Tips for First-Time Cooks by Beverly Delidow

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In Women
Sep 8th, 2013
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Woman cook eating cookiesI grew up in a large family with parents who loved to cook, so my siblings and I all grew up cooking. I think it was one of our favorite family recreational activities. However, after I went off to college and then beyond, I began to realize that not everyone had this head start on an independent life in the kitchen. For the folks who did not grow up with a spoon in one hand and a cookbook in the other, here are a few things I’ve learned that can help the beginning cook. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a young adult trying it out for the first time, or someone with lots of life experience who just never spent much time in a kitchen; these simple hints will get you started.

  1. Get decent equipment. It’s really hard to enjoy cooking if the handle keeps falling off your only pot or if you’re always guessing where the line on the measuring cup should be. This includes: pots and pans, knives, measuring equipment, mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, and scoops. Good equipment allows you to focus on the recipe and the fun.
  2. Get good cookbooks. A good cookbook, like a good coach, sets you up for success. For me, there is no fantasy more wonderful than a well-written cookbook – because you get to bring that fantasy to life and taste it! Get cookbooks you like to read and they will help you enjoy cooking.
  3. Get advice. Ask for recipes, tips and lessons from cooks you admire among your family and friends. If sharing food is sharing love, teaching the creation of food is making sure that love is carried forward. Most of the good cooks I know are thrilled to share their “secrets”. If you have the opportunity to apprentice with an experienced cook for one meal, or a week, or every weekend, do it! Working in a kitchen with someone you admire can be such a wonderful way to learn.
  4. Plan ahead. Read the recipe all the way through before you shop and before you shop, make a list. Prepping beforehand will let you start and finish with confidence that nothing is missing. It can be pretty hair-raising to find yourself rummaging frantically through the pantry, or dashing out the door at the last minute for an ingredient you didn’t know you needed.
  5. Practice the hard stuff. No one would expect to be able to do gymnastics without training. Cooking a complicated recipe requires a similar blend of timing and expertise, although you don’t have to do it while balancing in mid air! If you’re planning on making something for a party or celebration and you aren’t sure how it will come out – practice. Make it ahead of time so you know whether it comes out the way you expect, whether there are any hidden pitfalls, and whether it suits the occasion you wanted it for.
  6. Follow directions. Proportions of ingredients are very important for consistent success – they work for a reason. Especially with baked goods, the ratios of liquid to dry ingredients and leavenings are important to the taste and texture of the finished product.
  7. Following directions includes setting your oven or stove temperatures correctly. Under-done cake or meats can be food hazards! If your oven seems untrustworthy, get an oven thermometer and use it. That way you can be sure your food is cooked through to perfection.
  8. Use your senses. Listen for the sizzle to tell you the oil in a pan is hot enough. Nibble a piece of the cheese for your tarts. Smell the nuttiness of flour in a roux. Taste and smell your food in progress – you’ll appreciate it more and you can’t adjust seasonings if you don’t.
  9. The corollary to #8 is: Trust your senses, but be patient. You know what smells and tastes good, and what doesn’t. You also have to give flavors time to develop – if you don’t give your ingredients time to meld together after tweaking the seasonings, you’re liable to adjust again and go too far. Be patient – you can’t take OUT salt, pepper, or hot sauce, but you can add some later.
  10. Cook what you love to eat. Somehow, enjoyment just seems to seep into whatever you’re making. It’s a bonus for you and anyone you’re feeding. What you make with your hands, make with love – everyone can taste that.

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