Saturday, September 17, 2016

Are Cooks Born or Trained?

Cheddar Potato Soup
How did you get started in the kitchen?  Curiosity?  Necessity?  A cooking class?

For me, it was necessity.  A newly minted college graduate sharing a one-bedroom apartment in New York, I had a low-paying job and a large appetite.  To keep from going hungry, I had to start cooking.  But I didn’t know how to make anything.

Luckily a colleague invited me to dinner at her apartment.  A few years older and seasoned in the kitchen, she showed me how to whip up a pot of Spaghetti with Garlic Sauce.  Although I had never eaten this dish before, it immediately became a weekly, if not daily, dinner.

The lesson most people would take away from this experience would be to take a cooking class.  Obviously by watching someone else make a recipe, I could follow their lead and have success.  After all, I had already done it once. 

Ornery as I am, though, I decided to skip the human contact aspect of the equation.  I would simply open a cookbook, pick a recipe and follow the directions as best I could.  For some reason I trusted that any recipe that was printed in a book would work.  Soon enough I realized that’s not true, but I didn’t change my approach.  I just became more careful about what cookbooks I bought.

Over the years I taught myself to cook.  Ultimately that’s how my first cookbook,  "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!" came about.  I had tried to teach my co-author son Kevin how to cook, but all he wanted to master was the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  I showed him how, and that was it for personal cooking lessons.  He finally learned, like I did, by trying out recipes.  But in his case there was the incentive of a publisher’s paycheck at the other end.

Here is one of his favorite recipes from that first cookbook. 
Cheddar Potato Soup – serves 2 as a meal, 3 as a soup (adapted from  "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!") 
1 tablespoon butter 
1 medium onion, thinly sliced 
1 tablespoon flour 
1 14-ounce can chicken, beef or vegetable broth plus 1 can water or 1 1/2 tablespoons
     chicken, beef or vegetable broth
 concentrate plus 3 1/2 cups water  
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese 
Dash black pepper 
Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the slices begin to soften.  Add the flour and stir constantly until it is fully absorbed.  Add the broth and water and turn up the heat to high. 
When the soup comes to a boil, add the potato cubes.  When the mixture returns to a boil, cover and turn down the heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft enough to be mashed. 
Turn off the heat and, using the back of a large spoon, mash some of the potatoes into the broth.  The rest can remain in cubes to vary the soup’s texture. 
With the heat still off, add the Cheddar cheese and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.  Season with black pepper and serve.