Cooking can be a daunting task. I remember when I first started really getting into it, in that post-college, I’m super-poor-still phase of my life when I just couldn’t financially justify eating out every day. I had more than a few dishes that definitely did not turn out correctly! There are some very simple tips, however, that any beginner cook can take and run with in the kitchen that will really help to start you off on the right track. These are my top five tips that I would give to any beginner cook!
1. Use the concept of “mise en place.”
“Mise en place” is a French term meaning “to put in place.” Hands down, it has been one of the most helpful things for me in the kitchen. Mise en place means that you run through the ingredients list for your recipe before you even turn on the stove or oven, and prepare each ingredient as far as you can before cooking it. For example, if your recipe calls for
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
you literally prep all of those ingredients. Take all of the ingredients out of the refrigerator, chop each one, and put it in it’s own separate prep bowl. Pour out 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream so it is also ready to go and you don’t have to run to the fridge and measure it in the midst of your cooking. When all of your ingredients are ready, then you begin your cooking.
I know that to some new cooks this might seem like you’re wasting time before you even get to start the cooking process. But it can save so much time and stress while you’re actually cooking the meal because you know that all of your ingredients are totally ready to go and you don’t have to scramble around looking for or cutting anything else.
2. Learn decent knife skills.
You don’t have to be a culinary expert to have decent knife skills, just use YouTube! Having some good, basic knife skills is important for starting out because you want all your ingredients to be the same size. You also want to have the confidence to know that you can take any vegetable, fruit, or herb and chop it correctly depending on its shape and what the recipe calls for. Here are a couple of good videos to get you started:
Start slow. You don’t have to be slicing and dicing a carrot within seconds, and you definitely don’t want to cut yourself. Also, take care of your knives!
3. Taste and season each layer.
This is so important, and something that beginner cooks don’t necessarily think of. I know that when I started out, I definitely did not picture the food I was cooking as “layers,” I just pictured it as steps in a process that led to my dinner. Once you start thinking about food as a layered dish with all of the components complementing one another, you start understanding the importance of tasting as you go. Taste your sauce, taste your veggies, taste your salads, taste everything (except raw meat)! This way you won’t be adding a bunch of uncooked salt and pepper to your meal at the end because it will be properly seasoned from the beginning!
4. Use a recipe manager app like Paprika.
I won’t harp too much on the merits of Paprika, because I talk extensively about it in my post on how to save time with weekly meal planning. But briefly speaking, Paprika Recipe Manager changed my life when it comes to cooking and grocery shopping. It allows me to:
- Add recipes from my favorite recipe websites, blogs, etc. on the internet, as well as to add my own recipes from cookbooks or of my own creations.
- Scale recipes and their ingredients down or up, which is super useful for going from large parties of people to dinner for just us two.
- Plan what meals we are having each day of the week.
- Quickly compile a grocery list of ingredients I need from the store for that week.
To make a long story short: stay organized and save time!
5. Just remember: it’s really hard to mess up food!
At the end of the day, I have never made a meal that was inedible. There is almost always something that can be done: slice off the burned part, add some seasoning if it’s bland, add a little water or stock if it’s too thick. So if all else fails, improvise! It’s not the end of the world, and most importantly, it’s not baking. (Note: this rule does not apply to baking.) 🙂
What are your top tips that you would give to beginner cooks? If you are a beginner cook yourself, what is the best tip that you have been given so far? Let me know in the comments below!