Cooking Advice for Beginners

Random Observation/Comment #393: If you don’t know how to cook, you will need one of the following: 1) a loving significant other that knows how to, 2) deep pockets from eating at restaurants nightly, or 3) a fine taste for microwaved/processed meals.

DSC_0964

I think everyone CAN learn how to cook and everyone SHOULD pick up at least 5 recipes.  Yes, it takes some time to learn and some initial spending on supplies, but you can’t just rely on canned soups and take-out Chinese food every night, right? Plus, cooking greatly increases your “dating stock value” and we all know that investors are starting to have higher requirements.

Look no further, here are some basic tips that should help you get your feet wet.

  • Planning
    • A meal usually has: 1) protein, 2) greens, 3) carb, 4) sauces
    • Note your mandatory equipment: 1) sharp knife, 2) cutting board, 3) boiling pot, 4) shallower sauce pan, 5) salt & pepper, 6) Olive oil
    • Pick an easy recipe. I personally use Allrecipes.com. Try something that doesn’t require too much prep, fits the equipment you have, and doesn’t have too many ingredients. I also watched a lot of Gordon Ramsay [http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=gordon+ramsay+ultimate+cookery+course&sm=3] and picked easy ones from there. I think he just adds lemon zest to everything.
    • Always ask for dietary restrictions. This is just good practice and makes it sound like you’ve done this many times.
    • Create a list of ingredients. After you picked your meal, check your fridge and make sure you have all the ingredients. Check expiration dates if you haven’t cooked in a while.
  • Shopping
    • Order does count when shopping for groceries: 1) Non-perishables (e.g. pasta, sauces, cans, etc), 2) Vegetables, 3) Dairy, 4) Protein. I do this because you don’t want to crush your items in the cart and you don’t want meats/dairy to stay unrefrigerated too long.
    • Pick fresh fruits/vegetables. Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables by season: http://www.wisebread.com/fresh-fruits-and-vegetables-by-the-month
    • Always look at the expiration dates. I remember buying sour milk once. They tend to put stuff that’s about to go bad in the front, so I usually dig in the back for packaging dates on meats/dairy.
    • Invest in your kitchen. There are certain given things that you always use. For me, this includes:
      • Salt & Pepper. Get the ones you manually crush
      • Olive oil. A little bit of oil can go a long way.
      • Garlic. Everything can use garlic.
      • Tupperware. If you’re cooking, you should have a place to save the leftovers.
      • Aluminum foil. You never know when you’ll need this. For baking, it’s better to lay down a sheet instead of washing off the oil or bits from baking.
  • Preparation
    • Learn how to hold a knife and how to cut with one:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cV0c7qiNjuI
    • Safety first! It’s better to cut slow and in even pieces than fast.
    • Beat your meat. Tenderize that meat!
    • Marinate ahead of time. You want that flavor to sink in.
    • Season heavily. It’s better to be more flavorful than bland for me.  You should save salt for last, but everything else is fair game.
  • Cooking
    • For cooking most proteins, the pan should be very hot to sear the meat. Lower heats for simmering after the initial heat.
    • For boiling water for pasta, always add salt and a little bit of olive oil to the water to get a higher boiling point, prevent sticking, and some extra flavor.
    • Never leave your cooking station unattended! It’s important to keep track of what you’re cooking so you don’t burn anything. Covering the pan cooks much faster than you think.
    • Baking your meals have tendencies to dry it out. Make sure you have enough moisture from the initial searing and extra juices on top. Like a turkey, you can baste it to keep it moist.
    • Sauces are difficult, but it’s usually made from the juices and sticking pieces from the pan. Scrape that off and add a bit of butter, thyme, wine, and salt/pepper to pull the whole thing together. Remember, sauce compliment the food instead of drowning it.
  • Cleaning – I put this in a separate item because it’s just as important as cooking. Try to keep your kitchen clean from the very beginning by rinsing bowls that are holding prepped vegetables.

In the advanced method, the Planning and Shopping molds together because you’re making up recipes based on what’s fresh or available in the grocery.  Also, the Preparation and Cooking steps are combined because you get better at timing and ordering things so you have an efficient kitchen (e.g. you’re not waiting for the water to boil because you already timed it, or things aren’t getting cold because you start them in the right order).

I think the best way to learn is to cook with someone who already knows what they’re doing. There are many little tips and tricks that I can’t think of now, but come up while I’m in the kitchen (A.K.A. the Zone).  This is bound to happen for many other cooks out there.  If you have a mentor, the best advice I have for you is to Ask Questions. Cooks who are really into cooking will probably forget to tell you why certain things are done the way they’re done and asking them basic steps will help you formulate your own.

~See Lemons Help Others Cook

Leave a Reply