Cooking is by no means an easy thing to pick up with no experience, but it is do-able. Understanding the purpose of each ingredient makes it a lot easier for new cooks to shine in the kitchen and to experiment with more success than failure. Below is a combination of recipes and advice for new cooks. I truly believe with a little practice and courage everyone can cook.
How To Set Up For Success
No one starts out with every kitchen tool, spice and gadget and in most cases you can improvise, but there are some things you just have to own to be able to cook. Depending on the cultural background of the foods, necessary kitchen-wear and spices will vary.
Recommended Kitchenware :
- 4 inch (or longer) kitchen knife
- wood cutting board (resists bacteria better than plastic and can be resurfaced)
- stainless steel skillet (can cook just about anything)
- baking sheet
- saucepans of various sizes
- wood spoon
- measuring cups
- can opener
- bottle opener
- steel or glass mixing bowls
- cheese grater
- food processor
- multiple kitchen knives of varying length
- a bread knife
- cast iron skillet (can cook anything that isn’t acidic)
- 8×8 or 9×9 cake pan
Recommended Spices :
- black pepper
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- cayenne powder
- dill weed
Preparing before cooking is the true key to success.
Planning your meals long ahead of time will not only reduce food waste, but ensure you are thawing out your meats the night before and will ensure you will have time to marinate them rather than be running them under water in the sink trying to thaw them out directly before cooking.
Cutting up your vegetables, having your spices out, putting out your tools and getting everything ready before the cooking begins will make everything down the line much easier. Having everything set up will help avoid burning foods and pots boiling over while you’re trying to get things together.
Another important thing to be aware of is cross contamination with raw and cooked foods. Raw meats should never be stored near other foods, and should be in air tight containers. A good option to avoid cross contamination while simultaneously avoiding freezer burn is to invest in a vacuum sealer. Due to the meat being vacuumed sealed, it shouldn’t be able to cross contaminate as it thaws in the fridge, provided it remains sealed. I purchased a vacuum sealer due to wanting to save money by purchasing meats in bulk but not wanting to thaw out 20 pork chops at a time. So I package my meats in sets of two and then freeze them until needed.
How To Cook Eggs
Since eggs are some of the most commonly used ingredients and they are a fairly easy thing to work with, I thought we would start here and move towards more difficult cooking throughout the article.
Hot liquids will scramble your eggs if not tempered. In order to introduce eggs to a hot recipe without them scrambling and becoming lumpy. Start cold and slowly bring up the temperature of the eggs while constantly whisking them will help keep them from coagulating.
Poached eggs don’t work well unless the eggs are fairly fresh. In order to poach an egg you must fill a saucepan with enough water that the egg won’t touch the bottom of the pot. A couple inches of water minimum. Bring the water up to a simmer (not a boil, you want slight steam and bubbles but not rolling bubbles or heavy steam). Tip your egg into the simmering water and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Turns off the heat and let the egg continue to cook in the water for about ten minutes. Try to get the egg out without any water (a slotted spoon works well).
Frying an egg may seem like the easiest thing in the world, but if you want a runny yolk your egg should be under 149F but above 144F for a sturdy white. The minimum temperature for eggs to become solid is 144F. In short, if your whites have turned bright white and have a ting of browning happening, your yolk should be just at the turning point of being runny and becoming solid.
Scrambled eggs are a fairly easy dish to make, but it is essential that you add the salt once the eggs are done cooking or it can ruin them. If you like fluffy eggs, add a tiny amount of baking soda to them. If you like rich and creamy eggs, a knob of butter will do wonders. Make sure to mix the eggs often and ensure they reach a minimum of 150F to get them thoroughly cooked.
French toast for four people (assuming each is eating 3 pieces):
- 5 eggs
- 12 pieces of bread
- 1/4 cup of milk
- a dash of cinnamon
- a teaspoon of vanilla.
The eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon should be whisked together in a shallow bowl. For denser French toast, let the bread sit in the mixture for a minute, allowing it to absorb more of the mixture. For lighter French toast, quickly submerge the bread. Fry the bread in butter at medium heat for best flavour.
French toast is also an egg heavy dish that can be cooked reliably simply by the look of it. Golden brown egg and bread on both sides is the sign of properly cooked French toast. In order to change the increments of the recipe, the general rule is one egg per person plus one, the milk, cinnamon and vanilla need only be increased or decreased slightly.
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How To Make Broth & Soups
Broths are an incredibly easy thing to make, and they can be made with your food scraps. When you are cutting up vegetables, throw the parts you don’t plan to use (the stem of carrots, the root of the onion, the base of the celery, etc) into a ziplock bag in the freezer. These little scraps will help build your broth without spending a lot to make it.
The basic ingredients for a vegetable broth are carrots, onions and celery. After those three main ingredients the rest is up to you. Often garlic, neutral oils (like vegetable or canola) and bay leaves are included. For an easy vegetable broth recipe, click here. The basics of making a broth is simmering ingredients in a large amount of water for long periods of time to release their flavours, then straining out all solid pieces to leave behind a rich and flavourful liquid. As every culture and person makes their broth differently I would recommend looking into a variety of different recipes. Personally I think fresh dill in a vegetable or chicken broth is fantastic, while others say it wouldn’t be complete without garlic or rosemary. Really it’s up to you to find what you like.
Meat based broths are often made with the bones and left overs the meat. Simmering them with a collection of the basic vegetables from above in water will result in a broth. The difference between vegetable and meat broths is the scummy layer of impurities that form when boiling them, this will take the form of white, foamy sludge on the top of the broth. Often the bones are blanched (boiled in water) before being added to the broth pot to remove impurities, but even then you will have to skim the pot.
Let’s talk soup. A basic chicken and noodle soup will require a chicken broth, black pepper, cooked chicken ( cooking it in the water will result in the scum), finely cut celery and the pasta of your choice. The important thing here is timing. You can boil the broth, vegetables and chicken for quite some time, but the pasta is what needs to be watched. Each pasta will have its own boiling directions on the packaging. Make sure to add it last and follow the instructions as if it were boiling in water.
Tomato soup and tomato based soups are prepared very similarly. It starts with either removing or processing the skins of the tomatoes (if processing remove the stem and throw the rest of the tomato it). It will also require some butter, vegetable stock and onion. Spices depend on the individual cooking, but salt is customary. In order to transform tomatoes from the raw flavour to rich and creamy, cooking them down is very important. This means letting them cook at a relatively low heat for at least twenty minutes. For an incredibly easy tomato soup recipe, click here.
How To Cook Meats
Each meat has its “safe temperature”. As most people know, chicken must be thoroughly cooked, while beef doesn’t require being fully cooked through to be safe to eat. All juicy meats do better when seared, as it seals the exterior of the meat, keeping the juices sealed inside. In order to sear a steak, press each side of the meat to a very hot pan, it should hiss and sizzle, until a slight crust has formed.
Chicken must reach 165F internally to be safe to consume. The “white meat test” has been used for a very long time to ensure chicken is cooked properly, but some chicken will have a pink hue even when fully cooked. This is especially true beside bones. If in doubt, use a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken is fully cooked.
Commonly salt and pepper are used, but hot sauces, dill, cayenne, garlic and onion powders are great options to try out.
Mozzarella and Spinach Chicken
- 2 chicken breasts
- 4 tablespoons fresh mozzarella cheese (pre-grated cheeses have coatings which ruins their melting)
- 1 cup chopped spinach
- a dash of salt
- a dash of pepper
- a dash of cayenne
- olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Rinse your chicken breasts in cold water then cut a pocket with a small opening in the breast (be careful not to cut through the other end of the chicken or the stuffing will come out as it bakes). Mix mozzarella, spinach and cayenne in a small bowl. Stuff each breast with the filling. Toss some olive oil onto a baking sheet ( I recommend lining it with aluminium foil to make clean up easier ). Ensure there is ample oil under where the breasts will sit. Place the breasts on the pan and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Bake them for 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes. Let them rest a few minutes before serving as the cheese will burn your mouth like hot pizza if you don’t let it cool a little.
Pork can also cause health issues if not properly cooked. In this case a temperature of 145F is needed to be safe to consume. According to food scientists the meat should rest three minutes after reaching 145F before being consumed. Previously it was said that 160F was the limit for safe consumption, so don’t worry about going over the minimum. Pork also doesn’t give away its secrets with the colour of the meat. Often properly cooked pork will also have pink showing, so once again, use a meat thermometer. If pan cooking pork, try adding butter near the end of the cooking (to avoid it burning) and fresh herbs like rosemary to the pan to add flavour to the meat.
Beef is a constantly under and overcooked meat. Though you may of heard of a blue rare steak, you don’t want to eat one. Beef is also said to require 145F internal temperature to be safe to consume. The biggest issue with red meats is that it is very difficult to see worms within the meat, so it’s better to cook them thouroughly rather than get an infestation of worms in your digestive system. Ground beef should be browned (fully cooked) but for steaks you shouldn’t cook below medium rare to ensure safe consumption. To cook a great steak, let it marinate in garlic oil for a couple days before cooking it (make sure to pierce the meat with a fork to let it seep into the muscle) and the steak with be juicy as can be.
In order to cook a good steak in a pan the meat should start at room temperature. Dry the meat before introducing it to the pan to get a good crust. Sear the meat on a very hot pan with oil, then lower the temperature to medium to cook the steak without burning. You should have a dark exterior with no grey areas. Cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the steak, but it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes from start to finish. For extra flavour it is common to season with a little salt and pepper before cooking and near the end of the cook time adding some butter to the pan can add some great flavour.
While we are on the topic of foods that are dangerous to consume without being cooked, raw flours can contain e.coli, eggs can have salmonella, potatoes with green in them can cause some nasty digestive issues ( to keep them from sprouting or becoming green, keep them in a dark, cool place), rhubarb leaves can cause a plethora of issues, elderberries can host cyanide, raw red kidney beans will cause extreme diarrhea and vomiting. Apple seeds contain cyanide, raw milk can contain salmonella, e.coli and a few other harmful bacteria. Raw lima beans also contain cyanide. Thankfully all of these foods can be rendered safe by cooking them thoroughly, though with the two beans, it is just safer to buy cooked beans. When in doubt, check before consuming!
How To Make Salads
Making a good salad that tastes great without using sugary dressings can seem daunting, but vinaigrette’s are easy to make, click here for some great recipes I have tried and tested.
Making a good salad includes a variety of textures for it to be fulfilling. Adding apples, strawberries, nuts, croutons, pickled peppers, etc. can make a basic lettuce salad a lot better. Arugula and spinach mix well in salads especially with citrus flavours added. Lettuce yields itself to almost any flavour, so experiment and try new things. An important thing to remember when preparing any salad is that you don’t want to inconvenience anyone with pieces they can’t fit in their mouths. Make sure to cut up pieces small enough to be easily fit in a mouth.
Fruit salads are a wonderful thing to serve and can be done in a lot of ways. A common way to serve fruit salad is to encompass it in jello. Make sure there aren’t any strong acids when using this method as the jello won’t set. For a fresh fruit salad, cut up all pieces to under an inch as to make them easier to eat. Oranges, apples, strawberries, pineapple and melons mix together beautifully. Experiment with your combinations! Fruit salads don’t need any dressing to be enjoyed, so they are an easy dessert to prepare, though drizzling a little raspberry dressing adds a little sour kick to the sweet fruits.
How To Roast Vegetables
Roasted potatoes, carrots, asparagus are just the beginning with roasted vegetables. once you are comfortable with the roasting process you can experiment with all sorts of vegetables and try new combinations to find the ones you like best.
Oven roasting is by far the easiest way to roast potatoes. The general practice for roasting potatoes is to cut them into conveniently sizes for eating and toss them in a combination of olive oil, herbs and spices then to bake them, turning them over to ensure even browning.
Simple Oven Roasted Potatoes
- 20 small potatoes cut into quarters
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- a dash of dried parsley
Mix the oil and seasonings in a mixing bowl then toss the potatoes until they are completely coated with the mixture. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake them in a 400F pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes. Flip over the potatoes half way through the cooking time. They should come out golden brown with a crisp outer layer and a soft core.
Roasted asparagus is a favourite and it’s incredibly easy to cook them in a pan. Make sure to cut off the bottom of the stalks (roughly 1 inch) before cooking. With a little olive oil in a pre-heated cast iron or stainless pan at medium heat, toss them in unseasoned. Once a darkened colour has taken to the stalks turn down the temperature a slight amount to give the interior time to reach a soft consistency without burning. Once cooking is done, roll them into a small amount of honey and salt and they will be delicious as a side.
Roasted carrots are undeniably yummy and also an easy baked item to serve. Carrots pair nicely with garlic and onion flavours and due to their sweetness, a little acidic kick can do wonders.
Oven Roasted Carrots
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder or 1 clove minced
- dash of pepper
- dash of salt
- 3 large carrots cut into bite sized pieces
Mix the olive oil and balsamic (or apple cider) vinegar in a bowl with the garlic, salt and pepper. Toss the carrots in the mixture then spread them out on a baking sheet to bake in a pre-heated oven (375F) for 35-40 minutes, flip them half way through. Serve warm.
How To Bake Bread
Bread making can seem intimidating at first, but with a little patience it can be very rewarding, not to mention cheaper than buying artisan loaves. You don’t need a bread machine to make great bread, just your hands and a cake pan will suffice. For a great summary of how to make bread, click here to see a video by the creator of Binging With Babish on the basics of bread. Remember that when changing out the thickness of the dough, you have to keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Kneading dough can feel intimidating, but with floured hands and determination the sticky mound of dough will form into a workable ball. Try to avoid adding water or flour while kneading no matter how sticky or dry the dough may seem. Keep working it until either the stickiness has worn away or the flour has been integrated entirely.
When allowing dough to rise it is important that it is in a warm area as the heat allows the yeast to rise the bread. Cold rising just doesn’t work. Also, never forget to oil your bowl or you will have a sticky mess to deal with.
An interesting thing that you can do is alter the crust. If you brush the dough with egg wash before baking the crust will be shinny and dark. Brushing it with milk before baking will make the dough shinny. Brushing the bread directly after removing it from the oven with butter will soften the crust and add a richness to the flavour.
Crusty Round Loaf – No Knead Method (As seen above)
- 400 grams all purpose flour (roughly 3 1/4 cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/3 cup room temperature water
In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients until there is no flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl. If the dough ball absolutely won’t come together after a few minutes of mixing, add a couple tablespoons of water and continue to mix.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest in a warm area for 12 – 24 hours.
Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the dough underneath itself to give a smooth ball. Place the ball onto an oiled piece of aluminium foil (vegetable oil) and cover to rest for one hour.
Pre-heat oven to 400 F and place an oven safe container filled with water into the rear of the oven. It is important to do this during the pre-heat so that the water will be boiling while the bread is in the oven.
Liberally oil a cast iron pan with vegetable oil and allow it to heat in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the cast iron and place the ball of dough directly onto the pan.
Bake for 15-25 minutes (you have to keep an eye on your bread as it cooks to ensure the crust isn’t burning).
Immediately after removing the bread from the oven, brush the loaf with butter. You can do this with a very clean paintbrush if you don’t have a kitchen quality one. This butter will often the crust.
Let the bread cool completely before cutting, usually about 3 hours.
I really believe that anyone can cook anything if they give it an honest try. If you have advice or recipes you would like to share please do in the comments. Though the form asks for an email address it is not required to put one in to comment, so please don’t hesitate to share your stories!