1 [ trans. ] prepare (food, a dish, or a meal) by combining and heating the ingredients in various ways. • [ intrans. ] I told you I could cook | [as adj. ] ( cooked) a cooked breakfast. • [ intrans. ] (of food) be heated so that the condition required for eating is reached .
2 something Joel is really, really bad at.
And yet I try. Last November, I bought a Brinkman’s 3-in-1 smoker, steamer, and bar-be-que. I have used it five times now, with various results. The first use was grilling a couple of steaks shortly after having bought (and cured) the grill. The second time was for the Christmas turkey. The third through fifth times were this past month, cooking for my family and a few friends.
The results were, as I said, varied. During my first attempts with the grill, I stuck to tried and true recipes I gleaned from the internet and followed religiously. The more recent attempts, however, were more experimental.
We had some friends come over and I attempted two (huge) steaks and a bit of grilled shark. I abstained from the internet and instead went for a bit of a steak sauce marinade and lots of lemon and orange juice squeezed over the meat while it was cooking. The steak was really good. The fish was ok, without being stellar.
But that’s not really important now. What’s important is why I have been trying to cook.
I’ve always been a big guy. In the last two years though my weight has gotten absolutely out of control. Cite the usual reasons – a desk job, a long commute, eating fast food in the car, not taking enough time to exercise, etc. etc. I decided that maybe if I learned to cook, I would begin eating better, possibly less, and that the activity would be good for me as well.
Prior to this my cooking experiences were less than promising. Starting with the Intro to Cooking class I took as an elective in Jr. High where I learned very little that I retained save for how much I enjoy Waldorf Salad and that my friend CJ was kind of an idiot. (It’s a whole other story.) My cooking ineptness culminated in an incident where in I almost burned down the house of the girl I was dating while trying to make her pancakes for breakfast. My cooking, in other words, all the way through high school, college, and after was pretty much limited to things that came out of cans or boxes and involved less than three steps.
In fact, according to my college roommate Chuck, anything that involved less than three steps was not technically cooking. It was merely food preparation. He had a point.
Now, for full disclosure, a good part of my wanting to learn to cook was fueled by my addiction to Top Chef. I’m incapable of watching something I think is cool and not wanting to try it. I watch Miami Ink and I want to get a tattoo. I watch Deadliest Catch and want to take a year off to go work in the Bering Sea. And when I watch Top Chef, I want to be able to cook.
I began where I always begin, the internet. YouTube in this case, looking for cooking videos that I could follow. One of the videos I came across was Gordon Ramsay bar-be-queing buffalo meat as hamburgers. The idea seeemed simple enough, and even if I couldn’t get hold of any buffalo meat, the other things Ramsay incorporated (dicing a red onion into his mince, topping the burger with buffalo mozzarella cheese) seemed like things I could do by myself.
So, while I mainlined the first two seasons of Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, I began shopping for a grill. My wife and I had bought a house the previous August so it seemed only natural to wait until we had gotten everything unpacked before buying anything new. As anyone who has ever moved can tell you, unpacking can take years and I eventually got tired of waiting and bought a charcoal grill.
While this brought me great acclaim and several dozens of “man points” from my friends, the somewhat cumbersome and wasteful nature of charcoal grills made itself apparent and the grill sat unused for months at a time. In the meantime, several cookbooks appeared on my Amazon wishlist and remained unpurchased. Especially as my job changed suddenly and the copious free time I had had vanished in the night.
Still, learning to cook and cooking for myself, remains a goal. The cookbook I have been reading about and most want to try is The Ratio. The idea behind the book is that the professional kitchen cook or chef uses certain ratios in their cooking, even if they’re not aware that they’re doing so. Therefore, by teaching the novice cook to use these same ratios, anyone can learn to cook. Personally, this concept fits fully into my idea of geek – that anyone can learn to do anything given enough time and patience.
Two weeks ago, I managed to cook some really nice chicken on the grill for my family for dinner and did so without specific aid from the internet, merely with some tips I half remembered from watching various cooking shows. My wife was quite pleased, both that she didn’t have to cook and that the expensive grill was seeing more than one use per year. So I’m planning on trying again soon.
However, there are things I have learned about myself in the attempts so far:
- The fun is in trying, most times I could care less about the final result. In fact, I’m usually planning the next assault while still enjoying the fruits of my labor.
- I have to do it myself. Give me all the advice you want, it won’t make sense until I have royally cocked it up all on my own. That’s when your advice will make sense, now that I know how not to do it.
Where I go from here, I’m not actually sure, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go.