How to Be a Better Cook

Culinary school not required.
  1. Stop believing you can't do it.
    Being fed is one of the first ways we experience being cared for as children, and I think this has something to do with the fact that so many people have so much anxiety about cooking for themselves and others. But it really isn't as hard as you think it is--you just need a little guidance, the right tools, and a willingness to take little risks.
  2. Use good ingredients and simple techniques.
    Cooking doesn't have to be expensive or even that time-consuming. Choose ingredients that are fresh and high-quality and treat them gently. If you use good ingredients and simple techniques, your food will nearly always turn out well.
  3. Salt.
    You want to know the main reason restaurant food tastes so much better than food you make it home? Salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer. It makes flavors taste stronger and better than they do naturally. As long as you don't have issues exacerbated by sodium like high blood pressure, learn to salt a little bit more liberally. Food is usually best when salted to the point that one more pinch would be too much salt.
  4. Taste as you cook.
    In professional kitchens, chefs keep several tasting spoons at their stations. This isn't so they can snack while they work, it's so they can make sure their flavors are on point. Want to know if something is salty enough/spicy enough/sweet enough? Taste it. If the flavors taste good to you, then you're good. If it's still a little bit dull, add more salt/spice/sweet, a tiny pinch at a time, and taste after every addition. When it tastes right, stop.
  5. Make sure you have the right tools.
    Check out my list about kitchen must-haves for basics.
  6. Don't fear fat.
    Please stop cooking with nonstick cooking spray. Extra-virgin olive oil, good butter, coconut oil, avocado oil--these all add so much more flavor and texture to food. From a health perspective, it's actually better to have a little bit of fat since it satisfies you and you actually require less to be full. Furthermore, some nutrients in food are better absorbed when consumed with a little bit of fat. I'm not saying douse your plate with oil, but stop trying to replace it with fake stuff.
  7. Master a few basic recipes, and then make them your own.
    Think about what you like to eat regularly, then find simple recipes for those things, and make them every week until you feel like you have it down. Then, experiment with little changes and see what you learn. Remember, as long as you're using good ingredients and simple techniques, it won't be bad. Try swapping in different spaces for the ones called for an recipes. If you love spicy food, increase the amount of chiles or hot sauce called for in the recipe. That kind of thing.
  8. Do all your prep first.
    Before you dive in to a recipe, go through the ingredients list and see what it asks you to do to the various ingredients. Does it call for three carrots, diced? Dice the carrots before you start the recipe. Does it ask for two eggs, lightly beaten? Beat them in a small bowl and keep them nearby until you need them instead of stopping to beat them when you get to that point in the recipe. It just makes everything go so much faster when your prep is done ahead of time.
  9. Clean up as you go.
    This one is the hardest to learn, but it just makes cooking so damn much more pleasurable that it's totally worth it. Whenever you have a moment during cooking where pot is simmering or something is baking, and there's no hands-on action required of you, wipe down the cutting board and counter, wash whatever dishes are in the sink, and just generally straighten up. It makes the cooking easier when your area is clean, and it makes clean up after cooking much faster and easier.
  10. Have fun while you do it.
    I think of cooking as an expression of love, whether I'm doing it for myself or someone else. As such, it should feel good to do it. Play music, drink wine, enjoy how good your kitchen smells and celebrate every bite.