1.) Have the right equipment.
If you’re going to cook, you need the necessary tools. Make sure you’ve got the following indispensable items: sharp knives for chopping, the largest mixing bowl you can find (small bowls make messes), a nonstick frying pan, a medium-sized saucepan, a large pot for soups, measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients, a spatula, baking sheet(s), glass or aluminum baking pan(s), a salad bowl, and three large cutting boards (one for meat, one for produce, and one for aromatics like onions and garlic. That way your apple slices won’t taste like garlic). Optional but very useful: different sized nesting bowls for ingredient prep; an electronic scale; a meat thermometer; a garlic press; and a mandoline/cheese grater.
2.) Organize your workspace.
Make sure your kitchen is well-lit, and that you have adequate space for prep. Kick everyone else out of the kitchen if you have to. Keep a garbage can or bowl for scraps within arm’s reach. I like to gather my vegetable peels and eggshells in a special bowl so I can compost them later!
3.) Clean as you go.
Whenever my dad cooks, he uses what he calls the “clean-as-you-go” technique. It’s simple: as soon as you’re finished with an ingredient, put it away. It keeps your workspace clutter-free, and leaves less cleanup for later.
4.) Unlock the power of herbs and spices.
Don’t be afraid to “kick it up a notch!” Add a little cayenne pepper to your kale, or throw a handful of fresh thyme in your soup. There’s nothing wrong with being a little adventurous! Replace dried spices every 1-2 years so you’re always operating at full flavor, and store fresh herbs properly – trim stems, put them in a little water, cover with a plastic bag, and stick them in the fridge.
5.) Read the recipe first.
When using a recipe, read it in its entirety before even lighting a burner. That’ll help you form a mental game plan before starting to cook, which will allow you to budget your time wisely, multitask where necessary, and save you from any unpleasant surprises later.
6.) Chop quickly.
Always, always, always use sharp knives. Get them sharpened professionally, or invest in a home knife sharpener – they’re often under $10! Don’t rush or put your fingers in danger, but do bone up on proper chopping techniques. There are so many YouTube videos and tutorials out there, you’ll be dicing like a professional in no time!
7.) Develop your repertoire of effortless sides.
Sautéed garlic broccoli. Roasted asparagus. A simple salad. If you keep a mental list of your best, easiest side dishes, it’ll never be a problem to quickly round out a meal.
And finally, there’s the best cooking advice of all – cook often, make what you like, and pour yourself a glass of wine while doing it. Enjoying cooking and having fun with it is the key to improving, because the more you enjoy it, the more you’ll practice! Do you have any other suggestions for those (such as myself) looking to improve their cooking skills? Experienced kitchen wizards, what are some recipes that “build character” for beginner chefs? Thanks for reading, and happy cooking!
Inspired by Eating Well.