If you’re a college student getting by on Top Ramen or middle-aged bachelor who has never set foot in a kitchen, you might have one thing in common: absolutely zero cooking skills. If nobody ever taught you how to cook, then it’s normal that your kitchen skills would be lacking. But that doesn’t mean you have to resort to a life of frozen meals and fast food.
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The ability to cook well takes time to acquire. You won’t become an overnight success, but with a lot of practice trying different foods, you’ll feel more comfortable making yourself dinner or maybe even baking a cake. Whether you want to learn to cook for yourself or your entire family, you have to start somewhere. Start with these 10 basic tips and you’ll go from cooking novice to a decent chef in no time.
Food doesn’t just jump into the pan and cook itself, although things would be a lot easier if it did. A huge component of making food is not really the cooking itself, but the preparation. The vegetables need to be chopped. The meat needs to be browned. The sauce needs to be heated up. The oven needs to be warmed up. The main reason why cooking is so difficult for people to master is that there are so many steps involved and timing is very important. Follow the directions and stay calm in the kitchen. There are various video tutorials and tons of simple easy recipes to get you started all accessible through the web so start small small and work your way up!
This goes hand in hand with the first tip, but it bears repeating because quickly skimming the recipe just isn’t going to cut it. Sometimes recipes aren’t well-organized and you might not know about a specific ingredient until the end. You don’t want to get halfway through the recipe and find out that you’re missing a key ingredient or don’t even have the right type of pan to cook the food.
Invest in a high-quality knife, and keep it sharpened. It’ll making cooking much better. Before buying a knife, hold it in your hands and see how it feels. An 8-10” knife is ideal, but if you have smaller hands, try a smaller size. Wusthof is a good brand, but there are many other options. Just don’t settle for a Dollar Store knife, or you’ll regret it later. It’ll make your cooking experience much more frustrating.
Cooking has its own terminology. Caramelize, blanch, dredge, fold, julienne. These are just some of the words you’ll come across as you’re going through recipes. It’s important to know what these mean, so take the time to do some research if you’re unsure. You can access this cooking glossary at whatscookingamerica.com.
Remember, you can’t take ingredients out of a recipe. This is especially true with spices. So start small. Add just a little bit at first, taste it and then add more if needed, but avoid dumping the whole shaker of salt in at first.
Recipes have to be followed to the letter. Sometimes you can make substitutions, but if you’re a beginner, use the correct measurements of the ingredients. This is especially crucial if you’re baking. Baking is a science, and too much or too little of an ingredient can lead to a disaster. While we’re on this topic, use actual measuring spoons, not the spoons you eat with. They’re not the same thing. The measurements are much different.
This is especially important with sauces. By taking a taste test before the meal is complete, you can see whether or not it needs more salt or if there’s another ingredient you should add to balance out the flavor. Don’t wait until the end or you might be disappointed.
Many of us are guilty of this because there’s always so much stuff to do and a woman’s got to multi-task, right? You might think you have enough time to check email or fold laundry while the food’s cooking. Well, you get distracted and a couple minutes turns into a half hour. You come back to the kitchen and the rice is burnt and the boiling pot has spilled over. Not a good sight. Stay in the kitchen the entire time you’re cooking. It may seem boring and unnecessary, but your taste buds will thank you later when they don’t have to eat burnt rice or meat.
Face it: Your food isn’t going to come out perfect every time. You will burn it or add too much salt. You might forget a key ingredient. Perhaps you cooked it the wrong way. Whatever the reason, you will make mistakes along the way and that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens to the best of us – even professional chefs. Don’t quit and vow never to cook again. Just feed the food to your dog and move on.
While these tips will help you build confidence in the kitchen, there’s always something to learn when it comes to cooking. Use these tips to make a meal for a loved one, or perhaps build upon a recipe you’re already familiar with and make it even better. Have fun!