I taught myself how to cook — here are 8 tips if you feel hopeless in the kitchen

SupportPDX/Attribution Licence/FlickrYou can learn to cook with some practice.
  • Cooking is an art that comes effortlessly to some, but for others, it’s a foreign language that takes time to master.
  • Whether you’re fed up with the frozen isle or trying to impress your family, learning to cook is a beneficial skill you can pick up with practice.
  • After growing up on pre-packaged meals and takeout, author Jennifer Still decided to give cooking a try and relied on basic cookbooks and equipment to get her started.
  • Here are eight tips if you feel hopeless in the kitchen.

Growing up in a single-parent household, my mum’s idea of “cooking” was throwing together a pan of Hamburger Helper, picking up fast food, or ordering takeout.

These culinary habits followed me through college and into my early 20s, when I finally decided enough was enough.

While I didn’t feel completely hopeless at cooking – I believed that anyone who can read should be able to follow a recipe – I knew I had a lot to learn about mastering the art of food preparation.

After some research and a little practice, I now consider myself to be a pretty solid home chef.

Whether you’re fed up with the frozen isle, trying to impress your partner, or looking to add cooking to your skillset, here are some tips for those feeling hopeless in the kitchen.

1. Start with one or two basic cookbooks

natalie’s new york/Attribution Licence/FlickrHaving a stack of cookbooks isn’t necessary.

It might be tempting to load up on every cookbook under the sun when you start cooking yourself, but try and hold back from doing so.

It’s not necessary to buy Gordon Ramsay’sentire catalogue– find one or two simple cookbooks with basic recipes you think you’ll like.

I started off with Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything,” “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook,”by Deb Perelman, and Jamie Oliver’s “15-Minute Meals,” all of which still get plenty of use in my kitchen.

2. Keep the fancy equipment to a minimum

MSPT/ShutterstockStart with the basics.

When you’re just learning how to cook, you definitely don’t need a sous vide cooker or a food dehydrator to produce beginner meals.

Beginner’s cookbooks, like “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman, generally don’t require expensive, fancy equipment to complete recipes. Maybe one day, but you don’t need them as a novice.

Keep it simple, with basic supplies like a food scale and meat thermometer (if you’re a carnivore). These will help you gauge the doneness of meat and perfect amount of flavour, as unlike the pros, beginners need to carefully measure ingredients to produce quality meals.

3. Don’t go off-recipe until you’re more confident

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty ImagesBeginners will benefit from sticking to the instructions.

Professional chefs develop new recipes from scratch, while competent home cooks likely feel comfortable adjusting recipes with their own variations.

You should be able to do this one day, depending on your commitment to advancing your skills. Until then, it’s important to stick to the measurements and ingredients as they’re written in the recipes.

With practice, you’ll learn how the components work together and which ingredients can be substituted for others without ruining the dish.

4. Good knives are a must

Vista Photo/ShutterstockSome basic staples can help you get started.

Never underestimate the power of a good knife. You don’t have to drop big bucks on a set of Wüsthof or Henckels cutlery, but it’s a worthwhile investment to pick up a few decent staples.

When you’re getting started, you’ll likely only require a chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife, and a paring knife.

If you’re clumsy or inexperienced with cutlery – and even if you’re not – you can avoid injuries by wearing a pair of cut-resistant gloves.

5. Start a collection of herbs and spices

Mei Burgin/Attibutrion Licence/FlickrHerbs and spices are inexpensive ways to add flavour to your meals.

Jarred herbs and spices are inexpensive, flavorful, and last a long time in comparison to perishable foods like fruits and veggies.

Though the set of herbs and spices you’ll have in your collection will vary based on which types of food you cook most often, a few of my essentials are basil, parsley, paprika (smoked and sweet), garlic powder, onion powder, and good quality black pepper and sea salt.

They will be your best arsenal for creating tasty food every single time.

6. Cook in bulk

maroke/ShutterstockSave some leftovers just in case.

No matter how much you love cooking, there will be times when you don’t have the time or energy to make a full meal from scratch.

This is why cooking in bulk and keeping leftovers in airtight containers in your fridge or freezer comes in handy. This is a no-brainer if you live alone or with a partner, since many recipes are portioned for families of 4 or 6.

You’ll be grateful to have some extras on hand, particularly if you make something really tasty.

7. Invest in a set of basic pans

Bob Peters/Attribution Licence/FlickrStart with a frying pan, a stock pot, a sauté pan, and a cast iron skillet.

Much like knives, good pans are a must. The last thing you want is for your food to stick to cheap pans or for the coating to come off and end up in your food.

I find that medium-weight pans with a ceramic coating give me the best non-stick cooking surface and seem to chip and scratch less than teflon pans, but your mileage may vary.

Decent pans don’t have to be expensive, but look for a frying pan, stock pot, sauté pan, and cast iron skillet to start.

8. Don’t get frustrated

Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockPractice will help you get better over time.

No matter how advanced you are at cooking, sometimes things come up that unexpectedly ruin the meal you’ve spent a lot of time preparing.

Other times, you may have followed a recipe perfectly, only to try it and not love the taste. Try not to get frustrated in these moments and keep in mind that, like any new skill, cooking is a learning process that takes time and practice.

Get back in there tomorrow and keep trying until you no longer feel hopeless in the kitchen. You’ll be a master chef in no time.

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