Nicole’s Note: For all those like me who say they can’t cook, Shannon is here to tell us why we’re wrong and give us tips on boosting our kitchen confidence. Enjoy! I love to cook. It actually pains me when people say they can’t cook. My response to that is, “Of course you can! You just have to know what kind of cooking you are good at!” Normally when people have major cooking mishaps, it’s for one of three reasons.
- They don’t have the proper equipment/ingredients
- They are attempting an overly complicated (or just plain BAD) recipe
- They are distracted, nervous, or otherwise not following directions
The good news is, all of these things can be fixed. Even the best cooks you know have had unfortunate events in the kitchen, I promise. I’m going to tell you 15 (relatively) easy, inexpensive, maybe even FUN tips to boost your kitchen confidence.
Proper Equipment and Ingredients
People, this is critical. If you don’t have what you need, you are going in at a disadvantage. Certain techniques require special tools, and some ingredients cannot be substituted. A seasoned chef with some experience can improvise, but it doesn’t always work. Ever seen Chopped? For now, you will have many more positive returns if you stick to what is straightforward and familiar. If you do try something new (a gadget or an ingredient), keep everything else simple until you get the hang of it. #1 Get some good knives. You do not need a whole giant, crazy expensive set. Prioritize. In my kitchen, I use 2 knives every. single. day. The others, I use sparingly. You need a good NOT ENORMOUS chopping knife. I love these: J.A. Henckels International Fine Edge Pro 2-Piece Hollow Edge Santoku SetYou also need a sharp, STURDY paring knife with a sharp tip, like this: Wusthof Gourmet 3-Inch Paring Knife If you are feeling frisky, a serrated knife is good for cutting soft things, like bread and tomatoes. (But, honestly, cheap steak knives work just fine. Shh, that’s a secret.) #2 Get a set of thin, flexible cutting mats. They are much easier to clean and store than clunky cutting boards. And you can fold them up to dump things right into a pan, the sink, or the compost, without making a huge mess. You can get color coded ones, like these, which can help you keep a cleaner cooking surface. #3 Practice your knife skills and freeze stuff. Seriously. The BEST way to get comfortable working with your new knives is by using them. Dice onions (this video is great!), then freeze them in baggies. Mince garlic. (Or buy jarred! It lasts forever!) Chop fresh herbs. Clean strawberries. Slice bananas. Cut up peppers. Having this stuff ready in your freezer gives you plenty of practice, and saves you time later. #4 Invest in a couple of good quality, medium sized pans. Please do not spend a fortune on a gigantic set of pots and pans. I cook every day, and I use a handful of what I own. You may want to add things in the future, but for now, you need:
- a medium sized, non-stick frying pan (like this)
- a large non-stick skillet with a glass top and a heavy bottom (like this)
- a medium sized, stainless-steel, sauce pan with a lid (like this)
- a large pot with a heavy bottom, high sides, and a tight fitting lid (like this) (These can be pricey, but a good one is worth the investment.)
#5 Choose an ingredient you want to learn how to cook well, and focus on that. For most families, the meal is based on their protein of choice. Fresh veggies are a great option as well. Pick 2-3 simple recipes for broccoli/chicken/chick peas, and make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand.
Which brings us to recipes…
A bad recipe can happen to anyone. It used to be you had to actually be able to cook to publish a recipe. But now, thanks to the internet, that is no longer the case. If you tried a recipe for spaghetti sauce off of somebody’s blog, and it was awful, don’t give up! There may have been a typo, or it may just be, well…BAD. (None of my recipes, of course.) So, how do you find GOOD recipes? #6 Get one or two well written cookbooks that cover a variety of meals, have great indexes, and ideally a “pantry list”. My favorites are: The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, by Nava Atlas and Healthy Meals for Less: Great-Tasting Simple Recipes Under $1 a Serving, by Jonni McCoy #7 If you get recipes from recipe websites (like allrecipes.com), read the reviews. I have caught a lot of mistakes and gotten a bunch of useful tips from the reader comments below the recipe! #8 Stick to shorter recipes with minimal transitions and straightforward prep. If the recipe is full of unfamiliar ingredients, multiple cooking stages, or lots of time sensitive steps, skip it for now, and find something simpler. If you really like the sound of a recipe, search for a simplified version online. For example, lasagna is delicious, but is also time consuming, messy, and can be hard to fix if it goes wrong. However, a pasta toss, has the same flavors, but is much easier to make! #9 If you see a recipe on a blog, read it CAREFULLY. If there are spelling or punctuation errors, there may be other mistakes. The is a big difference between t and T when it comes to cooking. If you are seeing what seem like typos, proceed with caution. #10 Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most bloggers that publish recipes will be happy to answer you. If you are not familiar with a term, or you need to substitute an ingredient, email or leave a comment. If you find a mistake, let the author know, so they can fix it.
Love is the secret ingredient. (And paying attention. That helps too.)
Many cultures believe that the attitude and emotional state of the cook actually effects the flavor and nourishing qualities of the food they prepare. A busy evening where you have a headache and a toddler climbing your leg may not be the best time to try your hand at making a quiche. Pace yourself, do your best to create some calm in your kitchen, and SMILE! You’re feeding your family, remember? #11 Allow yourself plenty of time. Take how long the recipe says it should take (total) and double it. It is better to finish early and have to reheat (with simple dishes) than to run out of time and start cutting corners. #12 Start with a clean surface. Empty your sink, make sure your pots and knives are washed and handy, clear your counter space, and wipe your stove. This is a safety issue, a sanity saver, and will minimize distractions. #13 The French have a term “mise en place”, which means everything in place. Before you MIX or HEAT anything, measure your ingredients, wash and chop your produce, prep your protein, etc. This will let you know if you are short on anything, so you can run to the neighbors! It will also allow you to focus completely once things get real. When it comes to cooking, listen to the French. #14 Set timers. Especially if you tend to get distracted, in general. Timers can remind you to stir, flip, or when to stop mixing. Obviously, they can also help you know when something is done. Always set your timer for the MINIMUM time listed, minus 3-4 minutes, so you can be sure nothing burns. Then add your remaining minutes and stay in the kitchen. The last few minutes of cook time can make or break a recipe. #15 Know yourself. If you HATE being precise, following instructions, and being meticulous, baking might not be for you. If you like to improvise and experiment, soups, stir fries, and pasta dishes might be right up your alley! Easily distracted folks or those who like instant gratification might find my “Twenty Minute Recipes” manageable and satisfying. I hope you find these kitchen tips helpful, and I hope you feel more confident to go cook something. Start small and basic, and you’ll be successful. Please peruse my affiliate links! I bet you’ll find something great. Shannon Thomas blogs about food, family, home, and self at MishmashMamaBlog.com. She is a Navy wife and mother of 4 with a passion for sustainable, enjoyable living. You can find her all over the internet, but especially on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.