You want more money in your pocket, more sweet, family dinners and to feed your family healthier meals, right? Simple…be a better cook. Improving your cooking skills will make spending time in the kitchen something you look forward to, not something you dread. Okay, I guess we’re done here. Short post, huh? Ooohhhh, you want me to tell you HOW to be a better cook. Gotcha!
My Mom’s a Home Ec Teacher, So I Should Know
Are you kind of a know-it-all, like me? Thinking I knew every dang thing really held me back from being a great cook. For some reason, I just assumed that I knew everything my mom (who actually was a Home Ec teacher) knew, through osmosis, I guess. Then, I moved about 2,000 miles away from her and realized that I had a lot to learn!
What you need is a big shift in your approach. Become a student of delicious! Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Just because you’ve eaten it at your Granny’s doesn’t mean you know how to make it. Ask Meemaw for her recipe or, better yet, see if she’ll let you cook with her.
- Learning to do something better doesn’t mean you’re admitting to being a dumbass. You don’t even have to tell anyone what you’re up to.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is how we learn. You may learn how to screw up a white sauce a few times before you learn how to perfect it!
You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd
And you can’t cook in an empty or dysfunctional kitchen. You don’t need a big kitchen, top-of-the-line appliances or fancy pots and pans but you do need organization and basic supplies.
Arrange all of your baking supplies together. I have my flour, sugar etc. in a cabinet above the drawers with mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons and my mixer is on the countertop. Shazam, baking center. On the other side of the stove, my spices are in the cabinet above my utensils, pots, and casserole dishes. You get the picture.
Make sure you have, and keep pantry staples. Flour, sugar (table, brown and powdered), baking powder and soda, cornstarch, cornmeal, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, etc.
You don’t need a lot of specialty pans and gadgets. Where are you going to store all of that mess? Start with the basics and go from there. Must haves are a non-stick skillet, dutch oven, sheet pan, casserole dish, spatulas, whisk, tongs, sharp knives (paring, 8″ chef’s and serrated bread) and a mixer.
Keep it Clean
Nobody wants to have to clean a dirty kitchen before they cook a meal. Keep your kitchen clean (for cleaning tips, click here and click here) and clean as you go. WTH, I’m supposed to be cooking, not cleaning? Sorry, Charlie, you gotta do both! Put things away, wipe up spills, put dishes in the dishwasher or hand wash, as you’re making dinner. Keeping your environment in order makes you feel more calm and confident.
Better Recipes Make a Better Cook
Recipes from a professional source are usually a little bit easier to use. Good cookbooks have multiple people test each recipe so they can make sure it works in different environments and with different skill levels.
Be especially careful with recipes you find on Pinterest! I love Pinterest and find tons of great stuff, but I know y’all have seen the Pinterest Fails. Read the recipe carefully and read the comments. If something is wack, a sassy pants usually calls it out in the comments!
No matter where you get your recipe, read it all of the way through. This is worth saying again and again: read the recipe from beginning to end before you start cooking. Better yet, read it before you start planning to cook. You don’t want to be surprised with having to chill for an hour when you only have 30 minutes. What if it calls for saffron? Do you know how expensive that stuff is?
Look up unfamiliar terms or techniques. Thank goodness for Google and YouTube!
Follow your recipe closely, but also trust your instincts. If the recipe says to brown the garlic for a minute but you can smell it starting to burn, don’t keep browning the garlic. Your family’s tastes may be for milder food, so feel free to reduce the amount of cayenne pepper.
Get all of your ingredients out and prep them first. Fancy fact: the French term for this is mise en place. It sucks to realize that you don’t have any eggs after you get the rest of the ingredients for a cake in the mixer. Many things, like sauces, have several ingredients added quickly, while you’re stirring on the stove. It’s a whole lot easier to have everything pre-measured and lined up.
Culinary schools teach chefs to use techniques to create dishes, not to simply follow a recipe. When you learn a few basic techniques, following recipes is easier and you can adapt recipes to make them your own. If you master a few of these, you’ll feel like Gordon Ramsey is cussing you in Hell’s Kitchen!
Roasting is done in an uncovered pan in the oven. You can roast meat and vegetables. Root veggies are especially good this way. I roast vegetables at 425 degrees, on a foil-covered sheet pan, until they are brown. Meat, you will need to roast until it reaches a certain internal temperature. Here’s a chart to help:
Braising is browning meat in a little oil, then adding liquid, covering and cooking over low heat for a long time. It’s also called, “low and slow.” You can braise on the stovetop, in the oven or in a crockpot.
Sauté or Frying
You sauté or fry in oil over a moderately high heat. Good things come out of frying pans, like fried chicken and stir-fried veggies!
Pair a sauce with one of these cooking techniques and you’ve got a gourmet meal! A simple white sauce is pretty easy to master and you can add all kinds of yummy. The numbers are the key: 2 2 2. Two tablespoons of flour, two tablespoons of oil and two cups of liquid. Use flour, butter and milk and you get the classic white sauce. Use flour, bacon grease and milk and you get milk gravy for biscuits.
Practice Makes a Better Cook
I was tempted to write, “Practice Makes Perfect,” but we’re not striving for perfection. We’re just trying to be pretty dang good. If you’re not used to preparing gourmet meals, don’t start with Chicken Cordon Bleu. Start with something easy, like pot roast.
Here’s your homework: get out your favorite cookbook, find a recipe in your skillset, read it from beginning to end and give it a try! Or, if you’re kind of comfy right now and you don’t want to get up, try the Good Life Classic Pot Roast!
P.S. Wondering how to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table? Check out this post!