If standing in front of a hot stove, using a big sharp knife, or mixing ingredients together intimidates you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Something a lot of us take for granted is that we had to start somewhere: even famous chef celebrities had to learn cooking basics at one point or another. And believe me, even they’ve had kitchen disasters, cut fingers, and heat blisters.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a farming community where everyone grew their own seasonal produce and butchered their own meat. My parents and grandparents grew huge gardens full of lettuce, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, onions, cabbage, *take a deep breath*, carrots, radishes, peas, beans and more. Hopefully you read that fast, because we’re just getting started… just kidding, you get the point—big gardens. It was a lot of work every year, and as kids of course we complained about it. But the eating was good. So, so good.
Eating my mom’s amazing cooking was where I first realized that delicious food made people happy. And it’s in my mom’s kitchen where I learned a lot of the cooking basics. Thanks mom! I live in the city now, so I’m not so lucky anymore.
Learning cooking basics, as many chefs before us have done, is an important step to overcoming the fears you may have in the kitchen. Those same basics will speed up your cooking, keep you safe, and make cooking more enjoyable. They’re also what many people are missing. That’s one reason this blog exists. In time, we’ll uncover and chat about all the basics, but until then, here are a few things I might recommend to get you started.
You’ll Mess Up, and That’s Okay
Geez, I can’t even recall how many things I’ve burned, overcooked, undercooked, mutilated, or completely rendered inedible in the kitchen. Life will go on, I promise. Various versions of this Thomas Edison quotation exist, but I like this one the best, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”
Even though that quotation has reached cliché status, it still applies to learning anything. It’s been motivating to me when developing recipes or even when learning cooking basics, like how to flip an egg without breaking it’s yolk.
Cookbooks Are Awesome
One can never have too many cookbooks you know. (I’m just saying that to make myself feel better.) When you’re first getting started, don’t buy a gourmet cookbook. They’re a lot of fun to look at, but you need something practical for everyday cooking, something that lets you practice the cooking basics without a lot of pressure.
Instead, find one that uses 4-5 ingredients per meal. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. It also minimizes your chances of, well, messing up. Flip through the pages to see what’s available. The Can’t Cook Book: Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified! by Jessica Seinfield is a great place to start.
When you find a cookbook that appeals to you, stick to the recipes at first. This gives you a control to compare with down the road. Following recipes teaches you what types of spices and foods mix well together as well as appropriate temperatures and baking times—an essential skill. Once you understand some of those cooking basics, you can start experimenting.
Grab Some Tools for Cooking Basics
There are two things I would recommend when you’re first starting.
First, get yourself a decent 8” chef’s knife. Not a knife block, just a single knife. If you have some extra dough, grab a 3-½” paring knife. Those two knives will take you places, starting with the cooking basics all the way up to pro.
Second, snag a slow cooker. Yeah, it sounds strange. Trust me though. You can make almost anything in a crock-pot with little preparation and hardly any maintenance: pot roasts, stews, soups, breads, and more. It’s almost as easy as breathing and will boost your confidence.
Another plus about slow cookers is that if they’re large enough you can make enough for 2+ meals all at once. I’ll be posting some of my slow cooker recipes on this blog later.
Take Some Risks and Learn to Laugh.
This seems contradictory to what I said earlier about following the recipe exactly, so I’ll explain. Risk taking could be making a recipe that worries you, or making one using ingredients that you’ve never eaten or worked with before. A risk may be ingredient swapping or learning a new technique.
Experiment with recipes you’re comfortable with or with more common foods that don’t take a lot of preparation and are cheap. Live free. At the same time, keep it simple. If you find your experiments aren’t working out, take it back to the cooking basics once again. Change one thing at a time. If one of your experiments ends up filling the house with smoke, laugh it off and start again.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and for most people it’s at the beginning. With each step in the right direction, you’ll find that cooking can be a lot of fun and you’ll take pride in every tasty meal you make.