Cooking an entire dish from scratch is not an easy task, especially for someone who is just learning to cook. Here are three things you can do to make cooking your next recipe less daunting and more convenient.
1. Keep staple ingredients in bulk in stock
With the basic ingredients on hand, you will never have to do much shopping for a new recipe you find, whether it is an extravagant seafood dish or a cozy comfort food. Whether it is a last minute date or something you have planned out for a week, you’ll be equally prepared to show off your cooking skills.
For beginners, start with the pantry. Have a variety of spices and herbs. These include, but are not limited to, kosher salt, fine salt, ground black pepper, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, oregano, sweet and smoked paprika, rosemary, thyme, basil, curry powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and dill seed. Condiments, such as oils and sauces, are also extremely important to have in order to give your dishes more flavoring and depth.
Keep these on hand make your cooking pop – mayonnaise, any type of hot sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ketchup, tomato sauce, canned salsa, Extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and white rice vinegar. Ingredients you should always have stocked are pasta (spaghetti and any type of shell), brown rice, white rice, all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, bread crumbs, polenta, quinoa, dried legumes, cocoa powder, and a variety of canned fruits and vegetables.
2. Clean out your refrigerator and freezer.
Even if you do not have rotten, moldy, or freezer-burned food, make sure you are not taking up precious space in your fridge or ruining the quality of some foods by keeping them cold when they should be stored on your counter or cabinets.
Most fruits can be put on your counter at room temperature. This includes the typical apples, pears, bananas, and grapes. Tropical and citrus fruits, like mangos, oranges, kiwis, and pineapples, should also be stored at room temperature. If they grow in warm places, they go on your counter. Pitted fruits, such as peaches, apricots, or avocados should also go on your counter unless they are very soft and ripened. Other things that most people refrigerate but should not include starchy root vegetables, honey, molasses, agave nectar, bread, squash, and tomatoes.
If you store your oils, condiments, and sauces in the fridge, you can move them to your pantry, unless they have dairy or another ingredient in it that may make it spoil. This includes things like jams, jelly, and preserves that you would find in a non-refrigerated aisle at your supermarket. Most "refrigerate after opening" condiments are only if you use it once and forget about it for the next four months. Decide what you use regularly, peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, etc, and leave those out.
Now you can have more room in your fridge for staples, like butter, milk, and eggs!
3.Have the essential tools.
If you are going to be cooking in the kitchen, you need the proper toolkit. Just like how an artist cannot create a masterpiece without the right equipment, a cook cannot create a dish without the essential tools.
For starters, make sure you invest in a high-quality chef’s knife. This is an extremely versatile kitchen tool that you will be using in almost every dish that involves chopping or cutting ingredients. Learn how to take care of it, store it, and hone it to make your investment worthwhile. You can also buy a paring knife or a bread knife, but the chef’s knife can cover virtually everything. With the chef’s knife, you will also need multiple cutting boards for raw/cooked ingredients, meats/non-meats, etc.
Besides the chef’s knife and its accessories, make sure to also have measuring cups and spoons for both solids and liquids. Invest in a cooking thermometer, too, if food poisoning is not your thing. For cooking, buy spatulas of various sizes to fit your needs, stirring spoons, and also tongs, which comes in handy when you cannot use your hands to grab a hot ingredient. To make life easier, also have a vegetable peeler, a grater, a citrus juicer, shears, and a whisk in your cabinets. Multiple mixing bowls and ramekins are also great to have when you are making a dish with many ingredients.
For cookware, make sure you invest in these pots and pans, since they will last you a longer time than the budget ones: medium saucepan, baking sheet pan, cast iron skillet, grill pan, a large pot, a large stock pot, a skillet, a saute pan, and a blender.
Now the next time you have to cook for your significant other, it will be much more convenient. No longer do you have to spend two hours at the grocery store to buy the entire recipe. All you have to do is buy the fresh ingredients since you already have most of the essentials at hand.