Whenever anyone asks me "How do I learn how to cook?" I advise them to start with the basics. Purchase a great basic cookbook, like The Betty Crocker Cookbook or The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and start cooking. Whenever you do something, whether it's thickening gravy or boiling eggs (really!) look it up and do it the right way. Even experienced cooks can sometimes fix a "bad habit" by revisiting the basics on occasion.
The great thing about this approach is that this is how you evolve from "cooking" to being "a cook." Over time, you will find yourself playing around with recipes and putting your own spin on them. For example, take a basic marinara sauce. I made one the other night, and on a whim decided to puree half an onion and stir it into the sauce while it simmered. It was great! With experience, you will learn what flavours and textures work, and what ingredients you can switch and alternate. It's a great feeling when you learn how to keep going with a recipe despite the fact you are missing an ingredient!
Baking can be a little bit trickier. In fact, it's only recently that I've been comfortable enough with my skills and knowledge to start experimenting with the major components of a recipe. But now that I'm gaining confidence I'm having a great time developing my own recipes. My method for doing this is to pick a recipe, decide what elements I want it to have, and then research and try many, many existing recipes. Eventually, I learn what I like and don't like, what works, what doesn't work, and where I can experiment.
My project the last few months has been coffee cake. I've baked a lot of coffee cakes during that last little while, but I've finally established a few really great recipes. I knew that I wanted to use a tube pan, and that I wanted a moist, sour cream type of cake. I have found that this chocolate chip coffee cake recipe from Cooks.com is a great, reliable recipe that always brings rave reviews. However, I wanted to do a sweeter, caramel flavoured cake. So, I decided to try a little tip from my Nana. Her advice is that mixing white and brown sugar will give a great butterscotch flavour so I tried it with this recipe. As well, I swapped the white sugar in the topping for brown, and I used butterscotch chips instead of chocolate chips. And, it worked great! It's really sweet, so it's perfect for those times that your sweet tooth is crying out for something. I'm thinking that next time I'll try some Skor or toffee bits in the topping as well. And for presentation, I think a drizzle of caramel ice cream topping would be perfect!
Have you put your own touch on a recipe? I'd love to hear about it! Have a wonderful week!