Welcome to our beginner’s guide to cooking! Whether you’re a college student just starting to learn how to feed yourself, or someone who has always relied on takeout and frozen meals, this guide is for you. In this post, we will cover the basics of what cooking is, provide some top tips to get you started, introduce you to essential equipment and important techniques to know. By the end of this guide, you will have the knowledge and confidence to start experimenting in the kitchen and creating delicious meals for yourself and your loved ones. So, let’s get started on your culinary journey!
Food is one of the single most powerful objects in the world. The taste and smell of food can be so evocative that it triggers emotions and memories. It’s a force that can break down walls, uniting people of different cultures, religions, and political beliefs together. Consuming food is great but making it is even more magical.
What is cooking?
Cooking is the practice of preparing food by combining ingredients. It includes a wide range of methods, techniques, and equipment. It can also involve mixing, measuring, and seasoning ingredients to create a desired dish. Making food at home should not be stressful. Learning how to cook food should be easy and even easier to eat!
Top Tips on How to Cook
Start with a single cuisine
When learning to cook, it’s best to begin by focusing on a single cuisine. Each cuisine has unique flavors and ingredients, such as fresh herbs, condiments, dried seasonings, and grains. By starting with recipes from one specific cuisine, you’ll get a better understanding of the flavors and techniques used.
Read the recipe thoroughly
Most recipes list the total time required to make the dish. It may also include the prep time, rest time, and cooking time. Make note of whether the recipe has a long prep time, which may indicate the use of challenging techniques.
To start, choose a recipe with a short list of ingredients. This will make it easier for you to manage and ensure that you have all the necessary ingredients on hand.
Remember that good food is all about seasoning to your palette
A key aspect of cooking is having the ability to season food to taste. This includes considering personal preferences for spiciness, tanginess, sweetness, and saltiness, and adjusting the seasoning as necessary through frequent tasting during the cooking process until the desired flavor is achieved.
Cook it again and again
The more you enjoy a recipe, the more likely you are to want to make it again. Repeatedly making the same dish can help develop muscle memory and intuition in the kitchen, leading to increased confidence in your cooking abilities. With enough practice, you may even be able to prepare the dish without referring to the recipe.
Good food begins and ends with good seasoning.The most important cooking technique is having the intuition of seasoning to taste. Just keep cooking, tasting, and adjusting until it’s delicious.
When it comes to cooking, having the right equipment can make all the difference. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cook, having a set of essential tools in your kitchen can make preparing meals easier, more efficient, and even more enjoyable. In this section, we will take a look at the key equipment that every home cook should have on hand.
- Wood cutting board – A durable surface used for cutting and chopping ingredients. It’s preferred over plastic cutting boards as it is less likely to dull knives quickly and it’s easier to clean.
- Chef’s knife – A versatile, all-purpose knife that is essential for slicing, dicing, and chopping ingredients. It typically has a curved blade and a pointed tip.
- Carving knife or poultry shears – Used for dissecting proteins or fish. Carving knives have a long and thin blade, while poultry shears have a scissor-like design.
- Probe thermometer – Used for measuring the internal temperature of meats, poultry, and other foods. It is important for ensuring that food is cooked to a safe temperature.
- Glass or steel mixing bowls – Used for mixing ingredients and preparing recipes. They are usually sold in sets of graduating sizes.
- Measuring cups – Used for measuring ingredients when following a recipe. They come in sets of different sizes and can measure both liquid and dry ingredients.
- Kitchen towels – Used for cleaning up spills, drying dishes, drying hands, for handling hot pans, or for protecting dough from drying out during the proofing process.
- Glass storage containers – Used for storing food in the refrigerator or freezer. They are also great for taking food on the go.
- Colander or sieves – Used for straining liquids from solids, such as pasta or vegetables.
- Whisk – Used for whipping and mixing ingredients. It is available in stainless steel or silicone.
- Silicone spatula – Used for scraping and stirring ingredients.
- Large dutch oven – A heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid. Used for braising, stewing, and browning ingredients.
- Wooden spoon set – A set of wooden spoons in various sizes and shapes. They are useful for stirring, mixing, and serving food.
- Can opener – A tool used for opening cans. There are two types: the traditional contraption creates sharp edges which may cut through skin or smooth edge can opener. I prefer the latter since it creates a reusable lid.
- Air fryer – A kitchen appliance that uses hot air to fry food. It’s a healthier alternative to traditional deep-frying.
- Foil – A thin sheet of metal that is used for covering food to preserve its freshness and to prevent it from burning or drying out.
- Plastic wrap (Saran Wrap) – Used for covering food to preserve its freshness and to prevent it from drying out.
How do I minimize cross contamination?
Cross contamination occurs when bacteria from one food item is transferred to another. To prevent cross contamination when cooking, it is important to follow these guidelines:
- Keep raw and cooked foods separate: Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and cookware for raw and cooked foods.
- Wash hands and surfaces often: Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food, as well as after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets. Clean and sanitize all surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, and cookware before and after use.
- Cook foods to the proper temperature: Cook all meats, poultry, eggs, and seafood to the appropriate temperature to kill any bacteria present. Use a food thermometer to ensure that the food has reached a safe internal temperature.
- Keep cold foods cold: Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods as soon as possible, and keep cold foods at or below 40°F.
- Avoid cross-contamination in the grocery store: When shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in your grocery cart and while they are in your refrigerator or freezer.
- Avoid using raw marinades on cooked food: Use a separate marinade for raw food and cooked food, or bring marinade to a boil before using it on cooked foods.
How do I tell if food is spoiled?
Differentiating between fresh and spoiled food is a crucial skill for both cooks and non-cooks. While sell by and use by dates can provide an indication, the most important factor is being able to recognize the signs of spoilage. Some signs of spoilage include a foul or sour odor, bruising, leakage, and mold growth, which can indicate the presence of harmful bacteria and may make the food unsafe to handle or consume, potentially causing food poisoning.
What are the proper temperatures for food?
It is important to understand the appropriate temperatures at which different proteins should be cooked to ensure they are safe to consume. This information can typically be found on temperature charts that come with a thermometer, or by searching online or asking a virtual assistant. As a general guide, the following temperatures are recommended for different types of proteins:
- Eggs: 160°F
- Poultry: 165°F
- Fish: 145°F
- Red meat: 145°F
- Leftovers: 165°F
How do I safely thaw meat?
It is important to note that it is not safe to thaw meat at room temperature. Meat that has been thawed using any method should be cooked immediately and not refrozen. It’s also important to keep raw meat separate from other foods in your kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. Although thawing in water and in the microwave are possible, I do not recommend those methods. The most efficient and safe way to thaw is with the refrigerator. Place the meat in the refrigerator well sealed and allow it to thaw slowly. This can take several hours or even a day, depending on its weight.
Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try new things. Cooking is not just about following recipes, it’s about developing your own intuition and creativity. So, don’t be intimidated, you got this! With the right tools, knowledge and tips you can cook with confidence, and soon enough you’ll be whipping up delicious meals with ease. Keep experimenting, keep learning, and most importantly, keep cooking!
Tag me in your cooks at @vocabularyoffood 🙂