So I’ve been posting a lot of recipes, none of which are super new or never seen before, just regular everyday recipes you would probably enjoy. Since I’m cooking for a lot of people on daily basis I decided to share some of my experience here: how to please a crowd. Whether you’re cooking for friends who are coming over for dinner, on a family gathering or as a cook (not the proper restaurant cooks, more like smart cooks in offices like me) some of the advice may come in handy.
- Plan ahead – I make a weekly menu according to what’s available on the markets today. Avoid non seasonal fruit and veg , they are usually more expensive and well let’s just say our bodies should eat as seasonal and local as possible.
- No fancyschmencieness or extravaganzas – don’t complicate stuff and waste your money on absolutely overpriced ingredients. You don’t need foie grass to impress someone, a well prepared chicken goes a long way. So does a simple pasta dish with just the right ingredients, easy cheese risotto or beautiful crunchy potato wedges. So repeat with me: sim – pli- fy.
- Think within the budget – every recipe I plan has to be within certain budget. As I’m working in a start up, they can’t afford to waste money on unnecessary things. Write a list of ingredients you’ll need to buy in supermarkets like flour, baking powder, yeast, sugar, salt (sea salt!), sunflower oil, pasta, rice, frozen veg like peas and spinach, butter, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, pickles and stock cubes, pretty much everything with a long shelf life. But get your meat, fruit & veg, herbs fresh from the market; they’re cheaper, tastier and better quality. Plus you get to talk to people, connect and with time get certain discounts or an extra orange in your bag. 🙂 Be smart, get more for less.
- To get better you got to dig a little deeper – no one was born great, everything you do in life is a reflection of how much time you spent working on it. From sport to kitchen everything can be measured by the number of hours you’ve put into it. So from time to time chop an extra onion, just so your hands could remember better next time. Knead a bread, once, twice, sixteen times. At first it’s a sticky horror movie but after three times kind of becomes automatic. You have got to learn how ingredients behave and how your hands behave around them. Your hands are your instrument in the kitchen and you can play a beautiful tune only after sounding like a screaming cat for certain period of time.
- Preparation is 70% of work – the only reason why I’m successful in what I do is because I brainstorm every step of the way. First I check the recipe and go from ingredient to ingredient thinking about quantities. In some recipes there are listed things I can’t find here, or are so ridiculously expensive I just skip them and adjust recipe accordingly or find a substitution for it. You don’t have to stick exactly to a recipe, take it as an inspiration and create your own version. Then I go step by step planning what do I do first, which dish do I have to cook first, which one is the last, what are the steps in a dish etc. Take some time, sit down and write down if necessary. I’d rather be a fool with a book full of notes then a fool with char-coaled pot. I usually prepare all the pots in advance and put them on the table in the order I need to use them. And then I put all of the needed ingredients in each pot so I know what goes where.
- Good combos – there are certain flavors that go hand in hand like cooked beef and horseradish, chicken and mustard, pasta and parmigiano/basil/tomato sauce, olive oil and garlic + rosemary, thick pumpkin soup with crispy bacon rashes, crunchy baked potatoes and yogurt sauce etc. Once you learn them, they will become your basis for many meals in the future. For instance, cook some spaghetti al dente and drain preserving a cup of the starchy water. Then in a frying pan heat up some olive oil, add chopped onion and garlic, then chili, thyme, rosemary, tiny pieces of bacon, a splash of wine and a table spoon of tomato puree. Saute for couple of minutes, add the pasta and a bit of starchy water, a handful of parmigiano and a piece of butter. And there you have it, a simple Mediterranean dish which can also be made with rice instead of pasta.
- Cook what you know – if you’re not that skilled never cook something you’ve never done before that event. It could end up like a disaster. Think about it: a new recipe, especially a new kind of dish could bring you a lot of trouble – you don’t know the steps, the ingredients, the procedure, the catches…just don’t. I’m not talking about changing vinegar in salads or adding a bit more salt. I’m talking about completely new dishes you’ve never tried before. Stick to what you know and rehearse when you’re alone.
- Life saving ingredients – such as olive oil, garlic, lemon, chili, lime, rosemary, basil, thyme, ginger, parmigiano type of cheese, honey, tomato puree. Try to have at least couple of them near you when you cook. And the biggest secret to delicious food is: a really good stock or broth, it enriches every meal and gives it that extra flavor everyone adores.
- Taste the food – you can’t serve something you don’t know what it tastes like. Try each ingredient separately and then try them cooked together. Improve your taste palate and with time your food will improve too.
- Desserts are optional – now this is my no. 1 rule. If you’re making a meal which consists of many dishes like entree, soup, salad, main dish and side dish, don’t compromise their quality for the sake of dessert. You can slice up pears, apples and oranges, sprinkle with vanilla and sugar and get a nice dessert everyone will enjoy. I make desserts only when I really feel up to it or when I’m making some super easy lunches or dinners.
- Mistakes make you better – a burnt dinner is not the end of the world. Yes you might feel uncomfortable at first but after couple of glasses of wine it’s just a funny anecdote you’ll share with friends. Don’t apologize! Julia Child never did and neither should you.
- Smile, laugh, jiggle & wiggle – turn on the music, move your bum, sing and have fun. Everything turns out tastier when you’re in a good mood, you’ll feel unbeatable, go the extra mile, maybe even make an extra salad or side dish. Creativity is important in cooking but remember you don’t have to change much, a squeeze of lemon juice can make any dish lighter and a sprinkle of pepper more intense.
That’s it for now. I hope you’ll find this helpful and that it will inspire you to cook more and buy less.