I'm going to teach you how to cook like you.
What do I mean "cook like you"? Why didn't I say "cook like me" or "cook like a pro" or "cook like Nigella Lawson"? Well, I can't teach you to cook like me any more than I can teach you to dress like me, act like me, or look like me. Like a perfume wears differently on each person, every dish is different depending on who makes it. In fact, some of you might know that perfume can even smell differently on the same person depending on mood, hormonal balance, or even weather. Real cooking is like that. It's what makes a five star-chef owned restaurant or an amazing family owned and operated Italian joint different from a national chain. Real cooking has personal flair, like fashion or make-up or decorating. Real cooks often don't follow recipes, though they might if the dish is unfamiliar or has a complicated spice list.
I will be sharing some recipes with perfect and precise ingredient lists and, let me tell you, you had better appreciate those. I am truly a spoonful of this--taste, taste--pinch of that--taste taste--"Ahh, yes!" kind of cook and for these exact measurement recipes I had to force myself to catch each pinch and handful with a proper measuring spoon.
But there will also be recipes with no measurements more than "a handful of, a little bit of, a big pinch of, a little pinch of". Those are the really valuable recipes, the ones "like Mama used to make". Don't worry, you can do it.
Sometimes you will be able to go out and taste a good and authentic example of what you are trying to make. When you are eating, immerse yourself in the experience. Don't necessarily try to pick apart the different spices, as that is something that takes time, but do try to get a feeling for the experience of what you are eating. Then, when you work on that dish in your own home, you will be able to say, "Now, that's biryani!" Your biryani will probably never taste the same as any other biryani you ever had--and it shouldn't--but it should be recognizably biryani.
Other times, I will teach you to make things that rarely can be found outside a home. These are family style meals. They are either not considered fancy enough to serve at restaurants or don't work well in a restaurant environment (see note 1 ) Unless you have a dear friend who shares the same cultural heritage as the dish I'm teaching you, it's going to be difficult to find a good example of those types of foods. But don't worry, I'm going to hold your hand. I'm going to immerse you in Mama Hen's kitchen. I'm going to let you smell and taste the food til your hearts content. When we're done, you're going to be able to get out there and make some real food.
So, go on over on to you tube and watch your favorite Sesame Street clip or Barney episode or whatever you used to watch. Pretend you're eight years old again. Pull up a chair so you can reach the stove and get ready to listen to Mama. I'm going to teach you how to be a real cook. I'm going to teach you how to cook like you.
1. risotto, for example, is a delicious and beautifully presented Italian rice dish, but it doesn't hold well and as such is difficult to serve in a restaurant. You will typically only find risotto at individually owned Italian restaurants where it is made to order for the individual customer.