Basic Cooking Tips

Don’t cook? You’re hardly alone these days, experts say. The good news is, armed with a few basic cooking tips, it’s easy to become more comfortable in the kitchen.

Some of us grew up in the kitchen with our parents and grandparents, learning the secrets of treasured family recipes. And years later, all grown up, we are at ease trying new recipes, creating our own versions, and joyfully sharing the creations with family and friends.

On the other side of the kitchen are the legions of people who think cooking is something you watch on the Food Network. Cooking shows are hot, but an entire generation of people is more comfortable watching food being prepared than doing it themselves. Their idea of cooking is opening a can of something and warming it in the microwave — like a friend of mine who stashes toilet paper and other household supplies in her rarely used oven.

Despite the ever-growing number of cookbooks, cooking schools, food television shows, and web site cooking videos, many of us appear to have too many competing priorities, not enough time, and a lack of confidence to whip up meals at home.

“We have spawned a generation of ‘non-cooks’ who did not take home economics in school, are squeezed for time and intimidated by cooking and following recipes, and would rather eat out, order take-out, or just eat fast and easy sandwiches or frozen pizzas,” says Carolyn O’Neil, RD, author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous.

It’s ironic, experts say, that fewer people are in the kitchen preparing meals even while our cultural sophistication about cooking, ingredients, and equipment is exploding.

“We are inundated with all things culinary, with access to high-end ingredients, specialty cookbooks, and sophisticated equipment, and have generated more “foodies” starting dinner clubs and enjoying obscure cuisines,” says Martha Holmberg, food editor of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore.

Basic Cooking Tip: Learn to Cook to Eat More Healthfully

So why bother learning to cook? Because the more time you spend cooking at home, the more healthfully you tend to eat. Becoming more comfortable in the kitchen is essential if you want to have a healthy diet and control your calorie intake.

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“When you choose the recipes and ingredients, you have total control over what you are eating,” says Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host of the Food Network’s Healthy Appetite show. “Cooking gives you an inside view of what ingredients you are eating.”

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, the “Recipe Doctor” for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, agrees.

“Homemade dishes allow you the option to increase fiber, vitamins, and minerals and decrease unhealthy fats and replace them with healthier fats for more nutritious recipes,” Magee says.

Great food does not have to be elaborate or difficult to prepare, experts say. Some of the most delicious foods are simple seasonal produce, like tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs or corn on the cob with a touch of butter.

And don’t think it all has to be made from scratch to be healthy.

Cooking with the help of convenience foods “can be just as nutritious as scratch cooking as long as you use whole foods like canned beans, whole grains, or canned tomatoes,” says Holmberg.

Basic Cooking Tip: Conquer Your Fear of Cooking

Some non-cooks are afraid to venture into the kitchen because they want everything to be perfect. The truth is that when it comes to food, “perfect” is in the mouth of the eater.

“Forget perfection,” says Krieger. “Cooking is all about having fun, experimenting, and enjoying the process. And keep in mind, even the best cooks have recipes that fail.”

Learn from your mistakes and improve upon the recipe next time, she advises.

“Start out by choosing an easy recipe with just a few ingredients, and remember cooking is like yoga — practice it regularly and you will get better and better as you continue to learn,” says Krieger.

Get familiar with a few basic techniques and purchase quality ingredients, and you have the foundation for creating simple and tasty meals.

“If you can saute a boneless chicken breast, it can be the centerpiece for numerous dishes,” says O’Neil. “Accessorize the chicken breast with capers and lemon or barbecue or an Asian sauce and serve it with fresh steamed vegetables and a whole grain, and you have a lovely meal.”

Magee is a big fan of roasting and uses the technique with everything from vegetables to meats.

“Roasting is a very simple technique and one of the best ways to bring out the flavor without fat or just a little added fat,” Magee says.

Once you have some techniques down, Holmberg recommends buying fresh, seasonal, and locally produced ingredients for best results.

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Basic Cooking Tip: Get Inspired

A great way to get inspired is by watching food television or web site videos that demonstrate cooking tips, techniques, and ease in the kitchen. Tune in and observe how the professionals weigh, measure, whisk, saute, and emulsify.

“Television or video are visual, which allows the viewer to see texture, shape, and the finished product,” says Krieger. “You can also see exactly how to achieve certain techniques like ‘browning’ or ‘folding,’ and it will boost your confidence in the kitchen.”

But don’t expect to become a gourmet cook without a lot of practice.

“You would think the popularity of food shows on TV would translate into better cooking at home, but that is like saying watching professional baseball helps you become a professional baseball player,” says O’Neil.

Krieger recommends watching food television that features home-style cooking.

“Some chefs chop an onion in a nanosecond, which can be very intimidating,” she says. “But there are plenty of food shows geared for the novice that really can translate into useful information at home.”

9 Cooking Tips from the Experts

Here are nine tips from the experts on how to get started on your journey to becoming a more accomplished cook in the kitchen:

  1. Get yourself a good cookbook — one that has lots of recipes that appeal to you, are easy to prepare, include wholesome ingredients, and feature nutritional analyses.
  2. Familiarize yourself with basic cooking terms by reading cookbooks or watching cooking shows.
  3. Stock your kitchen with a few good pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, and measuring cups and spoons.
  4. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with quality basic ingredients.
  5. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store to find more local, seasonal, and whole foods.
  6. Read through the entire recipe before beginning, and prep whatever you can in advance.
  7. Experiment with cooking on the weekends, when you’re relaxed and have more time.
  8. Follow the instructions in the recipe as closely as possible the first time. You can then modify it to your taste preference when you make it again.
  9. Keep it simple.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 07, 2007

Sources

SOURCES: Martha Holmberg, food editor, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host, Food Network’s Healthy Appetite. Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, author, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. Elaine Magee, MPH, RD.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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