4 steps to build your cooking confidence

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What’s keeping you out of the kitchen?

Is it the clean-up?

Lack of inspiration?

Intimidating recipes?

I’m here to tell you that cooking doesn’t need to be scary or boring. Think of it as an adventure! Cooking your own food is also one of the best things you can do for your health. Here’s what I mean:

  • When you cook your own food, you are able to see exactly what you’re eating and where it comes from. Overly processed oils, unnecessary food additives, and questionable produce can be easily avoided.

  • Eating food you make yourself is cheaper than eating the same food at a restaurant. More savings = you can buy higher quality food or invest in something else you need. Financial health affects your mental and physical health!

  • Cooking improves your relationship with food because it requires you to trust in the process of the recipe. There’s usually a moment where you’re not quite sure if it’s going to turn out right…and then it’s fine after all! This is especially helpful if you’ve experienced food scarcity due to poverty or chronic dieting.

  • The act of preparing a meal can be a meditative process. It requires preparation, focus, patience, and technique. There’s a reason some people do it for fun! It can be a way to push out all the thoughts of your day and just hone in on one task. Play a little Mozart and you get double the brain benefits!

Read below to see my tips to build your cooking confidence.

simple sautéed veggies easy cooking

1) Start simple

I get it…if you’re gonna cook, it better be awesome. But attempting a complicated recipe that is beyond your skill set isn’t going to make you a better chef. You’ll just end up frustrated (and hungry) if the recipe goes awry. So choose a recipe that is:

  • something you know you’ll like (expand your palate another time)

  • less than 10 ingredients (this is a very general guideline - the fewer, the easier)

  • one cooking method (rather than roasting one ingredient which is then used in a puree to make a sauce)

mise en place cooking preparation

2) Mise en place

Say what now? Ok yes, I got super weird and French for a second. Mise en place is a phrase that refers to the act of preparing everything you need for the meal ahead of time. That means you set all the ingredients and equipment out where you can easily reach them when needed.

Typically, any chopping of herbs and veggies that needs to be done happens along with this step. I know, it’s kinda annoying…but I usually regret NOT doing it. It can only take 2 minutes for onion to become translucent, and if you wait to chop everything else until after adding the onion to the pan, the flavor profile of the finished product won’t be quite what you expected. Mise en place also helps you not get to step 5 and then realize you’re missing a vital ingredient…always a plus!

cooking confidence herbs

3) Layer flavors

This is where you can experiment. Fat, herbs, spices, and salt are what make a recipe stand out, and you can vary the intensity of their flavors by changing when they are added. For example, minced garlic can be simmered with onion at the very beginning, stirred in with the bulk of the veggies, or added as a garnish. Sesame oil might burn if used as the main cooking oil, but tastes fabulous when drizzled over the finished product. Fresh herbs will gradually infuse their flavor into a dish that is cooking, but they also taste amazing when sprinkled in at the end.

Many people say there’s a “right” way to layer flavor, but the truth is that you can do it however you want. Find what tastes best to you, and don’t be afraid to take your time getting there. Explore multiple options so that you learn what you like and can confidently choose it next time. I recommend following a recipe exactly the first time you make it, and then change one or two things and notice if you like it more or less.

practice cooking

4) Practice, practice, practice

I hope you saw this one coming! The best way to gain confidence in the kitchen is to cook. A lot. The more you do, the more you learn. Plus, it takes practice to apply the “layer flavors” principle, so you were going to have to do it anyway. Here’s a couple of ways to do it:

  • The straightforward option: Pick 1 or 2 recipes to try this week. Make a list of ingredients you’ll need to purchase. Decide when you’re going to go the store. Shop (and don’t get distracted!). Cook within 48 hours after you shop so the ingredients are fresh. Make notes of what went well, what needs practice, and what you would change (if anything). Next week, do the exact same process with the same recipes. Repeat until you’ve got it down. Then choose 1-2 new recipes!

  • The intuitive option: Open your fridge and pantry. Jot down what you have on hand. Google the word “recipe” and a list of 5 or so ingredients you have that you think would taste good together. Pick up anything extra that you need at the store (or substitute!). Make the recipe. Feel awesome. Do the same thing again with different foods, or explore the grocery store and decide there what you want to make.

Just like anything else worth doing, you have to be consistent. Don’t cook one recipe and then decide that you’re a bad chef…you probably just need practice. Find a friend who can help you (or learn with you!), blog about your attempts, or cook your way through a cookbook. Make it fun, and you’ll enjoy it!

A few final suggestions:

Don’t be afraid to use substitutes if you don’t have all the ingredients. If you aren’t sure what foods are good substitutes, Google it. If you’re short on time, you can combine steps (where possible) and still be successful. Don’t ever put fresh veggies on the same surface that held raw meat. Be plentiful with herbs and spices. When in doubt, go with your gut feeling. If you can trust yourself, you will be confident in no time!

Also check out my blog on cooking oil…this can make all the difference in your cooking quality.

Much love and basil,

~ Sarah