In the last few years my skills as a home cook have improved greatly. Of course I still have lots to learn and by no means would I call myself a chef. However, my cooking skills are good enough where I have more confidence in the kitchen and can experience enjoyment preparing meals instead of just cooking out of necessity. Everything that I have learned has been through my mom and self-taught by reading cook books and magazines, watching cooking shows, and of course trial and error. No cooking classes for this girl – not yet anyway.
One obstacle that prevents people from relishing their time in the kitchen is they never learned to cook. They never needed to. Grocery stores are stock with quick prepackaged dinners that have been marketed to us busy parents as a staple to keep up with our schedules. Home cooked meals are just not something that is view as realistic to many families who are always on the go. Therefore, most people, including myself, have spent a good part of their life eating take out or dinner from a box.
Also, cooking is not a natural born skill. It is a learned skill one that must be taught in some form. So, it can be frustrating when time and money is put into recipes only to have mediocre, if not disastrous, results. Believe me I know. I was once there and sometimes still am.
To help you develop more confidence and have fun in the kitchen I have compiled a list of tips that have helped me become a better home cook.
Use a recipe
I know this sounds very basic – and it is. However, if you are anything like me, you are guilty of just throwing random ingredients together only to end up with something inedible and unrecognizable. Or, maybe, you have become accustomed to using “recipes” that just require a box of breadcrumbs or canned “cream of whatever” soup. Those are not the recipes I am referring to. What I want you to do is find a recipe that uses fresh minimally processed ingredients. There are tons of ways you can source good recipes. Cookbooks, cooking magazines, and thousands of websites are all sources I use to locate healthy family friendly recipes.
Read the recipe completely
Most recipes have been tested and retested to determine the best way to prepare the meal. If you start making adaptations the first time you make the recipe there is the possibility that it will change the outcome. This, most likely, will result in a not so tasty dish. One of my rules with cooking is to make the recipe exactly as written the first time then adapt to make the dish your own the second time. This way you know what it is supposed to taste like before you start making changes.
Keep it simple
One of the best ways to become overwhelmed in the kitchen is trying to create a recipe that includes complicated techniques and lots of exotic ingredients. Keep your recipes simple. They should only use a few ingredients and basic techniques. Once you become more comfortable with cooking then slowly add in some recipes that require different techniques or advanced effort.
Use quality ingredients
A recipe is only as good as the ingredients you use. When I say quality I am don’t want you to automatically think expensive because that is not always the case. To me the term quality refers to ingredients that are minimally processed and don’t include a bunch of preservatives and additives. Sure sometimes you might have to spend a few extra pennies but the difference it makes in the final dish is totally worth it.
Don’t be afraid to try new foods
This is a big one. How many times have you said you don’t like the taste of something that you never tried? Don’t worry you are not the only one. This fear of food keeps people eating the same things every day for years – decades! I highly encourage you to commit to trying a new food once every two weeks or so. If that is too much then try once a month. I guarantee once you start trying new foods a whole new world will open up giving you many more choices and options when it comes to variety.
Get the right equipment
There are many kitchen gadgets and small appliances available now that will make cooking much easier for you. Some costs a little more than others and I am not suggesting you need to buy everything all at once. Take a look at some tools that you think would benefit you in the kitchen then slow add them to your collection. For example, I spent years frustrated by burnt rice. I tried so hard to make batches of rice on the stove top with failed results every time. Then I was introduced to a rice cooker. Now all I have to do it throw rice and water in the base, turn it on, and an hour or so later I have delicious fluffy rice. Or my microplane zester/grater! I love this inexpensive gadget and use it all the time to grate garlic, zest lemons, and other zesting tasks. Those are just a couple of examples you can see others on my kitchen essentials page.
Prep ingredients and/or make meals ahead of time
This has been the most helpful tip for me as a busy working mom. I want to provide my family with healthy homemade meals everyday but do not have the time or energy to cook from scratch daily. However, I do have some extra time on the weekends. I use that time – a couple or hours or so – to prep ingredients or make meals to freeze so weekday meal planning becomes less of a burden.
Even if the only thing you ever made has been microwave lasagna I am confident that following this tips along with a little patience will help you become a better home cook for your family. I encourage you to start slowly and don’t give up even if it does not turned out exactly as planned the first time.
What kitchen tips would you offer to help someone become a better home cook?