Monday, March 21, 2011

The Top 10 Signs You’re Becoming a Better Cook, Plus Easy Chicken Pan Gravy

You guys? I was making Easy Chicken Pan Gravy last week when something hit me. Over the years, I've become a pretty decent cook. Not a good cook, per se, but a decent one. I'm fairly confident no one will die / vomit / write heartbreaking soliloquies after they eat my food.

Upon the realization, I started brainstorming some benchmarks - noticeable and definitive signs that you've come a long way, culinarily speaking. Here's what I came up with:
  1. You eyeball ingredient measurements.

  2. You substitute ably and with abandon.

  3. You regularly improve on recipes written by professionals.

  4. You search for physical indications (browning, thickness, scent, etc.) that a recipe is done, rather than use times.

  5. You have an ever-expanding repertoire of dishes you know by heart, and can easily go a week without consulting a recipe.

  6. You bring lunch to work not because you want to save money or watch your waistline, but because  your leftovers are fantastic.

  7. You don’t choose certain restaurant dishes because you can make it just as well – or even better – by yourself at home.

  8. Your pickiest friend will eat your food without complaint.

  9. Your foodie-est friend will eat your food with glee.

  10. Your parents entrust you with Thanksgiving.
Readers, how about you? What are some signs you're becoming / have become better cooks? Is it  something you can measure with milestones, even?

Also, this gravy is good and you should eat it.


Mmm … sauce. If this looks all nice and stuff, you will surely enjoy:

Easy Chicken Pan Gravy (With Chicken)
Serves 4

16 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin (1/2-inch or so) filets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1) Pat chicken dry and season one side liberally with salt and pepper. Pour half can of chicken broth into measuring cup and whisk flour in thoroughly. (There should be no lumps.) Keep other half in the can and set aside.

2) In a large pan, heat oil over high heat. With tongs, carefully place chicken seasoned-side down in pan. Cook until browned, about 3 to 6 minutes. While cooking, season exposed side with salt and pepper. Flip, and cook another 3 to 6 minutes, until second side is browned. Remove to a plate and keep warm. (Tent with tin foil, if you like.)

3) Pour broth in can into hot pan, scraping up browned bits with wooden spoon. Cook on high until broth is reduced by about half.

4) Give the flour/broth mixture one more quick whisk, and pour into pan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat a little, to medium or medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until sauce is thick and gravy-like. This could take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, so keep an eye on it.

5) When gravy hits the desired consistency, season with salt and pepper. If necessary (i.e. lumps), strain into your fancy serving vessel (measuring glass, gravy bowl, etc.). Otherwise, just pour it in. Then, dollop over chicken and/or potatoes and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving
151 calories, 3.3 g fat, 0 fiber, 26.8 g fiber, $0.72

NOTE: I used College Inn chicken broth from CostCo for my calculations.

16 ounces chicken breast, sliced into thin (1/2-inch or so) filets: 497 calories, 5.4 g fat, 0 g fiber, 104.4 g protein, $2.14
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, and protein, $0.02
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth: 20 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g fiber, 2 g protein, $0.64
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour: 26 calories, 0 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 0.7 g protein, $0.01
1/2 tablespoon olive oil: 60 calories, 6.7 g fat, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein, $0.05
TOTALS: 603 calories, 13.1 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, 107.1 g fiber, $2.86
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 151 calories, 3.3 g fat, 0 fiber, 26.8 g fiber, $0.72

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Alli said...

11. Seasonality is suddenly very important to you, as is cooking to enhance it -- tomatoes in December? What's the point?

And I totally agree with #6 -- my lunch is going to be amazzzzzzzzzzzing today.

April said...

I can relate on all points except #10. No one will trust a vegetarian with Thanksgiving for some reason. It's so awesome to feel like a real chef minus the hat!

katerina said...

Can I add that you use your nose and ears to tell when things are progressing?

cardamomandcastiron said...

When the just-before-payday pantry clean out cooking isn't at all intimidating.

When you watch "Chopped" on the Food Network and know exactly what you'd make with the mishmash of ingredients in the baskets.

Love your list. And gravy. Mmmm.

Sally said...

I agree with Alli about seasonality.

I'm not so sure that I perfect recipes written by professionals so much as I adapt them to suit my/our tastes or ingredients I have on hand.

Martha said...

12. You find that there are always extra teenagers at your dinner table!!

Autumn said...

Your MIL stops eating at your house cause your food gets more complements than hers or you are always assigned fruit salad for family gatherings for the same reason.

There's a lot one can do to make a killer fruit salad. (evil laughing)

Amy (Super Healthy Kids) said...

I'd say when you overhear your husband bragging about the rolls you made last night, when he doesn't know you can hear :)

Dee Seiffer said...

I agree with your list and would add....

When I was first an adult cooking for my first hubby and me, I would have said it was when my friends started calling (this was waaayyy before email) asking me how I made something I had served them. Or when I showed up at someone's house with food and the husbands said, "Where is what Dee made? I get first dibs."

Now that decades have passed, I would say it is when my adult children call, text or email asking how to make something that they love my version of.

And, that after I came home from the hospital after surgery, my friends and neighbors brought loads of food. After a few days, we couldn't take it anymore. I asked hubby to get the food I had made out of the freezer. And we both sighed with relief eating my cooking.

Elizabeth said...

Or you can realize you're still a mediocre cook when you totally botch the gravy despite the well-written instructions. Bleh.....

Oh well, continuing to try helps us get better all the time, right? :)

Thanks for the great recipe.

Anna said...

Ooh, I thought you made a pretty good list, but these extra ones are making me really laugh.

I adapt, adapt, adapt. If I post a link on facebook of a recipe that I made for dinner, I am almost embarrassed at the amount of "I changed this and this," etc. But at least I wouldn't post my review with those changes!

Anyway, they are all true, and I'm glad to be better for it.

Basil said...

Ok, that's really funny. Especially the measuring part- I have started doing those things, too. I think you could add reading food blogs in your spare time- as opposed to watching TV or something.

MsJess said...

Number seven is a big one for me. Also physical indications are a big one for me, also relying more on my nose and ears to know when something is cooking properly. Maybe 2 years ago I read you should always heat oil in a pan before sauteing and now I relish that sizzing sound you get when vegetables hit heated oil.

Also knife skills! I took a knife skills class once, it was money well spent.

Julie said...

Great post! I'm not as far along as you, so I wrote up my own 10 signs. Call it the "newbie edition." One day, I'll hopefully reach your milestones too!