Eating at home regularly is good for our health, budget and family relationships. But in order to eat at home, you have to know how to make a few things. And while this sounds easy, it’s intimidating for many of us who don’t feel confident in the kitchen.
I often hear chefs tell non-chefs to “just start playing around in the kitchen” or to “stop thinking and just start cooking.” That advice seems pretty vague and not that helpful. So I wanted to share a few specific tips you can implement immediately to make cooking easier. Once cooking feels easier, you’ll be more motivated to do it more often, and when you’re cooking more often you’ll become a better cook fairly quickly.
Here are six quick and easy ways to become a better cook.
1. Use a bigger cutting board and bigger knife.
Nothing feels more awkward than trying to chop an onion with a tiny paring knife on a tiny cutting board. Yet I see people attempting this all the time. Make it easier on yourself by getting one big chef’s knife (8″ or 9″) and a cutting board large enough to catch all the pieces of ___ that fall as you chop. Keep your knife sharp with a simple knife sharpener like this and you’ll feel like you’re in control of the food, not the other way around.
2. Add more acid.
When something you make tastes bland or like it’s lacking something, it probably needs salt or acid – or both. I always have tons of lemons on hand, plus a few limes and a few kinds of vinegar, which can brighten any dish in an instant. Never underestimate the power of citrus!
3. Salt as you go.
A dish that didn’t have any salt added until the very end will just taste salty. A dish that has received a light sprinkle of salt during every phase of cooking will taste flavorful. So don’t forget to salt the water for pasta, to salt the sautéed veggies that will later become soup, and to season dressings and sauces as you mix them. Also key – use coarse kosher salt which is less salty than table salt or sea salt.
4. Repeat recipes that turn out well.
When you try a new recipe and everyone loves it, make it again sometime soon. Then make it again a few weeks after that. Once you’ve made it a handful of times, you’ll know it by heart and will slowly build a repertoire of meals that will become your go-to’s. You’ll also get better at swapping ingredients based on what you have,
5. Keep a minimalist pantry.
If your pantry is super full with random products, you’ll feel bogged down and unable to put ingredients to good use. Instead, keep some basics on-hand like grains, beans, canned tomatoes and condiments. Try not to buy items you’re unfamiliar with or don’t know how to use (you can do that later) – because they’ll likely just sit there or get used only once. Stock foods you know and feel comfortable with.
6. Read ingredients lists on your favorite prepared foods.
Love the frozen stir fry from Trader Joe’s? Have a favorite soup from your grocery store’s deli? Read the ingredients in these, then create your own using the same stuff. (Remember – if yours tastes like it’s missing something, try adding salt or acid). After a time or two of creating store-bought favorites at home, you’ll have your recipe down and will probably like it even more.
Would love to hear any other tricks you have for building confidence in the kitchen. With a small amount of effort we can all become a better cook!