It surprises me how many times I hear “I can’t cook”. Everyone is capable of cooking. You just need to know where to start and my Kitchen Survival Guide will help.
Sadly, we live in a takeaway world. We’re all too busy, too knackered or just too lazy to cook decent, wholesome food. With the invention of the home delivery services, it’s so simple to just sit back and after a couple of taps on your phone, you’ve ordered a pizza.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a pizza but there’s nothing worse than waiting over an hour for a pizza to turn up and then finding it’s freezing cold.
Basic cooking isn’t hard. Especially if you follow some basic guidelines and follow recipes. I’m not saying we should all be super chefs, but basic home cooking, is not only more cost-effective, but it can also be healthier and rewarding.
My kitchen survival guide
For novice cooks or people who declare they can’t cook, the easiest way to get into cooking is by searching the internet for recipes. Buying a basic recipe book is also a good option. You’ll see in these recipes things like “cup”, “tsp”, “brown”, “fold”, “simmer” etc. These are all measuring guides and cooking jargon and can put people off sometimes. Depending whether the author has measured in metric or imperial and whether it’s a recipe from another country will depend on what jargon you see.
Cooking is all about experimenting with flavours and textures. You can create meals with your own flavours and your own personality. Don’t be put off by some of the jargon and recipes you see, cooking your own meals is well worth the effort.
Here’s a simple guide to help get you started:
Abbreviations for Measuring
tsp. = Teaspoon
tbsp. = Tablespoon, which equals 3 teaspoons
c = Cup (not the type you drink Tea in)
g. = Grams
kg = Kilogram
oz = Ounce
fl oz = Fluid Ounce (liquid)
ml = millilitre (liquid)
Kitchen equipment to buy
A decent set of scales, mechanical or electrical is fine. These will have a measuring guide of a mix of Grams (g), Kilograms(kg) and or (ounces(oz).
Measuring spoons. The set will usually have 1/4 tsp., 1/3 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon.
Dry measuring cups. These look like little saucepans and can be levelled off with flat edge. They come in sets like the measuring spoons. Liquid measuring cups have fluid ounce(fl oz) or millilitre(ml) marking lines so you can measure however many ounces or millilitres you need.
Some recipes require exact measurements to turn out right so learn to measure correctly.
Common cooking terminology
- Bake: Dry heat in the oven. Set oven control to the desired temperature while you’re preparing the dish to be baked. Once the light that says it’s heating turns off, the oven is at the proper temperature. Then put in the food for best results, try to put food in the centre of the oven.
- Boil: Heat a liquid until it bubbles. The faster the bubbles rise and the more bubbles you get, the hotter the liquid. Some recipes call for a gentle boil–barely bubbling–or a rolling boil–just short of boiling over. Watch so it doesn’t boil over.
- Braise: A moist cooking method using a little liquid that barely bubbles on the top of the stove or in the oven. This is a good way to tenderize cheaper cuts of meat. The pan should be heavy and shallow with a tight-fitting lid to keep the liquid from boiling away. There’s a lot that can be done for flavouring in your choice of liquid and vegetables to cook with the meat.
- Grill: In an electric oven on the grill setting, only the upper element heats, and you can regulate how fast the food cooks by how close to the element you place it. Watch your cooking time. It’s easy to overcook food under a grill.
- Brown: Cook until the food gets light brown. Usually used for frying or baking. Ground beef should usually be browned (using a frying pan) and have the grease drained before adding it to a casserole or meat sauce.
- Fold: A gentle mixing method that moves the spoon down to the bottom of the bowl and then sweeps up, folding what was on the bottom up over the top. This is used to mix delicate ingredients such as whipped cream or beaten egg whites. Whipped cream and beaten egg whites have air whipped into them, so you don’t want to reverse that process by mixing too vigorously. Hence a slow folding motion.
- Simmer: Heat to just the start of a boil. Keep it at that point for as long as the recipe requires. The recipe will usually call for either constant stirring or stirring occasionally.
General cooking tips
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Never be afraid to deviate from a recipe and add your own flair. Whenever you make a substitution or addition make sure you write a note on the recipe, so you remember next time whether you liked the change or not.
Salted butter vs. unsalted butter
You can buy butter both with and without salt. The salt is added for extra flavour and to help preserve it. The problem is that sometimes the salt in butter can add more salt than a recipe needs. If you choose unsalted butter, it gives you more control over how much salt your dish will contain. If you only have salted butter at hand, the best thing to do is omit approximately ¼ teaspoon(tsp) of salt per 100g of butter used in the recipe.
Peeling and chopping garlic finely does take a slight amount of knife control. If its easier, just buy a tube of garlic puree. If you find your hands stink of garlic you can get rid of the odour by washing them well with salt.
Fried food isn’t the healthiest option, but it does taste good! The key to perfect frying is to get the oil hot before you put the food in the pan. Not so hot that it is smoking though so be careful! If you don’t get the oil hot, your food will absorb too much oil and taste greasy. To test whether the oil is hot enough for frying, put in the pan a small piece of what you’re cooking. If it bubbles rapidly then you know it’s ready. ALWAYS place foods into hot oil away from you (down and forwards motion).
If you’re making a sauce by the recipe and you find its gone a bit lumpy, remove it from the heat immediately and toss it in your food processor to smooth out the lumps and blend the flavours. Add some hot water if needed to help with the removal of the lumps. Then reheat as needed
Add a glug of wine
Wine is another way of flavouring your dishes, just like herbs and spices. There aren’t really any rules except those dictated by your own taste. Generally, the kind of wine you would use in a dish is the kind you would most enjoy drinking with it. For example White wines are usually served with fish and white meats, and red wines with dark meats, such as beef.
The finished dish won’t taste boozy or contain alcohol; wine loses its alcohol when simmered long enough so no trace of alcohol remains.
Choose good cuts of red meat.
Red meat such as beef, pork and lamb should have a moist, red surface with no signs of drying or surface film. The fat should be a creamy white colour and should not be dry. Keep an eye out for even, well-cut meat that is free from sinew and excess fat. My fellow blogger friend, Eddie, from ‘Yorkie Not Just For Dads’ is an ex-butcher and has a great article on choosing the best beef joint.
Choose the perfect poultry.
When choosing poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey, the skin should be a light creamy colour and it should be moist. It should also be unbroken with no dark patches.
Don’t salt meat before cooking.
One of the biggest mistakes made when it comes to cooking meat is to salt it while its raw. Salt draws the juices out of the meat and impedes the browning of the browning process. Instead, add
salt once the meat is already half cooked.
How to cook dried pasta
A common mistake when cooking dried pasta is not having enough boiling water. Have a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water ready. Add the pasta to the pan, and stir for 20 seconds to separate the pasta. Boil for 10-14 minutes depending on the shape of the pasta. Drain it and eat immediately. For cold pasta rinse it under warm water and then cold water.
There you go…a basic kitchen survival guide that anyone can follow. Go on give it a try!
Have you just started cooking or experimenting in the kitchen? Leave me a comment below and let me know how you are getting on or fire some questions.