Cooking is an essential skill that everyone should have! Even if it’s just boiling water for pasta or dicing vegetables for a stir-fry, basic cooking is something every household should be doing. There’s no need to be intimidated by the fancy chefs on TV or the elaborate restaurant creations you order when you go out to eat.
There are many simple things you can do to improve your cooking skills! Today we’re discussing twelve of those ways in my very first “Cooking School” post! I’ve decided to start a whole new category on this blog that is solely dedicated to learning new cooking skills.
Read the Recipe, Carefully, Twice
Before even beginning to cook something, or heck even before you put the recipe on your meal plan, read through the ingredients and instructions. You don’t know how many time I’ve started a recipe only to realize that I was supposed to be marinating something the night before, or that it’s going to take an hour to bake and it’s already 7:00. I’ve had to improvise and cook things a different way because I didn’t read the recipe through.
Follow Directions, At Least the First Time
Cooking is not only a science, but an art as well. Follow the directions the first time you make something so you learn the technique. The second time, you can be creative and make it your own. For example, I made a sweet chili noodle dish a couple months ago. I followed the directions exactly for the sauce the first time around, and when I made it again last night, I added a little bit more spice and subbed couscous for the noodles and added different veggies.
Set all out of the equipment and prep all of the ingredient’s you’ll need before you begin a recipe. This is called mise en place in cooking school and professional kitchens. There’s a reason companies like Blue Apron or HelloFresh have directions for prepping all of the ingredients before you even start. It makes it so much easier to cook and follow directions in a timely fashion when you don’t have to stop to chop garlic here or slice something there.
Use High Quality Ingredients
Low quality meats will result in low quality dishes. Canned items full of preservatives will get in the way of creating delicious, truly flavorful meals.
Prepare As Directed
When the recipe calls for minced garlic, or diced onion, be sure to mine or dice in uniform pieces. It’ll cook at the same rate, will be more visually appealing, and when you eat the meal you’ll get more of the same flavor in every bite. I want to do a post sometime in the future about how to do all the different cuts and dices! Does anyone else find chopping veggies stress-reducing? It can be meditative.
Don’t Substitute Too Much
When you take a perfectly built recipe and you substitute in a different grain, or a different vegetable or spice, you run the risk of the recipe not coming out as you’d expect. Now this doesn’t mean don’t be creative, but try not to make more than one or two simple substitutions per recipe. When you’re baking, you definitely don’t want to make too many substitutions. Baking is a very fine science and even the smallest substitution can ruin a whole dish.
Use the Size of Equipment the Recipe Calls For
Try to use the equipment the recipe calls for. You don’t want to overcrowd dishes in a small pan if the recipe calls for a large skillet. Or you wouldn’t want to bake a cake in a loaf pan when the recipe calls for an 8×8– it will bake totally differently.
Preheat Your Oven
Seems simple, but remembering to do this before you start any recipe can save you lots of time. My oven takes at least 15 minutes to heat up to 400 degrees. You can spend the pre heating time doing all of your ingredient preparations.
Monitor Your Food
Watch you food as it’s cooking. A good example of this is when you’re roasting vegetables in the oven. Broccoli tends to have a fine line between perfectly roasted and burnt, and you need to be close by in order to monitor this. And you should never leave anything on the stove top unattended. I remember one time I was making potatoes on the stove and had to take the dog out. I came back in and the pot was boiling over the edge and spilling all over the cook-top. Don’t do that.
Taste Before Serving
I’ve always been told that a good cook always tastes throughout the cooking processes. Taste as you are able– make sure you aren’t eating any raw meats– and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Maybe you need more pepper, salt, broth to loosen things up, more cheese, maybe some spice like Sriracha or red pepper flakes. Garlic powder and onion powder are two spices I often add to everything and will usually adjust it at the end according to taste.
Learn From Mistakes
Don’t be discouraged if you have a kitchen mishap. It is both science and art, and it’s definitely not supposed to be perfect. I cook almost every day of the week and make mistakes all the time. Once I used ground ginger instead of garlic powder. That was interesting. You just learn to slow down and tweak whatever went wrong last time for the next time you try to cook something.
Cooking doesn’t have the be a chore. It can be a very enjoyable experience! My best tip is to just slow down and enjoy the process. Try not to rush. Mindfully focus on chopping the veggies. Stirring the soup. Sauteing the meat. Slow down and pay attention to the colors, the smells, textures. Appreciate that you are lucky enough to have food to prepare for a meal!
What are your favorite cooking tips?
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!