The question I am most often asked about my weekly community dinners is “What do you cook???” And my answer is always, “The same things that I cook for my family. I just make more.”
It seems that one of the biggest hurdles for people to overcome when they are considering opening their home and gathering people at their table, is getting over the fear that their cooking is not good enough.
Our foodie culture has raised the bar so high for home cooking that many people feel intimidated or unequipped to cook for anyone except their immediate family. It takes a courage and vulnerability to put your heart and time into cooking something that may or may not turn out exactly how you want it to, and then serve it – regardless of how it turns out – to the smiling faces and hungry bellies sitting around your table waiting to eat.
The amazing culinary creations proudly displayed on cooking shows, cooking magazines, food blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram can feel intimidating as we stand in our own kitchen wondering what to cook for the company we’ve invited to our table. For some that daunting feeling can be enough of a reason to not invite anyone into our homes to share a meal. Ever.
It is so unfortunate that the cooking resources that are supposed to inspire and help us, often have the opposite effect. Making us feel like we are not – and never will be – good enough to share our home cooked food with other people.
And yet, I think most of us feel a deep sense of satisfaction and care when we are fed by someone who took the time to create a meal for us.
Food that I am served that was made by someone else specifically for me – not by a chef in a restaurant, but by a family member, friend, or neighbor who cooked for me because they care about me – ALWAYS tastes better to me than something I made for myself. Because when I eat my own food, I taste with a very critical palate. I don’t do that when I’m served something that a loved one made for me. I just enjoy it. Every time.
So why do I sometimes feel anxiety that everyone at my table is critiquing my food??? I really shouldn’t, because they’re not. They are just feeling cared for. And food that is shared at our tables, in love and friendship, truly nourishes bodies and souls. Your guests will feel that too regardless of what you make for dinner.
THAT is what we need to remember when we’re standing in our kitchens wondering what to cook, after we’ve had the courage to invite someone to share a meal and good conversation at our table.
If you don’t really enjoy cooking, or feel like you are very good at it, but you still want to engage in meaningful conversation and authentic relationships with other people around your table – then I encourage you to invite someone to your home for dinner anyways. Set your table with your everyday dishes and cloth napkins. Boil up some pasta noodles according to package directions, and warm a jar of quality sauce on the stove. Toss some salad greens with a good vinaigrette. And serve your meal with a small bowl of pre-grated Parmesan cheese, and a loaf of fresh bread (purchased from the bakery section of your local grocery store) with a small dish of softened butter. Light some candles on your table, and open a bottle of good wine or fill a pitcher with chilled carbonated water and fresh limes or cucumber. And then sit down at your table to eat, laugh, and share life with your guests.
(If you or your guests are gluten free, then purchase a rotisserie chicken from your grocery’s deli and serve it sliced on a platter, instead of the pasta. And of course you’ll have to skip the bread and butter.)
As a culture we have over-complicated hospitality, and it really can be this simple. And this wonderful.
So being a great or even a good cook is not a prerequisite for practicing authentic hospitality. But if you like to cook and developing your culinary skills brings you joy – then here are three resources for learning how to be a better cook at home that have worked well for me:
- AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN: ESSENTIAL RECIPES
- CRAFTSY ONLINE COOKING CLASSES
AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN is my favorite cooking magazine. Every recipe they print has been tested by dozens of test cooks. They perfect how to cook a dish, as well as how to guide the home cook through the instructions. Their recipes includes an explanation of the cooking science behind every dish, and they tell you why you can’t leave out certain steps (a common mistake I make when I’m cooking in a rush!). For several weeks I have been using the “Essential Recipes” bookazine that I purchased at a grocery store this summer for $12.95. (This is expensive for a magazine, but it is relatively inexpensive for a cookbook, and this publication really is somewhere in between.) I have made many of these recipes from multiple sections and they have all turned out great. My favorite sections are “Top 5 Recipes for the Reluctant Cook” and “Top 5 Recipes for the Tired Cook”. There is also a tear out advertisement in the magazine to order a cookbook of a similar title, “100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials” for $24. I’m sure it is just as great, but I haven’t seen or used an actual copy.
CRAFTSY.COM is an amazing resource for online cooking classes. I discovered this site after I took my first cooking class at Sur La Table. Craftsy “provides education and tools to help you bring your creativity to life…Offering hundreds of classes in quilting, sewing, knitting, cake decorating, art, photography, cooking and many more categories, bring the world’s best instructors to you. Learn at your pace with easy-to-follow HD video lessons you can access on your computer and mobile device anytime, anytime, anywhere, forever.” I have ordered several of their cooking courses, and have been so pleased with all of them. The courses are easy to use; include step by step teaching videos, printable recipes, ingredient shopping lists; and your access to your purchased courses never expires. The cost for each cooking course ranges from Free to $40. But once you start using the site, you’ll begin receiving emails that alert you to classes that are on sale, or offers for half-priced classes. A great way to use this resource is to purchase a course and invite one or two friends over to watch the videos, practice the techniques, and sample the food together in your kitchen. Because combining cooking and community is THE best!
TASTEMADE is “a video network by and for people who are passionate about food and cooking”. You can download an app to your phone, or follow them on social media. Their cooking videos are time-lapsed, so you can see all the stages of cooking a recipe in just a few seconds. Some of the videos are set to fun music, and they make me feel like I can cook anything! Other videos are made with step by step instruction from a professional chef. And all of the videos include a link to the printed recipe that you can open or screen shot so that you can recreate the dish in your own kitchen. On the app there is a search feature where you can type in any ingredient and several cooking videos will pop up that you can try. If you enjoy sweets, I suggest doing a search on “Nutella”. The Nutella Braided Bread is amazing and fairly simple to make if you enjoy bread making. You also can “favorite recipes” by tapping the heart at the bottom of the video screen, and the app will store the recipes you like in your online recipe box. It’s wonderful!
If you try one of these resources, please let me know it went in the comment section. And share resources with us as well that have helped you be a better home cook.
So now it’s time to gather your people around your table and enjoy serving something fabulous to people that you love!