Calling all the real Cooks.

Photo from Pinterest, via the kaseybuick blog.


If any of you are looking for a blog topic to expound on- I have one here for you. Can someone write a post on the “secret” of being a good cook?

It seems there is insight to be had, that I have never gleaned.

Like, how can 3 different women all follow the same recipe and only 1 of them makes it fabulous! Know what I mean?
When I was growing up, my sister and I could have named any 1 mom we knew, and we could say if we liked going to their house for parties or not, based on if she made good food or not so much. (Honestly, 99% of the moms we grew up with, were fab cooks, those Mennos…) And I am sure all these moms used the same ingredients.

My mom is a wonderful cook, everything she makes is good. I have spent a lot of time at her house lately, because of being laid up, and I realize I do not have the gift she has. People eat my food, but they never GOBBLE it up in delirium. Why? My mom can make anything, and it tastes like you want the recipe, more than you might want a piece of gold.

I have searched for a blog-post on this topic and never found one.

Are good cooks, good because they look for ways to make their food special?

We have had a lot of food brought in lately, and I noticed someone made an exceptional cheeseburger soup (likely the same recipe I use!) and it was just awesome. One of the things I noticed was, she used the little matchstick potatoes instead of big square ones like I would have used. Galen says, it’s the small details that count. (He says that other times. Not in this particular situation. I thought it might apply here?)

I’m not really talking about presentation either- because I think I am the queen of: Faux Homemade. The boughten Paula Deen pound cake– dolled up with real lemons and extra powdered sugar on a cake stand to make it look “pretty” and “homemade”. Secrets out, church friends.

It’s something beyond this. When I make food for people they will say it’s “good”, but I am not a cook that gets raves. I am okay with this, BUT, I would love to get better. It is a skill I wish I had.

I am also the type that would rather do anything, than spend time in the kitchen. Is there truth in the thought that things really can be “made with love”? It almost seems like it is a real thing. Like you can feel the love in a soft pumpkin bread, fresh from the oven (my mom).

I guess a thought I had on all this was: Just because someone orders 100 things from a Pottery Barn and West Elm– does not mean that when they take all these things home, they will arrange them so they look… A!WESOME. They might look kinda crappy, or silly. I think arranging things is a gift. (Another subject I wish someone would write a blog post about.) So in that same way– it might explain why 2 people can follow the same recipe (with even mostly the same brand of ingredients) and have the end result, evoke a totally different feel.

I would love to read on this subject in depth. Anyone up for the challenge?

And by all means! Leave insight in the comments. DO NOT HOLD BACK. DO NOT ACT MODEST. I want your secrets– so do not be ashamed.

love ya in advance, jenny

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Great thoughts and questions, jenny! πŸ™‚ my sil and I talk some about this very thing, but I don’t think we’ve discovered all the answers. One thing she detests is when someone will serve up a cake or pie and say that they got the recipe from her (she excels in delicate, rich, beautiful amazing desserts!!), but the person with her recipe has used several INFERIOR ingredients, thus yielding far from superior results. It just isn’t the same and it’s hardly fair to tack her name to it. πŸ™‚

    I love to cook (baking is coming along better now that I finally discovered it pays to be a little more exact with ingredient types and amounts) . . . I feel cooking is a lot more flexible and open to my imagination and can be changed as I go along . . . And I usually love to be doing what I’m doing in the kitchen, so maybe that does come through in the final product. πŸ™‚ people like my food from what I can tell.

    As for the decorating . . . I think you hit it right on~ someone with hardly a decorating skill like me, can buy cool stuff, but bring it home and I wonder whaaaat I was thinking. How can it look so great in a magazine, but not in mine?!

    The moral of this story is: I will cook for the person who will decorate/arrange my home for me. Seriously. The end.

  2. Beth says:

    I think it’s practice. And taking what you learn with one recipe and applying it to another. And love. And practice. And knowing all good cooks have to start somewhere. And practice.

  3. Shelly says:

    Oops that anon comment was me. ~Shelly

  4. Rachel says:

    I think it does have to do with love:) I could almost go as far as saying I hate cooking but I’m never sure if it’s just a stage in my life or could I actually get to a place of enjoying it. then I wonder , would my cooking taste better if I enjoyed making it?….. Great thoughts jenny

  5. Christy says:

    Interesting question! I’m almost certain that the key ingredient in good cooking is the cook’s love you taste. That’s slightly figurative, but I’m pretty sure it plays out.

    I’ve thought about this as I watched my sister Beth bake dinner rolls and cheese cakes. She finds joy in baking them and she is so specific about how long she kneads the bread or measures out the dough or gently lifts the precious cheesecake onto the baking rack. I haven’t been with her recently enough to remember, but I sort of think she even knows what time of the day her breads will turn out better. Her food turns out beautifully. The grill masters are amazing because they love grilling and they notice the details and temperatures and… The little diced potatoes in the soup you mentioned? I know I would have chunked them because I don’t find a lot of enjoyment in making cheeseburger soup, and would be trying to finish ASAP. But…give me foods I love to make and I spend time seasoning to taste, adjusting the recipe just a little, tasting, simmering some more, and coddling it until it’s the way I like it. I know how I like the ingredients cut and how much liquid I want with it.

    Listen to chefs describe the food they create. Creating food is an art to them, and they find so much joy in mixing flavors and searing or roasting or lightly braising (I don’t even know what that means) to bring out the exact flavor they want.

    Maybe being detail oriented is part of it (I’m pretty sure that’s true for bread! Although I can think of a cook who is particular, but doesn’t really enjoy cooking. She makes everything perfectly. Her food is good…but doesn’t have the wow factor). Presentation does make a difference in how food is tasted,, and the way ingredients are used together is an art. Just as in decorating some cooks have an inner sense for how things go together.

    That might make learning to put that “Wow” in cooking seem hopeless, but I’m guessing it can be learned. Because almost anything you pay attention to can become a love and like I said…I think it’s the love you taste.

  6. Geneva says:

    I think it’s a gift.
    I don’t have the gift of writing, and no matter how nice and flowery the words sound in my head, they never come out so “pretty” when I try to write them!!
    The same goes for decorating/arranging. Some of my friends can take garage sale items and make them into pure beauty!
    And another friend has the true gift of hospitality. It seems like everyone loves to go to her house. It’s just so … comfortable… there. It’s sometimes cluttered, but we never seem to notice. We just Love the people at that house!
    And then some have the gift of cooking. The food just tastes so good when she makes it!
    So, my take is this, God gives each of us gifts and talents. Use them for His glory! We can also excel in the areas that do not come so easy for us, it just takes more practice!
    And as far as cooking, it must be a mixture of love, practice, and just a natural feel for what will taste good in each recipe πŸ™‚

  7. anna says:

    If you’d be a pro in everything, I’d hate you! You have so many other things you excel at. I always say do the things you really love and do them well.

    BTW your food is always good. Very good. I never had anything you served that wasn’t good.

    the end.


  8. Rachel says:

    love this Jenny!!

  9. Jan says:

    I would cook for someone any day of the week. Baking is another story, we just leave the baked goods “for us” πŸ™‚ Then my DD Emma grows up and lovesss to bake – flour flying style, just pick any recipe that hits her and waa laa – she has fab cookies at 11! what? and who raised you? and why cant I bake a beautiful good cookie??
    btw over fellowship meal today I learned that the trick is lard. I’ve never used it (thought it was cat food) , this “cake lady” friend saves all her lard just so she can use in it her cookies. keeps them soft she says. and her cookies were beautiful, round, just right iced with a gorgeous array of fall colors!

  10. Hope Helmuth says:

    Hmmm… the secret. I think it depends on detail and how you were taught. If you are used to it looking/tasting a certain way- then you know what details to pay attention to. Like that little bit of unflavored gelatin in cream pie fillings that adds an extra shine, or the way you carefully cream your butter and sugar for cookies.

    Not every cook has the same secret but the ones that excel seem to have a passion for what they do. It just pours right over into their food.

    To become a good cook you need to have confidence in yourself. You are just as capable and Mrs. Jones.

  11. Andrea Esh says:

    A call for Real Cooks! ha ha here I come.. I do love cooking and messing around in the kitchen. But during “real life” and the combos I put on the table for my immediate family, I don’t think you could tell. Five days out of seven its about what was the easiest, and fastest. So my challenge is to put love on a plate for my little family, even if all they want is mac and cheese every day. It is so hard.

    I heard something once from a chef that I’ll never forget. He said people eat with their eyes. So if the presentation is spot on, you will be less likely to notice if there is a mistake in the flavor. That was helpful to me because I was ok with a plate that looked like garbage if the flavor was amazing.

    I think the main thing though is just practice and more practice. Obviously if someone wants a sewing tutorial, and help decorating I am NOT the person to help. I put no time into it, and get zero magazines etc–but I could read about food all day long. I read recipe books because I think its fun.

  12. Beth in the City says:

    I love to bake. I do not love to cook. I pay little attention and get it done as quickly as possible. I don’t know how to pick out quality ingredients. I don’t know what flavors will blend well together. When I eat, I enjoy my food but I do not analyze it. I just eat it and it tastes great! However, when I eat something baked I might absorb the texture and the flavors and not even realize I’m doing it. I can tell what dessert items sound good together. It just comes naturally. So, to boil all that down, quality ingredients, attention to detail, the ability to notice flavors and know what works well together. I’d rather decorate someone’s house.

  13. Dan says:

    What makes a great cook? Finesse.

    Finesse in the kitchen requires “knowledge, thought, care, and stamina” Michael Ruhlman “The Elements of Cooking”

    What makes food taste good? Taste + Smell + Texture = Flavor. According to Charles Spence from the University of Oxford “Our pleasure comes not only from the unified oral sensation of taste and smell but also from the look, feel and even sound of food when we eat it. The enjoyment of our food is dependent on all theses multisensory cues being right.” The dish eaten in our childhood home may taste flat when prepared 100 miles away because one of the cues of taste, smell, texture, sound, or sight is missing.

    An interesting experiment: have your mom bake a dish and serve it at your house and see what the response is.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I do not feel like it is love-necessarily… I love to cook, it is my favorite of all “duties” but I feel like it is more of a gift or a skill than “love”. Because someone that does not enjoy cooking might have the same amount or more “love” when hosting, even though it doesn’t taste the same. But their love is displayed in a different area.

    If your interest is to bake the best pie, or the best pasta dish, that will be where your heart/attention is… I know I would care far more about the cake than the mantle. πŸ™‚

    GOOD STUFF, thanks for writing

    love these thoughts:
    “Just because someone orders 100 things from a Pottery Barn and West Elm– does not mean that when they take all these things home, they will arrange them so they look… A!WESOME. They might look kinda crappy, or silly. I think arranging things is a gift. ”

    “Not every cook has the same secret but the ones that excel seem to have a passion for what they do. It just pours right over into their food. “

    • Jenny says:

      “If your interest is to bake the best pie, or the best pasta dish, that will be where your heart/attention is…”

    • Christy says:

      I agree. don’t know if you were responding to my comment on love, or if this is a separate thought. But when I wrote ^^ that it’s love you can taste, I simply meant love for cooking.

      Jenny, I have enjoyed cooking a lot more since using recipes posted online with step by step instructions vs. the Amish cookbooks that simply expected you to know all the basics of cooking and excluded those steps from recipes. Also there is a delightful cookbook Hebivoracious you might want to find at your library (or read his blog). He doesn’t simply tell you to sautΓ© mushrooms, but to “sautee mushrooms until they release their juices.” For the first time I a) knew once they were finished and b) felt enamored by the process. “Release their juices” is so much more interesting than “Fry mushrooms, peppers and onions…”

  15. Where do I begin – or do I even want to? Everyone’s comments are so good… so right on. I love that you started this discussion.

    So many thoughts are running through my mind, right now. So many tips, suggestions, etc.

    But – as much as people say I’m a good cook – I don’t always know. Cooking is an art/ Baking, a science… I dub myself a/the Dump cook. And proudly so. I get that from my Grammy. (blogged about it once, search Dump Cook, on my blog – if you want.) anyway. I think the bottom line is – be teachable in the kitchen. Be willing to learn – and willing to try something new!

    *Serve well – what works well, and always with a smile.
    *Creativity is a gift – for sure – in the kitchen.
    *You always know you’ve done alright when you get a “thank you” on the other end.

    On a side note… it always seems like what others make ALWAYS tastes great or better if you didn’t have to cook it that meal.. yourself. Amen?

  16. Clarita says:

    This is SO interesting, and I feel like I learned so much from reading your post and then the comments! Cooking is not my first love, I’d much rather craft or work on a project. But I think – I THINK – I’m learning to enjoy it more, especially as my family grows. I love to create something in the food line that makes their eyes sparkle, that they get excited about, that they rave over. I love to make something special for neighbors, and let them know I like them and I’m glad we’re in the same neighborhood. I like to make biscotti and stick a few pieces in a mini brown bag and give it to friends with a note, just because. I’m enough of a perfectionist, and I enjoy details enough, that I think, just maybe cooking and baking may be growing on me. And I’m saying thankyouJesus. πŸ™‚

  17. Heather says:

    Jenny, I loved what you wrote and I enjoyed reading the comments. The kitchen is my favorite room in the house and I feel passionate about food. I don’t think I’m a great cook/baker but I feel very fulfilled by making food that my family and others enjoy. I guess it’s a way that I enjoy serving others.

    A lot of my meals are short cut filled. With little kids, it’s a necessity.

    I believe food is a science. I mean, who knew that meat needs to rest once cooked, cheesecake water-bathed and crΓ¨me brulee torched. There’s folding, beating, whipping, dicing, chopping and more. So many details. The more you learn and know about it, the more you’ll enjoy it.

    • Jo says:

      I agree with this, that food is a science. There are so many little tricks to learn that will/can turn you into that awesome cook.

  18. JessicaD says:

    And now I want to go make soup. I love! making soup. My cooking is not always so inspired, and I don’t love to bake. But soup… It is the small things. Happy food is good food. You can taste the “small things”.

  19. Shelley says:

    I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so entertained by a comment thread! You’re jut a genius when it comes to sparking conversation. I have literally nothing to add though, as I hate to cook. Hate is a strong term and I do it because I desire to provide nutritious, healthy home cooked food for my family, but I do not thrive on it and I don’t know if I ever will. What you must remember Though, is while you may not go down in history for your cooking like some women, you are also accomplishing things that some never will. Blogging, writing, etc. so take heart in the gifts and strengths you already have. And I think doing it can be enough, even if we’re not LOVING it or breaking records or something. This has sprawled so many thoughts, I might have to blog about it.

  20. Vicki says:

    I am usually a silent reader on here (love your blog, btw!) but this is so interesting I just had to say something πŸ™‚ What I notice about good cooks is their attention to detail and adding technically unnecessary components to take their dishes up a notch…. a snippet of fresh herbs across the top, a drizzle of chocolate, a fancy cut of veggies, a pretty dish to serve it in. These all speak of love to me because these things take time.

    Also, the right combinations and amounts of seasonings. I realize this comes instinctively for some and must be learned by others.

    I cook because it’s an avenue for my creative juices, not because I need to eat. Which means I take risks that pay off at times, and others not so much πŸ™‚ I’m rather free spirited in the kitchen which explains all my baking flops. I hate the science of baking and the bondage of following a recipe πŸ™

    Interesting stuff here!~

  21. Anna Miller says:

    I agree with so many things you mentioned here… if you’re doing something you love to do, you will put extra thought and care into it. Paying attention to detail is key… I have a friend who is an excellent cook and just last night she was telling me how she loves to figure out which pie pan (Anchor or Pyrex) her crust bakes better or quicker, etc. (that blows my mind because I don’t have the patience for all those details). My husband is also an excellent cook and most of his dishes turn out great -and what I have observed in watching him over the years is that he takes great care in following each step precisely. Another thing I’ve discovered is you must have confidence in yourself. Too often I’d try a new recipe (esp one that involves yeast or something like that) thinking “oh this probably won’t turn out cause it never does” and more times than not, it would flop. But since I’ve changed my self talk to “this is gonna turn out great” it honestly has made a difference. Anyhow- there’s my 10 cents πŸ™‚

  22. I have too many things to say to even start. =) I fell in love with food when I learned to see it as art. It’s as natural to me as breathing, but it is still a challenge to cook meals every day and keep them balanced healthy and beautiful so I think about that a lot, how would it be if i didn’t like to cook? … very difficult I think. I try not to make absolute statements but I believe, in theory, EVERYONE can/could cook well, with the right experience and someone to teach them. Passion is contagious so a good way to learn might be to find someone whom you respect and admire who is clearly passionate about what they’re doing and ask to shadow them. You can learn so much in even just a day! It would be best if it’s a neighbor or family or friend but if nothing else, start with Rachel Khoo or Julia Child.
    ok yes, so maybe a blog post. =)

  23. Tessy says:

    I am not a sensational cook but I do have a knack for soups πŸ™‚ I think many above are correct. It is a combination of things…. not scrimping on ingredients, attention to details, and especially technique. I believe the enjoyment of it always shows through. Baking is definitely more my thing. Cooking not as much as it shows as I go for the easier recipes. I might enjoy cooking more if I had more time, but as for now that is just not the season of my life.

  24. April says:

    Okay Jenny you have the BEST comments! commenters? commentees? Not me. I’m just completely enjoying this thread.

    I do think that passion and knowledge are important components. My husband has a very scientific mind and I think my cooking skills have improved because of his insights. Ha! That makes it sound like I hang on his every suggestion πŸ˜‰

  25. kay says:

    I think it has nothing to do with ingredients. Or love. Or presentation. It is a learned skill. After a few thousand loaves of bread, you know when you have ‘just’ enough flour in, and after a few hundred loaves of pumpkin bread you can tell by touch if its at the perfect degree of doneness. I also think those of us who are good cooks tend to serve our better dishes for others. My family eats plenty of average meals, cause I’m just in a hurry to throw something together. But when it’s time to feed the cowboys, I put out the best. And they go crazy. πŸ™‚

  26. amber. says:

    ohhhh. fascinating post! and love all the comments. i too am not an exceptional cook. if i work at it i can amaze myself πŸ˜‰ but it’s not really something i’m passionate about so i just kinda throw together my few normal’s i know the family likes and move on. funny the timing of this post and w all the new blogs i’m reading from the blog page etc there’s so many good cooks, and they’re posting pics and recipe’s and i’m feeling all inspired to want to put more of myself into what i make, and try new things. i’m starting to print out the blog pages w/ the recipe’s {and i love that they have pictures} and try to put them all together in a 3 ring binder or something. like a little homemade cookbook~

    i think cooking is probably like alot of things. some people just have the natural knack for it. my mom is that way – she never follows a recipe exactly and always does her own twist and everything is awesome! i’ll make the same dishes, even do her little extra’s and still my kids will say, “it doesn’t taste like mamaw’s!” ;))

    and i do think there’s such a thing as cooking w/ love – -now, whether it always taste good though is another story cause i’ve had some things my dear kate has made for us and oh my word, bless that child, but cooking is not one of her natural abilities! but love.. i know there was lots of that in there. :))

  27. bethany says:

    I know this was posted awhile ago but I still wanted to comment. I loved this post/comments so much I wrote notes down on it πŸ™‚ anyway, I always disliked cooking. but from watching my husband (who’s a natural) and the show masterchef, I realized that you should taste your food as you’re making it and then adjust. what?! I honestly would just follow the recipe to a T and then serve it and hope for the best. also, little special ingredients, like my sister adds cinnamon to her chili and it adds so much but I wouldn’t have expected that to be in there. these things might sound weird to everyone else b/c they always knew, but me, i’m only beginning. loved this post so much and I am working at becoming a better cook.

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