Becoming a gourmet cook was easier than I imagined. I skipped the formal training, opted out of pricey culinary equipment from stores that required me to know the difference between a saucepan and a sauté pan, and passed on the subscription to Bon Appétit magazine.
The reviews so far, judging by the empty bowls returned to the kitchen sink, are encouraging. Of course the bowls are plastic, and my audience isn't the most verbal. My 9-month-old daughter has a tiny stomach, an uneducated palate, and virtually no basis for comparison.
At first, going gourmet sounded like a venture better suited to the Williams-Sonoma-inspired, organic shopping set, than to a family that considers make-your-own-pizza night an exciting dining experience.
I didn't exactly have the best foundation for a gourmet cook. My college years were devoted to all things pasta: primavera, Bolognese, Alfredo. Drain pasta, add sauce.
Following my wedding three years ago, a few requisite dinner parties for colleagues and interns had me turning in wonder to "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook." But after my daughter was born, I had no urge to produce something from "scratch" for her. Gerber and Beech-Nut were readily available.
Yet article after article in newspapers and magazines delivered strong messages on childhood eating habits: Shop for fresh organic ingredients, make your kids appreciate home-cooked food despite the convenience of the drive-through window, and add some seasoning and fun flavors to tempt those unfurling taste buds.
Suddenly I wanted to make something that required more than a blender and a whole piece of fruit, something that would delight my daughter. Surprisingly, I felt up to the tasks of measuring, pouring, straining, and peeling.
So I selected a pot that seemed just right to a novice to make butternut squash purée sprinkled with cinnamon and fresh applesauce – a soup pan.
Before long I was scouring the Internet for more recipes, such as baby beef stew and creamed chicken and potato.
The results so far have been satisfying: my daughter jamming a heaping spoon into her mouth, followed by fingers that do a little clean-up work around her mouth, and a first-rate smile that says "thumbs up" better than any restaurant critic. Next up: spinach corn casserole.
"Gourmet" simply means a person who appreciates fine food, and at a healthy 24 pounds, my daughter certainly fits the description.
"Gourmet" also refers to someone who is knowledgeable about fine food and drink. While that may be a stretch for me, I now know the difference between summer and winter squash, and can make a decent gravy.
The other day I came across a recipe that made me consider taking the gourmet challenge a notch higher – Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Roulade. But maybe a few more baby steps are in order first.