Somewhere along the line, cooking got a bad reputation. It was decided that cooking was difficult, messy, and time consuming.There were numerous factors that played into this idea. One being that food companies started to market these concepts to people through advertising. These ads were especially appealing as women were beginning to enter the workforce and did, in fact, have less time to spend in the kitchen. The result was major shift in how the at home kitchen culture; it dissipated dramatically. Recently, things have started to revert back and cooking is back in style! But it still can be a little daunting and time-consuming. Here are some simple tips to get any kitchen newbie off on the right foot!
1. Start simple. If you're just getting back into the practice of cooking, then don't offer to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Bring a side, salad, or dip. Simple dishes like these have a lot of room for error.
Fact: Nina, our Assistant Program Director, says the first meal she ever tried to cook for her family was a southern meal: biscuits, collard greens, and fried chicken - all from scratch. She was in the 6th grade and this meal was very different from the Italian and Japanese foods she was raised on. Needless to say, the chicken was salty and the biscuits were bitter.
2. Use high quality ingredients. Food tastes better when made with real ingredients so your chances of making a delicious meal are automatically increased when you buy fresh, whole products. For example, dull pink, out of season tomatoes are less tasty than vibrant, seasonal local ones. When you use quality ingredients, the food doesn't need much added to it because the ingredients itself hold all their own flavor.
Tip: Buying produce in season will increase your chances of selecting more flavorful fruits and veggies. It's also less expensive!
3. Spend time prepping your ingredients. Cooking can be stressful, especially when preparing a meal for more than just yourself. If dinner has to be on the table by 7:00PM to get the kids to bed by 8:00PM, it's a good idea to prep your ingredients before you start cooking so you're not rushing around. Chop your veggies, wash your herbs, and take out the seasonings you plan to use to easy access.
Tip: Certain vegetables can be prepped the night before. Carrots, celery, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, can all be washed and chopped before it's time to cook.
4. Stock your kitchen with useful kitchen tools. We're not talking fancy, expensive tools. We're talking measuring cups and spoons, a vegetable peeler, a whisk, a manual lemon juicer, or a vegetable spiralizer for veggie spaghetti. These are really basic but incredibly useful tools. Also, a good knife goes a long way!
Fact: Using a dull knife is actually more dangerous than using a sharp one because you have to apply more pressure with a dull knife.
5. Get inspired. We find the inspiration for recipes online, from social media, and from eating! If we find something that looks good, we'll make it ourselves! But it's important to give yourself some wiggle room to make the recipe work with what you've got. Don't go crazy trying to match all of the ingredients up to what the recipe calls for. If you have one type of mustard in your fridge and the recipe calls for another, don't run to the store.
6. Set some time aside to practice skills and really get into it. If you're making something for the first time, focus all your energies into that one thing. Allow yourself to get lost in the recipe, pay attention to the aromas and taste the ingredients are you use them. Cooking is creative and fun so let yourself enjoy that process at least some of the time.
Fact: As that saying goes, practice makes perfect. If you practice cooking, you'll get better. You'll know how much of this to put into that and what flavors do/don't go together.
7. Don’t stress the mess. Cooking it messy so spills and stains are bound to happen, but that's why aprons were invented.
Tip: Clean as you go. Maybe while you're waiting for something to cook down or for the water to boil.
8. Taste as you go.
You'll need to know if something needs to be added or balanced out. This is something that seems really obvious, but a lot of new cooks don't think of it, especially if they're following a recipe. After all, isn't that what a recipe is for? But you have to remember, different types of ingredients may change the flavor. One veggie stock does not taste exactly like all the others. So taste, add, taste, balance, etc..here is a great guide for balancing a dish that's too much of one flavor
Fact: The more you keep tasting a food, the more used to the flavors you get and the less flavorful it might taste. Drink water between tastes to cleanse your palate!