I'm often amazed at how easy cooking has become these days. Think about it; our mothers and grandmothers before them had a few trusty recipes that were handed down generations, and that the whole family swore by. Every girl learned them before she left her maiden home. How else would she feed her family? Then suddenly, technology changed it all. From 30-second videos that flood your timeline on Facebook to food bloggers dishing out secret recipes from their kitchens in practically every corner of the globe, cooking up a meal just doesn’t seem as tedious anymore. So not knowing cumin from fennel, or a bread knife from a butter knife, I decided to give it a go.
I began with an Internet recipe for Shepherd’s Pie that I thought was simple enough. But alas! The mince turned out insipid and all I could salvage was the mashed potatoes that, though palatable, looked nasty. Nevertheless, I’m not one to give up easily; my next kitchen experiment was a Carrot Almond Cake. The ingredients (almonds!) were expensive, and I was doing my very best to stick to the recipe. The result: a slightly burnt and extremely dense cake that would have shrunk in shame next to my mother’s regular sponge. After a few more such incidents, it dawned on me that, while cooking is an art, it also requires a knack that can be developed. (Yay! There is hope.)
So if you are an undomestic goddess yourself, don’t throw in the apron just yet. You are probably doing these 9 things I did, that are turning your experiments with TV recipes into one big #FAIL.
- Starting off without any prep: The chefs you see on TV have their ingredients neatly prepped on their counter top. They also have those cute little glass bowls with spices measured to just the perfect quantities required for their recipe. I, on the other hand, would read the recipe and simultaneously try to get things in order. Thanks to that, I had onions go way past golden brown and white sauce thicken to the point of no return.
- Using the wrong technique: Cooking different dishes requires different techniques. Most TV chefs, as well as food enthusiasts, assume you know this. Unfortunately, I didn’t. When I first started out, I hardly knew the difference between searing, sautéing and frying. For me, it was all just pouring oil into a pan, then flipping and tossing my ingredients around. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you might just land up ruining a perfectly good dish and blaming the recipe.
- Substituting ingredients: TV shows make use of all the fanciest ingredients that we may or may not have access to. Either way, they don’t have a household budget to deal with. So instead of canned tomato puree, opt for diced tomatoes blended in the mixer. It hardly makes too much of a difference. The problem arises when you try substituting key ingredients, like rice flour for refined flour (maida). #fingersburnt
- Trying the hardest dish first: I used to diligently watch Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking, where he cooks and eats with the family. He made it look easy as pie. Except pie isn’t easy. My tip: Start off with dishes that allow you to follow a simple cut-and-cook method, rather than a long drawn-out process. Twenty-minute recipes worked great for me. If you’re a newbie, you won’t be disappointed either.
- Going international too soon: I’m a Jamie Oliver fangirl, but I’ve learnt from experience that I cannot whip up all of his recipes. It is okay to try an international cuisine, but picking a recipe that is way too international in its approach might not turn out so fantastic. You may not be able to source the right brand of ingredients and the process could land up being too alien for you.
- Not having the right equipment: TV shows are filled with fancy gadgets and handy kitchen tools that make a chef’s life so much simpler. My basic Indian kitchen wasn’t so well-equipped, which meant I spent a good 10 minutes coring the apples while Rachael Ray got done in a few seconds and did a better job too. Don’t hesitate to invest in a few smart contraptions, if they can speed up your process.
- Being scared to improvise: Cooking is all about flair and sometimes you’ll discover what to do along the way. Following the recipe to the T might not be the best idea. Whether it’s adding a little star anise to a pulao or orange rind to a cream cheese frosting, giving the dish your own personal touch, and improvising a little, goes a long way.
- Not going with your gut: TV cooking shows are 70 per cent drama. That’s why a sprinkle of paprika or a squeeze of lemon juice often looks like a lot more than just that. I’ve learnt to go with my gut and see for myself whether I need a little more or less than the recipe advises. Nine out of 10 times I’ve been right.
- Ignoring presentation: When I first began cooking, I expected my family to be wowed by the rajma-chawal I made. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I have now figured a little trick called ‘plating and presentation’. It makes all the difference at the dinner table, especially for Indian sabzis and gravies. Let’s face it; these dishes look ordinary. But your favourite cookery shows jazz it all up, right? So don’t neglect those finishing touches, even if it’s a little sprig of coriander to garnish a dal or some butter curls on a chicken makhani.
Also Read: Ruchira: The Making of a Culinary Classic
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