5 Tips for Becoming a Better Cook

be a better cook in the kitchenCooking is a hobby for some, and a chore for others.  For me, it was one thing to help my parents to cook a meal, and a whole different ballgame to plan ALL of my meals.  I progressed quickly, trying many new recipes and buying exotic ingredients at the grocery store.  I would say I fall on the hobby side of things.

If you stand on the other side of the fence (cooking is a chore),  then here are 5 tips that may lead you to enjoy cooking a little more.

Take a knife skills class.

Knife skills are hard to get the hang of without someone guiding you, and they can make your cooking so much easier.  There are some good knife skills videos on YouTube, Vimeo, and free podcasts in the iTunes store.  Many kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma offer basic knife skills courses.

Start with easy.

Don’t start your cooking career with Julia Child’s famed boeuf bourgignon recipe in preparation for a dinner party of 6.  Instead, make something simple like grilled chicken, soup, or a pasta sauce. It’s easy to get gung-ho and want to make every recipe that ever graced the earth, but brace yourself, be patient, and gradually work your way up to the tough recipes.  Another good rule is to never make a new recipe with guests.

Don’t substitute ingredients.

You forgot something at the store so you decide, “What the heck! I’ll add ____ instead.”  Substituting is an easy way to make a mediocre or disaster meal.  It’s probably ok to add a few of your favorite vegetables to a stew, BUT don’t substitute when you’re baking unless you have ample experience.  Baking involves chemical reactions, so treat it like that chemistry lab you had so long ago.  Be precise in all baking!  Even then, there are a few exceptions:  I give you permission to add extra chocolate chips!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

You’re not going to be the next Iron Chef overnight.  If you’re not the best cook, you can only get better by practicing.  After you master simple recipes, move up to something a little more difficult.  When a recipe is a big hit, add it to your meal rotation and practice until you’ve mastered it.

Plan your meals ahead of time.

Planning meals for the week can save you time, money, and the pain of trying to thaw meat last minute (the meat always wins).  Strategizing your meals can also mean less trips to the grocery store.

Cooking is fun when you learn to create masterpieces.  But in order to create a masterpiece, time and patience are needed.  When those meal blunders happen, don’t be afraid to order take-out and try again a few weeks later.  (My worst cooking incident had to do with a glass dish shattering in the oven when my boeuf bourgignon was almost ready.  The recipe takes HOURS!  Needless to say, my date took me out to eat. I cleaned glass out of the oven for WEEKS.)