When I first lived on my own in college, I soon discovered I had almost no cooking skills.
At home or in the dorms, I had never so much as lifted a finger beyond making myself a sandwich from cold meat or baking some cookies. Fried potatoes with onions, eggs, and cheddar cheese were pretty much the extent of my culinary skill set. But, by this time, I was working for a caterer, learning more, and was looking for some supplemental learning materials.
So the next time I was home, I raided my Mom’s bookshelf looking for something to help me out.
I was lucky and found this book. It covered all the basics, including well illustrated knife and cooking techniques. Best of all, the author’s slightly sarcastic voice was present throughout the slim volume. I’d still recommend it to anyone as a great first cookbook.
With a few techniques and some basic recipes, I was soon able to at least make myself a hamburger or steak. Over the years, I think I have made most of the recipes in the book, from the breads to the main courses.
Random cat photo of my personal number one fan, Miss Sweetpea.
For last night’s dinner, I made one of the simple chicken sautes from Mr. Claiborne’s book. Served it with tuscan kale and a baked potato.
These aren’t the most wonderfully or evenly cut shallots. But, doing them, always reminds me of one of my happiest professional kitchen moments. I’d been pretty successful early on in my kitchen career. Ended up as the supply kitchen manager for a small chain of restaurants. But, I was drinking a lot, and not particularly happy in the job, so I quit. Ended up doing a bunch of odd jobs before going back to food service with my tail between my legs, basically starting over from the bottom. After a while of working for a local restaurant, I heard that a bunch of the more talented service and cooking staff were jumping ship to open a new Italian restaurant. It was going to be new, exciting food, with an emphasis on fresh. When they started dinner service, I interviewed to be on the staff. I have to admit I was out of my depth, at that point. I’d done catering, semi-fast food, and short order cooking, stuff like that, never anything upscale. But they liked me, I was a hard worker, and I got the job. Mostly I started in the pantry, prepping the ingredients for the chef and learning as I went. I was really lucky to work with a chef who was interested in sharing her knowledge and expertise and hold us all to the highest standards. One of the best jobs of my life.
Anyway, back to shallots, I’d been doing pantry prep for a while, and getting better at it. Learning the menu and techniques. One day the chef came by my station and picked up the shallots I’d been working on. She looked astounded and told me that they were the most perfectly cut shallots she had ever seen. Just that one casual moment of praise did so much for my confidence that I’ll never forget it.