I didn’t always know how to cook. In fact, I was terrified of the kitchen.
When I was younger, I used to help my mom bake cakes: carrot cake, banana bread, custard and cream. Baking always came more naturally to me because at the end of the day, you just pop it in the oven and hope it all goes well.
Cooking involved chopping and prepping; mixing and slicing; whisking and heating. It required precision, following recipes, basic knowledge of tools. It felt very mathematical to me, a subject I was never any good at.
So when I graduated from college and realized that the Ramen noodle and pizza diet was not going to work for me, I attempted to make my first exquisite sit-down dinner. It didn’t go well. I burned the potatoes, the meat was under-cooked, and I hobbled out with a burned stomach (don’t ask). The next few attempts were not any better. The food was bland and dry, the vegetables were raw, it was a mess.
I gave up for a while. Stepped out of the kitchen and resigned the apron. My husband took over the cooking, making us pasta and beef every night. I let that go on for a while until I just couldn’t stand the thought of spaghetti with Ragu sauce one more night!
That’s when I discovered Rachel Ray. Her 30 minute meals are the reason this non-cooking girl learned to cook. I started watching the Food Network, following my cooking friends (Laura and Jem) around the kitchen, studying their every move. And soon, over time, with a lot of practice, I learned how to be my own cook!
What’s funny is that I am not mathematical at all in the kitchen. I eye-ball everything. I never follow a recipe to a tee, I always add my own twist. That’s the greatest thing about cooking- it’s really an art form!
I decided to write this post to encourage newbie cooks to get in the kitchen and experiment! I took to Facebook to ask my friends what one piece of advice you would give a newbie cook.
The results were amazing. These are all the real pieces of advice I got from cooks around the world (who also happen to be my awesome friends):
“Use fresh herbs – no salt needed!” – Jen Bishara
When I was a kid and to this day my mother never cooked with added salt. She always says if you want salt, you can add it on the table. In this world of high cholesterol, salty food may taste good but it’s not always good for you. Instead of salt, as Jen says, just add some herbs like oregano, basil, parsley, cumin, bay leaf, tarragon, thyme, ground pepper, there are so many spices out there that will add such rich flavor to your food. Go light on the salt!
“Lemon juice is an awesome healthy replacement for butter or oil on roasted veggies or salads. It also tastes great in pasta.” – Nora Hertel
Cooking doesn’t always have to involve oil! Food can taste delicious with simple ingredients like lemon juice, lime, or even just cooking without oil on a non-stick pan.
“Quinoa is great and can be easily made is a rice cooker the same as regular rice.”- Chris Shores
I cannot say enough good things about quinoa. This ancient grain known as the “the world’s healthiest food” is high in protein, rich in antioxidants, and tastes just so darn good. As a new vegetarian, it has been a staple of mine for the past few years. You can cook it as a replacement for rice, add it to soups or salads, or even have it with some blueberries and cinnamon as a breakfast meal!
“Don’t get down on yourself if you made something new and it doesn’t taste fantastic.”- Cathy Fleming
As a new cook it’s alright to fail sometimes. God knows I have burnt enough dinners, or decided on take out at the end of it all. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There’s no need to throw in the towel if you mess up. You will get better only with practice.
“Invest in at least one good knife.” – Megan Digeon
My first knife set was from a box called “All in One Kitchen” from the Walmart. The knives were so bad you could barely cut a banana! You can image my glee when we got our first proper knife set as a wedding gift (thanks Aunt Joan). Real knives make all the difference! Just be careful with them! Chopping with real knives is a whole new beast.
And These Awesome Pieces of Cooking Advice From My Friends…
1. “Always use fresh. Always. And always take the time to tenderize your chicken. The difference is unbeatable.” – Ryan Cerminara
2. “Sliced/slivered almonds can be added to LOTS- from baking to cereal to salads it’s always working it’s way onto my plate. I keep a jar handy – also makes a convenient source for a handful of snacking!”- April Wiegman
3. “Add flax seed or chia seeds to most dishes to increase protein and fiber intake.” – Sherry White
4. “Keep all of your food scraps (to use in vegetable or chicken stock). And try and buy fresh from local markets.” – Jemine Omabegho
5. “It’s amazing how cooking healthy-you can eat the same amount or more – be more filled up — and have consumed less calories. And only tackle one new recipe at a time.” – Amanda Beck
6. “You CAN make pancakes from protein powder!” – Ariel Chaillou
7. “Keep a single list of phone numbers to your favorite delivery restaurants on the fridge! You’re welcome.” – Millie Rodriguez
8. “Plain simple food tastes good!” -Debra Berke
9. “Keep it fresh and keep it simple.” – Nathan Moy
10. “Rule #1… Don’t bleed in the food… careful with that knife!” – Sam Graham
11. “Get a good recipe book or look up your favorite dishes online and follow instructions. You’ll learn a lot at first and then you’ll do it all alone.” – Florence Bernard
12. “Cast iron skillet is a surprising way to cook healthy. You pop it in the oven and it adds a special something.” – Ta-Shana Taylor
13. “Tempeh is a fantastically delicious protein. And cashews are a miracle food, great for creamy, cheesy sauces, dressings, dips, and soups!” – Kate Bernstein
14. “Never try to follow recipes to a T. Unless you’re baking…” – Juliya Sirotin
15. “Eat foods that burn slower in your body, that way you won’t snacking throughout the day.”- Reem Ohlenmacher
16. “Keep frozen onions and frozen peppers on hand to help make after work meals from scratch quickly.” – JulieAnne Cross
17. “Check the calories in each item you are cooking and after u have cooked.” – Shazia Jenkins
18. “Enjoy your food! As a non-cook (but a food lover) its great to see a cook who not only cooks great food..but enjoys it too!”- Abby Brooke
19. “Don’t underestimate the power of salt and pepper.”- Wallace Dickerson
20. “Use a mix of pretty veggies so your food turns out as stunning as you are. Also, cook with friends! (and make them chop the onions).”- Laura Brown
21. “Never be afraid of new things – all sorts of items you may have once never imagined in your diet (or even heard of) can become amazing staple go-tos in your diet…”- Brianna Hansen
22. “Tons and tons of homemade coconut oil.” – Jasen Sylvester
Main photo by @ Marjan