Growing up, I was always fascinated watching others cook. My mother was always up to something in the kitchen, and I can remember the aroma of meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, spaghetti and meatballs and so many other classic dishes as if they were cooking in my own kitchen this very second. As my brothers and I grew older and spent less time at home, family dinners occurred less often, and cooking evolved into more of a hobby than a feeding frenzy. As time went on, my mother cultivated her skills, and others in the family followed suit. Between my mother, father, two brothers and myself, there was always something good to eat. And we were always experimenting.
My husband says he’s never met a family so food-oriented as mine, and I take it as a compliment. Having an arsenal of culinary skills, recipes and a passion for good food contributes to a life that is rich and flavorful. A meal can be so much more than sustenance if approached the right way, and because I want others to experience this same kind of elevated dining, I am going to share some useful tips for becoming your own chef, and propelling your cooking to the next level.
If you’re only used to cooking one style of food, it’s time to branch out. A great way to expand your palate is by experimenting with foods that are loaded with fragrant spices. This helps to broaden your palate, allowing you to infuse ordinary or bland dishes with new, exciting flavors. The first go-around may not be a success, but don’t let that discourage you. The more disasters you have in the kitchen, the more you learn from your mistakes and cultivate your skills. And, don’t be scared. A lot of times a recipe may look intimidating, but chances are it’s not. It’s only scary because you’ve never made it before. Get comfortable in your kitchen by experimenting with new things.
I love reading recipes. Studying the ingredients and methods used in any given recipe will help you to think more critically and thoughtfully about the way you cook. I often will compare recipes from three or four trusted chefs to learn why they make the same recipe so different. Why did one chef add this ingredient while they others did not? Why did these chefs cook it this way, but the others cooked it another way? Asking questions and studying the work of many experts will make your cooking more thoughtful (and tastier, too). By studying the works of others, testing their recipes in your own kitchen, and evaluating what works and what you would change, you can create your own arsenal of unique family recipes.
3. Read the comments
Another thing that will elevate your cooking and encourage less kitchen disasters is reading the comments section of a recipe. Typically, you can gauge whether a recipe is good by checking its rating, but even more helpful are the comments that users provide following the recipe. They will note whether the cooking time was accurate, any substitutions or additions they recommend, and other helpful comments. Of course, you won’t find a comments section in a cookbook, so this is only applicable to recipes you find online.
4. Share your creations with others
You are your own worst critic. If you want good, honest feedback, feed your creation to people who you trust. And, if they’re foodies, even better. Everyone’s palate is different, but people inherently know what tastes good. If you want to improve your cooking, ask others for feedback and suggestions.
5. Be prepared
Make sure you have all your ingredients and equipment ready. Measure things out, set up your workspace, and always allow yourself plenty of time. If you’ve forgotten an ingredient, don’t have your tools at the ready, or are rushed for time, things start to go wrong and make for a stressful cooking environment. You will be more successful and happy if you start out prepared.
5. Have fun
Grab a glass of wine, put on some music and enjoy the experience. Cooking can be a chore, or it can be fun. If you have a choice, wouldn’t you rather it be the latter of the two?