Learn to Cook (things I learned from baking a cake)

11 Feb

In keeping with yesterdays theme, I thought I would share this post on my first experience cooking from scratch.  It is a post from my old personal blog.  Looking back at this post brings back some wonderful memories and also reminds me that since this year I cooked an entire Thanskgiving dinner, this meal seems like nothing!

 Yesterday I decided I would finally make Jason the homemade birthday dinner I promised him…even if 10 days late. I decided on an Italian theme- Lasagna from scratch, Caesar salad, bread, and Italian Creme Cake from scratch. I can’t remember the last time I had homemade lasagna (UPDATE- I’ve since made this dish two more times)!


After almost 4 solid hours of cooking, being covered head to toe in red sauce, flour, and butter, and a big, self-inflicted scratch on my face, 3 burned fingers, and a dishwasher full of dishes, the meal turned out amazing. However, it was not without incident (and the loss of a long time friend- the hand mixer who started smoking while “creaming” the icing). My mom always told me she only cooked because she loved us. I now understand why. You have to either love cooking or love your family to willingly undergo such work. Thank you Mom for all the countless hours you spent cooking delicious meals for us. I know it took a lot of effort, but I have so many wonderful memories of the dishes you used to make that I will carry with me always. I learned everything I know about cooking from my Mom.


While I was cooking yesterday, I realized I was getting a lot more than I bargained for in the learning category. I fully believe that in cooking, you learn by trying and every time you cook something, you get better. I never really correlated all of these experiences to life lessons, until yesterday. I thought you might enjoy hearing what I learned yesterday. 

1. Not having the “right equipment” is no excuse- There are many kitchen gadgets that I still do not own. I kept thinking to myself- this would be so much better if I only had a…. (fill in a myriad of kitchen goodies like a really big pot). In fact, I considered not making the cake because of my lack of a stand mixer. I only have a small, cheap hand mixer that I’ve had for many years. But, I decided not to let that stop me from trying. Was it harder? Yes. Did it work as well? Maybe not. Did I accomplish the same end goal? Absolutely! So, the moral of the story is that just because you don’t have the best of something, doesn’t mean you can’t get to the same outcome as those who do. (Note-Despite this lesson, I will be purchasing a stand mixer this week…UPDATE: I did not get a stand mixer that week.  But I did get one from my parents about a year later when we moved to Arizona- Stainless Steel Kitchen Aid!)

 2. Be resourceful…always- With 4 minutes left until my cake was done baking, I remembered, “oh I need the cooling racks!” I began a fast and furious hunt for the cooling racks. I was scooting around on the floor standing up on the countertops searching Hi and Lo (literally) for my cooling racks. I even managed to pry Jason away from the video game to help me. We did not find the cooling racks. I was about to cry. Whining about how my cakes would be ruined and I had wasted all this time, blah, blah. My brilliant husband, who didn’t have my doomsday attitude, came up with a workable option- take the bottom rack out of the oven, prop it up on bowls, and wa-lah- cooling racks! While this wasn’t the optimal solution, it worked almost perfectly! So, I learned, when Plan A fails don’t give up! Think of another way to achieve the goal!

 3. Stay Organized, even if disaster strikes, you can keep going- I started the sauce of the lasagna first. I grabbed one seasoning and added how much it called for then put it away. Then I went back to my recipe and pulled the next seasoning I needed and repeated the process. The sauce had so many different seasonings I got lost and couldn’t remember which I put in. At one point I realized I put tsps instead of Tbsps of one ingredient. I had to go back and add more. Then after I got it simmering, I went to the fridge to pull out some cake ingredients and realized I had forgotten the Parmesan cheese! Oops! So, I decided before I started the cake mix I would organize. II tackled the project like a real cooking show. I got out every ingredient and measured how much I needed. I had all the ingredients in front of me on the cabinet so I couldn’t forget to put any in (I have forgotten sugar in several pies once so I should have learned this lesson a while back but…some times it takes more than once). This really helped as I went through the recipe and as things didn’t go well (like my mixer getting clogged and not having enough hands to mix, stir, and pour and having to call for back-up) I did not lose sight of the next ingredient I needed to add. It also helped as I juggled cooking more than 1 dish and had to stop and do something for the other dish mid-way through preparing another dish. I learned the importance of being organized for complex, multi-faceted projects. 


4. Know when to call for back-up- I am one of those people who hate to ask for help. I want to feel independent. Sometimes when I have to ask for help, things don’t feel like as big of an accomplishment. But yesterday I learned, sometimes you DO need help and there is no shame in asking for it! And if you don’t ask for it, you could fail. I learned all of this while making the cake mix. The recipe said to alternate mixing in milk and flour as you mix. Well, since I have a hand mixer that wasn’t big enough for the bowl and the bowl was not deep enough, I was struggling just to mix what I already had in the bowl. I was using the mixer in one hand and a spoon in the other. I attempted to pour in some of the flour but accidentally raised the mixer up which sent a puff of flour all over the place. I huffed and tried again with the same result. So, against my will, I called for back-up. Jason manned the mixer as I slowly added the ingredients. The teamwork was a success. Had I gone it alone, I wouldn’t have had enough mix to fill my 3 cake pans!


 5. Impatience can be more painful than waiting- I cooked the cake during the two hours my lasagna sauce simmered. After I was finished with the cake, the next task was to layer the lasagna. I put the noodles on to boil a little later than hoped so they got done right before time to layer. I had planned to finish them early so they could cool. My options were to wait a little bit to finish the lasagna or to go ahead with the hot noodles. I, being a wee bit impatient, opted to go ahead and finish. I burned my fingers over and over as I attempted to separate the noodles. Had I waited 10 minutes, this would not have been an issue. Note to self, patience is not only a virtue, but a “painkiller” 

6. Pace yourself and stick to the pace you set– You can’t rush and end up with good food. As I mentioned earlier, I forgot to cook the lasagna noodles on time. I got distracted with the smoking mixer and just forgot to start them. So, this threw off my whole cooking plan, I was getting tired, and I was trying to do too many things at once. This lead to me not stirring the noodles, which were already crammed in a pot way too small. When I pulled the noodles out, some of them were burned to the bottom. Woops.

 7. Don’t be afraid to try- The last time I made cake in round pounds, the cake stuck to the pan and completely fell apart. I knew I needed to do something more than spray Pam, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to call my Mom, but she didn’t answer. I thought “oh great, now what.” I remembered seeing my mom grease pans and then flour them, but I could not remember was whether she used this for cakes or just rolls, or perhaps both? I was slightly paralyzed by my fear of ruining my cakes. I thought through it. I knew what didn’t work (Pam) and that I had to make a decision quickly or let my cakes ruin. I made a decision- grease and flour. I owned it and I wasn’t afraid. I had thought it through and this option made the most sense. I went with it and it worked perfectly! Had I let my fear of failure overcome me, the cake mix would still be sitting in the bowl.

8. Yelling solves nothing- When I was running around the house looking for my cooling racks, I admittedly got a little out of control. I was yelling at myself, the dogs, and especially Jason. Whenever something goes missing, I blame him since he is the organizer of our house. While I was yelling at him, he chose to assess the situation, ask questions about what in the world cooling racks were, and think of an alternate solution. I could have done the same thing, but I was too worked up to think. I was bogged down in the fact that I have cooling racks that cannot be found and now my cakes were ruined. My yelling solved nothing. His calm, rational thinking, however, solved everything. (UPDATE: I still have not conquered this cool, calm and collected mindset

9. Perfection isn’t everything,but prioritizing is- I am the epitome of a perfectionist. I cannot stand for my name to be on something that I don’t feel is as perfect as I can get it. This is one of the reasons baking a cake is so difficult for me. I am not good at icing cakes…at all. It took me almost 30 minutes just to ice my cake yesterday. And its not icing that will every be smooth because it has nuts in it. But I just kept going around and around finding places that weren’t quite right. I never got it where I was satisfied, but my noodles were burning so I was forced to move on. I sacrificed doing a good job on one “project” (cooking the noodles) for the sake of making another project perfect. This is not usually a good move in the real world. It is important to prioritize which projects need to be perfect and which do not. Which projects need immediate attention and which can wait. What I should have done is stop icing the cake, go stir the noodles, then go back to the cake. That cake wasn’t going anywhere, but my noodles were burning right then and there. I was just too obsessed to leave the cake. Next time I’ll be more cognizant of prioritizing.


 10. Don’t snack on the icing until the cake is done. Sometimes you really do need every drop. 


One Response to “Learn to Cook (things I learned from baking a cake)”

  1. Pam February 11, 2011 at 3:30 PM #

    Thanks for the repost. I laughed through it again.

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