Cooking Badge

The Dinner
Originally uploaded by nodigio

This is a general Cooking Badge – Badges may be earned for specialty cooking, and pearls for expanding one’s skills in areas where badges have already been earned.

Step One: When you get invited to a potluck, you don’t have to worry about stopping in at a fast food place to pick up a box of fried chicken, or rely on chips and salsa. No, you can whip up a tasty dish of Tuna Waldorf Salad, or your special Potatoes Provencal, knowing you will be bringing home a dish scraped clean. When you host a party, you know the food will be exceptional because you prepared it yourself – and your friends vie for an invitation because they love your cooking. You keep a fool-proof pantry from which you can prepare a gourmet delight at a moment’s notice.

Step Two: The benefits of cooking your own food are too numerous to list, so we’ll just offer a few of our favorites. Do you know how much time it takes out of your day to eat out – and how big a bite it takes from your pocketbook? Surprisingly, you can cook a lovely meal for less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant, order your food, wait for it to cook, and then eat it, and drive back home again. You save time when you cook your own food because you can do other things as you cook (laundry, play games with friends, watch TV, play computer games…). You eat healthier because you know what’s in your food, and you don’t have to deal with germs left behind by that table of six with the two children who were running everywhere, wiping their snotty noses and sneezing or coughing on every surface they could reach. You can prepare a lovely, gourmet dinner for six for under $50.00. Can’t beat that in a restaurant. Your food is prepared exactly the way you like it, no need to return an overcooked steak to the chef or look in dismay at a salad drenched in way too much dressing. How satisfying it is to pull alof of bread from the oven and devour it to the last crumb with your friends before it has a chance to cool off.

Step Three: There are many different skills involved in cooking. For the purpose of this particular badge, we’ll go with the assumption that you are just starting your very own kitchen. The first thing you need to do is find yourself a mentor who will share with you information on how they run their kitchens, how they got started, and what they remember learning first. Ask them about their favorite must-have kitchen tools and equipment, the one indispensable fail-safe party recipe, and where they shop for ingredients.

Step Three: Stock your kitchen with necessary supplies. Most of us aren’t starting from scratch – we’ve accumulated odds and ends of kitchen gear: pots, pans, mixing bowls, hot pads, spoons, can opener… Inventory what you have. Now, do some research on what you need with an eye towards how you cook, and fill in the gaps. There are any number of good beginner cooking books out there. The Look and Cook series by Anne Willan (a 14 volume series) is fully illustrated and focuses upon one category of food at a time: Soups, Pies, Breads, French Country Cooking, Main Dish Vegetables, Meats, Chicken… They are available at most libraries or through interlibrary loan, so you can check them out before you invest in them. Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics, How to Boil Water from the Food Network, and Cooking for Beginners by Kate Fryer, are also good ones to investigate.

You may want to take a cooking class. Check your local vo-techs and community colleges to see if they offer classes, and if you have a cookware store (like Williams-Sonoma) or a grocery store like Wild Oats or Trader Joe’s, they offer cooking classes, too.

In addition to all the basics, there are any number of specialty kitchen supplies: woks, bamboo steamers, toaster ovens, microwave ovens, crepe pans, deep fryers, ice cream machines, stand mixers, rice cookers, vegetable steamers, roasting ovens, convection ovens, electric skillets, hot air popcorn poppers, juicers, grills, yogurt makers, sausage makers, pasta machines, vacuum sealers, pizza ovens, quesadilla makers, tortilla presses, chocolate fountains, food dehydrators, nut roaster, fancy cake pans, chocolate dipping tools, candy making tools, and more. Depending on what ethnicity you prefer to cook and eat, and what culinary specialties you develop, you may want to invest in good equipment for that.

Step Four: Plan your meals and menus. Restaurant meals taste so good because chefs spend a lot of time planning and prepping for the meals. You can do the same thing so when it’s time to cook, your meal goes together seamlessly. Consider which foods are off-limits (due to allergies or dietary restrictions or lack of availability) and place those foods on a DO NOT BUY List that you keep handy when you browse gourmet cooking magazines and cook books. That makes it easy to ignore an enticing looking recipe if you know you can’t make a decent substitution. Landlocked states would be less likely to have good fresh seafood, for example, and desert states would pay premium prices for pork as pigs love forests. Make separate lists of foods you love but rarely eat, and foods you eat regularly. With our global market economy, a lot of foods previously unavailable to us are now on grocery shelfs. If you want to be a locavore, or support local farming, you may want to consider the source of your food, but that’s another badge!

Once you’ve planned your meals, make a list from it of all the ingredients. Add to that list whatever staples a well-stocked pantry should always have that isn’t on your ingredient list, and this will give you an idea of what should be in your pantry.

Step Five: Stock your pantry. Inventory what you already have, check those off the list you created in Step Four, and go shopping. When you return home, store your foods where they belong: cabinet, refrigerator, freezer. If you were frugal and bought in bulk (that’s another badge!), spend a few minutes dividing up your purchases into recipe portion sizes. Those portions depend on how many people for whom you regularly cook – only yourself, a couple, or a family of eight.

Step Six: Prepare a meal using one of the cookbooks and your newly stocked pantry. Eat it and clean up afterwards.

Step Seven: Claim your badge!


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