How to Improve your Cooking

24 January 2024

Take out, delivery, and restaurants can become quite expensive over time and, frankly, not all are as nutritious as you might think.  If you are turning your thoughts to more home cooking and want to improve your skills, here are a few tips you might consider.


Reading Recipes

Especially if it is a recipe that you have never tried before, read the entire text carefully.  Not everyone writes in the same manner and you may start one step too early or another too late.  Make sure you have all the ingredients you need as well as the proper tools.

Don’t always rely on times that are listed.  Burners and ovens can vary in temperature.  Use your other senses.  Look at what is happening, smell the aroma (or otherwise).  Sometimes onions need to be translucent and sometimes brown.  Know the difference.  Boiling and simmering are not the same.

Don’t reject an entire recipe just because of one or two items you don’t care for.  Baking is a science and swaps are not always acceptable.  But in savory dishes, often you can substitute one thing for another.  Like root vegetables may be interchangable, like carrots for parsnips.  Some herbs can also stand in for another, but not always.


Taste and Taste Again

If you watch any of the cooking competition shows on television, you will hear the host chef tell the contestants to taste during the entire the process.  Seasoning along the way means that everything will be properly salted and peppered, and herbed and spiced.  It can also help you know when things are going awry and early enough to intervene.


Photo Finish

It is said that we eat with our eyes first, so it is nice when the dish ends up looking like what you saw in the cookbook or video.  However, don’t get frazzled if it is not photo ready.  Make sure it looks clean and neat and at least somewhat appetizing.  In the long run, how it tastes and how it appeals to those you are serving are the important factors.



If you are building your kitchen or starting a refurb, there are some basic tools you will need.

A cutting board or two are essential.  Get a large board that you can clean so that you can have sufficient surface to work and deal with all or most of your ingredients during the same session.  If it is large enough, you can keep things in piles rather than putting each in a separate bowl, which will also minimize clean up.  However, have a separate board that you use only for poultry.  Even though they boards can be sanitized, a different board for chicken will give you a better chance to avoid cross contamination.

A good knife is important along with a tool with which you can keep it sharp.  You may have heard that it is more likely that you will cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one.  That is because a knife without a sharp edge is likely to roll or slip on whatever you are trying to carve or chop and land on your other hand.  There are plenty of devices that are simple to use and will put a good edge on your blade.

If you are shopping for a skillet, be sure to get a heavy one and preferably one that will be oven safe.  A heavy-bottomed pan will distribute and retain heat better than one that is lighter weight.  That means there will be fewer hot spots.  Choices include cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, or enameled cast iron.  Generally nonstick skillets are not as heavy.

Equip yourself with a large bowl.  From filling it with popcorn to mixing cake batter or seasoning whatever, you won’t regret it.  Just be sure you have a place to store it.

Sheet trays come in different sizes.  Standard is 18 X 26 for a full, 13 X 18 for a half, or 9 X 13 for a quarter.  Stainless steel will not rust so is a good option.  Using one with a rolled edge or lip will prevent warping or having roasted veggies all over the floor instead of on plates.  Buy yourself a roll of parchment paper at the same time and clean up is easier and your cookies won’t stick.

For a good resource, look for Alton Brown’s Gear for your Kitchen.

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