These easy and free ways to improve your cooking are a great way to jump-start your culinary prowess.
For many people, cooking is not something they look forward to. Instead, they head out to a restaurant, or even worse, head for the closest fast-food drive-thru. Often, this is because people aren’t confident in their cooking skills, and are intimidated by trying to improve on them. However, by missing out on cooking, you are missing out on more than just healthier food.
Cooking can be a great way to relax, and it is often therapeutic to step into the kitchen and focus on something other than the stresses of the day. Cooking can also be a great way to bring together family and friends. So rather than reach for the keys and cruise down to the closest McDonald’s, take a look at these ten simple tips that can help you improve your cooking skills.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 1. Start with a positive attitude and set your goals.
For you to have real success in the kitchen, it’s important to start with a positive attitude. Bringing negative thoughts into the kitchen can distract you, and wreak havoc with your culinary prowess. You should be optimistic, filled with energy and eager to arrive at a great meal. This positive attitude will inform your cooking and you will have better results. It is also important to be open to learning when you cook. View mistakes as a chance to learn and improve your skills rather than a sign that you shouldn’t be cooking.
One of the best ways to “cook up” a positive attitude is to imagine how great the end result will be. Think of how happy you’ll be after you’ve crafted that perfect meal, and how happy the family will be to enjoy it. Let this fuel your enthusiasm and attitude! Another great way to help foster a positive attitude is to have a clutter-free kitchen. Not finding things when you need them can be frustrating and make you want to give up. But when things are tidied up, you have a better attitude, and more space to work!
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 2. Take time to understand the basic terms and techniques of cooking.
One of the reasons that people find cooking daunting is because of the many different terms that are used which make it seem like more of a science than an art. But by learning the terms, you will understand the recipes and cookbooks better and will be able to follow them with much greater ease.
Teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces, cups, a pinch of this, a slice of that, simmer, boil, broil, saute, brown, and more. But once you understand these terms, and are familiar with what they mean and how they’re used, the positive effect this will have on your cooking skills is immeasurable.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 3. Go with the freshest ingredients possible.
While using what you have on hand is easier, it generally won’t lead to the best results. Use fresh ingredients will usually lead to a more delicious and successful meal. So when preparing your next dish, take a look at the ingredients and make a list of what would be best fresh. Generally, you should purchase these ingredients from the store same day. If trips to the store are more difficult, invest in some good freezer bags (to avoid freezer burn), purchase the necessary ingredients, and freeze them to lock in the freshness.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 4. Invest in the right tools and equipment.
In general, having the right tools will lead to better cooking. Many dishes require you to have certain equipment to properly prepare them and investing in the right equipment beforehand will prepare you for these recipes.
Here are some of the more common tools you should always have on hand:
– A large wooden mixing spoon (or two or three in different sizes). Wooden spoons are nice because they retain less heat than metal spoons and will reduce the likelihood you will burn your fingers on the occasions you leave the spoon in the pot or saucepan.
– A strainer is always useful, especially when dealing with pasta dishes.
– A good meat thermometer will help you avoid under or overcooking the meat, both of which can ruin a recipe.
– A good knife is invaluable, and you should have at least a few good knives, including a smaller paring knife for cutting most fruits and vegetables, a good mid-sized knife for the larger ingredients, and a large, wide-bladed knife for the larger and tougher ingredients.
– A peeler is a kitchen necessity, as many dishes require or benefit greatly from peeled vegetables.
– A nice pair of culinary scissors make cubing or cutting many vegetables and meats a lot easier.
– Every kitchen needs a full set of measuring cups. Yours should range from at least ¼ cup on the small end to 4 cups on the large end. Having both individual cups in a variety of sizes, and one large cup with individual markings is not a bad idea.
– You should also have a set of measuring spoons going from at least ¼ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon in size.
– You need at least two or three mixing bowls in different sizes.
– You should have at least one, or if possible two saucepans of different size with nonstick surfaces.
– A good, portable chopping board.
– A timer, if your stove doesn’t have one. Paying attention to the cooking times in recipes and getting them right is a must.
– A whisk.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 5. Read the recipe to the end before you start.
Many are the times someone has stepped into the kitchen to make a great dish, and only minutes in suddenly realize they’ve already messed it up. Don’t be in a hurry when you get started. Take the time to read the recipe all the way through.
This will help you avoid simple missteps such as realizing you don’t have enough or the right ingredients part way through the recipe. In fact, you should read the recipe to the end at least twice before you start cooking, so you can be sure you have enough of all the ingredients before you begin.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 6. Use your hands.
The most important piece of kitchen equipment you have is your hands. Take care of them. Before you begin cooking, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands. And during cooking, wash your hands each time after you handle raw meat, or they become covered in oils or other spices as you prepare the dinner.
Also, be careful when using different tools such as knives and peelers, and don’t rush during these steps so you can minimize possible injuries to your hands. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to get in there and use your hands, especially when applying a rub or selection of spices to meat, or when you need to coat vegetables or meat in oil. Don’t be afraid to really knead that dough, or even use your fingers to break up ingredient lumps in a sauce.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 7. Make a bond with salt and other ingredients.
Many people ignore the power of salt. But used properly, it can really bring out the flavors of the other ingredients. Always include salt when it is called for, but use the amount detailed in the recipe. The right amount will bring out the flavors, but too much will overpower them. Many recipes will call for a pinch (or two) of salt: a real pinch of salt involves using two fingers and a thumb, not just the forefinger and thumb. Also, keep salt on hand when serving the meal, as some may want a bit more.
Salt is not the only ingredient you should learn to use well. Black pepper and herbs like rosemary, basil and thyme are key in ensuring the flavor in your food comes out the right way. Olive oil, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, cloves and garlic are all essential and commonly used ingredients. Study these great spices, and learn how and when they are best used.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 8. Taste often, especially when mixing in spices.
Sometimes, circumstances will dictate using a little more or less of certain ingredients. Don’t be afraid to taste the dish at various stages as you are preparing it. This can give you valuable insight into how it is coming together and can result in a better final dish. Understanding your ingredients will also help you know how using more or less at certain steps will affect the overall taste of the dish.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 9. Start with simple dishes.
One of the most common mistakes that can derail your burgeoning kitchen career is biting off more than you can chew. Start simple, and hone your skills in the kitchen before taking on those more complex recipes. This will lead to less frustration, and help you master certain skills that are essential to more complex dishes. To help you grow, start with simple dishes. Don’t be afraid to spend as much time as you need to learning and repeating the basics until you feel comfortable.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – 10. As your skill begins to grow, don’t resist the urge to experiment.
As you learn the basics and begin to master kitchen skills, you’ll begin the feel the urge to experiment. Don’t resist: some of the best results are found through experimenting. Start small, and always note what changes you are making. If your experiments turn out well, you want to be able to repeat your results. Eventually, you may even begin crafting your own recipes.
Improve Your Cooking Skills – Final Thoughts
With a pinch of patience, a dash of perseverance, and a heaping helping of positive attitude, and you’ll not only improve your cooking skills, but you’ll also be cooking great meals in no time. Stick with it, and the kitchen will soon become a refuge from stress, rather than a cause of it.