, I like to keep it simple.
I like to find culinary inspiration in many sources. After all, we can all learn something from
somebody. When I go to a restaurant and enjoy a creative or delicious dish that
stands out, I’ll try to remember what was in it and re-create it at home. For example, I once had a butter lettuce,
pistachio, cheddar and sliced apple salad with vinaigrette at an upscale
restaurant in Boston. I was able to re-create
this dish at home and give it a healthy spin by reducing the amount of cheese
in the recipe and preparing a low-fat vinaigrette. I served it with grilled fish on the side and
enjoyed my simple but restaurant-worthy meal without the big check and tip!
I’m also a huge fan of the Food Network. If you’ve never watched this channel before and
have any interest in cooking, I highly recommend that you tune in. It’s fun and designed to teach home cooks how
to well…..become cooks! The Food
Network has truly changed the way people view the culinary world, myself
included. Because there are so many
types of culinary professionals teaching their point of view and techniques
they’ve developed and perfected over the years, these shows appeal to so many
home cooks. It’s an unintimidating and
inspirational way to learn to love to cook.
I have learned so much and helped to perfect my own culinary skills and
point of view from watching the Food Network.
When I see a recipe I love, I’ll brainstorm on ways to lighten it up and
many times figure out how to simplify it as well. I’ll then test the dish in my kitchen at home
and put a creative spin on the recipe to make it my own.
Other ways to find inspiration? When you are done reading this blog, stand up
and head to your kitchen. Open up your
kitchen cabinet. I can guarantee you
have a few cookbooks on hand that have collected dust over the years. Peruse the pages and keep an open mind. What recipe catches your eye? What picture makes your mouth water? That’s the recipe you should create
next! Book mark that page, copy down the
ingredients to your grocery shopping list and get cooking!
Do you have a friend or family member who always manages to
wow his or her dinner guests? You know
who I’m talking about. The friend who
makes the stickiest, fall –off- the bone BBQ chicken on the grill or the aunt
whose famous pasta and meatballs are to die for. Ask them to teach you one or two of their
favorite recipes in your kitchen. Offer to purchase all of the ingredients and
invite them to stay for dinner. People
that love to cook also love to show off their culinary skills and would more
than likely be happy to help. Observe,
take notes and ask a lot of questions.
Pretty soon it will be your dish everyone is raving about.
Cooking is a skill that can be learned, perfected and
mastered. The key is putting yourself
out there and trying something new. The
old saying, “practice makes perfect” may be a cliché but it’s true, especially
when it comes to being confident in the kitchen. Try something new and before you know it, you
will be a confident cook who is not afraid to wow your own dinner guests. Eat well! And don't forget to be adventurous..you may just surprise yourself!
Culinary Corner | VNBlog
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