This is the fourth part in our six-week series on the counterproductive stories we tell ourselves in the kitchen – those hurdles that mess with our mojo and prevent us from enjoying the process of cooking. This week we’re hearing from Danielle Abell from Lick The Plates and examining the belief that we ‘can’t cook’.
You feel inadequate in the kitchen and wonder how people whip up such delicious meals from scratch. And surely, by this stage in your adulting life you should just know how to do it, right?!
If those are the stories playing in your mind, know that you are not alone. We are all comparing ourselves on some level to someone else, whether it’s cooking skills, waistline, parenting or professional success. Comparison is rampant but let me offer you some perspective when it comes to cooking skills.
You can’t do it ..YET
What would you say to a child who was crying because they couldn’t ride their bike as fast as another child? You would tell them, “You can’t ride that fast YET. Come on, let’s practice.” Right? If you can’t do something, chances are you haven’t put your attention on learning it yet.
A generation that didn’t learn to cook
When I say you’re not alone, it’s actually a whole generation who feel this way! We grew up in households where there was pressure for both parents to earn money outside the home. And even if one parent was at home, it was the time of convenience meals! It was a status symbol to afford frozen meals. The art of cooking was devalued in just a couple of generations as families handed their money over to large corporations to feed them food from a factory.
The by-product of those times – the children – weren’t given the opportunity to learn to cook by watching their caregivers. They didn’t see their elders chopping, stirring and laughing together in the kitchen the way it once was. Cooking was done as quickly and conveniently as possible, and children weren’t given the opportunity to witness and learn.
Fast forward to now, and you wonder why you can’t cook intuitively. Well, it’s because you haven’t learned!
A few tricks from my Grandma’s kitchen
The next time you’re in the company of the older generation, ask them their top kitchen advice. You’re sure to pick up a few gems that you just won’t find on Google. Here is my Grandma’s advice:
Use quality ingredients, and less of them
You’ve heard this before and are probably tired of it, but it’s true. Start with good ingredients and you’ll have to work less hard to add flavour. Shop local and you’ll get the freshest produce, full of flavour. Plus, you won’t need as much of anything.
Read the whole recipe before you start
If you are cooking from a recipe, spend a few minutes reading through all the ingredients and the full method. Make sure you have all the ingredients (or decide the substitutes you’ll use), all the tools and a clear picture of how much work, time and mess is involved. Then decide if you’re going to make it.
And if you don’t want to follow a recipe, don’t!
Food doesn’t need to look good. It just needs to smell and taste good.
Forget every styled food image you’ve ever seen, because that is not home cooking! Homecooked food is often ugly and that’s ok. The amount of time and consideration that goes into styling food for a photograph is not how you want to spend your time in the kitchen, so drop the expectation that it needs to look good.
There are no failures
It will happen that things just don’t turn out as you hoped, but don’t despair! Scrape off the burnt bits and serve it anyway. You will learn something every time you cook, and you’ll learn double from the ‘failures’. You will learn to pivot and spin your dish into something new. Here are a few tricks:
- Too much salt? Too much of a spice? Dilute it by adding more of the other ingredients, for example more tomatoes in a Bolognese, or more vegetables in a stir fry. And enjoy the leftovers tomorrow.
- Overcooked? It will depend on what it is but try adding some fresh ingredients to balance the overcooked ones. Or can you toss part of your meal and save the rest? For me, very overcooked pasta gets tossed and I start again. We all have a few non-negotiables!
- Bland? Balance the flavours. Food is tasty when you have a balance between salty and sweet, sour and fatty. Ask yourself, does your dish need some more salt? Does it need a pinch of sugar or maple syrup to make your tongue dance? Does it need a squeeze of lemon to lighten it? Does it need a drizzle of oil for a more satisfying mouth feel? Play with it because there is no right answer. It all comes down to what YOU enjoy.
Speak kindly to yourself
And finally, change the language. Drop the story, “I’m a bad cook” and replace it with “I am learning to cook.” Sometimes we need to take a step back from our stories and talk to ourselves like we would talk to someone we love.
Recipe – Pantry salad dressing over a green salad
This perpetual salad dressing lives in my cupboard and gets topped up as we need. Salad dressing is the ultimate balance of salty and sweet and sour and fatty. Take this as a guideline and adjust it to suit your family.
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup of your favourite vinegar or lemon juice (or a combination of multiple acids)
- -1 tsp sugar, honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp mustard (Dijon or wholegrain)
- ½ tsp salt, tamari or soy sauce
- Grind of pepper
- Optional: ½ tsp cumin seeds
- Add all ingredients to a jar with lid
- Shake jar well and use as you need it. Store it in the cupboard and keep topping up the same jar. (If using lemon juice, store in the fridge.)
- Make your simple salad: Rinse and chop or rip up your salad greens – use anything such as lettuce, rocket, baby spinach, mizuna, mustard greens, radish greens… a bit of whatever you have. Keep it simple with a chopped avocado (they’re in season at the moment, so maybe add two!) and pour over as much dressing as you want. Toss and serve.
Danielle is an ex-picky eater turned food lover and founder of Lick the Plates. She is passionate about inspiring women to cook from scratch the old-fashioned way, but with modern equipment and techniques. She teaches cooking both face to face and virtually and sells Thermomixes, as the best kitchen tool to make it all possible. Find her at www.licktheplates.com and on most socials.