When asked if you can cook is your answer “yes?”? That was me three and a half years ago! Now I am comfortable cooking for guests.
If you can’t confidently say “yes,” you can’t really cook, by the way, but you can learn! A better question is, “Do you have skill in cooking?”
Before teaching myself to cook, I was insecure about the process of learning. For many this stops them from trying, but I have outlined the basic steps for improving your proficiency in the kitchen.
If I knew what it took to be confident in cooking, I would have been more eager to teach myself before I spent a small fortune at Qdoba.
How did I learn to cook? Pinterest! There were days of Pinterest and nights of practice. It was about a year in when I finally felt I could produce consistent results and able to say I could cook.
Three years later, I have it all figured out. I have cracked the code on how to learn how to cook! In this post you will learn what steps to follow to learn how to cook.
- Obtain basic ingredients and equipment.
- Find recipes with few ingredients
- Practice recipes
- Troubleshoot and Educate
The most important part of cooking is…the food. I have learned two truths about cooking: most people aren’t good because they don’t follow instructions, and most recipes can be altered without consequence.
Last night I freestyled zucchini lasagna. I had made it enough times to remember I needed tomato paste, but I didn’t worry about the other details; I knew ho I wanted it to taste. That is different from making it for the first time and not really paying attention to the recipe and as a result the dish is lackluster and you feel like you can’t cook.
One part of knowing how to cook is knowing what the typical size of an onion is, or a clove of garlic. It is knowing Italian seasoning is combination of spices or that buttermilk can be made by adding vinegar to milk and letting it sit.
Basically, being skilled at cooking is being versed enough to know how to execute tasks correctly without instructions and flex. Those skills come from practice.
It also means you know which ingredients you need to have on hand at all times because they will appear again and again in your recipes.
Looking at recipes can be overwhelming when you have to buy several ingredients and spices. Once you start making new recipes, you may realize you are spending money on things you won’t use again. There are ingredients that are specific to cuisines you may not cook that often and not something you want to invest in at first. The list may vary based on the cuisines one tends to make but the list below covers a typical American pallet.
onions, garlic, butter –not margarine.
basil cayenne pepper chili powder
cumin garlic powder ginger
onion powder oregano paprika
pepper red pepper flakes salt
seasoning salt (I season ALL my meat with seasoning salt.)
canola oil (healthier than vegetable oil)
There are other ingredients I would add to the list, but you will collect those as you try different recipes.
On my journey to proficiency in making dinner, I realized there were tools that would make cooking easier. There were tools I kept seeing in recipes, and sometimes choose not to use that recipe if I didn’t have the tool.
There is also basic equipment and tools that won’t specifically be mentioned in a recipe because it is assumed you will have them on hand. The list below includes the basics and is a great guide for a wedding registry.
Knife set My mother-in-law gave us this set. You also need to learn basic knife skills and care. No dishwasher if you want them to last!
meat thermometer I was told black people don’t use meat thermometers. False. I have been through a few but this one has lasted the longest. Another MIL win.
sauce pan (small pot)
large pot You may choose to invest in set of pots. I was gifted an unreasonably expensive set of pots so I can’t explain the quality you’re looking for. Also, I use my dutch oven more than this sized pot.
9×13 glass dish/Pyrex
9×13 Pan Quality matters! I use the Pyrex more than this pan.
After the list of necessity items, I have collected a few other items that are common in recipes.
cast iron skillet MUST HAVE! Well you can cook without it, but it is a great tool to have because of flavor it creates and because you can transfer it to the oven.
dutch oven mine came from Aldi and I’m happy with it. This was closest in appearance. It can also go into the oven.
slow cooker Many of my first meals were in the crock-pot. I highly suggest getting on with a timer so you can forget about it even more. Pressure cookers have grown in popularity as an alternative but i don’t want another appliance right now so I don’t have one.
food processor Most of the time you need this or a blender. I don’t use my processor as much as I used to because I don’t like cleaning all the parts, but it does simplify chopping or pureeing. I think a cheaper model would be sufficient
Even if you don’t have a certain tool, you can still use the recipe. The author of the recipe usually is speaking to his or her process which will include the most efficient tools because that’s what they have at their skill level.
Pick recipes that don’t have a ton of new ingredients in them for your regular meals.
Seeing a long list of ingredients can be intimidating. Once you have collected more spices and ingredients, you will be able to make those meals without spending too much money.
Every now and then I try some complex Korean taco with $2 pears, but it’s not on a regular basis. Now I have things like sesame oil, mirin, sherry that allow me to try complex recipes without having to buy several new ingredients at once.
Recipes with less ingredients also leave less room for error when first starting. I also recommend selecting meals with similar ingredients. If you are going to use carrots in your pot roast, you could also plan to make a stir fry later in the week.
Write down all the ingredients you need for all your meals.
Going to the grocery store with a list will save you headache and money. I recommend doing this in an organized way to reduce the amount of time you waste wandering around the grocery store. If you are like me, you will still waste time because you will forget to look at your list, but at least you won’t leave anything out.
It’s also a good idea to go through your kitchen and cross out things you already have prior to going to the store. Seems like common sense, but I’m encouraging it as a routine practice.
Prep ingredients before cooking.
Measuring everything out before starting the cooking process will reduce errors. You will make sure you have the right ingredients before you get started and be able to focus on each step because you only have one thing to do at once.
Read the recipe all the way through before you begin.
I don’t do either of these last steps very well. For one, I need more dishes to measure ingredients into, but don’t feel like purchasing them.
Second, viewing recipes on my phone makes it hard to see everything at once, so I would also suggest printing or writing out any recipe you are using from the internet. That makes the process less tedious.
Repeat new recipes within a few weeks.
I suggest repeating recipes because you can remember what mistakes you made the first time or what you would like to adjust. I hate repeating a recipe and not remembering if the recommended time was off or if I modified the ingredients. Another tip is to write down successful recipes and not just rely on them being stored electronically. That way it is easy to make notes.
I recently tried New York Strip steak three times before I was pleased with the result. The issue with steak has been judgement on doneness.
Become familiar with routine steps.
What I feel qualifies as knowing how to cook is experience and knowing things like you heat the skillet then add oil and heat until you see a light smoke, then add onions until translucent, then add garlic until fragrant… You learn those things by seeing them in recipes repeatedly.
If a recipe doesn’t turn out well, sometimes it’s you, the way the recipe is written, or your tools. Asking someone or researching your specific issue can help. If you don’t have someone to teach you how to cook, it may require a lot of trial and error. I have the Cooks Illustrated cookbook which explains theories behind the recipes and has taught me how to smoke meat in my kettle grill and other useful information.
Most importantly, read and follow instructions. Follow the measurements. Pay attention while cooking. Keep practicing!
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Easy Recipes I Use: