FYI that episode of No Reservations is airing tomorrow morning at 10am on Travel Channel.
I firmly believe that in the world of cooking there are two types of people. There are chefs, and there are bakers. A chef is a person who is creative and isn’t concerned with precise amounts of wine, butter, garlic… they go by instinct, aroma and taste. A baker does the exact opposite. They are methodical, precise and stick exactly to the recipe.
The GF can look at the fridge and come up with 50 different things to make. Of which, al of them would taste great, and all of them done without a cookbook. I look at the pantry and think of all the things I can bake, but I first need to consult the recipe. Do we have buttermilk, baking soda & baking powder? Do we have the proper type of flour for the application? With baking, you have to make sure that you have ALL of the ingredients at the moment you’re going to get started.
As a chef, you can throw different spices together and determine something needs more salt, a little more wine to help deglaze the pan, throw in a bit of green onion to change the flavor a bit… you get the point. Bakers are VERY specific. Baking times are precise down to the location in the oven, and how often the baked goods need to be turned to ensure even baking temperatures.
Chefs are like artists and bakers are like engineers. That’s how I see it.
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To expand on that a bit, bakers are scientists while chefs are artists. I've always been struck by the tendencies of people in high school. Those who excelled in English and arts tended to hate math and sciences and vice versa. For the most part, that's the way it was for me and people I pose this question to usually fit in scenario A or scenario B.
Speaking for myself, while I'd love to be able to bake and learn the techniques, there's something about the (for the most part) free-flowing improvisation of cooking that I gravitate towards.
A couple of ways to ease into cooking nice, fresh ingredients are steaming and grilling.
The grill thread has a number of great tips on how to get good results - and when the temperatures rise, it is a way to keep some of the heat generated by cooking out of the kitchen.
Steaming fresh vegetables is easy (just takes a bit of practice to get the desired degree of "doneness" for your kitchen setup). If they are done al dente they still have almost all of their nutritive value intact.
You can also include home made marinades, dressings or flavored butters (as Hip and Roenick suggested) to use as toppings on the meats and veggies.
A quick sauce I concocted a number of years ago works really nicely with both:
In a 1 - cup measuring cup
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces.
Melt butter in microwave (30 - 60 secs, depending on appliance); let the butter cool to lukewarm - swirling it in the cup speeds the process. If the butter is too hot, the sauce will not thicken.
1 heaping tablespoonful of Grey Poupon (big enough dollop to just stick up above the level of the melted butter.
Whisk together until mustard and butter emulsify into a creamy texture and drizzle over veggies (works nicely with steak, too).
Good luck with your quest!