Crash Course Cooking Lesson #1 • Easy Tips on What to Do Before You Start Cooking
~ Easy kitchen and cooking tips that’ll make you a better cook (before you even start to cook a single thing)! Great suggestions for newbies – but there’s bound to be at least one suggestion here that YOU can absolutely capitalize on, no matter how long you’ve been cooking! ~
Hi, guys! It’s Amy, back to write my first Crash Course Cooking mini-lesson!
I figured to start off, I should just go over some basic kitchen procedures that will actually help you be more amazing in the kitchen, before you start to cook a single thing! (Stop yawning … this is important!)
These are great tips for anyone you know who’s just getting started with cooking (think of your kids … college students … newlyweds …).
But even if you’ve been cooking forever, these are things you can do that’ll make you an even better cook and instantly more effective. No matter how long you’ve been cooking, I absolutely bet that there’s at least one idea here you can implement … a buried gem that’ll make you smack your forehead in that “gee golly, why didn’t I think of that” way.
Not an exhaustive list, for sure … but it really is good stuff to know, y’all. It’ll make your life so gosh-darn-much easier in the long run, I promise! Stick with me, and I’ll try to make sure it’s not too dry!
Use the Right Equipment
Good painters invest in nice brushes. Good runners buy top-of-the-line running shoes. Can you really expect to cook well without the right equipment?
That’s not to say that you should dash 0n over to Sur La Table and buy up every utensil in sight (never mind that you don’t know what half of them do, right?!). And certainly don’t blow your fortune on the newest, most innovative skillet set on the market! But a few small tweaks to the contents of your cabinets can go a loooong way.
You don’t necessarily have to have expensive tools to have good tools. And seriously – the right tools can make all the difference!
A couple specific suggestions:
1) First off: Buy a nonstick skillet or two. Do it.
There’s no worse feeling than frying up a perfect egg, only to break the yolk trying to scrape it out of the pan. And how many times, exactly, have you found yourself thinking, wow, I just wish the breading on this chicken had stuck to the bottom of the pan (:/). Right. Never.
And, for health-minded cooks, nonstick skillets are a great tool to have in your arsenal, cutting back on the fat needed to grease regular metal skillets in many recipes.
2) Next: Use. The. Correct. Size. Of. Bowl.
If you don’t have a good range of sizes, buy some more.
Plastic bowls are inexpensive and work just fine (although if you want to use your bowls in the microwave, I’d recommend investing in a nice glass set). Even a “starter” set of bowls should give you a good range of sizes.
Trust me. Trying to whisk up a single serving of homemade salad dressing in a ginormous bowl is just plain annoying.
And DON’T try to mix up an entire cake in a cereal bowl. There will be flour everywhere. ( … I would know.)
3) Consider your materials and their durability. You want to buy equipment that will last long enough to make it worth buying. Some cheap stuff will last forever, and some expensive gadgets are more or less garbage after a few uses — take this into account when choosing your arsenal!
Oh, and this one isn’t a big deal, but plastic does tend to warp over time. So, metal measuring cups and spoons are usually a better bet and will measure accurately for a lot longer.
4) Cut safely — don’t settle for a wiggly cutting board! If you’ve got a couple extra bucks, a cutting board with a rubber bottom is also nice to have around, since it stops the surface you’re trying to cut on from sliding all over the counter (which is not only frustrating but also dangerous). But if you’d rather not spring for it, no worries – just put a damp paper towel or dish towel under your cutting board any time you’re chopping up something that makes the board want to squirm away.
Be Nice to Your Stuff
Ok, very important: Now that you’ve got good equipment, you’ve gotta take care of it!
Lots of plastic items aren’t dishwasher safe, or can only go on the top shelf. (Yay … washing dishes! Said no one ever. But hand-washing them is much more fun than having to buy new!)
While we’re talking about hand-washing: your good chef’s knives will stay sharper longer if you wash them by hand. Even if you do, make sure to sharpen them often (preferably before each use). A super-fancy and expensive knife will still make a mess of your food if the blade is dull! (Pssssst … if you’re in the market for a great yet affordable knife, here’s my family’s favorite chef’s knife – top-rated but so much less expensive than lots of others out there.)
When you have to wash dishes in the sink, clean your sponges off after every time you use them, and don’t use ones that are old and falling apart. You’ll thank yourself when your pans are actually clean. Oh, and never use scratchy sponges or scrubbers with metal bristles when you’re washing nonstick pans – you’ll ruin their nonstick finish, which makes them just … pans …
Keep in mind, though … my mom has always sworn by a rule she learned from Alton Brown years ago: even expensive nonstick cookware eventually gets scratched and dinged, and needs to be replaced. I know I told you earlier to invest in good equipment, but this is a great place NOT to break the bank. Choose moderately priced nonstick stuff, take good care of it, and be prepared to toss it and start over when it becomes worn. These T-fal skillets are our family’s fave (easy to snag at places like Walmart or on Amazon), and with their great price point, we don’t worry about replacing one every few years or so.
Modify Your Environment (aka Get Organized!)
Of course, your kitchen should be somewhere you’re happy to be! But that’s pretty obvious, right?
What’s (apparently) not so obvious is that you should also know where things are and be able to move around efficiently.
I specifically recall a time when I was thirsty at a friend’s house, and after asking for some water, waited nearly five minutes while said friend rifled through six cabinets and a drawer before finding me a glass. By which time I was no longer thirsty.
And, I mean, if you can’t even find a glass, what’re the odds you’re gonna know where you set that whisk down?
Maybe you already have a fantastic system for organizing your various kitchen stuff – in which case, stick to it, by all means!
But for those of you who could use a little kitchen redo, here are some tips I’ve come up with over time:
• Make sure you have good lighting. So, ya know, you can tell whether that thing on the cutting board is a carrot or your finger. Plus, it’s way easier to read recipes when you can … actually read them. If you can’t or don’t want to change your home lighting system, invest in a task light or adjustable desk lamp. (Bonus – they come in some super-cute colors!)
• While you’re at it, make sure you have enough space, too! There’s probably not a lot you can do in terms of actually making your kitchen larger, but clearing that stack of magazines off the end of the counter is certainly a start.
• And if you’re cleaning up anyway, why not reorganize your drawers and cupboards a little. It might seem tedious, but it won’t take long! You’ll actually be able to find things, and your drawers won’t look like … ours do sometimes. (Do as I say, not as I do, alright? I’m qualified to tell you that cooking is much quicker after I’ve spent some time organizing.)
Put the spatulas in the drawer next to the stove, the dish soap in a cupboard near the sink, and the oven mitts … next to the oven. It’s really not rocket science! And it’s so nice to be able to grab the tool you need, when you need it.
• I’d also highly recommend organizing and labeling your spices (even alphabetizing, if that makes you super-happy like it makes me!) – because if we’re being honest here, all those red lids look pretty much the same from the top. The spice drawer can end up a jumbled mess that takes waaaaay too long to navigate when you just want a pinch of cinnamon! Slapping a label on the lids and getting those bottles in order can make your cooking much, much more efficient!
• Oh, and this part might not apply to you. But it’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind: if you know you’re easily distracted, don’t cook where there are other things to focus on. Ahem … brief shoutout to my beautiful and wonderful mother, who does not, among her many talents, include the ability to count measurements while answering a question. (Love you, momma!)
Don’t get me wrong: cooking with other people (or even just chatting while you stir) can be really fun! But sometimes there are moments when you’ve gotta focus.
For those times when you’re working through a new recipe or technique, it’s ok to let family members know you’d rather they don’t come into the kitchen – or at least that they don’t try to hold a conversation. It can certainly go a long way towards making sure you don’t have to count out those three cups of flour … again …
Similarly, if you know you’ll want to concentrate hard on cutting up those peppers just right, flip off the TV and save the tunes for later. (This also goes for when you know you’ll have to see what happens in the next scene, before taking the chicken out of the oven.) You’ll be glad you did when half your meal doesn’t end up scorched.
It’s Always Best to Prep Before You Start
My mom’s actually written a whole post on mis en place (which you should definitely go read), but for a while I was never really into the whole “get everything ready first” thing.
It seemed like way more fun to just dive in!
But after promising myself to try it for a few recipes, I realized just how much easier (and less stressful!) it is to be all set for every step before you start.
I’ve never looked back!
Mise en place. Total game-changer.
Have Fun and Be Creative!
Kinda speaks for itself.
But for real, guys, cooking isn’t just about the end product. Everyone focuses so hard on whether or not they’re being a “good” cook, they forget to break a few rules and enjoy themselves a little.
If you’re just cooking because someone’s gotta put food on the table, that’s fine! But for the many of us that cook to impress our friends or to better ourselves or even just for fun … don’t be afraid to mess around a bit!
Before you start cooking, approach the task with the right frame of mind (as in: maybe let’s not call it a task!). A sense of adventure and joy will not only make the
task event of cooking a whole lot more fun, it’ll also, ultimately, push you to try new things and become an even better cook!
Sometimes the coolest results come from when you play with your food! At least … that’s what I’ve always done!
Even More Cooking Tips!
Psst … here are some sources I found useful, plus some other great articles I think you’ll like, if you’re looking to improve yourself as a cook:
- 57 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Cook Right Now from Epicurious
- What is Mis en Place? from Two Healthy Kitchens (hey, that’s us!)
- Clean: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often from Foodsafety.gov
- Our 30 Favorite Cooking Tips of 2017 from Bon Appétit
- 101 Simple Cooking Tips from Simple Truth