How to Be a Gourmet Cook in 3 Easy Lessons

Have you been to a restaurant before? When you eat the food, you think it's fabulous but when you pay the money it is horrible. Have you ever thought of cooking like one of those chef's or have you dreamed of cooking like them? Do you want to be a professional chef? If you do, this article would teach you how to become a spectacular chef.


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    To begin with this will take you about 1 hour per lesson. You will do them in batches on different days. You will need to prepare base dishes for experimentation. Make them big batches because you will want to use small portions as a base for difference testing and don’t want to have to recook new batches. If you normally cook for a family, don’t do this for them. If you cook for one or two others, ok.
    • Pick one or two of the following bases and make them ahead so you can have it ready when you begin testing. I won’t give you a recipe, but you’ll be fine. Each is basic with NO seasoning, added ingredients, or complicated steps. You will need about ½ cup of base for each person per each test you will prepare. Each test will total about 3 to 4 portions so 4 servings x 3 lessons = 12 ½ cup portions = 6 cups per person. AND they don’t have to eat every bite. Remember this is experimentation.
    • ROASTED POTATOES - Actually you’ll use the microwave, not the oven. It works for testing just as well. Cut the potatoes into 1" cubes. Spread on a platter and put in the microwave on high until done (probably about 10 minutes). The surfaces will be dried, the center done. Put them into a big baggie or covered serving dish in the refrigerator to use later.
    • STEAMED RICE - Do check a recipe, but the easiest way is to mix the water and rice together in the recipe proportions and then begin to boil. When it boils, stir it a couple of times. Turn the heat down to it’s lowest for about 20 minutes and stir occasionally. It will fluff up then get stuck together. No Worries. When it’s done, do the same as the Potatoes. Working with it cold will fluff it up nicely later.
    • PASTA - Use macaroni, bow ties, or some chunky type of pasta. Follow the instructions on the bag. End with the same as the potatoes in the refrigerator.Now if you were efficient, you could have done all these with about 20 minutes of preparation time, about 20 minutes of stove time, and a final 10 minutes of storage time - not bad for less than 1 hour. All the above will keep in a refrigerator for a week, be fine and still taste good. Do the experimentation on a different day than the above so it’s easier and faster.
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    SAUCES, the first lesson. We are going to make two very basic sauces with 2 variations each. You will need 4 small to medium pans, but you can use a big skillet if you need to. Here’s your basic ingredients.
    • Sauce 1 - 1 can chicken broth, 2 Tbs butter, 2 Tbs flour, extra water (1 can if necessary) Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir strongly until the flour begins to lightly brown (about 1 to 2 minutes). Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir constantly. Boil for two minutes then turn off the heat. If the mixture is VERY thick and gummy add a little water while stirring until it gets to a maple syrup like consistency.
    • Sauce 2 - 1 can chicken broth, 1 Tbs corn starch, extra water (1 can if necessary) Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Mix the corn starch with 1 Tbs of water. It’ll start thick then thin down. Pour the white mixture into the boiling broth and begin stirring constantly. Boil for at least 1 minute then turn off heat. Do the same for consistency as above if it’s too thick. If you cook cornstarch more than4 or 5 minutes it might begin to break down into thin again.
    • For your variations you will use salt & pepper, any medium or hard cheese you like, mustard (dry or wet).
    • Pour half of each pan into another pan. You will return each pan to medium heat for the next step.Pan 1 - no variation
    • Pan 2 - Taste it and add salt and pepper to it (not much at a time), tasting over again, until you like it.
    • Pan 3 - Add mustard on the same basis as the salt (about 1/8 tsp per test) - to taste.
    • Pan 4 - Add 1/4 cup grated cheese and stir until it’s melted.
    • WAIT - there are two sauces and four variations. Yes, but there are only two things you are learning. Sauce consistency and palatability. Set out a plate with 1/4 cup to ½ cup of any of the bases heated for about 1 minute on high in a microwave and spoon some of the sauce over each basic. What you are wanting to learn is the difference between a glaze (corn starch) and flour based sauce. They will look different and feel different on the tongue. Now, test the taste of each test to see what the most basic variations in cooking do to the sauce. Notice that the base is the same, but oh, what a difference a sauce makes.
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    SPICES, the second lesson. Every recipe has seasoning, herbs and spices, listed and proportioned. The problem is that it’s what the originator liked. I have a fantastic recipe I developed for Pumpkin Pie made from a pumpkin, not a can. I had to test over 20 different variations until I found the exact recipe I loved. Others love it, too, but maybe you wouldn’t. So why would you want to eat my recipe if you don’t like ginger? They are guides to be used by a gourmet to build on.There are hundreds of spices and I’m not here to teach them all to you. What you should learn is concept and experience on how to learn what you want and go for it. Get on the Internet and you’ll find hundreds of sites on spices. What you really want to look for are appearance, what kind of foods it’s normally used in, what other spices it works with, and a non-allegorical, clear and sensible description of what it taste like along with some example to help you identify it. For example - Anise is a seed that when ground into a dark powder gives an earthy, somewhat bitter taste usually associated with licorice. It’s used in candies, salads, with fish and in stews.Eventually, what you want is to test different common seasonings to find which ones and in what ratios you personally like for what kind of dishes. Once you have little cheat sheets, they will be almost all you need to make fabulous tasting dishes from almost anything. Test uncommon ones like saffron to find it’s distinctiveness for special tastes, but you will end up with a nice spice shelf with from 8 to 20 spices you use commonly. Most spices are found dry in bottles, but make sure you test fresh ones, especially those you can easily buy for when you want that extra little special flavor. Remember to broaden you perspective. We’re talking about dinner dishes here. What about cookies, ice creams, beverages, etc? Do you like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together? In what ratios do you like them best?
    • Now to test. Buy two bottles of any off the shelf spaghetti sauce you like. Try to find the basic one without all the added meats, cheeses, garden ingredients, and extra seasonings. Remember, you are testing to see what YOU can make different.Like before, start with two pans, one full bottle in each. Your variations are going to be based on these ingredients: salt, pepper, sugar, bottle of mixed Italian seasonings, FRESH Basil, FRESH marjoram, FRESH oregano, FRESH thyme or at least 3 of them.
    • Bring 1/2 bottle in each of four pans to a simmer over medium heat, Don’t burn the bottom or boil hard. You will add salt, pepper and sugar to the last three, but only to add a little flavor as you like it.
    • Pan 1 - no variation
    • Pan 2 - salt, pepper, sugar only
    • Pan 3 - dried mixed Italian seasonings, salt, pepper, sugar
    • Pan 4 - FRESH herbs, salt, pepper, sugar. For the fresh herbs what you want are the leaves, not the stems. Rub and pull off the leaves. Use a sharp knife on a plate or saucer to bunch and chop or cut each herb into 1/4" small pieces. Keep them separate.
    • For Pans 3 and 4 it will take a few minutes each time you add a seasoning to bring out the taste so add, mix, then taste about 3 minutes later. The reason for simmering is to prevent the seasoning from overcooking.As you test for each one you’ll find you use about 3 to 4 times as much FRESH as dry herbs.
    • Start with Pan 2 salt, pepper, and sugar to get a balance you like. Only do a pinch of each at a time. Most cooks don’t realize the secret ingredient in all tomato pasta sauces is sugar. Not a lot, but enough to subdue the harsh and sometimes acid taste inherent in the sauce. Once learned some cooks use more and more sugar. Once you have Pan 2 to your liking do Pans 3 and 4 with about the same ratio of salt, pepper and sugar, but only 2/3rds as much. You can add more in later if you wish.
    • IN pan 3 begin with about 1 tsp of dry mix total and about 1 tsp of each of the FRESH herbs (4 tsp total). Mix well, simmer for 3 minutes and taste. Continue this process until you get close to what you like. Try to pick out a taste element you seem to not appreciate too much. You’ll be surprised at what a little sugar can clean up. If you need more spices, add them in the small quantities ½ as much as initially. This may take you 10 to 15 minutes and since you’re doing all together your preparation time should be no more than 30 minutes.
    • When ready, again set out plates with 4 base scoops ready for testing. Heat them in a microwave for 1 minute on high. Pour some sauce from each pan onto a base sample and taste the difference. If you’re used to adding a hard cheese, have it on the side ready, but only AFTER you feel you’ve learned what you want in this process.What you are learning is how to take a basic sauce we all use, decide if you can use dry or fresh herbs, what differences it makes, what subtleties show up, how do fresh herbs feel in the mouth, does it change the consistency of the sauce, what does sugar do to the concoction, and finally how the variations make the base taste so different.
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    TEMPERATURE is the last training for now. There are all kinds of tests, variations in chemical process, alterations in ingredients, and steps involved that create masterpieces. However, temperature is inherent in almost all of them. Instead of making a dry or moist cake we are going to cook something a little more robust and common - your choice of roast. It can be any kind, size, shape, meat, fat, lean, etc. you want. My suggestion will be 2 medium size beef round or rolled roasts (ones that looks like a ball when ready). The lesson here is successive steps and temperature. We won’t cover it here, but one of the biggest failings most cooks have is following a recipe and trying to cook all the ingredients in a nice ordered succession. It’s often much more successful to separate the steps and even do them out of sequence then add it all together for a final dish.
    • To prepare both roasts they will all undergo the same process before cooking. Cut each roast into ½ on the roll so each half is surrounded by the same exterior and end up being one end or the other. They should be about 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) thick minimum. All will be wrapped in plastic or in a large zip lock bag for 24 to 48 hours. This helps tenderize the meat. In two of those bags place 2 cups water mixed with 4 tbs salt into the bag and squeeze out all the air. These are being brined which is another major step almost all chefs use to tenderize and moisten meats prior to cooking.When ready to cook cooking temperature will be the only real difference.
    • Mix 1 tbs salt and ½ tbs pepper in a bowl and grind together with the back of a spoon. If you have a mortar and pestle, use it to achieve a fine powder. You may double this is you need more. Pat dry the 4 roasts with paper towels. Use the ground powder to rub all surfaces of each roast. You don’t need really thick, just a nice coating on each piece. Place some wadded up aluminum foil in the bottom of 4 pie plates with a roast on each so that it won’t be sitting in it’s own juices.
    • Roast 1 (Un brined) - high heat 1 tbs oil into a skillet. Just as it begins to smoke place Roast 1 any side down until it begins to brown. Turn onto each side to brown each side.
    • Roast 3 (Brined) - high heat 1 tbs oil into a skillet. Just as it begins to smoke place Roast 3 any side down until it begins to brown. Turn onto each side to brown each side.
    • Temperature in meats is critical. Everyone thinks of the final internal temperature to prevent bacteria, but that’s nothing to do with taste. As meats begin to warm they pass through a range. Each range does different things. High heat (400F to 600F) sears the outside into a tough shell and restricts heat from entering and moisture from escaping. Sounds good? Not really. Low Heat (200F to 300F) takes a very long time to reach internal temperature but all the outer portion stays cooler in the process. During the cooler processing the collagen fibers and fats in the muscle meat begin to cook, change and tenderize. The longer this can be maintained the tenderer the meat will be.Roast 2 and 4 will go into the oven early ASAP at 300F for about 1 to 2 hours. Timing is always off so you’ll have to use a meat thermometer. Try to use one of those instant read ones in you can. After two hours, and each15 to 20 minutes later stick the thermometer into the center of the roast, away from any bone and test the temperature. When it reaches 180F you’re ready for the next step. Take it out.
    • Turn the oven up to 450F and put Roast 1 and 3 in. Cook on higher heat for 20 minutes before you begin using the thermometer. Shoot for the same 180F. While this is baking, do the pan searing on the outside of Roasts 2 and 4, just like on 1 and 3. All should become ready about the same time. Remove from heat when done and let stand for 5 minutes minimum. This allow the juices that have been expanding to the outside to reenter the center of the roast for moisture.
    • While resting the meat, gather all your juices together into one pan. Don’t try to keep them separate. Bring to a simmer and begin tasting to see what ingredients you want to add to enhance the flavor to your liking. If, previously you liked the flour and butter sauce, do it in a separate pan or skillet and use the pan drippings as the broth. If you like the corn starch simple use it to derive the consistency you want. Again test taste at the end to fix anything with a little nudge.
    • Serve the plate with the 1 minute microwave heated bases plus thinly sliced portions of all 4 roasts. Serve the gravy on the side so each meat can be judged without the gravy first. What you are looking for is color, tenderness, juiciness, dryness, taste, texture, etc. What you will find is the slow cooked ones are more tender and juicier and usually have more pink in the center than the normally cooked ones. The initial unbrined, then seared then baked will probably be least appreciated.
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    Yes, this is how to become a gourmet cook. You’re not one yet. It takes time patience, specific testing, and the realization that it’s your mouth, treat it the way you want. You’ve learned how to make a few sauces, but more importantly you’ve learned how sauces can add tremendously to the taste of any dish. There are hundreds of sauces, but there are generally about 6 cooking sauces and about 6 dessert sauces. It’s not that hard to test more. You’ve learned how to use no, dry and FRESH spices that make a difference.
    • Try other concoction, cookies, vegetables, fish, desserts, drinks, sandwiches, etc. Did you ever try butter, peanut butter, and maple syrup on pancakes or waffles? Be adventurous sometime. You might like it.Being a gourmet cook is all about knowing what you like AND how to use various extra combinations to improve on the basic taste of any recipe to make it more of what you want. As you learn and improve it gets easier and more people will like it, too.
    • Bon apatite!

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Categories: Basic Cooking Skills