Lessons from the Kitchen; Introduction

This is the first installment in a series called “Lessons from the Kitchen.” While I hope my readers can learn from all of my recipes and posts, this series is intentionally planned to be educational. I firmly believe that anyone can cook. After all, following a recipe is just following instructions. So this series is for anyone who has decided to take the leap and really learn how to cook. 

The main point of this series is to teach you how to cook for the every day. Simple, quick weeknight suppers, basic desserts, and go-to recipes for a party. I’ve selected recipes that I use very frequently, and I hope they’ll make up the core of your recipe book, too. 

Format of this Series

I know that cooking, and cooking regularly for oneself or one’s family, can be a daunting task, especially to a beginner. So I’ve compiled twelve sets of recipes to help teach you how to cook and add some recipes to your repertoire. 

We’ll start with some recipes that require closely following the instructions, but then we’ll move to some recipes that I encourage you to modify according to your personal taste. Each recipe has a note as to which category it falls into. These are also daily recipes, the types of meals and dishes I cook on a regular basis, so you can really get a lot of use out of them. The last four parts of the series will be “Impressive” recipes, those are meant to help you show off your new cooking skills a bit.

Requirements

While this is meant to teach you how to cook, there are some basic cooking skills required. I’m assuming you know how to crack an egg, and boil water, and not hold the sharp end of a knife. But really there isn’t much previous knowledge required to get started. 

My biggest pieces of advice are to read the recipe carefully multiple times, and to plan plenty of time for the cooking of each meal. I suggest finding a weekend or evening when you don’t have anything planned, so you can relax and take your time. Then just put on some relaxing music, grab some water (save the wine for the meal, it’s best not to cook while tipsy), and enjoy yourself!

Kitchen Safety

It is very important to stay safe in the kitchen. A lot of harm can be done, either by physical injury or food poisoning, if you don’t take the proper care when preparing food. I’ll go over some of the basics here.

Be very aware when you are cooking of what is hot and what is on. If you take a pan off a stove eye, turn the eye off immediately. Keep oven mitts handy and always use them, even if you think the item has cooled enough to handle. In the same vein, keep pot and pan handles facing towards the back of the stove. A handle hanging out into the kitchen could be bumped into and cause a hot mess, or if you have kids, could cause an unexpected trip to the hospital (my mother-in-law knows this from personal experience, thanks to my husband).

Be careful with knives. They say a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, but both must be handled with extreme care. Keep out of reach of children at all times, and never leave a knife submerged in water where it can’t be seen. Keep a firm grip on your knife when using by pinching between your thumb and the first knuckle of your index finger. You should also grip the handle as close to the blade as you can, as this gives the most control.

When preparing raw meat, wash everything as often as possible. Wash your hands after handling raw meat before touching anything, wash cutting boards and knives immediately, and wipe down your counters with a soapy, hot washcloth. It is super important to prevent cross-contamination. It’s also really important to make sure all meats are cooked to an edible temperature. There is a temperature guide below, but I honestly tend to use a search engine just to double check in the moment that I remember the right temperature needed.

Chicken, turkey, other poultry; 165 degrees

Ground meat; 160 degrees

Pork; 145 degrees

Fish; 145 degrees

Steak; at least 145 degrees

How to Use a Recipe

Some of you are probably thinking this section is pointless, but allow me a few moments to make my point. To really develop your cooking skills and recipes, you need to do more than simply reading through a recipe on your phone. 

I like to use a three ring binder and a pen, but you can also use any kind of notebook and writing tool. I like the binder and loose leaf paper because I can remove the needed recipe and won’t have to keep the whole book in the kitchen while I cook.

When you want to try a new recipe, first read over the whole recipe, and make sure you have all the ingredients needed. I always write out recipes by hand on the loose leaf paper I keep in my binder. There are multiple reasons for this. I’ve found from personal experience, that I remember things best when I write them down. It’s good to be really familiar with the steps in a recipe, so you don’t have to stop in the middle of every step to check what you’re meant to be doing. I also frequently change and tweak recipes, so having them written down on paper allows me to make notes about what I’ve changed, so I can make it again in the future. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of “mise en place,” and if you haven’t, it is a fancy french term for getting your ingredients ready before starting the steps. It is very useful, even in the home kitchen. I typically don’t measure the ingredients out, which is what most professionals do, but I like to set all the ingredients out beside my mixing bowl or the stove. Then as I measure and add to the recipe, I set them aside in another spot. This is really helpful in keeping track of what you’ve added to the recipe. 

Basic Utensils

I distinctly remember moving into a house in college, and realizing that I didn’t have any kitchen utensils. I had been cooking regularly for over five years at that point, and it still took me a while to figure out exactly which kitchen tools and utensils I needed to purchase. So I’ve compiled a list below of the most basic kitchen tools, and an additional list of things I prefer to have, if possible.

Basics

Any standard spatula

Serving spoon

Slotted spoon

8×8 or 9×13 casserole dish (size depends on how many servings you typically cook at one time)

12 or 16 quart pot (to boil pasta)

12-inch skillet (my personal preference is cast iron due to its versatility, but you can get another type if you prefer, just make sure to read the label regarding washing and oven use)

Simple food thermometer (Digital is preferred but any food thermometer will work)

Extras (Can get by without but can make life easier)

Whisk

Rice Cooker

All-in-one cooker (something with both pressure cook and slow cook settings)

Small (6 or 8 inch) skillet (again, my preference is cast iron, but other types will work as well)

14 inch skillet with lid

Dutch oven

Ingredient Selection

I fully believe in using the generic, store brand of products when that’s what you can afford. Goodness knows I’ve been on tight grocery budgets before, so don’t worry if that’s what you can afford. Now, I do spend a bit more on ingredients, but I still don’t go all out. I shop at the most inexpensive grocery store I can find and there are certain things I buy name-brand, and certain things I buy cheaper, but it all depends on your own personal preference.

If you can afford it, and you have freezer space, buying in bulk is often cheaper in the long run. Things that you eat often, for me chicken, ground beef, and various types of pork, can be bought in larger quantities for a lower price per unit. This is more of an investment up front, but it can pay off in the future. And you don’t have to go to Sam’s Club or Costco to buy in bulk. Normal grocery stores typically do the same thing. 

Menu Planning

There is a high value in planning out what meals you’re going to eat ahead of time. This can be done in week increments, or by the month. I like planning for each month at a time, because it allows me to do one big grocery shopping trip each month. Then I’ll go back as needed to pick up things like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, and bread. It’s easier and less stressful to me. 

If you plan for a month at a time, it can be helpful to plan so that you’ll be able to buy things in bulk. For example, I’ll often plan two or three meals that use chicken thighs, then buy one large pack. I’ll open the pack when I get home and separate into separate containers depending on how much I need for each meal. It can be a good way to save a bit on groceries. 

Another note on saving money at the grocery store; generic, store brand canned vegetables are exactly the same as the name brand. Frozen or dried vegetables are cost-effective, too, it just depends on what will work best for your recipe and what you have time for. Dried beans definitely take a lot longer than canned or frozen, but they are typically the cheapest version. 

Until Next Time

I hope you find this information helpful as we launch into our first recipe next week. Especially if you are a beginner cook, please look over the things I’ve talked about today and familiarize yourself with kitchen safety. I can’t wait to get started and I hope you enjoy this series! Until next time, have fun, be safe, and eat good food.

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