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You knew you mastered the fine art of cooking or baking when you ______________.

Fill in the blanks with whatever it is that you shed blood, sweat & tears over.

I really felt like I had arrived when I could finally cook an egg just about anyway there is to cook it. Well, that is not entirely true...depends on the mood of my old black iron skillet. (yeah right)

Maybe you graduated from a fine cooking academy...maybe you can make some dish that took years to perfect.

Or maybe you finally made a dish that dear spouse's Mama would approve. If you did, you move right up to the front of the line in this discussion. Anyone that can please a cranky/picky/critical eater deserves first chance at bragging rights.

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  1. The demi glace I made for Sunday's Easter dinner is so good that I had to freeze it to keep me from eating it by the spoonfuls. 10 pounds of beef bones, 3 lbs of lamb bones and 2 lbs of chicken backs plus leeks, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste,herbs and spices. My kitchen is still a mess. Every strainer and bowl got used all for a gelatinous globule of utter deliciousness. None of the meats dominate it's almost a Switzerland of umami. I only need a cup for Sunday dinner so what to do with the rest?

    1 Reply
    1. re: KateBChi

      You could pack in it dry ice and mail it to me =P Sounds heavenly

    2. The first time I tasted a dish, and said 'this needs more acid,' I felt like I had a handle on this whole cooking thing.

      4 Replies
      1. re: GilaB

        Yes! For me this happened with salt--salting pasta water sufficiently for the first time was a revelation. I didn't realized that pasta had a taste, or that it could be edible, even quite delicious without a topping.

        This isn't so much cooking as product-buying related, but I had another Eureka moment with sugar--that plain white granulated sugar has a flavor that is different from simply "sweet." I started giving up HFCS products and adding my own sugar to things like yogurt when I realized this.

        Writing this also reminds about the yogurt that my aunt served me when I visited her in France years ago--she bought these little Dannon-type cups of whole milk yogurt lightly pre-sweetened with sugar. For some reason, I feel that plain sugar-flavored yogurt would not fly in the U.S. (if I'm correct that it isn't available here) but that may be a question for another thread...

        1. re: Double Gloucester

          I wish lightly sweetened plain yogurt was available here! I've never seen it. Somehow, Americans seem to have equated vanilla with plain sweetened food. I love vanilla, but it's not exactly plain. On the other hand, most vanilla flavored foods I've had don't have enough vanilla to be interesting, with the exception of some pricier products. So, vanilla yogurt has just enough vanilla to mess with any flavors I'd want to add, but needs more vanilla to be appreciated for that flavor.

          1. re: celesul

            But vanilla yogurt is not plain yogurt, it's vanilla flavored yogurt. Plain yogurt is tart. If you want it to be sweeter, then add sugar or honey.

        2. re: GilaB

          Right there with you. I knew I could cooked when I could diagnose how to make something better. In fact my husband made a chocolate ganache gone wrong and I figured out how to turn it into a VERY fudgy brownie.

        3. The perfect roast chicken and the perfectly grilled ribeye. So many foods are easy to cook well, but these were my benchmarks.

          1 Reply
          1. Well... I still don't think I have mastered it but I think the feeling I had when everything was done and ready to be served at Thanksgiving .... all at the same time comes pretty close.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hank Hanover

              This sounds like me. There are so many techniques I haven't tried that I never feel like I will ever master it but when my father praised my first attempt at thanksgiving, I decided I was pretty much there. Everything was out on time and we ate at the appropriate time to the minute.

            2. I come from a long line of excellent Hungarian cooks. I knew I had mastered baking when I was able to make strudel like my Mom and Grandma. I inherited the magic "cloth" passed down in our family which covers the kitchen table when I stretch the strudel dough. Who knew that voodoo was a part of strudel making as well, as it is considered the only means to success. This cloth survived the Nazis and is hand laundered after each use. BTW, you don't use your fingertips when you stretch strudel dough to cover an entire kitchen table, you use your knuckles. It helps tremendously if your fingernails are short, so the dough doesn't get mangled. Ah, the price of sweet success!

              3 Replies
              1. re: Diane in Bexley

                Voodoo Strudel...now this is my kind of eating. What a wonderful story...who will you pass the magic cloth down to? Hungarian cooking always sounded so mysterious to me....now I know why.

                1. re: cstout

                  Of my 2 daughters, only the older one shows any inclination of learning the finer arts of cooking and baking. Her request for a Kitchen Aid mixer for a birthday present gave me much joy. The "voodoo" strudel cloth will be part of her wedding dowry - along with recipes for paprikash, goulash, stuffed cabbage, poppyseed or nut coffee cake, etc. Apiece of her family's heritage!

                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    Why don't you start her a cookbook of family recipes plus all the others you have collected? It could be something simple simple like a 3 ring binder or maybe doing a scrapbook type cookbook. She will treasure those recipes & the time you took to get them all together.

              2. When I began making pie crust without a recipe -- just by feel.

                2 Replies
                1. re: roxlet

                  I can relate to that, Roxlet...
                  We were visiting the family home of my sister-in-law. She and her two sisters are fabulous cooks and they were preparing the evening meal. I was doing "the heavy looking on." At one point I was handed a paring knife and a bowl of apples and was told, "We're having apple pie for dessert and you're making it." I must say I rose to the occasion and produced a great, mile high pie, sans recipe, which received high praise.

                  But my true zenith came a few years after I was first married and made a typical Italian holiday dessert, Struffoli, for Easter. It was an absolutely perfect conical tower of crisp on the outside, soft-ish inside, honey glazed, balls of confection strewn with colored sprinkles. To this day my cousins insist I bought it...

                  1. re: Gio

                    It's so funny that you mention the struffoli, Gio. I always make struffoli for Christmas, never Easter, but today I was in a local Italian bakery where they had dishes of struffoli, and I got to taste one. I have never tasted commercial struffoli before, and I even think that I never have ever tasted anyone else's. They were horrible. I almost spit it out. My struffoli are crunchy, and kind of of the small side. These were huge and strangely airy on the inside. I think they might have been baked. Since I'm making pizza rustica and Easter bread, I don't think I'll start an Easter tradition and make struffoli this week. I love them -- or I love mine -- and since I could sit down and easily eat a whole plateful, once a year is enough!

                2. In college, I picked up a vegetarian cookbook with the hope of diversifying my meals beyond bagels and raman. Never having cooked before, the recipes might as well have been written in Greek. I only knew half of the ingredients, owned a quarter of the equipment called for, and had no idea how to clean a leek. After a failed 4-hour battle with making my own potato gnocchi (instead of writing a lab report), I cast the book to the back of the deepest, darkest recess I could find. The book resurfaced last month, after 15 years of solitary confinement. To my surprise, not only do I now know all of the ingredients and techniques in the book, I have already made versions of most of the recipes, and consider them to be simple weeknight dinners! What a difference!

                  1. i want to reply by saying "when i knew when to quit" (meaning, i think others can do way better!)

                    or --- when i narrowed my repetoire to a few specialties - they are very pedestrian but everyone likes them.

                    when i narrowed things down, i actually recycled (as in put all those one-day, some-day clippings in the bin) -- and that included many recipe books too.

                    1. My mom was a great cook, and I learned so much at her stove. I had her over for dinner one night , and served her something she had taught me to make years before. She remarked that it was wonderful and asked where I got the recipe...I told her she taught me to make it and she looked at her plate and said...'Mine NEVER tasted this good!'. One of the proudest days of my cooking life!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: justme123

                        Moms are always good at making their "babies" feel like they have conquered the world...don't you just love them to pieces??

                        1. re: cstout

                          Actually, my mom is not one of 'those' moms. She rarely hands out compliments, and is widely known around our town as critical and demanding. So, it was REALLY special when she said that! (therapy session is now over--thanks ;)

                          1. re: justme123

                            Bless your heart...perhaps your Mom did not know how to show love, you are special in her heart, just keep on cooking & praising HER, believe it or not, it works wonders. And yes, YOU are a great cook!!

                      2. The level of my skill took a leap when: my sauces and stocks improved so much thru reduction, found and evolved my biscuit recipe, my tomato sauce (with braising meat) finally came together given enough time, my thick ribeye cooked inside got so good I don't even fire up the grill anymore. Thank you Julia, Am Test Kitchen and my sister-in-law and patience.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: stymie

                          oh yea,,,,,and vodka pie crust, first ever pie crust ever, patted out by hand, another ATK. Joy of cooking is realizing I'll always be trying to master something.

                          1. re: stymie

                            I tried the vodka pie crust & it was a flop, I rolled it out though. Yes, we will always have goals to look forward to. Yes, making a really good pie crust is a major breakthrough for just about anybody, I suppose.

                        2. Make your own puff pastry from scratch and are too naive to realize it is supposed to be difficult. Honestly, It happened to me 37 years ago. I just did it. Now I buy DuFour. I've long since proved I can do it well, and Du Four is a quality all butter product.

                          1. when you become fearless. you're no longer intimidated by what you have not yet done. you offer to make something for someone by request, even though you've never made it, and have confidence in your ability to see it through.

                            my mom never really cooked -- some simple stuff, always to a recipe; she gets on a tangent now and really wants to make [X] (last month this was Trifle, before that homemade french fries, a baked mac'n'cheese, etc. she's also super picky. i have to be careful what information i give her about a dish, lest she get scared away from trying. however, the biggest compliment now is when she asks me to make her stuff. it's a weird vindication. i also had a good chuckle the other day when she called me to tell me that the cakes that were offered at a basketball game party, brought in from a local bakery, were "awful." as in mine are so much better. i smiled.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Emme

                              Emme, you have arrived....Mom approves...great job!!!!

                            2. First time I nailed it was when, 19 years old, newly married and trying lots of new recipes, I finally worked out the importance of timing the dishes. Like don't put the bacon on at the same time as the eggs and toast. Check the baklava every 5 minutes while it's baking...
                              Now it's 35+ years later, on to hubby #2, and I love the feeling I get when I make a dish he's never liked (or never tried, thinking he wouldn't like it)- and he raves about it. And means it.

                              1. ... when cooking and baking becomes less of a task, and more of an extension of yourself.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Great great great....cooking becoming an extension of yourself....I have never hear truer words!

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    ipsedixit, I guess that is the difference between those of us who cook, and those who don't. It never becomes natural to them. I couldn't understand how anyone just could not cook, but after watching the FN show with the bad cooks, I think I get it.
                                    It would be like me trying to play the piano or the saxophone. A great musician uses one's instrument as an extension of oneself. And what comes out is beautiful.

                                    1. re: jmcarthur8

                                      I agree! my husband doesn't really cook much. He gets very frustrated when I ask him to check if something is 'done' because he doesn't know what that means--and sometimes I can't articulate it--done is done, right?
                                      I can't stand to cook with the radio on loudly because I can't hear the food cooking. I cook as much by sound as by sight, smell and feel.

                                      1. re: justme123

                                        That's true about the sounds and smells, etc. DH gets a little bewildered if he's making dinner and I tell him to turn down the heat because it sounds too hot. Or it smells like it's cooking too fast.

                                  2. I was always had a knack for baking, but when it came to making risotto, forget it, for some reason it kept coming out overcooked so I just stopped making it. A few years ago, I gave it another whirl and wow, it came out perfectly creamy and delicious. What I learned was, the moment it's done - serve it, don't wait.

                                    I have yet to make great (by my high standards) meatballs, so I still have lot of learning left to do.

                                    1. ... understood why there are other settings than "High" on the rangetop, or 350° for the oven, and when to use those other temperatures to my advantage as appropriate.

                                      1. Putting aside the issue of whether you can ever truly 'master' cooking...

                                        In all honesty, looking back I think I declared myself a good cook before I was one. I'd bang out one of my mom's (delicious) recipes with her detailed instructions - and if it came out well, I figured it was because I was awesome. The deeper I got into cooking, the more I realized I didn't know. Now I have a mountain of cooking projects still to accomplish...

                                        But here are a few very important milestones for me along the way:

                                        - When I stopped dumping the entire pantry of spices into a dish and started using spices with focus and intent, that was a big step.

                                        - When my focus changed from making a dish delicious to making a dish come out EXACTLY the way I'd dreamed it could, right down to the crispy edges or bright colors or each flavor in a dish standing up on its own, that was another big step.

                                        - When my very picky, processed food-loving wife told me she could no longer enjoyably eat at Olive Garden, etc, because my cooking had ruined it for her, that was a big compliment. She's not the type to pretend she likes my cooking just to make me happy. Learning to please picky eaters is underrated as a way to improve as a cook.

                                        - Someday - some bright and sunny day - I'll finally make a pizza at home that is as great and perfect as I've always known it could be. Perfectly stretched and even without any spilling over or lopsidedness; crispy, slightly fermented cracker-thin crust, blackened just enough and just a little chewy at the outside edges; rich milky cheese without any watery excess to dampen the crust; sauce that is intensely tomato-y and added in the perfect proportion to the rest of the pie. I don't know if that will mean I've mastered cooking, but it will be a good day. Pizza is my White Whale.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          your post resonates with me
                                          i think anyone who presents themselves as being great cook possibly isn't
                                          i think your first point about the whole spice cupboard is + valid --- it means to me "keep it simple, know your limits, respect the materials"

                                          the pro chefs we know are very humble workers and very geniuine about their trade, like any skilled trade - they do their job. their goal is NOT to be on a tv show, etc --- they want honest, polite responses and they respect their materials --- ie the food that died to be on our plates.

                                          another interesting chow topic

                                        2. What a great topic! I think I made it (well, there is still a LOT of room for improvement) the first time that I attempted to make tourtiere for my father, who had grown up with it. His mother had died about 10 years prior to this attempt, I tracked down her recipe through my aunt (it was an "observed" recipe, no notes) and made it for his birthday one year. He hadn't had tourtiere for 10 years. It was devoured and loved and over the years I have made very subtle changes to the recipe without altering its original feel....and we have it every year for his birthday.

                                          Now, someone above mentioned perfect meatballs, and I agree, they are very elusive!!

                                          1. When, goaded by souschef, I made a gâteau St-Honoré. Must make another one, one of these days. Awfully tasty!

                                            1. I can think of two moments ... one for cooking, one for baking.

                                              I have basically always cooked without recipes, so I've always been an experimental cook. I started cooking in self-defense ... my mother is a good cook, but after my brother was born she decided to lose weight, and 'egg Foo Young' became what's for dinner every single night. It was eggs with random stuff from the fridge thrown in.

                                              There was no such thing as adding items to a shopping list--I always had to cook with whatever was on hand, a useful skill in and of itself--one I still use on occasions when I don't feel like making a special trip to the grocery store.

                                              So the moment for cooking was sometime in high school I think ... I'd made an experimental meatloaf, and I considered it a failure, but served it for dinner to my mother and sister. Afer awhile I apologized, and my mother and sister looked at me like Whaaa? and said it was good. So I figured that if even my failures were considered good to eat by people known to have taste buds in their mouths, that I must be doing pretty well.

                                              For baking, it was when I realized that I was getting consistently good results. You cannot be a careless baker, and I guess I had finally learned that lesson--and also how to tweak things along the way to allow for things like differences in humidity.

                                              1. A few times, in no particular chronology:

                                                When I realized that other people were more than willing to clean up after me if I fed them -- I can dirty a truly prodigious amount of dishes, a trait I seem to have inherited from my father.

                                                When I saw my ex leave the Brussels sprouts on his plate until last because he liked them that much.

                                                When I noticed I get restless with standbys, don't repeat many recipes because I have a queue of 'must trys', and cook more 'ethnic' foods than standard North American.

                                                1. Still waiting on mastery :-D. I was tickled, though, that my cousin asked me to come over and be her house elf for Easter dinner. Her words were "keep me from killing everyone."

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                                    Never heard of "house elf"....nothing like being a referee...you go!!

                                                    1. re: cstout

                                                      cstout, it's from Harry Potter. Everyone needs a house elf!

                                                      1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                        Jeez..I missed the whole Harry Potter thing....guess I was too busy hanging out here...thank you for explaining...I can always count on you to fill in my ignorant gaps...I think YOU are my house elf!!

                                                  2. I know I've not mastered cooking or baking, not by a long shot as there's always something new to learn, but I'm definitely a good home cook. For me the turning point was when I learned not to rely so much on the recipe and instead use my senses more. Now I usually go by smell, look, feel and sound as much as taste to judge when something is ready (or ready for the next step). For me, that was a huge leap in understanding.

                                                    1. Bread baking...when I realized it is better to buy vacuum packed 1-pound packages of yeast. I am still using viable yeast that is past the package expiration date by 6 years. It works because it has been kept in a large (26-ounce) glass jar in the fridge. Never discard yeast without proofing it first.

                                                      Patience in letting the fermentation process continue for a long period of time...12 or more hours (overnight). The original yeast is reproducing more yeast.

                                                      7 Replies
                                                      1. re: ChiliDude

                                                        Great hints on bread baking...I watched my expiration date closely before & chucked it out right away....now will just proof first. Also, the fermentation going for a long time....yep, you are an accomplished bread maker!!!!

                                                        1. re: ChiliDude

                                                          Truer words were never spoken, I'm on the last of 500 gm of SAF that expired in 2006 too. Keys to grreat bread: small amount of yeast, long room-temp rise.

                                                          1. re: ChiliDude

                                                            Yeast will last nearly forever in the freezer

                                                            I purchased some Fleishmanns Instant yeast in a 1 lb vacuum packed foil package locally and stored it in the freezer in a zip lock bag with a clothespin holding the rolled up foil bag shut within the zip lock bag. I had opened and used some.

                                                            Somehow the yeast got pushed to the back of my freezer in the garage and I found it about 6 months ago. I had purchased new yeast in the interim. The lost package has an expiration date of 2006. It still works fine in my bread machine and bakes good bread that rises properly. I don't even proof it, just add it dry to the bread machine.

                                                            So if you store your yeast in the freezer, with the foil packet sealed tightly, sealed in a ziploc bag, it works for at least 6 years.

                                                            I have new, Golden SAF Instant yeast in a 1 lb foil packet, but I going to continue to use the 6 year old yeast until it's gone (about 1/2 the pack is left).

                                                            If stored properly in the freezer, I guess it lasts forever. So, it's more economical to buy a 1 lb package of yeast and store it in the freezer than buying those little packets. If stored in the freezer properly the yeast won't go bad.

                                                            1. re: Antilope

                                                              I would promptly throw my yeast away once it reached the expiration date...thanks for the info. Wonder if you can keep flour frozen after the expire date also??

                                                              1. re: cstout

                                                                White flour, almost definitely. Whole wheat, as long as the freezer temp is consistent, probably. (Both need to be well sealed in plastic to prevent moisture/odors).

                                                                1. re: jvanderh

                                                                  Flour in the freezer - will now save a bunch of money....am finding out from different places on Chowhound that food/spices/herbs/nuts or whatever can be stored a long time in the freezer. Well, since then, I am putting a whole lot more in there....hmmm, maybe need to buy a bigger freezer.

                                                                  Sorry folks, seems like one of you has mentioned flour in the freezer previously...just forgot.

                                                                  I am going to start keeping a folder of what all can be stored there.

                                                                  1. re: cstout

                                                                    Maybe just a folder of what can't be ;)

                                                          2. When my husband said he'd rather stay home and eat my latest experiment than go out for dinner.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: mtngirlnv

                                                              My husband and I feel the same way...rarely do we got out to eat and have something better than we could make at home. We had short ribs out lat night and though the meat itself was good, the mushroom "sauce" (actually a gravy) turned it into airline food. Today, I shredded up the leftovers and combined them with gorgonzola and a browned mixture of chopped fresh mushrooms, shallot, sundried tomatoes and red wine. It's cooling in the frig and will later be made into raviolo with a rosemary, red wine tomato sauce. (And I made the filling without having to get anything from the store, which is when I really feel accomplished as a cook.)

                                                            2. My Mom was a good home cook who worked full time. I never cooked at home, but when I left and started my own home, I realized I had absorbed so many of her techniques just by watching that I was able to adapt them to my own fledgling cooking. I took for granted my knowledge of the basics until I was at a married friend's house early on and watched her make a bechamel sauce by heating milk and stirring in flour. She had no clue about making a roux. She also thought "steaming" corn on the cob was filling up a huge pot of water, throwing in the corn and boiling the crap out of it. Her father owned a restaurant and she thought she knew it all, so I didn't say much.

                                                              My Mom wasn't much of a baker since she didn't have much time, so I had to learn that by following recipes. I thought I had really come into my own with my first successful loaf of bread.

                                                              This year I butterflied a turkey for the first time. There's always something new to learn

                                                              1. ...........cannot fasten your pants.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Robin Joy

                                                                  Short & sweet & everyone can relate to that!!!!!

                                                                2. realized I know a lot more than the people around me about cooking.

                                                                  Don't know that I've mastered it, but I am far more knowledgeable than the average bear.

                                                                  Thank you chowhounders, it is my passion.

                                                                  1. I felt like I had arrived the first time I was able to reverse engineer a dish i had at a restaurant and faithfully recreate it at home.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: soypower

                                                                      Wow, I could never reverse engineer anything....you get a gold star for that...what was the dish you deciphered??

                                                                    2. When I looked in the pantry and freezer and made up a meal using just "a little of this, and a little of that" and have DH ask for seconds.

                                                                      Also when my BIL requests my parmesan and prosciutto scones every time I go there for dinner. REQUESTS!

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: mrsbuffer

                                                                        Please tell us how you prepare the Parmesan & prosciutto scones...sounds so good!