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What is missing in your culinary education and why?

Please name up two things that are missing in your culinary education and explain why.

For me, the most important thing for which I have no education is knife skills. After forty years of cooking, I'm still pretty deliberate in the way I cut things and nothing is chopped exactly the same size. I blame this on the fact that where I lived for the first thirty years of my life, there was no possibility of any culinary instruction. (Also, there was no Food Network, few instructional books of which I was aware, etc.) I see now that there is a cookware store near my house that offers a specific course in knife skills. I'm going! (I'm also reading Jacques Pepin's book on technique, which i discovered recently.)

Second, I can't bake bread worth a darn. Of course, I was using all purpose flour and the "Better Homes and Gardens" or "Betty Crocker" cookbook. (I can't remember.) I could never understand why my bread came out so tough and dry. (It had a nice crust, though, somewhat akin to the armor plating on a tank.) I tried variations on the basic recipe, but never used anything but AP flour. When I complained about the results to a bread-baking friend, her first question was what kind of flour was I using? At that point, I didn't know there were other kinds of flour, except whole wheat, which in the Midwest was considered a little weird. However, why would anyone publish such a terrible recipe and specifically call for AP flour? Anyway with the new 21st century enlightenment about bread and a new cookbook, I am going to try again.

Okay, I'm not confessing to anything else. I still think I'm a pretty good cook. What about you?

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  1. My missing link is making sauce of any kind (except spaghetti sauce!). Although I remember watching my mother cook, she didn't teach me to cook and I didn't study what she was doing. I've taught myself to cook relatively well - husband and I are pretty satisfied, anyway - but sauces scare me. Honestly, I can't even make gravy, and husband and I agree that the next element I should tackle to take my cooking to a next level is sauces. I can't think of a lot of things I cook that seem to require saucing, but something on that delicious-but-dry tuna steak would probably elevate it - and give it variety, allowing us to have it more often. /confession

    4 Replies
    1. re: occula

      I'm 63 y.o., born and raised in Atlanta and until the last six months or so was gravy-phobic. Not sauces from recipes with totally clear instructions. Then I extracted something from a Bon Appetit Y'all recipe:

      2T fat (leftover from cooking usually but I've used bacon drippings and other things)
      2T flour
      stir them together til nice and brown and not floury
      add 2 cups broth
      simmer and whisk
      IT'S WORKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I can now make gravy

      There are so many things that I'm missing I'll have to think about that one and get back to you :)

      ETA: Forgot the why. I think it's because I'm a recipe type person and all those generations of Southerners in my just MADE it. No recipe. Freak out :)

      1. re: c oliver

        First of all, thanks! Secondly, that's a good point - once I've learned something, I play free and loose with the recipe, but I like to see one to start with, and ... I grew up in rural southern Missouri eating midwestern-southern food, and gravy always seemed genetic, not learned.
        I was also gravy-impeded by being a vegetarian for ten years, so no meat drippings to work with - but I've converted back to 'flexitarian', so I ought to be able to come up with something. (it beats iron shots every 6 weeks. ow!)

        1. re: c oliver

          c.oliver, Notice the ratio -- 2:2:2 (2T fat, 2T flour, 2C liquid). You can make this 1:1:1 or any other number and it will work. Promise. Also, the fat can be butter, olive oil, bacon fat or bear grease in addition to the pan drippings you mentioned. Instead of broth, think about other liquids ........... the world of sauces and gravy is opening at your feet!

          1. re: Sherri

            I did 1:1:1 a couple of nights ago. 1 of lamb fat lifted off the liquid from the slow cooker, 1 of flour and 1 of that same lamb liquid. I was like "hot damn, now that's lamb gravy." Why did I think this was hard?????

            I made Chinese dumplings (XLB) some months ago and blew my mind at how easy that was. But still yeast-phobic. But, hey, 2011 is just around the corner. New conquests :)

      2. I'm a bit of a doughophobe. Thus, when it comes to baking bread, I'm right out. And fugeddabout attempting filled pastas such as ravioli or tortellini! That sort of cooking intimidates me, I'm ashamed to say.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          +1 re doughphobia. Now I use the excuse of living at 6200' elevation.

          Re ravioli, if you're interested, do a search for jfood's goat cheese ravioli. It's a snap and one of the best things I've ever cooked.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Pasta machines? Pricking with needles?! Crimping!! Contents leaking during boiling!! EXPLODING RAVIOLI!

              **PK totters away from the keyboard with a queazy feeling in his gizzard**

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                ha! i said you'd have to be feeling "adventurous" ;)

        2. Always wanted to work in a real bakery, had the oportunity, just never did, always stayed on the cooking side.

          1. Fish. It terrifies me. So I signed up for a fish course at the CT Culinary Inst., and when the time came, the famous lady who was supposed to teach it got sick and they canceled the class. DW especially will order it in restaurants. I do ok with shellfish, shrimp, scalloops and lobster, and used to do fish in foil. But not outright simply cooking fish.

            I think it must go back to when we were kids and every Friday night we had that awful stuff that came in a frozen rectangle and that stunk. Friday night date night everybody knew who the Catholic kids were by the way they stunk of fish...or Jean Nate and fish for the girls.

            I can't say that I can bake either beyond adding blueberries to a muffin mix, but we've never much cared for dessert and my better half makes killer pies on the holidays anyway. I used to make all of our bread. Now I can barely get anything to rise....

            1. Cleaning, scaling, filleting a whole fish
              Shucking oysters and clams