I’ll admit, cooking is something that comes rather naturally for me and I really do enjoy it. While working as a nanny, I was responsible for feeding a family of four every night. I learned to be organized and efficient when cooking at work, then I would go home and do it all over again at my house (with a glass of wine). Many people just assume that they are not good cooks because they don’t have the methods they need to create a sense of calm in the kitchen.
P.R.I.M.E is my recipe for better home cooking that I hope will give you the confidence you need to feel good in the kitchen. Let’s get into it!
P: Pick a recipe that is approachable.
This first step goes back to my suggestion to make nice with cookbooks from my How to Plan a Menu post. Many home cooks set themselves up for failure by picking a recipe that is out of their league. There are so many fabulous books out there that are sure to appeal to you, no matter your skill level. If you’re new to cooking, a beginner’s cookbook such as The Can’t Cook Book is a great place to start. If you’re more adventurous and seeking to expand your palate, go for a book like Danny Seo’s Naturally Delicious. Either way, be honest with yourself and what you’re up for.
If you have a feeling a dread when looking at an ingredient list, move on. The recipe that is right for you should give you a sense of excitement, not terror. Start small and work your way up to more complex cooking techniques. This is step number one and it is the most important of them all. Pick a recipe that suits your skill level. (If you want to see my cookbook recommendations, click here.)
*For this post I chose to make “Minty Sugar Snaps” from the The Can’t Cook Book.
R: Read and read again.
Once you have chosen a recipe that is appropriate for your level of skill, read it through at least twice and envision yourself going through the steps. When a recipe is only glanced over once, there is more likelihood that you will forget an ingredient, accidentally skip crucial steps, and be left with a frantic feeling.
Knowing that you will be butterflying the chicken breast, prepping a sauce, and need to make a marinade that rests for 24 hours, are examples of things you need to know before you begin cooking, not once the cooking has already begun.
Studying the recipe lays a foundation for the magic that is about to be made in your kitchen. Read the recipe, then read it again, then read once more. Trust me, it helps so much.
I: Ingredients as listed.
Ingredients should be used exactly as they are presented in the recipe—no substitutions.
Okay, hear me out. When I say use the exact ingredients in this third step, I am not talking about those of us who need to make changes due to dietary restrictions. For example, because I am lactose intolerant and can only digest goat dairy, any recipe that calls for cheese/yogurt, in my case, goat products are used. These types of substitutions are okay. I am not suggesting that you use any ingredient to which you have a negative reaction. What I am saying is that the very first time you attempt a recipe, it is best to cook it exactly as intended (or as close as possible).
This step also applies to the measurements of said ingredients. If you are a seasoned cook, you may be able to eyeball two tablespoons of olive oil, but for all my novices out there, make good use of your measuring tools and be precise. When you follow a recipe exactly as it is written, you will have a strong sense of accomplishment from knowing what the author had in mind when they created the dish. In other words, you’ll be able to shout, “nailed it!” across the kitchen.
Another reason to stick closely to the ingredient list is so that you can make changes down the line. If you think the shrimp was too lemon-y, exclude the lemon next time, or use less. Want more of a kick to your chili? Double the cayenne. Making changes after you have tasted the original recipe helps with understanding the layering of flavors more intimately. Let the recipe get you started and go from there. Especially for beginner cooks, ingredients as listed, is step three. Are you still with me? Good. Only two steps left to better home cooking!
M: Mise en Place or Everything in it’s place.
Mise en Place is a French term for “Everything in it’s place.” The term is used in professional kitchens around the world, and for good reason. As you prepare to cook, it is essential that you gather all the ingredients and tools necessary for the recipe (as well as prep the ingredients). This includes food items, spices, measuring spoons/cup, pots, pans etc. Having everything set up “in it’s place” before you, makes carrying out the recipe much, much, easier.
If you skip this crucial step you are likely to be running around your kitchen grabbing a knife here, a whisk there. Oh shoot! Gotta fill that pot with water, the noodles are done already?! Where is the strainer??? You get the idea. Mise en Place frees you from that hectic rush around the kitchen and insures a more tranquil cooking experience.
Mise en place also means being your own sue-chef. Once you have your ingredients laid out in front of you, take a look at the recipe again. If it calls for minced garlic or chopped onions, get to mincing and chopping before you start cooking. This fourth step is a game changer. Everything in it’s place; mise en place.
E: Embrace and Enjoy the Experience
When you follow all the above steps, this last one is likely to be a natural occurrence, but I want to encourage you anyway: No matter your level of skill, embrace the process of cooking. Do your best to be present and cook with all of your senses: Listen to the mushrooms singing as they cook (seriously, they do). Wait for that moment when the sizzling onions release their aroma into the air, then inhale deeply. If it helps, create a playlist, or listen to a thoughtful podcast while you cook.
Do whatever it takes to enjoy the moment. If you have kids tugging at you while you cook, embrace that too— give them an easy task so that they can be involved (Time for Dinner has some great ideas for this). Light a candle or incense near the kitchen. Pour yourself a glass of wine or sparkling water to sip as you prep your meal.
Enjoy knowing that cooking at home means you are nourishing yourself, and perhaps others. Even if you have had trouble with cooking in the past, that’s okay. Start fresh each time you approach a new recipe and allow yourself to have a new, more enjoyable experience.
So there you have it: P.R.I.M.E My five steps to becoming a better home cook. I hope these easy tips help make your cooking experience more joyful.
P– Pick a recipe that is approachable for your level of skill.
R– Read the recipe through at least twice before you begin.
I– Ingredients as listed (making exceptions for dietary restrictions only).
M– Mise en Place. Everything in it’s place, ingredients prepped and ready to go.
E– Embrace and Enjoy the experience by being present and using your senses.
Items featured in this post:
If you have specific questions about your home-cooking experience, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading and happy cooking!
Photographer: Donnell Spencer Jr.