Small Time Cooks – May 24, 2005

The time has finally come for the Small Time Cooks to say goodbye. Both of us are graduating and moving on to more school, where we can only hope that we’ll find as great of a community of people who love to cook. The last two years of writing the column have not only been fun but also a terrific learning experience for both of us, and we have grown so much in the kitchen. A love of food motivated us to try this, and it has been a wonderful experience to create something of our own and share it with people. We hope that cooking is as much fun for you as it is for us.

We owe a lot of thanks to everyone that supported us along the way, including Maroon staff and friends who opened up their kitchens and shared recipes with us. We want to especially thank Garth Johnston, who made this column a reality and taught us how to make a proper risotto. For our last column, we’ve decided to retire Mark and Maria and give our own tips from what we’ve learned these past two years of cooking and writing.

Quality in the kitchen is of utmost importance. Spending a little extra time or money to get fresh ingredients makes all the difference.

There are some nights when your food will be awful, and you’ll order pizza instead. But you should still try new things and experiment with your own tastes.

Cookbooks are full of information and ideas that you will need to make delicious food. Find a good basic cookbook and invest time looking through it and trying out some simple recipes. Some good ones are Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison and Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques. Pepin’s book isn’t as vegetarian-friendly, but it focuses a great deal on technique. The Joy of Cooking by Rombauer and Becker is another classic.

The Food Network has some good shows that can give recipe ideas. Iron Chef is always fun, and you shouldn’t miss with Good Eats with Alton Brown.

One of the most delightful experiences is going to a nice restaurant that puts culinary arts first. If you take public transportation, you can generally get away with spending around $40 per person at some of Chicago’s best restaurants (even less if you just get a couple of appetizers). While it’s not something to do every weekend, it’s good to splurge once every quarter. Great restaurants for this are Moto (the lounge menu is great and cost-effective), Green Zebra, Caliterra, Avec, Frontera Grill, and others.

Buy spices and grains by weight from the bins at the Co-Op. It will save you a lot of money and they will generally be fresher.

If you cook often, you can save walking time and money by picking up a few days’ worth of food at once. Make a menu for a week before you go shopping. This keeps you from overbuying and prevents food from going to waste.

Explore food shops outside of Hyde Park. Good ones have better selection and prices than you can find here, and you learn a great deal about the quality you should expect with certain ingredients.

Have friends over and cook together. This is by far the most enjoyable part of cooking, especially at the U of C. Because of our diverse backgrounds, everyone has something to contribute in the kitchen, and you’re sure to find something you love in a place you overlooked.

Thanks for reading, and happy cooking.

Jon and Diane