Editor’s note: We’re sharing these cooking tips, originally published in January 2021, to help ignite your sense of confidence in the kitchen—no matter how much cooking experience you may have.
I miss a lot of things about the pre-pandemic world, but dining out is definitely in the top three. I miss sitting at the bar and sipping a cocktail. I miss sharing meals with friends and trying food I might never come across at home.
But if the pandemic has had one big bright side, it’s that many of us have had to cope by trying some of that restaurant creativity in our own kitchens.
I have absolutely loved watching my friends and colleagues take up a new hobby over the past ten months. My Instagram feed changed overnight from pictures of buzzing restaurant interiors to a plethora of daily home cooking successes. But despite all this new (albeit forced) inspiration, not everyone can just turn on the stove and feel confident enough to whip up whatever recipe is trending that week.
The good news is that practice makes perfect. And you don’t even have to go all the way to perfection when it comes to cooking (baking is another story, but we’ll discuss that another time). A few simple cooking tips and techniques will help make cooking faster, easier and more fun. Master these and you’ll be able to cook almost anything.
That’s right – don’t just scroll through their pages for tonight’s recipe. Keep them by your bed and read the forward-looking recipes, the recipes that look appealing to you, and any descriptions of techniques. I also recommend seeking out effortless cooks when looking for cookbooks. Reading is just more fun when the author doesn’t take himself too seriously. Six seasons: A new way with vegetables and The food laboratory are good places to start.
Watch cooking shows on Netflix and YouTube.
Hard homework, right? The Great British Baking Show can be more than a guilty pleasure. You can learn a lot from people who cook and bake more than you – from the mistakes they make to their successes. Not to mention, Paul and Mary usually have some great tips and tricks to share.
I also recommend watching YouTube and Instagram videos created by chefs from different cultures. Many of us were raised in the US by parents who spent the 80s and 90s making very similar beige dishes using the same techniques. When you learn from other cultures, you will not only experience new foods, but also new ways of cooking.
Recreate your favorite restaurant meals.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t sat in a restaurant in months. And I miss it… a lot. If you’re looking for inspiration for a great salad or evening meal, look no further than your favorite restaurant’s menu. Look at the ingredients they use and make a guess about the measurements. It might not be quite the same, but it’s good practice and can help build your intuition. Just don’t forget to support the restaurants with some takeaway too. We’ll have them around when this is over.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
One of my best friends is an incredible cook. I mean, unbelievable. I will never ever be as good as her.
I also hate baking. I see people making beautiful cakes on Instagram and think, I should try that! Then I do and it does absolutely nothing for me.
Food should bring joy, and you should make things that you and your loved ones enjoy eating. If you can do that, you can consider your dish a huge success.
Despite being quite a competitive person, I’ve learned to let it go in the kitchen. I like cooking to be a release at the end of a long day, not one more thing that adds pressure. Food should bring joy, and you should make things that you and your loved ones enjoy eating. If you can do that, you can consider your dish a huge success.
Buy one or two good knives and sharpen them regularly.
Chopping fruits and vegetables with a dull knife can send any cook fleeing the kitchen. You don’t need a whole set of knives to be a good cook. A good chef’s knife and paring knife will get you through most recipes. Others are just extra (and honestly don’t have to be expensive).
Stock your kitchen.
Cooking is easier when you don’t have to run to the grocery store every day. We would like the following on the hand at any time, so when inspiration strikes, we can cook. We like to buy most of this in bulk at Costco.
Pantry: Lots of olive oil and canola oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, canned tomatoes, pasta, a variety of canned/dry beans, garlic, onions, bread and tortillas, canned anchovies, potatoes or sweet potatoes, honey, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, plenty of dried spices, all bagel seasoning
Fridge/freezer: Butter (refrigerated and room temperature), celery and carrots for soups, kalamata olives, a variety of grated/sliced cheeses, feta, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons
Learn how to season your food correctly.
Salt and pepper are your best friend when it comes to cooking. You can make or break a dish with these two simple ingredients. Under-seasoned food is bland, while over-seasoned items can taste overly salty. Just remember these two tips: Taste your food while you cook it – not right after. And you can always add more salt. It is much more difficult to remove it from the dish.
Don’t worry if you f*ck up.
The only way to become more confident in your cooking is to make mistakes and learn from them.
In a very fitting end to a disastrous year, the last thing I made in 2020 was a tiramisu. It took five hours and it was nipping. But I now know what went wrong and I won’t let it happen again. The only way to become more confident in your cooking is to make mistakes and learn from them. This wealth of knowledge will build up over time, and before you know it, you’ll be impressing your friends and family on a regular basis.