Thursday, November 5, 2009


Knowing how to cook, at least possessing some basic knowledge, is so empowering. One of the best aspects of knowing how to cook, in my opinion, is when you reach that point in your development as a chef where you can decide exactly what you want to eat and create it for yourself. When you are able to flip through a cookbook and say “I think I’ll make this,” and know that you have both the skills and tools to make it.

I have not always been able to do this. I remember, not so long ago, the certain cookbooks on my shelf that I would never open because everything in there scared me half to death. Fish sauce? Braising? Boning a duck?? English, por favor! Don’t get me wrong, I did learn many kitchen basics by growing up in a foodie household, but I never really had the confidence to wield a 10” chef knife with authority until I participated in cooking classes.

I highly recommend taking cooking classes. No matter your background or experience, everyone can benefit from cooking classes. To be able to take a few simple ingredients and magically transform them is a skill that will enrich your life. Obviously my favorite place on the planet for classes is Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis, which I have mentioned before, but if you can’t make it to Missouri, do a search of classes in your area and pick out some that interest you. Most places offer Culinary Skills courses that take a comprehensive approach to knife skills and meal prep, which is a great way to build a lot of know-how in a short amount of time.

I also recommend good knives.

If you happen to have a particularly stubborn, thick-skinned pumpkin on your hands, I recommend a hammer. This was the scenario I faced on a recent Sunday afternoon. Me vs. the 5 lb sugar pumpkin that just wouldn’t break. I ditched my good Wusthof knives early in favor of a hammer that still had my name and college dorm room number scribbled on the handle in black sharpie. I finally beat the pumpkin in half. Not quite the peaceful afternoon of cake-baking I had envisioned. It was more like an afternoon of a vicious, unmerciful beating, but at least I got my cake.

Like I said – one of the best aspects about knowing how to cook is when you can decide exactly what you want to eat and create it for yourself. For my birthday cake (a few weeks late; who’s counting?) I flipped though my favorite dessert cookbook and said “I think I’ll make this,” while pointing at a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake with a gingerbread crust, topped with spiced pecans.

And guess what? I did.

Know what else I recommend? Buying the cookbook, Classic Stars Desserts, by Emily Luchetti. I give up enough of her recipes from that book on this blog that I’ll probably start to owe her royalties soon. That book is chock-full of amazing goodies; not once have I made something of hers that I didn’t love. The recipe for pumpkin cheesecake is on page 189.

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