I really enjoy being a know-it-all. I derive pleasure from knowing things and then casually dropping my nuggets of knowledge into casual conversation, like so:
"Oh, yes, Heirloom Tomatoes are those that have not been commercially hybridized. The term can refer to commercial plants that have been pollinated out in the open, or family plants that can trace the original seed back several generations."
You see? This is not a trait that I find endearing or particularly likable. It's a flaw in my character. However, in this case, I am trying to use my knowledge for good. I really do want you to have an easier time cooking. I really do want you to know these things so that you can enjoy the rest of your life, like wine-drinking, book reading, Facebook stalking, or whatever you do for fun. So, please listen to me about these five things. Seriously, you should be writing this stuff down. (Wait, I guess I am writing it down for you...duh.)
1. Aprons are not just for Donna Reed. Yep, you heard me. I used to think that aprons were a dumb throwback item that had no purpose other than to fuel my husband's lurid fantasies. Then I splashed some olive oil on my favorite silk sweater and cursed a blue streak. 5 hours and 3 laundry treatments later, I came to embrace the wearing of an apron. Do it. Buy one that suits your personality and just go with it. Your clothes, skin, and maybe your significant other will thank you.
2. Own at least one good knife. Ever look in the 'prep time' part of a recipe and see something like 5 minutes? Ever tried to prep that same recipe and it takes you 20 minutes? Yep, it's because your knife sucks. I'm not saying you have to run out and buy a bunch of gourmet Wusthof knives or anything, but you need one high quality knife. I suggest a Chef's knife because it is versatile. Think of it this way: Would you want your surgeon cutting you with the scalpel she bought at Wal-Mart 10 years ago and never sharpened, or would you rather she used a top of the line instrument to slice your delicate flesh? Exactly. That is the way your perfect roast chicken feels about it too.
3. Own at least one good pan. Please, please do this. If your pan warps when you have it on high heat, your pan sucks. If the coating comes off the first time you wash it, your pan sucks. Cook one omelette in a crappy pan on a day that you have the worst hangover of your life and you will understand. Just go out and buy a 12" heavy duty non-stick skillet with a lid. Use it to cook everything. You can even transfer it to the oven. Oh, oh, except if it has a plastic handle. Then just don't. (Not that I would know PERSONALLY) But, if your pan has a plastic handle, you guessed it, your pan sucks.
4. Buy an oven thermometer. Oven temperatures can vary up to 25 degrees. Do you want to roast your chicken at 375 when the recipe called for 400? No, you don't because you will end up with an under-cooked chicken that might make people sick. Conversely, do you want to bake your awesome cake that you made from scratch for your husband's birthday at 400 degrees versus 375? Not unless you want him to bite into a spongy, dry, icky mess.
5. Use unsalted butter. Look, I know, unsalted butter on toast is gross. Unsalted butter on pancakes lacks something special. For those things, use salted butter or margarine or whatever. However, when cooking, most recipes writers are assuming that you know to use unsalted butter. I don't know why they assume that, but they do. This is especially important for people watching their sodium intake; all of the nutrition facts are calulated using unsalted butter. Catching on? If you only have salted butter, never fear, just eliminate the additional salt that the recipe calls for.
And here is a bonus one for you:
6. TASTE EVERYTHING. This is the best advice my dad ever gave me. In fact, my kids tease me about it all the time as I take bites of their food before I serve it to them. A steak or piece of fish can look just like the picture, but taste like crap. You need to know this before you serve it to your boyfriend's parents. Or the priest you are having over for dinner. Or your wife's boss. Unless you are cooking something that you are allergic to, (done it. Don't judge me) please taste it. You will be surprised at how often you need a little "something" extra.
You are welcome. Toast yourself with some wine...you just took the first step to knowing everything. (wink, wink)