5 Steps to Becoming a Better Cook

How does one become a better cook?  Well, cook more, for one, but there’s more to it than that:

1.  Observe Closely
When was the last time you REALLY observed what was going on when you were last cooking or baking?  I’ve noticed some people seem to just blast through a recipe, hastily reading through the directions, and come to be disappointed at the end.  A recipe will only get you so far because there are way too many variables that are unique to each kitchen.  For instance, cooking on a gas stove goes much quicker than cooking on an electric stove. Learn your kitchen’s quirks and how it behaves so you can make the judgement call over the recipe.

2.  Taste Everything
A big part of observing is tasting.  I taste everything from start to finish, always.  I’ll eat a raw veggie before cooking it, taste a small spoonful of raw cake batter, and so on.  It’s the best way to learn how heat, time and different preparations manipulate the food.  When I was making french onion soup last week,  I tasted the soup before simmering, and it wasn’t flavorful at all.  I tasted it every 15 minutes for the next hour of simmering and was amazed by how full flavored it became over time.  Tasting taught me how important simmering a soup is.

3.  Don’t Walk Away
Commit to spending time in the kitchen when you’re cooking.  When it takes 10 minutes to make a caramel, I’ll stay and watch as it starts out as a collection of sugar granules, then starts to melt, then turns to a white clear syrup, then turns into a rich brown caramel.  You learn more by watching and you’re less likely to burn the food.

4.  Use Good Ingredients
I know this seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget.  Each ingredient you use should be delicious on its own.  For instance, cheese is one area where you need to get the good stuff.  I’ve tried the cheap cheese route, and it just doesn’t work.  You can’t cut corners with a lot of good ingredients, and eventually you will accept that they cost a little more for a reason, and they are totally worth it.

5.  Innovate
Put your own twists into your food.  If you’re at the grocery store shopping for recipe ingredients, keep your eyes open for possible additions that inspire you.  You might see something that you think, “that could be good with the stew.” Go home and try it to see if you’re right.  There isn’t a quicker way to learn how different ingredients change the outcome of a dish.  You will learn at a much quicker pace when you start to play around more.

If you have any other tips you’d like to add, share with all of us in the comment section.  See you tomorrow for a tasty recipe!

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11 Responses to 5 Steps to Becoming a Better Cook

  1. Good information and I agree with all of these. The sad thing is that there are some people that know these tips but do not follow them. I look forward to your next post and have a great day!

  2. InCucinaDaME says:

    I could not agree more. One should also consider that this is our passion and thus…

  3. Great tips Joanne. We do buy cheaper cheddar because it melts better, but we don’t buy the preshredded kind, just the sharp store stuff. We’re talking tacos here though. I have my parents bring me my Romano from New York! You can’t skimp on that! We are guilty of walking away, mainly from the grill for some reason. I guess because we come inside and finish it. Blackened chicken is a house specialty.

  4. I’d add having a well stocked pantry, including seasonings and herbs. It makes for easy innovation/tweaking when you’re in the middle of cooking- which goes to your point #2 🙂 my staples are kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, curry powder, dried oregano,… well I could go on but you get the idea! Might set you back a few bucks at the outset as you assemble your collection but worth it in the long run.

  5. Ann says:

    ….again – we’re twins! I can’t tell you how many friends and family I’ve changed over from the canned parmesan to Parmigiano Reggiano. It really does make a difference! Taste, taste, taste!

  6. What a great post! They are all so true. I’ve learned to be much more observant in the kitchen. My oven/stove is electric for the first time in my life, it’s in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, only two of the burners work, it doesn’t broil, and it’s generally pretty busted. But I’ve learned all of its quirks and can now prepare great food using it.

  7. Andrew says:

    Lay out your ingredients in order of what you need, keep an organized pantry, and know what you and your dinner guests like to eat!

  8. foodembrace says:

    Great tips! Mine is: Don’t Give Up. Sometimes recipes fail for numerous reasons. Because of that, keep trying and experimenting, that’s how we get to be better.

  9. I agree with you about cheese, Joanne. Poor quality cheese is deadly — get the real stuff (there is very little waste to cheese if you don’t let it sit around forever). And who would cook without tasting ingredients and food in process?

Enlighten us all with your food thoughts and wisdom =)

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