In the Facebook generation, I have realized that there are a lot of people who don’t cook anymore or don’t cook all that well when they do. Why is that? Back in our grandparents’ day and even our parents’, everyone cooked at home. The term “just like mom used to make” often meant something. But now? It’s hit or miss.
It’s true that some people seem to be born with the ability to cook while others have to work hard to be a better cook, but is that really true? For some people it might be, but the ability to cook is also handed down from generation to generation when you involve kids in the process. When I was little my mother always cooked and she is one of those let-me-throw-a-little-of-this-and-that in a pan and see what happens kind of cook. Uncoincidentally, that is also how I cook.
Before I go any further, let me set the record straight. I am not a chef and I have not been formally trained. I am simply a home cook who likes to experiment and makes some damn good food. These are tips that I have picked up over the years. Little things that you can do to become a better cook in the kitchen so you can save money, enjoy cooking more, and eat healthier meals. Just about everything made at home is healthier than eating out.
1. Get over yourself
This is the first step because if you keep telling yourself that you can’t cook, then you can’t. You won’t have the motivation to get better and instead will go buy some pre-packaged meals at the grocery store or order take out. Stop. You can cook! With a little confidence and the willingness to experiment, you will get the hang of it. Cooking isn’t rocket science. Really.
2. Don’t be afraid of spices
While I admit that I have a bit of a spice hoarding problem, you don’t need a lot of the spices that we have like Chinese five spice, turmeric, and garam masala in your spice rack right off the bat. However, you will need more than salt, pepper, and garlic powder to be a good cook. Flavor is king. Embrace it.
I would suggest, at the bare minimum, stocking your spice rack with thyme, oregano, dill, rosemary, basil, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, cinnamon, course ground pepper, and kosher salt. These are the spices that I reach for almost every day and with them, you can make almost anything. If you’re looking for great quality, reasonably priced spices, check out Penzey’s Spices either online or at a local location. This is not an affiliate or paid link, I just adore Penzey’s.
3. Find good recipes
This may seem like a no-brainer, but how do you know if a recipe is a good one or not if you’re not all that experienced with cooking? If you like chicken cacciatore or beef stew but don’t know how to make it, look it up and try it. My favorite sites for finding recipes are food.com and allrecipes. com. These sites have a rating system and are popular enough that many recipes have hundreds, even thousands of reviews. If a recipe is 4 or 5 stars with a few hundred ratings, chances are that it’s pretty good.
Once you’ve gotten more comfortable with your ability, start to check out some recipes on food blogs and even check out cookbooks from the library.Borrowing cookbooks from the library has become my new favorite thing. Two weeks ago I borrowed The Make-Ahead Cook and liked it enough to buy a copy. The recipes aren’t too pretentious, are pretty easy to make, and they give great tips on how to make meals ahead of time for the next day or to freeze.
4. Read the recipe first
Now that you’ve found the recipe you want to make, read it. I don’t mean glance at it or skim it for ingredients, I mean read it from beginning to end. Make sure you have all of the ingredients, you know how long the recipe will take, and how to cook it. You also need to know what you have to do to create the recipe into something delicious before you can get started on mise en place (which is just a fancy cooking term for set up), which is important for creating a successful dish.
Now that we have some of the basics down, practice them and try them out. Buy some spices, find recipes you would like to try, and play with flavors. Chicken and fish take most spices really well and are the easiest proteins to practice on.
Next time I will write more about fat and acid, combining spices successfully (ie: do not mix cinnamon and thyme, do mix cinnamon and curry or thyme and rosemary), and the basics of making sauces. Sauces are important, y’all.