Five Cooking Tips for the Inexperienced, Amateur Cook

I grew up with a mother who consistently pulled off amazing stunts in the kitchen. My mother dabbled in every type of cuisine, creating foods that were delicious and still make my current imitations look like slop. Unfortunately, I rarely ever spent any time actually learning or practicing any of these techniques and recipes. It was not until I walked off the college graduation stage and into my row house kitchen, that I realized I would have to dig deep and work hard to have a culinary experience close to the one of my childhood. After three years of frantic phone conversations and failed experiments, here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me become a better cook:

1. Plan weekend cooking projects
This is huge. It was always hard to find time during the week to really nail down my cooking skills. Instead, I used my weekends to plan entire meals that would help me practice a variety of different skills. For example, I was dedicated to mastering a traditional Haitian meal of rice and red beans, chicken stew, and fried plantains. Unfortunately, this is a meal that takes approximately 2.5 hours to make and requires a variety of different skills. By setting aside Saturdays and Sundays to cook, I was able to fine tune every aspect of the meal and  simultaneously cook enough food for the rest of the week. Which leads me to the next tip…

Griot and fried plantains

Haitian food spread with a special guest appearance by green bean casserole

2. Cook in bulk
The feeling of making a big pot of chili or a large, baked pasta dish is awesome. Cooking in bulk is great for your confidence as an amateur cook, and it also guarantees that you’ll have something to eat for the next few days. In addition, there are so many great tasting and simple recipes for dishes like chili and stew that are easy to follow for anyone in the middle of their first culinary foray.

Haitian rice and beans

Haitian rice and beans aka diri kole ak pwa

3. Stock and know your spice cabinet
Sorry, but salt and pepper are not going to cut it anymore. Investing in about 10-15 spices and herbs is an important step towards moving away from microwave food to flavorful and exciting ethnic dishes. Knowing the “spice palette” for different types of cuisine also lets you experiment. It can be what separates a basic chicken stir fry from a chicken curry or chicken teriyaki dish.

Indian goat curry spices

Mad spices and herbs for Indian goat curry

4. Avoid cutting corners often
Yeah, using a rice cooker is easy and painless. However, it’s also important to break out the pots and pans at some point and make rice without the help of KitchenAid. There are many skills that are transferable across types of cuisine and recipe difficulty and you just HAVE to learn them. For starters, learn how to properly cut veggies. I only learned how to cut kale a few weeks ago. Yes, it was annoying and took longer than I expected, but I picked up skills that make me a problem for the next leafy greens I run into.

different vegetable cuts

Different vegetable cuts

5. Don’t buy pre-packaged produce all the time
Do the math. That little plastic cup with peeled carrots is much pricier than what you’ll pay for the equivalent mass in raw carrot. Just buy the peeler and whatever other utensils you might ever need once, learn the techniques, and then bathe in the stacks of cash you’ll save.

sliced vegetables for a stir fry

Sliced vegetables for a stir fry

There are many other things you can do that will help you succeed in the kitchen. Sound off in the comments below with your tips and tricks!

Thanks Mom!

Thanks Mom!

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4 thoughts on “Five Cooking Tips for the Inexperienced, Amateur Cook

  1. I never buy pre-cut veggies and my boyfriend didn’t used to understand why. Now that he eats more veggies, he always buys whole peppers and whole zucchini to cut up himself. MUCH cheaper!

    I’m just starting to cook in bulk thanks to my handy new crock pot. Sometimes though I still really want something on a whim. Great tips!

    • Thanks Becki! I know right…literally 200% mark-up for those pre-cut veggie packs compared to what you’ll pay for the equivalent in raw veggies. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  2. Nice post, Ralph! One thing I have found helpful as an amateur cook is to always have some staples on hand: olive oil, pasta/rice/quinoa, pasta sauce, vegetable broth, garlic, onion, and maybe some frozen vegetables. This allows me to try new recipes without having to buy every single ingredient every single time I want to cook.

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