Are you one of those people who jokes that they can “burn water?” Maybe you’ve had some serious disappointments in the kitchen or just can’t figure out how to prevent disaster from happening. If you’re moving out of your parents’ house for the first time or want to impress someone special with a nice dinner, or just want to be a better cook, here are some tips on how to improve your cooking!
Learn From a Friend
Have that one friend who makes the amazing…well, everything? Invite them over and offer to buy the ingredients to make one of their favorite dishes if they will teach you how to make it. It may seem bizarre to start by learning one dish, but this is how people who learned to cook when they were kids did it; they were taught a couple of family recipes and learned skills like grating, simmering and dicing as they went along.
Watch Cooking Shows
Cooking shows are a great resource to improve your cooking skills. They spell out what they are doing very clearly and you can also watch what is happening on the screen, a huge advantage over reading about it in a cookbook, especially if you’re a beginner and haven’t a clue what “blanching” looks like. There are also tons of cooking shows online these days and some of them specialize in breaking down recipes that will end up looking really impressive into a few, extremely easy steps.
Pay Attention to Your Tastebuds
Always keep a spoon handy. If you’re cooking for other people, make sure it’s a different spoon every time you “dip,” but the important thing is to keep tasting wherever possible. Taste before and after adding different ingredients. This isn’t just about making sure your food turns out okay this time–it’s also about acquainting yourself with how each of these steps changes the food you’re eating. In the future, when you are making up your own recipe, you will remember how thyme tastes and know whether or not it is going to work with what you’re making.
Learn to Read Recipes
If you don’t know what the abbreviations are or don’t have proper measuring tools, stop, stop, stop! Especially if you’re baking, as baked goods require almost alchemical precision at times in order to rise and do what they’re supposed to do in the oven. Make sure you’re clear on what each ingredient is and what it does in the recipe. If you don’t know the difference between baking soda and baking powder, just Google it. There’s no chime in not understanding recipes–you’re still learning. But if you want to have success in the kitchen, you need to make sure the information you’re getting in the first place is correct.
Take a Weekend or One-Time Class
Colleges, community centers and some cooking supply shops or groceries will often offer a “date night” cooking class or a weekend course in a certain ethnic cuisine or technique. You might be able to sign up for a class on baking cakes or an evening of making Italian recipes. You could invite a friend or loved one along to join in the fun or take the opportunity to meet new people. Just remember that there’s nothing wrong with asking questions; if you’re confused about something, it’s best to ask questions before you take action, rather than mess up and have to explain after the fact. The teachers should be friendly and helpful nd will know the answer straightaway.
Start With Cookbooks and Trusted Sites
There are a lot of cooking sites and blogs out there these days and some of them are just not good. Especially with huge databases like Recipe.com and About.com, you’re more likely to find a recipe that hasn’t been tested at all or tastes awful because people can share whatever they like. If you’ve been using some of these sites, it may not be that you even need to improve your cooking–it may be that you have been working with really bad recipes. To avoid this, try using really popular personal blogs and cookbooks instead, which are more likely to have tested recipes instead of random ones that might blow up in your face.
Don’t let your mind wander or go off and do something else while the stove’s on. Some recipes require you to stir something constantly and if they say constantly, that’s now a suggestion–it’s the only way to make you’re recipe turn out. Being attentive also means reading the ingredients list and steps very carefully. We’ve all goofed up with this when we weren’t paying attention, but some mistakes really can make or break your dish. Don’t cut corners just yet. When you have more experience, you can start making changes or walking away for a moment, since you will know how long it takes for these different items to cook, etc.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Make sure that if you do burn something or you forgot to put in the salt, you study the final product and learn from your mistake. What happens to a cream puff if you didn’t put in enough butter? How does the soup taste when the beans aren’t cooked through properly? Instead of tossing the food immediately, you can keep it from entirely going to waste by getting a better understanding of the ingredients and the chemical processes that are happening while you cook.
On the other hand, learn from the mistakes that you like too! Maybe you will discover something that you think tastes amazing, or even invent something completely new through a simple mistake. Maybe you bought the wrong thing at the store, but the finished product turns out great. Maybe you were out of walnuts and subbed in almonds instead and discovered your new favorite.
Recognize that mistakes can and will happen to anyone–even Gordon Ramsay! You’re doing just fine if you slip up, all that’s important is to learn from the experience and keep trying. You will definitely eventually improve your cooking.