Took a short break from leveling Tal last night to work on his cooking.
My last burst of cooking enthusiasm took him up to about 375 skill, where there's a pretty nasty little doldrum in skill increases. Basically, your choice is to either (a) do the Dalaran cooking dailies in order to earn enough Dalran Cooking Awards to get a cooking recipe that uses something other than fish, or (b) spend some time fishing in Northrend.
Going to Dalaran... well, involves going to Dalaran. Every. Day. No thank you! I suppose that with a little bit of foresight, I could have done the cooking dailies there while I was in Northrend, but honestly - I was too busy plowing through content to make that work. I mean... was I in Northrend long enough to do the dailies I would have needed? I'm not even sure of that.
So, I spent some time on the AH in Orgrimmar, looking for the rare posting of Borean Man O'War or Imperial Manta Ray. In the meantime, I did the Cataclysm cooking dailies, which was enough to get me a few points in cooking here and there, along with the Cooking Awards that I'd (eventually) use for higher-level recipes.
Last night, I realized that meant it would be about a week, at best, before I was able to make any more progress on cooking. Since I'm hoping to start running dungeons once Tal hits 85, I wanted to make sure that I could at least whomp up some +hit or +agi food when that time came. So... I took a detour to the Borean Tundra, and Tal, with his massive 7 fishing skill and cheap little kid's fishing pole, went looking for fish.
That's actually not as bad as it sounds. Since fishing from pools now guarantees you a catch of a specific type of fish (as opposed to random junk), it was just a matter of making 2-3 passes along the Borean coast, looking for pools along the way. I ended up fishing enough to get a stack of Man O'War, two stacks of Manta, and a handful of fishing achievements to boot. All in all, it took about an hour.
At that point, I had enough fish in hand to cook up a couple of stacks of food, which pushed Tal's skill up to 415, and the out of the cooking doldrum. A quick trip to a vendor and the trainer in Dalaran gave him the mats and skill to brew up Darkbrew Lager, which took him to ~430. At that point, he was able to learn how to make Blackened Surprise. Since I'd been saving the Toughened Flesh I gathered while questing in Cataclysm zones, I already had a stack of meat that I was able to use to get him up to 450 skill.
As I had been doing the Orgrimmar cooking dailies for a while, I had a nice stash of cooking awards - 12, in fact - that I could use to get the recipes I needed for the final push. Since I was really interested in getting to 450, and didn't much care how I got there, I scoped out the AH and saw which mats would be the cheapest to buy in bulk for purposes of levelign before I bought my recipes.
On my server, it turned out that Snake Eyes, Blood Shrimp and Dragon Flanks were particularly cheap, so I bought a stack or so of each raw material. Total cost, less than 500 gold. A quick trip to the trainer in Orgrimmar, a hastily assembled cooking fire, and Tal ended up with a bunch of Salted Eyes, Hearty Seafood Soup and Grilled Dragon... and cooking skill maxed out at 525. Woot!
To celebrate, Tal blew his last 3 cooking awards on the recipe for Skewered Eel, sprung for a stack of Fathom Eel, and cooked himself up a stack of +90 agi food. Mmmmm mmmm good!
So now he's halfway to level 84, with a bag full of food he can use for +60 mastery, +60 strength, +90 hit or +90 agi, as circumstances warrant. Which kicks the snot out of the +30 haste food he had been choking down. He may not be Ready For Raiding just yet, but he's at least prepared to wander into a regular Cataclysm dungeon and whomp some sense into a death cultist or too.
Onward - through culinary science!