Do you want to cook at home more often, but you know you need to become a better cook first? Does your family cringe as you place their dinner plate on the table? You can become a better cook by just picking up a few new and simple habits!
One of the easiest ways to save money is to cook at home. Making meals at home for your family is almost ALWAYS cheaper than getting a meal in a restaurant. Fast food might be cheaper than cooking the same meal at home (think Taco Bell tacos compared to home made tacos with all of the fixings), but the long term repercussions of that fast food might just make you lose money over the longterm in health issues.
The argument I hear OFTEN regarding why people don’t cook at home is that they just don’t think they are a good cook! Or maybe, they think they are an okay cook, but they can’t cook *insert dish here* better than their favorite restaurant can.
I am here to tell you…if this is you…you are WRONG! You can cook! I am under the firm belief that anyone can cook. Maybe you aren’t a good cook now, but you can become a better cook!
Now, here is my caveat…I love to eat out. I love going to restaurants. I do feel I am a good cook. I actually think I am an above average cook when I have the time and inclination! If your budget allows for eating out, then by no means am I saying you need to stop! You still might benefit from these tips to become a better cook though!
My Tips For Becoming a Better Cook
Season, Season, Season –
When I first met my husband, we would go out to eat and he would sometimes declare something didn’t taste so good. I would take a bite, add some salt & pepper and all of a sudden, he couldn’t get enough! The thing I have noticed about most self proclaimed “bad” cooks is that they do not season their foods. (my husband now seasons when necessary and follows this first rule very well!)
Not only do you need to season your food to taste at the end of the dish, you really should be seasoning at every single stage of the cooking process. This is why my recipes (except for baking…baking is like chemistry, you need to have exact amounts!) typically state “Salt & Pepper to taste”. I wish I could also put “to taste” for all of the spices I use, because truthfully…I only season to taste.
Do you hear that? Just because a recipe calls for 1 Tablespoon of Italian Seasoning, does not mean you only need to use 1 Tablespoon! Taste it after it’s had some time to permeate the dish. Does it still need more? Add some more!
Let’s say you are cooking a soup. First you are sauteing some veggies to go in your soup. Season them with some salt & pepper as they cook. Next you are cooking the chicken for your soup. Who likes bland chicken? Absolutely nobody. Season your chicken! Now you put your broth in with your veggies and chicken. Allow it to simmer to let the flavors blend, then taste it….and see if it needs more seasoning! (it probably does!). Don’t be afraid to season your food.
If you are on a low sodium diet, you can get very creative with Mrs Dash type no salt seasonings or other herbs and spices. Don’t let your food be bland! Season, Season, SEASON!
Use Reputable Sources for Recipes
Pinterest rocks. Blogs rock. However…when I want to make a dish I have never made before, I head over to AllRecipes. Why? Because I can crowd source my recipes!
I want to make risotto? (I have an awesome risotto recipe here, lol) I will head over there and look for the one that is rated the best. Then I will read the reviews (not all of them, mainly just the top few) and see where people made substitutions or what their comments are regarding the recipe. If there seems to be a theme through all of the comments (this asks for too much broth, you need to cook this for longer than the recipe says, etc), I will take that feedback into consideration.
The reason I say don’t rely on Pinterest and blogs (and I am saying this as a blogger who posts recipes!!) if you are not somewhat experienced in the kitchen is because often there is no feedback. Nobody else is proving the trustworthiness of this recipe. Often, you’ll just see “Oh I can’t wait to make this!” or “Oh this looks so good, I am making it tonight!” in the comment section of blog recipes. Nobody comes back to update whether they made the dish and how it turned out.
There are some exceptions to this. Obviously, Pioneer Woman gets a lot of feedback on her recipes. That said, (and I am not accusing anyone of anything), bloggers can delete comments that criticize their recipes.
Unless you are an experienced cook who can use blog recipes and Pinterest as inspiration and adapt along the way if things don’t taste to your liking (remember, you need to be seasoning and tasting all along the way!), then find your recipes through cookbooks and/or websites that allow unfiltered feedback and reviews.
Use the Right Equipment
Don’t use a cast iron pan for a recipe that requires non stick. You will just give yourself a headache.
Don’t try to shred cheese using a fork. Make sure you have a cheese grater.
You really don’t have to spend a ton to have a well stocked kitchen. However, investing in good kitchen equipment that withstands repeated cooking, and makes your life easier, is well worth it.
My favorite kitchen items are:
My Instant Pot
My Ninja Foodi
However, you don’t need any of those pricey appliances (although they sure do make my life infinitely easier) to have a well equipped kitchen. Here is all you really need:
- Good knives
- A cutting board (2 would be great)
- Measuring Cups & Spoons
- Kitchen Scissors
- A Colander
- Mixing Bowls
- Cheese Grater
- Spatula & Spoons
- Vegetable Peeler
- Roasting dish
- Saucepans, Saute Pan and a good pot or two (you can usually find a good set that includes all of these. I prefer stainless steel)
- Cast Iron Skillet
- Baking Sheet
- Oven Mitts
- Potato Masher
- Meat Thermometer
This is certainly NOT an exhaustive list. You might find you have no use for a potato masher because you use your stand mixer to make your mashed potatoes/mashed cauliflower (I do). Or you might not need a cast iron skillet because you have no desire to cook with cast iron.
However, having the right equipment can make the difference between you attempting to cook a whole chicken in a pot on the stove or roasting it in a roasting pan in the oven (I’ll give you one guess for which will taste better and actually cook evenly!).
Speaking of roasted chicken! If your budget allows…buy that rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and shred it at home for recipes. Use the carcass for stock and bam…you have made a budget friendly decision that is only a bit more expensive than cooking the roast chicken from scratch at home yourself.
If your budget allows, buy the already cut veggies. The bagged salad. The pre-cooked bacon (although..yuck? I hate that stuff).
Even when you use shortcuts, you can still spend less money and eat more healthfully cooking at home vs going out to a restaurant.
Be Organized and Tidy
This is where I fail y’all. I am just going to admit defeat here! No, I’m not…I will never be defeated by a messy kitchen! I HATE to cook in a messy kitchen, but I also hate to clean the kitchen. What’s a gal to do? (my solution…make the husband and kids do it! Hey, I’m the one cooking, menu planning and grocery shopping!)
Clean the kitchen y’all.
Have you heard of a mise en place?
Mise en place (French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. – Wikipedia
This means that you get everything nice and neat and prepared for cooking à la food blogger style. When you have to run to the pantry while the onions are sauteing, you might just get side tracked and they will burn. Ask me how I know this? Trust me, been there, done that a time or two!
When I start off with all of my ingredients in front of me and a clear and defined work space, my cooking experience is much smoother and much nicer. If you pretend hard enough, you can actually convince yourself you are the next Rachael Ray! (grab the garbage bowl and the EVOO!).
These are my tips! I hope they will help you to become a better cook. I know they all make a difference in MY cooking and I think I am a pretty good cook if I do say so myself!
What are some tips you have for becoming a better cook?