Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Beginner Chef

It's not easy being a cook with no clue. That should be the title of this blog since I'm constantly making mistakes and learning my way as I go. As the boyfriend says, I don't think; I do. I tend to just slam things together hoping for a great outcome instead of processing if those two ingredients will meld or mix.

Last night I attempted to make my very first vegan lasagna. It was fun preparing all of the ingredients and wasn't that difficult. The science behind the no-boil pasta got me tricked up though. The top came out all crusty because there wasn't enough sauce for it to absorb. I cooked the tofu too long so that it was crispy instead of soft and forkable. Although I continue to fudge up, I continue to cook and learn.

Here are 15 pointers that I've picked up in the past month:

  1. Cook hungry. (Because after all the tasting, you will be full.)
  2. Basics are essential.
  3. Work with what you know, not what every professional cook and blogger knows.
  4. Don't try and master a technique you should have learned in culinary school without preparing yourself with 10 hours worth of patience.
  5. When making mac n' cheese, rely on Daiya, not on a nutritional yeast sauce.
  6. You don't need a bunch of special tools to make something delicious. (Most of the time you don't need more than a fork and bowl.)
  7. Pizza dough is very hard to make taste good! Don't use too much flour on the board and pan.
  8. Soy cream cheese is expensive and should only be bought when seriously craved.
  9. Vegan desserts will never have the texture of real butter and milk, so stop dreaming, wishing, and hoping they will come out like that.
  10. Baking is way harder than cooking.
  11. Don't make a whole pan or pot of something when you only have two people eating. Downsize!
  12. Know that even if you fail, you can try, try again.
  13. Food styling can be tricky, but you don't need a lighted studio box to take good photos.
  14. A simple wrap, salad, and sandwich can be the best meal of all.
  15. You don't need to get complicated to make something amazing. 
Although we all make mistakes, we must live and learn...or in this case, cook and learn. Here are the photos from my adventure last night. Don't make the same mistakes I did and you will have a delicious lasagna. You can make lasagna out of whatever you like. Cook all the ingredients before you put them together in layers, and make sure they taste great. Use lots of cheese (low fat if using real cheese) and lots of sauce. Don't over cook your meat. And have fun! 

Lay out all your ingredients for easy access.

Cover the bottom of your pan in a flavorful marinara or tomato sauce. 

Mistake! Do not cook your tofu like this. Marinate it over night and then place it straight into the lasagna. Otherwise, it will be too crispy. 

This is no-boil rice pasta. I will use cooked pasta next time. I'll cook it in a vegetable broth for extra flavor.

This part was delicious. Finely chop red bell pepper, green onions, and white mushrooms. 

Saute in garlic olive oil, agave, and lemon juice mixture, plus the seasonings you love.

I will definitely make this pesto again! It was yummy. Basil, parsley, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and agave make this great. If you don't have a Vita-mix, use a food processor.

Here is my layering with mozzarella and pesto. It tasted great with the sautéed vegetables. If only I didn't fudge the tofu and top! Grr! 

The vegetable mixture on top of the pesto and cheese. Again, delicious. 

Here is the mistake. I shouldn't have layered the pasta on top. It should just be the cheese and pesto bubbling on top. Too much pasta is never a good thing! It came out hard and crusty. I had to peel it off. 

And here is the crusty top. Do Not Do This!

See that bottom gooey pasta? That is the good stuff. Everything under the tofu and top crust was great. Next time: veggie only lasagna, boiled pasta, and more cheese! Can't get enough cheese in this thing. Yummo! 

So for all of you beginner cooks, don't fret if you mess up. There is hope. Just have the patience and drive, and you will succeed. Remember, it's not about making something super complicated, but something super delicious. 

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