When I was 18 I moved out of the house and to another state for college. I did not know how to cook. I’m sure my mom tried to teach me, but being a naïve youth, I thought I would become a lawyer and make enough money for someone to cook for me. Then reality sunk in, what in the world was I going to eat with no mother around?
She had sent me out with a few recipes to cook, some of which I still make today. After I was married, my mother in law gave me some casserole dishes to make and if all else failed I did make a mean ramen noodle dish.
It wasn’t until I hit 30 that I decided that I was sick of eating out, living off ramen and making the same three casserole dishes. It was time to learn how to cook.
I became obsessed with cooking, I started buying cookbooks and magazines and watching a ton of cooking shows. One tip that I learned was to have everything set up and ready to go, mise en place. Mise en place means putting everything in place. Until I learned what mise en place was I was a disorganized mess in the kitchen, I would read each step and pull things out as I was going, “Oh I need rice, hmm…where is the rice or wait where is my measuring cup…etc. It would take me forever to make a meal, no wonder I hated it. I’m still a messy cook, but now I have everything out instead of running around the kitchen with my head cut off.
There are four things you need to do before you begin cooking:
- Read the recipe from start to finish.
- Preheat your oven. It’s always the first thing I do when beginning a dish.
- Pull out all my ingredients and equipment. I lay it all out on the counter.
- Prep your ingredients.
Let’s look at these in more detail-
- Read the recipe from start to finish. This is such an important step and most beginning cooks skip over reading the entire recipe. They tend to start with step one of the recipe, read it and do that step not realizing that can really mess you up. You need to know how long a recipe takes, what all the steps are, ingredients and equipment needed. If you know all this at the very beginning then there will be no surprises in the middle of making your dish.
- Preheat your oven before beginning. Don’t wait until you are halfway done prepping your ingredients before turning the oven on. You want to give it plenty of time to heat up.
- You will save yourself a ton of time and headaches if you pull out all your ingredients and equipment at the beginning. This way you know if you have all the required food and equipment. You don’t want to be in the middle of a recipe and it calls for garlic powder and you learn you only have onion powder, but not garlic powder. Not fun.
- Prep your ingredients. Wash and cut your vegetables, cut your meat if necessary, open all your cans and measure out your spices. Put everything in its own bowl next to your cooking area. This will save you so much time and frustration as your cooking. Nothing is worse than needing to open a can or needing to cut your vegetables when you are in the middle of a time sensitive process.
By following these four steps you will become a master cook without all the headaches and mess. Next week, we’ll talk about some of the essential cooking equipment needed to be a great cook.