5 Ways to Be a Better...Cook! {times 2!}

September 26, 2016, by Sheila DelCharco

So you wanna be a better cook? Maybe you never learned? Or maybe you are stuck in a rut? I am by no means a trained chef, but I did snag my man thanks to my cooking {wink} so I do have a few tips to share with you to up your game.

When people find out that I grew up in Italy and that my mom's Italian, they assume that I grew up in the kitchen with her, learning how to cook. That is simply not true! I learned to cook out of necessity. I moved from Italy to Florida in 1985 to attend the University of Florida. I didn't like the food served at the dining halls (it wasn't like it is today!) and I couldn't afford to eat out for all my meals. So what's a girl to do? She calls her mamma. This was back in the day before 5-cents-a-minute international calls. It was more like $1.35 per minute. That adds up pretty quickly! But a girl's gotta eat and a mamma's gotta help.

 I would ask, "Mamma, how do you make pasta e fagioli?

 And she would begin to explain, "You pour a little olive oil in a pan..."

 "Wait! What kind of a pan? A frying pan? A sauce pan? A Dutch oven? And how much oil? A teaspoon? A tablespoon?"

 And she would explain that she didn't know how much...she cooked "by eye." So I begged her to please measure the next time she cooked so I could learn! And that's how I began.

Ready for my tips for How to Be a Better Cook?

Tip #1.1: Begin!

Some people are afraid to even try. I met a woman once at ballet who "didn't cook" and by didn't cook, she meant she didn't even make jello. They ate take out for lunch and dinner! (Breakfast was cereal.) I tried to explain how simple it was to make jello but she refused to listen. So the first step is to be willing to try. Yes, you may mess things up or burn something or it may not look pretty but with practice you WILL get better!

Tip #1.2: Ask for help

I asked my mom for some of our family's easiest recipes and she patiently explained each step by phone. Then she jotted them down on a card and mailed them to me. If you don't have a mom who cooks, maybe you can ask an aunt, a grandmother or a friend? I've given lessons in my house before many times! I bet you could find someone who is willing. Offer up your house and invite a friend or two over!

Tip #1.3: Start simple

Start with something easy that doesn't require too many ingredients or too many weird items. I started with basic Italian recipes because that's what I was familiar with and besides, pasta is cheap! (Stay tuned for a month-long series coming soon: 31 Days in My Italian Kitchen where I'll be sharing some of those first dishes I learned to make!)

There are numerous cookbooks with titles that include the words "easy," "fast" "X ingredients or less." One I have is called Fresh and Fast.
Another one I like that I think would be great for a beginner is Dinner: A Love Story. The author, Jenny, has a blog too so you can check out recipes there.
Finally, here's one more I really liked -so much that I'm going to ask for it for Christmas. I loved the straightforward instructions and clear, uncluttered photos. How to Cook Everything the Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food by Mark Bitterman is not only a collection basic recipes, like boiled eggs, but also a how-to manual that explains cooking techniques such as braising, roasting and and broiling, and preparation techniques such as chopping, mincing and slicing - all with accompanying photos. See if you library has it before deciding to invest! I was favorably impressed!


Tip #1.4: Check out blogs

I lived before the internet (GASP!) so I didn't have that as a resource, but nowadays, the internet is littered with food blogs! I've already mentioned Dinner: A Love Story. The Pioneer Woman is my brother's favorite food blog. Ree illustrates her recipes with step-by-step photos and she does it with humor! Another good one for easy recipes (lots of crockpot recipes!) is Eat At Home. Also, don't forget to check my blog in October for my easy Italian recipes.

Tip #1.5: Watch videos!

In this day and age, so many resources are available to us. I'm old-school so that's why I listed cookbooks first, but really, I'm learning that one can find a tutorial on YouTube for just about anything. So if you are a visual learner like I am, and you like to see how it's done, then search YouTube for anything! For example, I started to search for "how to boil an eg..." and look at all the options you get!
I did find this cooking show and she seems pretty funny so you might want to check out her YouTube channel. Of course there's always Food Network (which we just got LAST WEEK for the first time EVER!!)

Once you get over your fear and have jumped in and dabbled a bit, then you are ready to take it to the next level. Here are my second set of 5 tips to help you be a better cook!

Tip #2.1: Invest in good tools

I'm not saying you should rush out to Williams-Sonoma and buy up a whole kitchen full of stuff but you will need some good, basic tools. I found this great list of items that I agree with as being an essential list of equipment! Start off by seeing what you already have and what you know you are missing and add from there. Obviously, as you grow in experience and try new and harder recipes, you'll want to get more specialized equipment such as a microplane or a garlic press. I do believe that having the right tool is important. If you use worn-out or cheap dollar store pans, you won't achieve good results. You'll think it's you when really it's your tools.

Tip #2.2: Use fresh ingredients

Jarred minced garlic? Pre-chopped or dehydrated onions? Gravy mix packets? Taco seasoning packets? No! No! No! Use fresh garlic and squeeze it through a garlic press. Chop your onions yourself (they begin to oxidize when you chop them) or use a small chopper if you don't want to get your hands stinky. (I got one like this one as a wedding gift!) Make your own gravy with drippings and a little thickener. Mix your own taco seasoning and eliminate the MSG and other fillers. Packets to make guacamole? What is in those things? You just need garlic powder and salt! Using fresh ingredients will not only be a healthier and less-expensive option, you'll achieve greater results as well!

Tip #2.3: Mis en place

When you are first starting out it really helps to have all your ingredients out ahead of time. In fact, it's REALLY helpful to have it all prepped. So if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup chopped onion, go ahead and chop the onion, grate the carrot, measure the oil, etc. Pretend you are on a cooking show! Once your cooking improves and your confidence grows, you won't have to do all that prep work ahead of time; you'll be able to chop and toss as you go. If you want to guarantee a higher level of success, I do recommend that you start out this way. Just pretend you are a Food Network cook!

Tip #2.4: Keep a stocked basic pantry and fridge

You can google oodles of "well stocked pantry" lists. Here's one by the Pioneer Woman. And here's another one by Food Network. Like the 'good tools' list, I'm not suggesting that you print out this list and buy everything on it. However, once you try some basic recipes, keep track of the ones you like. Then make a note of any shelf-safe ingredients that you used and add that to your master shopping list, keeping those items always in stock on your shelves. Keep adding to your basics as you add to your recipe repertoire.

Tip #2.5: Clean as you go

One of the blahs of cooking is cleaning up. Some cooks think nothing of making a huge mess and then cleaning it up afterwards. Some couples have a deal where one person cooks and the other cleans. I recommend cleaning as you go. Fill a sink with soapy water and wash as you use items (or at least soak before loading the dishwasher). Put away ingredients as you use them. Wipe up spills and splatters as they occur. If you minimize the clean up at the end of the meal, you'll be more inclined to cook more often!

And that's it! Start there and see where it takes you! I'd love to hear if you have any other tips you would add to a new cook in the comments.

Buon Appetito!

Stop by my blog, Making the Most of Every Day, in October as I am participating in Write 31 Days. I'll be sharing some Italian cooking tips and recipes as I write about 31 Days in My Italian Kitchen! Ciao!

Some links in this post are affiliate marketing links which means I will earn a small commission if you purchase through that link. Thank you for supporting my writing habit! 




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