What should I do to generally improve as a home cook?

Mollyh
  • Posted by: Mollyh
  • March 2, 2015
  • 3293 views
  • 22 Comments

22 Comments

Aliwaks March 4, 2015
LOVE something about your cooking, whether is what you are making, who you are cooking for, an ingredient a holiday, there's a level of care that comes with that that cannot be replicated.

Learn how your oven works, they vary.

Learn how to take care of and use your knives, and all your equipment properly.

Learn how to handle your ingredients: What knife to use for what, how to keep greens crisp, how to trim a steak, bone a chicken, how to keep potatoes from turning black, how to temper eggs etc.

Learn how to cook things properly, cooking is like manners once you learn the rules you can break them, if you don't know how to roast a chicken properly it won't matter how terrific your seasonings are.

Learn the basics, yes there is a proper way to boil water, and it depends of why you are boiling it, not everyone knows that.

Think about food as a sum of it's parts, why do I love tandoori chicken- the seasoning, the texture, the sauce. How can I take what I love about this dish and create something that gives me the same satisfaction.

Not all flavors go together its true, just like colors, some clash, badly, until they don't.

Understand that a lot of food is subjective, I might love crispy skin on chicken, but the person I cook for gets the icks from skin.

There's a lot of science to cooking, chemical reactions, Mailliard effect, emulsification and Baking is flat out chemistry. Geek out on that if it's your thing, and if not at least understand why your lemony salty potatoes turned green in that copper pan.

Speaking of baking don't be cavalier about the measurements, the are important, also know they may be wrong because measurements by volume and measurements by weight vary greatly and your cup of flour and my cup of flour maybe different amounts.

Follow the instructions on a new recipe, and then take note when/if you change something. Food 52 is fantastic for that you can look at a recipe and see how it worked for other cooks.

Eat, taste, smell, experience, have fun enjoy.

 
petitbleu March 4, 2015
Cook as much as possible from as many different sources as you can. Try new things--new ingredients, techniques you're unfamiliar with, dishes that are new to you. Eat out when you can--there are few things as inspiring as a really good meal prepared by people who know what they're doing. Read a lot. Question everything. Watch episodes of The French Chef--none of the cooking shows today even come close to what Julia Child did with her show, so don't waste your time on them. Most importantly, allow yourself to go down rabbit holes. Interested in fermentation? Delve into it. Do research. Let yourself have fun with it. Geek out on techniques. Poach eggs until you find a method you like. Go to the farmer's market without a plan and pick up whatever looks the best. Then figure out what to do with it. Follow recipes. Don't follow recipes. Sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm. Imagine that you're starting a restaurant--what would you put on the menu? Sounds a little like a grade school activity, but it's important to check in and think about the dishes and ingredients that excite you. Most importantly, have fun! Be spontaneous. Follow your stomach. And don't be afraid to ask questions. You've come to the right place ;)
 
Diana B. March 5, 2015
While I love Julia Child and enjoy watching reruns of all her various cooking shows on PBS, I do think Jacques Pepin's shows teach valuable technique and liberate one from the idea that precision measuring is the only road to good food, and I think Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen are also quite valuable, not to mention that you learn a lot about the science of cooking.
 
boulangere March 3, 2015
Don't watch the Food Network.
 
Diana B. March 3, 2015
I don't want to duplicate any of the great ideas here, but I didn't see any mention of watching all the fabulous cooking shows PBS airs. Even if you don't make any of the recipes, you'll learn about technique, interesting and useful tips, the science of cooking, etc.
 
Kate A. March 3, 2015
Don't be afraid! If you can follow directions, you can cook. When you get some mileage under your belt, then you can start making your own inventions and improvising. Get inspired...whether at the market or looking at magazines and blogs. What looks good to you? What do the people you cook for like to eat? Nothing is more rewarding than cooking someone's favorite thing and having them rave about it! Have fun!
 
jeinde March 2, 2015
Forty plus years ago I bought a used copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and it truly taught me how to cook. The best $10 I have ever spent.
 
kimhw March 2, 2015
I learned to master a few recipes that each had different techniques. Once I understood the technique I could branch out and make the recipes my own and kept branching out til they were totally new.
 
aargersi March 2, 2015
I would recommend following all of this advice, and also add The Flavor Bible to your cook book collection - it's not a cookbook per se but it tells a lot about pairing flavors. Also let your sense of smell help you - I sniff my way through bulk spice bins, my own spices, and my food as I am cooking it. Your smell can tell you so much about what you are cooking.
Don't buy cheap ingredients just because you are practicing - they will affect the dish and make it seem you are not as successful.
Cook with friends and HAVE FUN!
 
Annie S. March 2, 2015
Great suggestion about the Flavor Bible!
 
scruz March 2, 2015
yes, practice eating and cooking as widely as possible. taste cuisines of other countries after reading typical recipes. taste with a quest to figure out what the flavors are and how they mingle. find the cumin, the cinnamon, the hint of rosemary or the different taste of thai basil, the play of toasted sesame oil and soy and mirin. remember the textures of dishes you find wonderful and why they work. watch youtube. taste like you would figure out a wine. and most of all, enjoy it.
 
Stephanie G. March 2, 2015
What specific weaknesses would you like to address?
 
ChefJune March 2, 2015
Practice. As with any skill, you will improve only by doing it. And follow the recipes TO THE LETTER! Be sure you are using good recipes -- most of them here on food52 are well tested, or a cookbook your friends/family have used successfully. If you don't follow the recipe, you will have no frame of reference for the dish. So until you build up confidence and a repertoire of tried and trues, stick with what the writer intended.
 
Jessica March 2, 2015
a few good primer cookbooks help if you are unfamiliar with flavors and preparation. I found Alice Water's "the art of Simple food" a great resource and helpful in learning how to substitute ingredients. Another great go to for me is Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian cooking for everyone" Experimentation is key (I rarely make the exact same dish twice), but you have to have some basics to go on. My husband (who's cooking was relegated to anything on the grill) read "The four hour chef" in order to understand some basic techniques and rationale behind ways to cook.
 
plainhomecook March 2, 2015
I like to compare different recipes for similar dishes, and think about what's different and why. And I expect my food to be home food rather than restaurant food, and I enjoy that: chefs get the fame and cooks get the love.
 
Annie S. March 2, 2015
Be brave! Don't be afraid of simplicity and on the other hand don't be afraid of long ingredient lists. Taste everything! Get a good basic instructional cookbook like The Joy Of Cooking or Fannie Farmer and use it like a textbook just to move forward in skill and technique. Most of all cook what you would love to eat and cook what you have been curious about!
 
Meaghan F. March 2, 2015
The simplest answer sums up all the great specific tips above, and is the same as it would be if you were asking how to improve any other skill: PRACTICE. Cook whatever you can, whenever you can, and accept that a certain degree of failure/imperfection is inevitable.
 
AntoniaJames March 2, 2015
Don't be afraid of salt. Use it throughout the process in small amounts, as it affects a dish differently (in ways that make a real difference) at different stages.
A similar general principle: most savory dishes benefit from a touch of acid added at the end, right before serving, e.g., a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, a splash of vinegar. I keep within arms reach high quality red wine vinegar in a bottle with a weighted pour spout. It's pretty enough to go out to the table, which it does at least several times a week, for adding a touch more, if necessary, after the dish has been served. ;o)
 
drbabs March 2, 2015
Read a lot. Read cookbooks. Read about the science of cooking. Read about how to cook and why certain techniques produce different results.

Taste a lot. Think about what you're eating. How does it taste? Feel in your mouth? What do you like and not like? Eat in a really great restaurant once in a while so you understand how a chef puts together flavor and texture.

Take a knife skills class and use good knives. This will improve your cooking immeasurably.

And cook. Start off by following recipes so that you can learn the techniques of sautéing, roasting, marinating, etc. Then experiment with other flavors you've tasted and liked and see how everything comes together.

Tell your family and friends, no hating! You can't cook for people who criticize you. It takes the joy out.

One more thing--have fun. A disaster is only one meal, and there's usually a great story after. (Get really good at scrambling eggs so there's always something to eat if you mess up.)
 
Nancy March 2, 2015
Mollyh, have a look at Willie's question here around Feb 21, whether better to teach someone recipes or techniques, to help improve their cooking skills. answers there may be of interest.
 
Fat T. March 2, 2015
cook often, cook different, cook with others, cook for others and focus on technique
I started with recipes, then I started modifying those, taking out some of the short cuts (frozen, canned or prepackaged), or adding flavors, then I started focusing on a single ingredient like polenta or Brussels sprouts and perfecting that ingredient with various techniques, after a lot of meals it all starts to come together
 
Maedl March 2, 2015
Eat widely, read food literature obsessively, travel as much as you can, fall in love with a particular region and cook the local foods, understand the terminology of food and cooking, cook frequently, experiment with new recipes and foods, follow directions until you know what you are doing, and most of all enjoy what you are doing and sharing your cooking with your friends and family.
 
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