Mastering the kitchen is one of those things I thought I would just “grow” into, one of those skills you just acquire as an adult. The funny thing is that you don’t actually acquire any of those skills. You have to learn them.
I remember when my husband and I first got married. We were home from our honeymoon, had just moved into our house, and had finally started to get back into the swing of real life. I remember thinking that we should plan out some dinners for the upcoming week and I realized then that I had very minimal recipes in my repertoire. Aside from a few box dinners and that one time I made stuffed shells, I really had no experience with meal prep and carrying out a plan.
Fast forward almost 9 years and many dinners that have been filed away under the “trial and error” tab, and I now am at a place in the kitchen where I feel mostly confident. I mean, I’m no Gordon Ramsay, although I may have watched every episode of Master Chef Junior, but cooking no longer intimidates me in the way it did when I first got started. Knowing where to start can often be the hardest step, and these 5 tips offer a short guide to the basics.
1. Know your kitchen goals
When I was first starting out, my goal was to have dinner cooked each night so my husband and I could eat, as well as learn as many recipes as I could. For others, this goal may deal more with food choice or timing. Wanting to try a vegetarian lifestyle? Have a new gluten intolerance in the family? Maybe you just want to be able to have dinner on the table as quickly as possible instead of eating out so much.
Whatever your goal is, set it, and then make sure you have researched the basics. No one expects you to have all the info when you first get started, but a little bit of research now will make you more prepared in the future.
2. Learn to cook the foods you love
If cooking intimidates you at all, learn to make your favorite meals first. At the very least it means that when you get that craving, you can make it. It also means that when you don’t know what to make and you are digging deep into your repertoire, you can pull out a comfort food and make something you know you’ll enjoy. Not only does this build confidence, but it also continues to encourage time spent in the kitchen.
3. Keep a stocked kitchen pantry
These will look different for everyone, but a well-stocked pantry has saved me more times than I can count. Typically, a stocked pantry means that when the “I don’t have anything to make for dinner” thoughts start to creep in, you will, in fact, have something to make for dinner.
Everybody’s stocked pantry will look different depending on the food items in your rotation. In a perfect world, my stocked pantry means a frozen veggie (usually peas), a can of tomatoes, a couple cans of beans (black or great northern), flour, butter, milk, cheese, chicken stock and beef stock, and dry pasta. I also prefer to have a meat-based protein on hand and I usually do, but many recipes can be made without meat so it isn’t the most important part of my pantry staples. With this, I can make a whole lot of things, including pizza, chili, spaghetti or other red-sauced pasta, Alfredo sauce, mac and cheese, the list goes on and on. Know the food items you are capable of whipping up in a hurry, and make sure you have the items needed for those recipes on hand.
4. Learn your spices
There are hundreds of spices available to use in cooking and the tricky part is knowing what you like. Different spices open you up to entire new worlds of food and can easily transform a meal from a bland, never-making-that-again meal to an add-that-to-the-weekly-rotation meal. One way I like to try new spices is by going out to eat. I realize this post is about how to get yourself in to the kitchen more, BUT eating out is an easy way to try new spices without the financial commitment of purchasing all the items necessary for a recipe that may turn out to be a dud.
5. Bulk cooking
Bulk cooking can get tricky. There are lots of conversations around cooking in bulk and meal prepping, and these are both great things but they aren’t necessarily for everyone. I know for me, I have a really hard time eating the same thing every day and need to find ways to switch it up.
One way that I do this is by making a dish in bulk and then serving it multiple ways. I have a great recipe for pork tenderloin that can be made into sandwiches for day two, and seasoned just right to become enchiladas or enchilada casserole for day three. Same meal, but three different ways, and not a lot of prep work! Try looking at recipes you already know and love and seeing how you can switch it up for day two. Look for recipes without a distinct flavor profile that can be easily changed into something new.
Learning your way around the kitchen can feel like an impossible task, but if you learn your basics, it can be easy to incorporate new systems that work for your family. Mastering these few simple tasks can be the jumpstart you need to change up your regular kitchen routine and maybe even take some of the pressure off the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?”