I feel like I make a lot of confessions in this here blog. I guess you guys must make me feel safe. :)
So, today’s confession: I have only been cooking for 3 years.
For my entire childhood, the most “cooking” I ever attempted was the following:
- Bologna sandwiches on white bread (which was my afterschool snack of choice)
- French Onion Dip (the “dump this package of onion soup mix into a sour cream container” kind)
- Scrambled eggs (cool your jets hoss, that’s as fancy as I ever got)
I kid you not. That was my entire cooking repertoire for the first 22 years of my life. So how on earth did I go from a clueless, cooking-phobic girl to a mildly knowledgable, cooking-addicted woman?[caption id="attachment_547" align="aligncenter" width="640"] a wannabe chef, risen from the ashes….(p.s.: this was taken almost exactly two years ago, when I had risen to the elite status of “kind of knows how to cook & bake”) :)[/caption]
When I graduated from college, I moved out of my parents home in Massachusetts to my own apartment in Connecticut. Alone.
Wake up call? You betcha.
For my first year of teaching, I actually did no cooking–just ate out, or made stuff from the box. I might have made pasta once or twice, but that was about it. But then, the most glorious thing happened to me: Summer. The best part of being a teacher. All those really late afternoons, nights, and weekends at work are all worth it when summer rolls around.
That first summer off, I had been watching Saved by the Bell every morning (I know, it’s a rough life). I decided to mix it up one day, and stumbled across what remains my greatest find of all time….[caption id="attachment_545" align="aligncenter" width="320"] source.[/caption]
Now, say what you will–yes, it’s becoming more reality-tv-like every year, but in the early morning, they have more traditional cooking shows, and I fell in love. It blew my mind that people could create food like this in their own kitchens. My eyes were opened to a whole world of food that I never knew even existed.
Growing up, I was quite possibly the pickiest eater ever. I wouldn’t touch the majority of veggies, and I hated cheese. Now I am a cheese junkie…I start to get the shakes when it’s been too long (just kidding…sort of). But seeing all of these great meals made me curious. I wanted to try new things & explore the great world of food out there.
It started with one dish a week, then more, then almost every night. I was grabbing recipes from the food network website as fast as I could, and rushed out to the grocery store to grab what I needed. Before I knew it, my selection of spices began to rival Bobby Flay’s, and my collection of different oils could bring Giada to her knees.
When I cook something I often have friends or family say things like, “wow, I could never make that,” or “that is so fancy,” and on & on. I believe that anyone can cook. Becoming confident in the kitchen is a process, just like anything else. If you want to change, you have to start somewhere.
So while I am certainly no expert on the subject, here are some ways that I found confidence in the kitchen.
10 Steps to Becoming a Badass in the Kitchen
1. Find a good resource for recipes.
My number one resource is Food Network’s website. While there are plenty of other sites, such as Epicurious and Allrecipes, Food Network’s site has a few advantages. Not only can you sort by type of meal, amount of time, and chef personality, but you can sort by rating. While you can do the same on other sites, Food Network is probably the most popular “go-to” site for recipes, so there are many more ratings given to each recipe than you’ll find on most other sites. We always sort by rating when looking for a recipe, so that way we know that they have been tried & tested & are really great. In the comments, people often list various modifications they had to make, so it is really helpful–plus, you can save recipes to your own “recipe box” if you start a free profile on the site. Once you get a handle for how to cook, you can check out cooking blogs. When you have a handle on what you’re doing in the kitchen, you can tell pretty fast if a recipe is going to be tasty just by reading the ingredients and instructions.
2. Start small.
While that Emeril recipe for Red Wine-Braised Beef Shanks with Mushrooms and Basil-Mashed Potatoes sounds deliciously decadent, you should start with something simple. Yes, I actually tried to make that recipe after only a month of cooking…and it turned out horribly. I don’t know exactly what I did wrong, although I bet if I could watch a replay of past me trying to prepare that meal, I’d have a good laugh. It was such a waste of time and money, but I certainly learned my lesson.
If you were going to work out for the first time ever, you probably wouldn’t go run 5 miles and lift 200 pounds (and if you do…I’m sorry for the terrible day you will have tomorrow). So don’t cook for an army, and don’t pick a recipe that calls for 20 different ingredients. Pick something simple and relatively quick to make.
3. Stick with the familiar.
In the same spirit of number two, stick with recipes for dishes that you already know you like. If you don’t eat Asian foods that often, then don’t go diving into some dish you’ve never tried. Aim for the familiar. Heck, ask your grandma for her meatloaf recipe and try that, or if you have a foodie friend that made a dish you really loved, ask for the recipe. Foodies are usually more than happy to share both their recipes and their food!
4. Read the recipe all the way through & do the prep work.
I cannot stress this one enough. If the ingredient list calls for anything to be chopped, do it before you even start cooking. Nothing is more stressful than being midway through a recipe and having to chop up an onion as the rest of your meal is over-cooking or burning on the pan. Pull all necessary spices onto the counter before you start, as well as all measuring cup sizes you need. Also, have the necessary equipment ready ahead of time. Sometimes you have to switch your meal from the pan to a pot, and it saves a lot of time and stress if you have that pot on the stove and ready to go. Read the ingredient list & instructions thoroughly so you are prepared.
5. Follow the directions (at first).
This is really important. Not only does this help you learn the basic of cooking, but you should already know that this recipe is good as is, whether it’s a family recipe you’re trying, or a 5-star rated recipe on a website. Don’t go adding in extra spices or something that the recipe doesn’t call for. This helps you get used to what different herbs & spices do to enhance flavors. Think of it as cooking 101–you’re learning the basics, which means more than just cooking. It means you’re learning why certain recipes use particular herbs and spices, and why the proportion of liquid to flour is really important for baking.
Quick story: one weekend when I wasn’t home, my boyfriend & one of his friends decided to make some burgers. They found a neat recipe that called for pineapples and a little pineapple juice. They decided to veer from the recipe because they wanted their burgers to REALLY taste like pineapple…so they added in a lot more pineapple juice. They wound up pineapple-flavored meat slop instead of burgers. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.
6. Build a repertoire of favorites.
As you cook more and more recipes, you’ll find some that not only taste great, but are easy and fun to make. Save those recipes, and bring them back every once in a while. It’s good to build up a repertoire of classic recipes that you KNOW are good, and that you know you can make well. That way when you have company over, you don’t have to take the risk of trying something new. Also, as you start to get comfortable and move on to step 8, it’ll be good to have a recipe base you know really well so that you feel comfortable experimenting.
7. Expand your repertoire.
Have you mastered meatloaf and pasta dishes? Why not try some meatballs that call for a new spice, or a stir fry? Now that you are getting more comfortable with cooking and have a handful of recipes you know you can make well, try to expand your horizons. Maybe now is the time you can try that Asian dish that looked really good, or maybe today is the day you finally try to make your own soup! Now that you have a handle on how cooking works and basic technique, push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone by trying something different from the kinds of dishes you normally make.
8. Get a little bold.
Sometimes you try a recipe, but you feel it lacks something. Or maybe you have a favorite recipe, but you want to see if there’s a way you can jazz it up a bit. Go ahead and try something new! The best way to begin to experiment is with herbs & spices. It’s hard for either to completely ruin a dish, so give it a shot. Now is the time you can start to veer away from the recipe. Maybe you used garam masala in that Indian dish, but you think it might taste great in a burger! Did that soup feel like it could use some carrots & pearl onions? Add ‘em in! Start to get a little bold & bring some of you own flair to the recipes you try.
9. Get downright creative.
Alright, so you’ve got the basic cupcake recipe memorized now. Time to get creative! What can you replace instead of butter? How about applesauce! Why not replace half the flour with chocolate protein powder, or cocoa powder? Toss in some peanut butter chips. Now you’ve got a whole new kind of cupcake! As you experiment more in the kitchen, creating your own recipes becomes easier & easier. I’m certainly no master at it, but it is fun to brainstorm flavor combinations and see how they turn out. If you know the basic recipes for various dishes, you can turn them into something completely new with a little creativity! So go nuts & have fun–put your original stamp on your dishes.
10. Fake it ’til you make it.
Someone once said this to me about teaching. You just have to fake it ’til you make it. That’s all of life, but it’s certainly true in the kitchen. Just. Keep. Cooking! Try new things. Be bold. Utilize the creative juices inside you. Let your inner kitchen badass rise from the ashes of the old you. Life will be a little more delicious when you do!