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Joey B Cooks » Featured » It took 50 years for me to learn to grill and bake?

It took 50 years for me to learn to grill and bake?

The Chef - A Dear Boyhood Companion

Well, not 50 years total. From age 10 to age 18 I made mostly Chef Boyardee Ravioli, Banquet Frozen Fried Chicken and the occasional fried bologna sandwich. Around 19 one of my best buddies introduced me to vegetables (What do you mean, fresh? They make vegetables that don’t come from a can?), starting with the Heartland Cafe in Chicago (Rogers Park). That opened up a whole new world of food. Shortly thereafter another friend gave me a vegetarian cookbook (Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery by Alan Hooker…still in print!) It was probably the first cookbook I ever owned, and used.

I learned to cook a lot of things relatively well over the next 30 years. My spinach lasagna was a family gathering favorite for years. I figured out Chinese (thanks to Leann Chinn – Betty Crocker’s Chinese Cookbook, which is out of print, but so worth finding a used copy!) Around age 40 I discovered that some salsa doesn’t come from a jar (You’d think I might have figured that out after the vegetable revelation of 1980.) My Black Bean Salsa has been in demand ever since.

However, I started grilling steaks shortly after I got married to Cheryl in 1984. I grilled my first edible steak around 2005 after finding Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill at my sister’s house in Green Bay. That book, combined with the switch from buying meat at Jewel to a real butcher (Maplewood Meats in Green Bay), and then from Costco of all places made all the difference. Oh yeah… Daddy Hinkles wet and dry rub put on the finishing touch. Oh yeah #2… The purchase of a really good instant thermometer. (The one and only Thermapen from ThermoWorks…well worth the $90 price tag, I swear!) In my opinion, you can’t make a steak the way you want it without a good instant read thermometer.

The same story applies to my history with baking. Years of boxed brownie mix and Jiffy Corn Muffins, and a myriad of tough pie crusts, disastrous sugar cookie attempts and burned pizza crusts finally led to some recent baking success. I have a similar list of books that paved the way (such as The Joy of Cheesecake and The Complete Book of Pastry by Bernard Clayton).

I guess the point of it all is, if at first, second, third, fourth, fiftieth, you don’t succeed, try, try again. Some areas of cooking, some cuisines for whatever reason, come more easily than others. But if your heart’s desire is to create the perfect pizza, or salsa with just the right balance of flavor and heat, or cornbread that doesn’t taste like wet sand…then take a page from one of my many stained and tattered cookbooks, and hang in there. Keep on grilling, baking, stir-frying, mixing, rolling and steaming, and you will get there!

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