DinnerDork [ ˈdi-nərˈdȯrk ]
One of the most common questions I’m asked about cooking is “how do I start?”, or “where do I begin?”. Cooking can be intimidating at first, but it is important to keep in mind that everyone started somewhere. I do not know of a single person who was born with a wooden cooking spoon and ready to go. There is a lot to learn, and even then there is always room for improvement. It’s best to begin with the basics, then build upon those skills if you’re interested in delving further into a new cuisine. Remember, cooking is an art – there is plenty of room to make a dish or technique your own. Don’t get caught up with trying to be perfect, or trying to mimc someone else – enjoy it, make it your own, and you’ll be surprised at what you can do!
The following tips can help you get started or stay inspired:
- Give yourself a purpose. Why are you interested in learning more about cooking? People cook for different reasons. Some cook for sheer survival, while others cook because they actually enjoy the process, results or challenge of cooking. Some cook to keep from being idle, or to give their mind a break from taxing thoughts. Whatever brings you to the kitchen can help you enjoy your time there. If you’re cooking to keep from starving, building your arsenal of great tools and gadgets may make cooking more quick and efficient, and dare I say – fun (checkout my Pots and Pans 101 series for more on building your arsenal). If you’re cooking for loved ones – allow them to join in the process (see my post about cooking with kids for great tips on getting young ones involved). If you enjoy the process, the food or the pursuit of cooking knowledge, indulge in experiences that honor those interests such as cooking clubs, meal planning services, and cooking classes. If your time in the kitchen is spent honoring your reason for being there, you’re more apt to enjoy it and grow your skill set.
- Learn the lingo. I firmly believe that anyone can follow a well-written recipe and achieve great results, but you must be able to read and understand the recipe first. This means familiarizing yourself with words and common abbreviations. There are many new and sometimes foreign sounding terms that you will find in common recipes. Knowing these terms can mean the difference between recipe success or failure. You should be able to find a good section in any inclusive cookbook that explains the different definitions for unfamiliar terminology. If you’re using a recipe or meal planning service like DinnerDork, your service provide should provide a searchable database like the one featured on DinnerDork through the Preppings Chef’s Reference service.
- Plan, plan and plan some more. Planning is everything in cooking, like many things. Plan your dinners in advance. This means: decide what you’d like to make, find the recipes, read the recipes to see what you’ll need to buy, make a grocery shopping list, purchase any tools or cookery you may need, and set aside the allotted amount of time you’ll need to cook. Most people spend several hours each week planning for their weekly dinners. If that sounds like too much time, look for help in doing these things, such as meal planning services, grocery list apps, and such. If you’re looking for a great place to start – check us out (we do it all for you)!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment! Trying new flavors and techniques is great, but so is sticking to what you know! If you don’t like a particular ingredient, don’t be afraid to leave it out or substitute it for something else. Of course, you’ll need to exercise a bit of good-sense judgement here by doing things like identifying essential and nonessential ingredients before making omissions or substitutions. For example, if you’re thinking of making garlic bread, but don’t want to use the garlic – it may be better to opt for something else instead of substituting the garlic altogether. As you grow in experience, you may learn that you can substitute garlic spreads with herb, olive, eggplant, and other spreads – allowing you to change a basic garlic bread recipe into something entirely different; however, if you’re just starting out it may be best to avoid recipes with principle ingredients that you prefer to avoid. However, if you’re making a Chicken and Broccoli stir-fry, garlic is likely less essential than the chicken or broccoli so you’re probably going to be just fine if you leave out the garlic that you don’t care for. You’ll enjoy the dishes you prepare, and feel better about making them when you master the practice of making recipes your own. Go bold and add in ingredients that you love, and omit nonessential ones that you don’t care for. Start off slowly at first, until you grow your own list of preferred substitutions to work from.
- Have fun! This is most important thing to remember. Unless you’re a paid chef, which means you don’t need tips for getting started, cooking needn’t feel like work. Try listening to music, watching tv, indulging in audio books, enjoying an aromatic candle, or other things that celebrate time well spent. For me, fun in the kitchen involves whimsical aprons and lots of (off-beat/off-key) singing and dancing!
The good news is that once you’ve learned the basics of cooking it is unlikely that you will ever need to relearn them. This means that you can constantly build up and expand your cooking skills. As you learn new recipes and improve your culinary skills and talents you will discover that preparing meals from scratch is much more rewarding and delicious (not to mention healthier) than preparing prepackaged meals that are purchased from the shelves of your local supermarkets.