Have you ever found yourself halfway through a recipe thinking “I should’ve just ordered take-out…”? Or feel like you’ve been cooking for hours with a measly meal to show for it? If you are new to cooking or just need some fresh advice, take a look at my five top tips for home cooks below and boost your confidence in the kitchen.
- Read the recipe all the way through BEFORE you do anything!
Unfortunately recipes are not always written in the most logical order. If you start plowing through the steps without reading the full recipe, you will most definitely waste time and may end up making a drastic mistake that could ruin the meal. Sometimes a recipe won’t tell you that you need cooked rice until you see it somewhere in step 4; meanwhile, all the rest of your ingredients are burning away on the stove while you hurry up and try to cook some rice!
- Get organized first.
Chop everything that needs to be chopped and organize ingredients into bowls. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1 cup sliced bell pepper, and both of those ingredients are added to the pan at the same time, I will chop them up and put them in the same bowl. Then, I can just grab that one bowl when I get to that step in the recipe.
It also helps to figure out what pans, bowls, knives, etc. you need before you start cooking. If you can combine ingredients into one bowl (like my example above), or re-use a pan for several things, you will save counter space and time cleaning up later.
- Figure out what you can multi-task.
Have you ever seen the word “meanwhile” in a recipe? That means while that one thing is cooking, you should be doing something else. For example, a pasta recipe may say “Cook pasta. Meanwhile, prepare the veggies and sauce.” That means while your pasta is cooking, you can cook the rest of the recipe. In order to do this efficiently and correctly though, you need to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Pasta only takes about 7-9 minutes to cook. If the recipe calls for your veggies to be ready by the time the past is done, you better have prepped and organized them before you cook anything. Don’t wait until the pasta is cooking to wash, peel, chop your vegges– it will take too long, your pasta will overcook or get cold while you try to catch up with the veggies.
- Clean as you go.
Once you’re done using a tool, bowl, cutting board, etc. put it straight into the sink. It gets it off of your counter so you have more space, and helps the clean up process not feel so arduous when you’re done (facing a neatly contained stack of dirty dishes in the sink feels much better than a counter stop strewn with things). If you find you have time while cooking (e.g. if your dish has to simmer or bake for a few minutes), tackle a few of the dishes while you’re waiting and wipe up any spills on the counter. You’ll also start to appreciate the whole being-efficient-with-pots-and- dishes thing when you only have to wash a handful of things instead of every pan in your cabinet.
- Try one new recipe a week. Rinse and repeat.
Whether you’re new to cooking or not, experimenting with new recipes is a really fun way to spice up your usual meal routines and try new ingredients or flavors. The more experience you get reading and following difference recipes, the more comfortable you will be cooking without a recipe and trusting your instincts (e.g. “I know rosemary and chicken go well together because I really like those last 2 recipes we made… I’m going to try that this time and also add in broccoli.”).
That being said, don’t overwhelm yourself trying to cook a new recipe every night or even several times a week. When you find a recipe you like, try to cook it a few times in the same month. That way you will really learn the recipe (without having to read it religiously every time) and you’re building up a toolbox of meals you can simply whip up without a ton of stress.