Cooking

Don’t cook? Welcome to the club. With easy access to pre-prepared meals, fast food, and take out fewer people than ever know how to cook. The good news is that with just a few basic techniques you can be cooking like a pro.

Relax in the Kitchen

I know cooking can be overwhelming at first. So many steps and ingredient with very specific (or somethings not specific enough) instructions. It brings back memories of those science experiments from grade school, where absolute precision was key. Not so in cooking, in fact the best cooks do not follow recipes to the letter. Instead they experiment by playing “fast and loose” with ingredients until it tastes just like they want it too. Its important to remember that unlike adding the wrong compound to a test tube, food will not go from tasting good to absolutely terrible by adding just a tiny bit too much nutmeg or cooking the pasta 1 minute too long. In fact, following the recipes too closely can make you tense and stressed making cooking unenjoyable for you and the resulting meal less satisfying. Ask any chef; the most satisfying thing about cooking is when you and who ever else is with you sits down and enjoys the meal you just created.

Take control over your diet

Now that you are more comfortable in the kitchen, you may be wondering why you should even learn to cook. With so many other people willing to be paid to cook for you, why should you learn? Because, as WebMD argues

Because the more time you spend cooking at home, the more healthfully you tend to eat. Becoming more comfortable in the kitchen is essential if you want to have a healthy diet and control your calorie intake.

WebMD.com

Article: Basic Cooking Tips

And by diet they do not mean the calorie cutting, weight-loss show kind of diet. What they are talking about diet in the general sense, as in what you eat regularly. One of the greatest freedoms cooking gives you is the ability to choose what you eat and how it is made.

One of the reasons quick and affordable food is so widely available is because the quality of ingredients and preparation they do is much lower than you would find in a home kitchen. Whether they use more salt, fry more meats, or just use more preservatives it is not as healthy as the home made variety.

And when the food is prepared to a high quality standard with healthy ingredients, its often expensive. This is what has lead many people who can not afford to eat at upper-class restraunts every day to eat cheaper fast-food and gain weight rapidly. Even if you can afford to eat out every day at sit-down resteraunts, your bank account will surely appreciate the savings home cooking brings. A lot of the cost when you go out to eat is the labor making it, the wait staff, and the cost of the building. When you cook at home that cost is cut out, and you will often get a lot more meal for your money.

Basic Cooking Tips

Now that you are sold on the idea of home cooking, here are some basic cooking skills every beginner should learn. This are not full recipes, but many meals will require at least one of these.

Boiling Pasta

Pasta is one of the oldest meals in the western world, and one of the most popular. It is also one of the easiest things you can make, only requiring noodles, a pot, water, and some sauce to enjoy.

To make perfect pasta every time, fill a large pot two-thirds of the way with water. The more water you have, the less likely the pasta will stick to the pan while cooking. Add one teaspoon of salt to the water for every gallon of water you have. Turn the stovetop heat to high, and place the filled pan on the burner. Let the water come to a boil before adding the pasta. Boiling water will have lots of bubbles on top and, when you stir the water, the bubbles won’t go away. That’s how you know it’s time to put in the pasta – add one pound pasta (usually 1 box) to the boiling water and cook for about 8-12 minutes.

Stir and check the pasta as it cooks. Using a slotted spoon, remove one of the pasta pieces at eight minutes for a taste test. You should cook the pasta until it’s “al dente,” meaning the outside is still firm when you bite into it, but the inside is slightly soft and chewy. When the pasta is done, put a colander in the sink and pour out the pasta and the water.

Metroparent.com

Article: Cooking Tips for Absolute Beginners

Keep in mind that pasta doubles is physical size when its done cooking. It absorbs the water and expands. So when you are looking at the tiny thin little noodles and thinking you maybe can eat a whole box yourself, think again or you may have leftovers.

Chopping Vegetables

Adding vegetables to your meals is a great way to start eating healthy. Make sure you have an appropriate knife for this task, a butter knife will not suffice. Use a serrated (with teeth) for soft vegetables like tomatoes, and use a clean edge knife for hard vegetables like carrots. Also make sure you have a wooden or plastic cutting board. Cutting using a plate or your countertop will dull your knife quickly, making it unsafe as well as less useful.

Start by washing and drying your vegetables in the sink. Place them on the cutting board and hold them steady with your non-dominant hand.

Place the vegetable – lets say a carrot – onto the cutting board and position your fingers so that they’re curved, with your nails touching the vegetable and holding it in place. What you’re trying to avoid here is having your fingers flat against the vegetable: If the knife were to slip, your fingers would be right where the blade would be.

Metroparent.com

Article: Cooking Tips for Absolute Beginners

When you perform the cut, don’t push down on the blade like you are chopping with a sword. Rather, position the vegetable closer to the handle and use the knife almost like a lever. After each cut, move the vegetable with the hand and keep the knife where it is. Remember that you do not need to cut fast like they do on TV. They are training professionals who have been cooking for years. Trying to mimic them may lead to you injuring yourself, so always be careful when handling a knife.

Using a slow cooker

If you just don’t have the time or patience to stand around while your dinner cooks, using a Crock-Pot to cook your meals may be the solution. Just throw in your ingredients before work and it will be ready when you get home. About.com agrees, stating that:

The crockpot or slow cooker is one of the best time saving appliances in the kitchen. It’s great for beginning cooks because all you have to do is fill it and turn it on. Hours later, you come home to a house filled with wonderful smells and dinner ready for the table.

busycooks.about.com

Article: Crockpot 101

If you do buy a crock-pot make sure you buy one with a removable liner. This makes cleaning much easier because you can just throw the liner into the washing machine. Also when cooking meats for a long time, use the low setting. Even if you like your meat well done, the high setting may just leave you with mushy meat.

Stir-Fry

Despite having “fry” in the name, stir-fry is actually quite healthy. The key to stir-frying is assembling all your ingredients and then quickly cooking them at high heat. Stir-fry recipes sometimes call for a wok, which is the special pan you may see in stir-fry restaurants, but a wide-bottomed non-stick pan will work just fine.

Start by cutting up your meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces using the safe cutting techniques with talked about earlier. Then add two tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil into your pan. Do not use olive oil, it has too much flavor and will overpower the other ingredients. Once the oil has come to medium high heat you can throw in the meat. An easy way to check if the oil is hot enough is to throw in a bread crumb. If it sizzles, the oil is ready!

Heat the meat until it is browned on all sides and then remove it. After that add the vegetables. Heat them for just about two minute. The idea is you want them to stay crisp but still get the flavor you want. Add the meat back in, mix in your favorite sauce, and serve over some rice.

Sautéing meat

The most advanced technique on this list will be sautéing meat. While it sounds fancy and difficult, it is not as bad as it you might think.

Become a sauté master by first picking the right pan – use a large, wide-rimmed, heavy bottomed one. Non-stick pans don’t work as well for sautéing meat! Put the sauté pan on a stovetop burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the pan warm up, testing the heat by putting your hand two inches from the surface: When it’s heated, you should only be able to keep your hand there for a moment (do NOT touch the pan’s surface). Add enough oil (olive, canola or vegetable) to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Allow the oil to heat for about a minute before adding the meat.

Metroparent.com

Article: Cooking Tips for Absolute Beginners

Before you add the meat, make sure to pat it dry. The less moisture on the outside the better chance you have the crispy crust you want. Add the meat now. Don’t over crowd the pan. This creates excess steam which makes soggy meat. Cook the meat until you see it browning on the edges. Then flip it over and repeat. Try not to overcook or undercook the meat, but it is safer to let it cook a little longer if you aren’t sure. Consuming rare meat can be bad for your health.

Conclusion

Now that you have the skills, get out there and start cooking! If you want something to cook right now, check below for our feature recipes. I guarantee they will be delicious AND healthy!

 

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