A delicious home-cooked meal offers a giant sense of achievement and is great for bringing people together. However, if you’re new to manning your own kitchen, you might feel a bit intimidated about where to start, even if you're most often cooking for one.
Going from a novice to a confident home chef requires a few tricks, some trial and error, and a lot of patience and practice, but in a little while, you'll be clattering around and dirtying every pot just like the pros.
Before diving into creating extravagant dinners or brunches, you'll need to decide what types of cookware and utensils to use. Investing in high-quality kitchen tools can make even the most complex dishes seem relatively easy to tackle.
Purchase items that will last a long time and work together instead of against each other. For example, if you're using non-stick stovetop pans, you should use wooden or silicone utensils to avoid scratching your cookware. If costlier options aren't in your budget right now, check out second-hand shops. Heavy rather than lightweight is often a good indicator of quality.
While canned and frozen options are easy on the budget and great when you're short of time, fresh ingredients that are in season are a delight to work with and will elevate your dishes and experience.
One way to learn what ingredients are in season is to visit your local farmer's market, where you'll notice an abundance of certain foods depending on the time of year. For example, in summer, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, and bell peppers are in season. But in the winter, pears, parsnips, oranges, turnips, and squash will be among the freshest produce.
It's important to read your recipe's full instructions and ingredient list before you start cooking—there's nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe only to realize you don't have everything you need.
If you are following an online recipe that has a comment section, read those too, as they often contain helpful tips and tricks.
In the culinary world, the technique "mise en place" refers to getting everything you need to cook your dish ready before you start. This includes dicing vegetables, measuring out portions of seasonings, prepping meats, and completing any other tasks required by your recipe.
Not only will this help you save time and space in the kitchen, but everything will be within easy reach, making following the recipe easier and reducing the risk of burning something while you prep the next step.
Cooking large dishes is a great option for family dinners and meal prepping, but overcrowding your pots and pans means your food will not cook as evenly and the time it takes to cook may increase.
If you need to cook a large amount of food, it's best to separate the dish into pots and pans. This is especially true when roasting in the oven. Veggies packed tightly together on the pan will steam each other rather than roast.
While cooking is an art, it's also a science! The unique taste of browned meat comes from a process called the Maillard reaction. To get this effect, it's essential to always preheat your cookware. When you place food into a cold pan or pot, the moisture in the food evaporates during the cooking process, making it taste dry.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, so again, always read through the recipe first.
Eggs are often one of the first dishes that people learn to cook. Not only are they fairly easy, but a few tips can elevate them to perfection every time.
Start by only cracking eggs on hard, flat surfaces. This will reduce the possibility of pieces of shells ending up in your food. You can prevent fried eggs from sticking by using butter instead of oil and ensuring you drop the eggs in a sizzling hot pan.
If you're boiling eggs, gently place them in a rolling boil using a spoon so they don't crack, and, once they're done, leave them in ice water for easy peeling later.
Pasta is another easy dish you can elevate with a few simple tricks. Liberally salt your water and bring it to a full boil before adding your pasta. Next, drop in your pasta and stir it for a few minutes to keep it from sticking.
Finally, once it's cooked to perfection (al dente means a slight bite, or you can cook it more, to your preference), strain off all but a cup of the pasta water. Save this to add to your sauce, as it will make your delicious flavorings cling to the pasta instead of sliding off.
Unlike eggs and pasta, meat can be a little scary for people just starting out in the kitchen, and you can't always count on recipes for meat cooking times. The slightest change in cooktop type, elevation, or temperature will change how long the meat takes to cook.
While overcooking is frustrating, undercooking can be dangerous. Guard against food poisoning by using a meat thermometer to ensure it's the right temp in the center. There are plenty of online resources listing the ideal temperatures of different meats.
Don't you hate it when you've just enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal, and then you turn around to see a kitchen that looks like a cooking bomb went off? Cleaning the kitchen as you go is a great way to ease the post-meal cleaning burden. Put whatever you can in the dishwasher or in the sink to soak, and clean as many dishes as possible while the food is in the oven. A clean workspace will also help prevent accidents or spills and reduce the possibility of dangerous cross-contamination.
The exception to this might be if you're making a dish that requires constant stirring. Don't make the mistake of getting caught up in the cleaning and letting your hard-won meal burn.