Some of the worst cooks I know think they are 'good cooks,' my Aunt Sally leading that list. She thinks some of her fare should be in the "Joy of Cooking" or a Betty Crocker cookbook. She really does.
Sad to say, Aunt Sally does everything wrong in the kitchen. Absolutely everything, to include:
1. The worst transgression a cook can make is to serve food that is supposed to be hot cold. A juicy steak is no good cold. Nor are french fries, pizza or any number of other hot dishes. Aunt Sally figures that just cooking it is good enough, put it aside and wait for the other stuff on the stove to get done, then serve it all up the same time. No. Don't do that. Timing is a crucial part of good cooking. Pay attention to the cooking time on the dishes you plan to serve, and time them to come off the stove or out of the oven simultaneously. To do otherwise makes you a bad cook.
2. Substitutions of ingredients on a proven recipe, never a good idea. Cooking is nothing more or less than chemistry; all the ingredients interact together chemically to produce the desired effect. To change anything, and I mean ANYTHING to include ingredients or quantity of ingredients in a proven recipe is to ruin it. Margarine is NOT a substitute for butter. It may look the same, but chemically it is nowhere near butter. Splenda, or other sugar free products are NOT a substitute for real sugar, and skim or soy milk is nothing like whole milk. Not the same stuff at all, and these different ingredients act completely different when heated. They are NOT interchangeable. But you can't tell Aunt Sally that.
3. Fresh ingredients are critically important to good cooking: it really matters when you use fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and breads. Frozen green beans are NOT a reasonable substitute for fresh green beans. And canned green beans should be outlawed in any recipe, they are complete junk. Frozen leftovers should never be used in a proven recipe, but don't tell Aunt Sally that, her world will be turned upside down. She actually thinks that previously cooked (well done) and then frozen sirloin steaks are a good idea to serve to guests when re-heated in the microwave oven. No, no that is certainly not a good idea. I know this to be true from personal experience.
4. Cookware and stove tops can make or break the difference between good and bad cooks. Having some good quality non-stick pots and pans in inventory is a good start. Aunt Sally has no such equipment; all her cookware was purchased at some point during the Reagan administration. Some of it was at one point Teflon non-stick, but all of that has since been scrubbed off: well, almost all of it. There are still a few flakes of the stuff in every mouthful of her fare. To make matters worse, she has an electric stove top. Controlling the temperature of these electric elements is virtually impossible, and to suggest she pop for a gas stove top is akin to waving a crucifix at Dracula, or telling a sumo wrestler that he can only eat at the salad bar at Golden Coral. Let's just say words will be exchanged, heated words. She's going to be buried with that decrepit old electric stove top, as she will never willingly part with it.
If you want the stuff you cook to be edible, just keep things simple: follow the recipe exactly with no substitutions, serve it up at the right temperature, use fresh ingredients and cook it in cookware from this century on a gas cook top, and likely your food will be considered 'tasty.' Break any of these rules, and you qualify as a 'bad cook.'
Just like my Aunt Sally.
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