How is it that two people can follow an identical recipe yet yield such different results? One cook produces a pleasant enough dish, but the same recipe prepared by the other is so much better.
A better cook evolves, first off, by a desire to produce great food and that desire spawns learning ... reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, reading blogs ... lots of blogs ... obsessing ... and shopping ... investing in too much cookware, an excessive array of cutlery, way too many gadgets and frequenting gourmet food stores choosing only the finest and freshest, most exotic edibles available!
Experiencing, surviving and then purging the cooking mania is really a necessary step in becoming a really good cook. I know; I've lived the mania, survived and purged!
The focus then becomes making delicious food and not the superfluous. In time, the kitchen inventory will be reduced to some well-seasoned pots and pans, a paring knife, chef's knife, a sturdy carving knife and maybe a bread knife, along with some kitchen gadgets that over time have proven themselves to be essential. The collection of cookbooks will whittle down to a favorite few. Food shopping will be purposeful, yet pleasurable, because you will actually know what you like, what to buy and what to do with what you buy.
Good cooks have learned how to make great food with whatever they have to work with. They cook, stir, taste, season, adjust, taste again, improvise, perfect and, along the way, they've learned tips and techniques that make their dishes outdo someone else's.
One such tip is to "bloom" spices before adding them to a recipe. Blooming means to bring out the flavor by cooking the spices either in a dry pan, lightly toasting them until they are very fragrant, or sautéing in a bit of butter or oil. This method wakes up and brightens the flavor of the herbs and spices resulting in a better tasting dish. A delicious example is this flavorful Cajun meatloaf.
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup ketchup, divided
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Cook onions, peppers, and all spices in oil over medium heat until vegetables are tender and spices are fragrant. In a large bowl stir together the egg, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup ketchup along with the vegetable and spice mixture. Gently mix in the ground beef. Do not overwork. Form into a loaf and place in shallow baking dish. Combine remaining 1/4 cup of ketchup with Worcestershire sauce and spread over loaf. Bake at 375 degrees until internal temperature is 160 degrees; about 45 minutes to an hour. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting. Recipe can be doubled.