Cooking 101 and having guests to dinner

I am going to start posting some of my recipes but first I want to get a few things straight. The first recipe I had published on the web was published at allrecipes.com. When I submitted it, I had really typed it up quickly, didn't give it a lot of thought and NEVER pictured how many people would actually try it. So, I didn't take into account the critics. Nor did I really take into account my methods and cooking style. I'm used to cooking meals like this, some people are used to buttering bread. With this in mind, realize that it is OK to improvise. Nobody but you and your family will know it if you fuck up a good meal. So, if you are a novice, please take some advice from me.

1. READ READ READ....make sure you READ the recipe first. It's oh so important. I'll never forget the first time I tried to make homemade ravioli and when I got to the fourth paragraph it said "And using your pasta maker". What? What pasta maker? I don't have a fucking pasta maker!
So, I had to try to make it by rolling it out on the counter and cutting it by hand. Let me tell you, that first batch of ravioli turned out looking like deformed dumplings with cheese oozing out all over the place. I threw all of that shit in the garbage and thanked the Lord that I had the foresight to buy a bag of frozen ravioli. Into the pot it went.
I can't stress enough, the importance of reading your recipe first.

2. Make sure you have ALL the ingredients listed in the recipe before you start. YES, fresh garlic is imperative in that Bolognese sauce. YES, lemon zest is necessary in that desert. NO you can't use half and half in lieu of heavy cream, it's just NOT the same. Of course, if that is all you have on hand and you have to improvise, then improvise. However, the lack of one vital ingredient can kill your recipe. If you need substitutions, which I have on MANY occasions, google whatever it is you need a substitute for, chances are you will find something. This is how I found out I can substitute Vermouth for Dry White Wine. (Yes I happened to have Vermouth from a previous recipe, wine is hard to keep in my house. I drink it all the time!)

3. Pre-measure and assemble all of your ingredients ahead of time. You don't have to be the Barefoot Contessa and have a million little bowls for all of your individual ingredients, toss them on a paper plate if that's all you have! But trust me, it really does help to have everything measured out and sitting right where you need it. There is nothing like burning your garlic in red-hot olive oil while you are chopping your shallot. Chop the damn shallot first! Things will run much more smoother for you.

4. Try to have the proper cooking utensils, pots and pans, etc...
I can't live without my cast iron skillet. I love it for making fajitas, steaks, anything blackened......I use it indoors in the winter all the time when I can't grill. I would die without my garlic press and dumpling maker. Make sure you have a whisk. The little mini food processor I bought at Kohl's for 30.00 was a life saver! I can't believe I chopped so many freaking onions by hand for so many years. Invest in a good chopping knife, a vegetable peeler and an electric knife if possible. A few different size strainers are always handy. Most important of all, get a meat thermometer. I love my Martha Stewart enamel casserole. I just wish it were bigger, but it was damn expensive so I bought the smallest one that I could. Toss in some good nonstick pans as well. At the very least, read the recipe and decide whether or not you have the utensils necessary to make it.

5. Never, EVER, try out a new recipe for a party. People will tell you that the majority of what I cook is very good. But I have served some bonafide shit let me tell you-- and it was because I didn't try the recipe first. I found a recipe for some jerk-chicken kebobs and planned to cook it for 30 people. I really thought the recipe called for too much salt, pepper and hickory smoke seasoning, but I followed that recipe to a tee. OMG did it suck. It was just awful and I was furious because I marinated and skewered 15 pounds of fucking chicken breast and almost everyone hated it. I wish I had cooked it once first to try it out......

6. Go with your intuition. Like my story above with the shitty kebobs, had I listened to my gut, I would never had put so much salt into the recipe. Not every recipe is perfect and not everyone's tastes are the same.
If you feel like something is too much, use too little first. You can always add, but it's very hard to take away. I made a wonderful chicken dish from Julia Child's first edition cookbook. The recipe called for curry powder. Curry powder is about as strong as you can get for a spice. I used half of it and the recipe turned out perfect. My husband said "Is that curry powder? I taste a hint of something, but I'm not sure." Yes, it was curry powder and even he told me it would have been ruined with any more of it.

5. Open a bottle of something and have a drink while you're cooking. I have this wonderful little pillow in my kitchen, which I think is pictured here somewhere on my blog and it says " I love cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food." Ah, so true in my kitchen. When I shop for a meal that involves wine, I always buy three bottles. One for the recipe, one for me to drink while I'm making the recipe and one for my husband and I to drink while we are eating the recipe! So, if you make a really unedible meal, by the time you get through it, you'll be too snockered to give a shit!

6. Try to get really good at putting all of your food on the table at the same time HOT. There is nothing worse than have a lovely beef tenderloin sit on the cutting board for 40 minutes while you finish off your potatoes.
Take a look at everything you want to cook for your dinner and think it out. If you are having salad, Make the salad first and set it aside. If you're making salad dressing, ditto. Figure out how long it takes for each item to cook and plan it out so that it is all hot in the end. I love to make breakfast and making a good breakfast is actually an art. It's not that easy to get pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs, an egg-white omelet for my hubby, toast, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns,fresh fruit, juice and milk all to the table at once. It just takes planning. I have my methods. The toast doesn't get popped down until the cheese is put on the eggs to melt. The eggs don't get started until the sausage and bacon are 3/4 of the way cooked. The french toast and pancakes get prepared ahead of time and are put in the oven to stay warm. If you're making potatoes, they are very easy to keep warm. Just think it through ahead of time.

6. Get your table prepared ahead of time. Like everything else...plan plan plan. Set your table before you start cooking. Nice table cloth, placemats, etc...I set out my condiments, silveware, plates, cups, etc...
I'll get the icebucket ready, the candles ready. Whatever I think I'll need. If it's just for your family, by all means, get out the paper plates and styrofoam cups! If you have it all done ahead of time, when you're ready to serve your meal, you'll be able to sit down with everyone else and eat. Unless you have little kids. Then you're screwed.

7. Get your ass showered, dressed and your hair put up before you start cooking. If you are having company, clean house ahead of time. I know this all sounds like something people should just know, but trust me. I've been to enough houses to tell you different. I've sat at kitchen tables before while the host is brushing their dog in the kitchen and their snot-nosed kids are sneezing all over the food. I've also had guests come early while I'm setting my table in my robe and I look like complete shit, thinking I still had 40 minutes to get ready. ARGH. Get yourself ready.

8. This will sound stupid but invest in lots of papertowels. I have 2 dogs and 3 cats and people never find an animal hair in my food. Why? Because I use paper towels on everything. Every time I use a pan, a plate or a pot, I take it straight out of the cupboard and rinse it off, then dry it with a paper towel. Yes, I rinse perfectly clean plates, bowls, pans, whatever! When I wash my hands, I use paper towel. Why the obsession with paper towel? Because animal hair, dirt, fuzz and dust stick to kitchen towels. Pick up your kitchen towel sometime and tell me if you'd like to lick it? Chances are it's got fuzz, hairs or yuck stuff on it. I don't know about you but if I see a hair in something, fuck it, I'm done for the meal. No more hairy food for me.

9. Leave the clean up for later!! If you do a really good job, chances are you will get to sit with your guests and enjoy the meal you busted your ass to make. Sit down and drink, chat and enjoy. Nobody wants to see your stupid ass jumping up and down and cleaning your kitchen counters or loading the dishwasher. Please please please, sit with your friends and eat. Nothing is more offensive,(I speak from experience here)than having the hostess running around like a chicken with her head cut off and serving you like you're a guest at the White House while she is cussing and bitching under her breath and running around the kitchen like a moron. Yes we want people to know that you made a great meal and that it probably was a giant pain in the ass, but have some class and don't make them feel guilty!

10. Have a back up plan. If you're oven stops working, or you run out of propane or the electricity goes out....then have the number to the nearest pizza place handy.