Preparing a home-cooked meal requires more than just buying and preparing food – you need to understand cooking basics, likehow to read a recipe, and be familiar with basic appliances, cookware, utensils and more. Gain confidence in your kitchen and learn to cook a simple, healthy meal by following the simple steps in this post.
This past week, I started working with two new clients for the same exact reason. They were tired of take-out, but don’t know how to prepare their own food. They hired me, so they can learn to cook. I’ll be working with them over the next six weeks, getting them comfortable in the kitchen, and teaching them how to prepare simple, healthy meals. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to teach. Hopefully, this post will give you the confidence to get started.
Learn To Cook – Cooking Basics
When you hear the work cooking, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about food. Learning to cook requires more than just learning to prepare food, though. Before you learn to cook fancy dishes and try to balance flavors, you need to focus on learning cooking basics. That means, not only learning how to read a recipe and measure ingredients, but also how to select cooking utensils and operate your appliances.
If you truly want to learn to cook, these cooking basics need to be understood before you start preparing your first meal. We’re going to talk about each one, so that you are prepared and set-up for success.
Follow The Recipe
If you’re new to cooking, I highly recommend following recipes – even for things that seem simple.
A recipe is a set of instructions on how to prepare a specific dish or food. It will tell you what appliances is used to prepare your food. It will also tell you the ingredients you need, how much of the ingredient you need and will give step-by-step instructions on how to combine the ingredients, then cook your food.
If you choose recipes from reliable sources, and you follow the recipe step-by-step, there’s a great chance your food will turn out the way that its supposed to. If you choose not to use a recipe, and just try to wing it, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out.
Be Familiar With The Necessary Appliances
There’s nothing worse than deciding you are going to cook something, then realizing you don’t have, or know how to use the appliance that it calls for. Large appliances – like an oven, refrigerator and microwave – are commonly found in most homes. Other appliances – like a rice cooker or an air-fryer – are not as common. Read the recipe completely before starting, and make sure that you have everything you need to make it, and you are familiar with how to operate them. If you don’t have the right appliance needed to follow your recipe exactly, I suggest choosing something different to make. If it was something that you’re really want to cook, buy the appliance now, so that you have it ready for the next time you are ready to cook.
Ensure You Have The Necessary Cookware Or Bakeware
If cooking is totally new to you, you might not even own basic cookware. Items like pots, pans, sheet pans, baking dishes and microwave safe bowls may be necessary to prepare your recipe. Read through the recipe to make sure you have the bakeware that you need before getting started.
If you don’t have any of these items, you’ll need to buy them. I don’t suggest purchasing an entire set of pots and pans, from the start. You’ll end up with a lot of cookware that you do not need. Instead, start with a few basics. That way, you won’t be so overwhelmed.
Make Sure You Have The Right Utensils And Measuring Equipment
If you’ve never cooked, there is a good chance you don’t have a lot of measuring equipment or unique utensils. Most recipes require you to measure something, so I suggest having some measuring cups and measuring spoons on-hand. Other items – like a spatula, sharp knives, flipper and cutting boards – are commonly used when cooking. If you are missing one or all of these items, you may be able to use a substitute item. For example, a peeler is helpful when preparing raw carrots, but if you do not have one, you can use a knife to trim the edge. Or, you can purchase carrots that have already been cleans and trimmed.
Having the right utensils will make your cooking experience a whole lot better, but don’t get frustrated if you don’t have the suggested one – just substitute.
Consider What Other Supplies You Will Need
Some recipes call for items like foil, plastic wrap, cooking spray and Parchment paper to help your food from sticking, or as a way to avoid using too much oil. These are items that you’ll want to look for in the recipe card, so that you have them available, if needed. Most of the time you can still prepare your recipe without these items, but if you’re new to cooking, you might not have a clue what to do. It would be terrible if you give up on cooking simply because your recipe says to line the sheet pan with foil, but you don’t have any.
Be Very Specific With Your Measurements
If a recipe calls for one teaspoon of an ingredient, that means it needs one teaspoon – not almost a teaspoon or a heaping teaspoon. Just one teaspoon. Being precise in your measurements is key to learning how to cook and have your food turn out right.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when following a recipe is estimating the measurement, rather than being precise. Depending on what you are measuring, that can have a big impact on your final product. A recipe will tell you exactly how much of an ingredient is needed, so be sure to stick to that amount. As your cooking experience grows, your knowledge of how ingredients work together will broaden. That’s when you can start to eye-ball your measurements and experiment a bit more.
Simple Preparation Methods To Get You Started
You don’t fancy equipment to cook a simple meal, but I do suggest an oven with a stove-top and a microwave. These two appliances can be used to baking, steam and roast your food. Those three preparation methods require little effort and are healthy ways to prepare food. If you are cooking for one, or have kids, and prefer not to use an oven, a smaller toaster could work, too. Grilling is an easy cooking method, too, but let’s save that for another post.
Learn To Cook An Easy Meal – Salmon, Sweet Potato & Carrots
Once you have selected and read through your recipe, and are sure that you have everything you need, you’re ready to learn to cook an actual meal.
To get you started, let’s walk through the process of preparing a simple meal. Hopefully, once you prepare one, you’ll feel more comfortable in the kitchen, and will want to experiment with other foods and flavors.
We’re going to make baked salmon, a baked sweet potato and steamed carrots. Before getting started, let’s walk through everything you need to make each item.
To Make This Meal, You Need The Following:
- Basic Cookware:
- Sheet pan
- Microwave safe dish with a lid
- Utensils/Measuring Supplies:
- Food thermometer
- Spoon and Fork
- Cooking Scissors (could use a knife)
- Oven mit
- Cooking Supplies
- Plastic Wrap
- Cooking Spray (can use oil)
SEASONINGS AND CONDIMENTS
Seasoning food can be overwhelming for a lot of folks. As you learn to cook and become more comfortable in the kitchen, you can begin to experiment more with flavors. Salt, pepper, garlic, onions and pepper are a few of the most basic ways to flavor food. For starters though, let’s keep it simple. You will only need the following seasoning and condiments for this example:
- Olive Oil
- Margarine or Butter (optional)
FOODS AND INGREDIENTS NEEDED
- Pre-Seasoned Salmon Fillet – I bought a pre-seasoned, frozen salmon fillet for this example. Baking salmon is easy, and it really doesn’t need a lot of seasonings, but buying pre-seasoned saves you from having to think about it. It is more expensive, but if price is not an issue for you, and you want to make your cooking experience easy, I suggest it as a starting point. If you prefer to cook raw salmon, check out my post for simple salmon tacos. It walks you through how easy it is to bake a raw salmon fillet.
- One Small Bag Of Steamed Carrots – I made this meal way easy, by buying baby carrots that are already cleaned and trimmed. If you prefer large, whole carrots, you can totally use those. The only difference is that you need to clean, trim and cut them to the size of baby carrots. The cooking instructions will be the same.
- One Sweet Potato – You can buy single sweet potatoes at the super market, or you can buy a single potato. If you are making a meal for the entire family, or you want extras for the week, I suggest buying a few, or a small bag, and making a bunch at one time. For this example, I am using a 12 ounce potato. That’s a big sweet potato. It will take a bit longer to bake in the oven because it is so big, but you’ll have two servings of sweet potatoes this way. Baking the sweet potato is the longest part, so it’s nice to bake extra’s while the oven is on so long.
How To Prepare A Simple Meal
This example uses simple foods, including baby carrots and a pre-seasoned salmon fillet. I chose those foods because they are easy to prepare as you learn to cook. My goal is to just get you comfortable in the kitchen – using your appliances and following simple recipe directions. If you prefer to cook something different, you can check out my blog. I have loads of recipes there, including some different ways to prepare salmon, sweet potatoes and carrots. For now, though, let me walk you through how simple these food items are to cook.
STEP #1 – Prepare Your Baking Sheet
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil, then spray it with cooking spray. Since I am only making one salmon fillet for this example, I only lined ½ of the baking sheet with foil. I will use the other side to set the sweet potato on. That way, if juices leak out of the foiled potato, they will go onto the sheet pan, not the bottom of the oven.
STEP #2 – Prepare the Sweet Potato
The sweet potato will take the longest time to cook, so I suggest preparing that first. Clean the potato under running water, then cut both ends of. Wrap it in a piece of foil, then place it in the oven on the middle rack. Like I said above, this is a huge sweet potato. The size of the potato determines how long it will take to cook, so I can’t give you an exact time. The sweet potato is done when you lightly squeeze it and can feel that it is soft. The potato I made for this example cook 1 hour and 15 minutes. I suggest checking your potato after ~45 minutes. If it is still hard, allow it to cook for another 15 minutes. Repeat that until you can feel that the sweet potato is soft.
Once finished, take the potato out of the oven, remove the foil and cut it in 1/2. If you have a large potato, like I used, put the ½ you will not eat in a container and store it in the refrigerator for another day. Cut the remaining sweet potato in half lengthwise, then put it on your plate. I eat mine plain, but you can add butter or margarine, or any other condiment that you want.
STEP #3 – Prepare The Salmon
Cut open the vacuum sealed plastic wrapper, then remove the salmon fillet and put it on the baking sheet, skin side down. The seasoned fillet that I am cooking has a marinade on it, so I poured the marinade that was in the wrapper over the salmon before I cook it. Once ready, put the salmon in the oven and bake for ~12 minutes. If you choose to buy a frozen fillet like I am cooking here, the package will tell you exactly how long to cook the salmon. Once it I done, remove it from the oven. Flip the fillet over to expose the skin, and peel it away from the flesh of the salmon. Toss the skin, then wrap the salmon in the foil until the rest of your items are finished cooking.
STEP #4 – Steam The Carrots
Open the bag of carrots and measure ~ 1 cup in a measuring cup. Dump the carrots into a microwave safe bowl, then add 2 tablespoons of water, and one teaspoon of olive oil. The carrots need to be covered to steam. If you don’t have a lid for your bowl, you can use a piece of plastic wrap to cover it while cooking. That’s what I used for this example. Steam for 5-6 minutes. That’s it – done! Like with the sweet potato, you can make a few servings of carrots at a time, so that you have them ready-to-eat for the next day or the week. Just remember, the more carrots you have, the longer the cooking time and the more water you will need. I usually make 4-5 cups of carrots at a time, which takes ~15 minutes to steam.
Once everything is done cooking, turn your oven off, plate your food, then sit down to your home-cooked meal.
Congratulations! I hope cooking this meal helped you to feel more comfortable in your kitchen.