One of the most frequent conversations I have with people is about cooking with confidence. So many of us believe that being able to cook well means you have to have all the most expensive tools, years of practice, and some culinary je ne sais quoi. Not so! As with anything in life, a bit of daring-do and self-assurance can go a long way in the kitchen, along with a little bit of know-how (that’s why I’m doing this blog!) There are a few tools and tricks to bolstering this confidence, though.
So, let’s start with laying out the most essential tools that you can have in your kitchen arsenal.
- A good, sharp knife. Dull knives are dangerous – you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp knife. Invest in a good knife, keep it clean and don’t dishwash it! If you need it sharpened, take it to get sharpened. I prefer a 7-8 incher over some of these petite 5 inch blades that you see now. The longer the blade, the more versatile it will be. Most importantly, choose one that feels good in your hand.
- A stainless saute pan and a stainless sauce pan. Stainless cookware is so very important, particularly for doing things like searing, pan sauces, etc. You can’t get the same kind of flavor or outcome in a non-stick pan. If you only have two, do a large saute pan and a 2-3 quart sauce pan. However, for eggs and breakfast stuff, you need…
- A non-stick pan or griddle. They don’t really use teflon anymore, so worry not about chemicals. If you are a Ron Swanson style breakfast lover, you really need a nonstick pan.
- Good tongs. If you want the ones with silicone tips, get them only in addition to the all metal ones. I think for picking up meat and heavier foods, the silicone ones are kinda slippery. It can be like trying to pick up soap with wet hands.
- Cutting board – the new bamboo ones are great because you don’t have to treat them and they are dishwasher friendly.
- Cast iron dutch oven. Like the one in my risotto post! Great because they can also double as a casserole dish and go in the oven.
- Absorbent kitchen towels. Seriously, I go through towels like no one’s business. I use them as pot holders, to mop up spills, as makeshift tourniquets…whatever I need my towel to be, it can be it.
Ok. So I’m not saying you have to have all this to be a good cook, but it helps. Another step to achieving a gold star in dinnermaking is organizing your kitchen in a way that makes since to YOU. Have your most used items within arm’s reach so you don’t have to scramble for them at an inopportune time. If you, like me, are vertically challenged, put the stuff you don’t use higher up and the stuff you do use lower down on your shelves. This is obvious stuff, but I’m saying it anyway. Once you get used to where everything is, cooking feels more like a well-choreographed dance than, well, watching ME dance (a stumbling, shrugging mess.)
If you like cooking out of cookbooks, that’s awesome. There are some really lovely ones out there and they can be a great source of information and inspiration. If you’re doing a savory recipe, and you don’t like one of the ingredients (bell peppers), it’s ok! Swap it out for something that you do like! Or, say, add a little more olive oil to the pan if it feels dry when sauteing – don’t worry about measuring out things like oil, salt, pepper – just keep tasting it and seeing how it is. After a while, you will be able to eyeball it and be able to say, for instance, “Okay, that’s about a cup of sliced mushrooms. Maybe I want a few more mushrooms! Let’s do it!” More often than not, it’s gonna be okay. Just remember this: ABT. Always be tasting. But use a clean spoon every time if anyone else is going to be eating what you made, please 🙂
After you have mastered “following” recipes, you should be able to figure out what a general recipe layout looks like. Think about what flavors you like together. And just practice throwing something together based upon what you have around the house. The best way to practice this, I think, is with sandwiches. If you aren’t sure how to pair flavors together, just start to make sandwiches with things you like. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and no one will be the wiser as long as you don’t wave it in people’s faces saying “Taste this! I made it!” The point is, just practice. And exercise restraint. Brie, grape jelly, and mustard are great in the right setting, but all together? Blech.
So the main point of this rambling, somewhat coherent post is that you can be a great cook. Just believe in the stars! No, seriously, practice, take some classes if you want, and trust your instincts. Read cookbooks, read this blog, other food sites, etc. Four years ago I didn’t know the first thing about cooking. If I can do it, and Rachael Ray can be a bajillionaire from “cooking”, then anything is possible!