Learning how to cook is elementary

June 19, 1996|By Kathleen Purvis | Kathleen Purvis,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Here's a secret. If you really want to learn to cook, there are only three requirements:

1. Practice, practice, practice. You'll never learn if you don't try. So promise yourself you'll make one new dish a week.

2. Don't blame yourself when you make a mistake. You fell down a few times when you were learning to ride a bike, didn't you? A fallen souffle is a lot less painful than a skinned knee.

3. Be brave. Don't be afraid to attempt something new. Try separating an egg in your hand, for instance. It's easier than it sounds and increases your respect for the egg.

Beyond that, all you need to know are a few basics. Master those, and the rest is, well, gravy.

We asked national and local experts for the most valuable cooking skills:

Doug Crichton, editor, Cooking Light magazine: After consulting with the magazine's test kitchen staff, he named these: "Hands down was how to measure" and the correct way to measure flour. "No. 2 for us would be basic baking techniques, just spending a few minutes on beating egg whites, folding, creaming, quick bread procedure, that sort of thing. And then, basically making sure they know how to read a recipe."

Marion Cunningham, author of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" and "Cooking With Children," now working on a cookbook for latchkey children: First, teach them how to measure properly. Then teach them how to stir properly. "You would think we would be born with the sense to hold the bowl when we stir. Not so." She teaches children to hold the bowl with one hand and stir with the other. "Then they like it so much they don't want to stop

Paul Grimes, former senior instructor at Peter Kump's Cooking School in New York, longtime assistant to French chef Simone Beck and a chef for Food & Wine magazine: He would teach how to roast a chicken and how to make a vinaigrette, because both are so versatile. "It demystifies cooking for people, when you can show people how many things they can do with one technique."

Nathalie Dupree, television cook and author: "People are terrified of pies and biscuits. Grown people are walking around terrified of something that costs 50 cents to make! I consider it my mission to teach pies and biscuits."

Zanne Early Stewart, executive food editor, Gourmet magazine: "People may not believe how vital it is, but a good sharp knife and the rudiments of how to use it make all the difference on earth." An 8-inch chef's knife, a paring knife and a knife sharpener are indispensable, she says. And no one else should use your knives. "What we find in the test kitchen is that just the way somebody else holds it tends to dull it."

If you're going to the trouble to make a pie crust, you might as well make two. Roll out the second crust and place it between two layers of plastic wrap. Fold into fourths, slip into a resealable plastic bag and freeze. When ready to use, let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Basic pie crust

Makes 2 crusts

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling out crust

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup shortening

6 to 7 tablespoons ice water, divided

In mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add shortening. Rub lightly between your fingertips or cut in with fork, 2 knives or pastry blender until flour looks grainy and no piece of shortening is larger than a pea. Sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of very cold water over flour and stir lightly with fork until water is absorbed.

Continue adding 1 tablespoon water at a time and stirring lightly until dough pulls together. Divide dough. Gather each half into a ball, pressing in any leftover flour. Wrap each with plastic wrap, pressing slightly into flattened discs. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Remove one section of dough from refrigerator. Dust counter or pastry cloth with flour, sprinkling a little on pastry and on rolling pin. Working out from center in light, short strokes, roll out pastry until round enough to fit in pie or tart pan. Roll up over rolling pin and drape over pan, easing into place. Trim crust even with pan.

Roll out second crust in same manner. Fill pie pan with desired filling and drape top crust over pie. Cut slits in top to let steam escape. Trim top crust, leaving 1/2 -inch edge. Fold under bottom crust, crimping edge. Bake as directed in pie recipe.

To prebake single crust, unfilled: Prick all over bottom of crust with fork. Place aluminum foil over crust, pressing in. Fill with rice, dried beans or pie weights. Bake in 450-degree oven about 10 minutes. Remove foil and weights and continue baking two or three minutes or until lightly browned.


Makes 3 cups, cooked

2 cups water or chicken stock

1 cup long-grain rice

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

Bring water or stock to full boil in saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Add rice and salt, if using, and stir lightly with fork. Put on lid and reduce heat to medium-low. Let cook without removing lid or stirring for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand five minutes. Fluff with fork before serving.

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