Many of us start the month of January with the best intentions to get healthy in the year ahead. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or you simply want to make more of an effort with your diet, home cooking is a fantastic place to start. If you don’t know your way around the kitchen, and you’re more used to microwave meals than Michelin stars, don’t panic. Anybody can learn to cook.
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Here are some 7 top tips to get you started
Kitting out your kitchen
There’s an assumption that you need to have an arsenal of culinary weapons to be a good chef. However, this simply isn’t true. You need a few bits and bobs, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get started. Essentially, in the early days, all you need is pots and pans, some sharp knives, and basic utensils like peelers and graters. You’ll also need a few chopping boards, a scale, and a couple of mixing bowls. As you hone your skills and start to try more recipes, you can invest in new kit along the way. Appliances like blenders and food processors are very popular today, but you don’t need them to get started.
Taking on recipes for the first time can be daunting enough without choosing something that an experienced cook would find tricky. It’s great to be ambitious, but start off with simple recipes, and build up to more complex dishes once you become acclimatized to the kitchen. There are lots of different options when it comes to finding recipes. Many people choose to take on family classics that have been passed down through the generations. If you have a keen chef in the family, take advantage of their skills, and ask them to come and spend a bit of time with you and show you how to create some of their signature dishes. You can also search online or buy recipe books. If you do an online search, you can tailor the results. For example, if you’re looking for chicken dishes or you want ideas for 15-minute main courses you can cook after work, you can enter these search terms.
When you’re choosing recipes, go for dishes that sound and look appealing. There’s no point in slaving over a hot stove if you’re not particularly interested in the end result. Think about what you’d order in a restaurant or what you like to eat when other people are cooking. Even if you’re a fan of fine dining, there are often ways to simplify the techniques and processes to make the recipes suitable for beginners.
Practice, practice, practice
Very few people can pick up a pan, add some ingredients, and create masterpieces overnight. Like anything, you get better at cooking over time. Of course, some people are incredibly talented, and they have a flair for it from the outset. But practice makes perfect.
With resolutions, we tend to start with great vigor, and then the novelty wears off. Don’t make a positive start, and then flip back to your old ways. Keep it up, practice the dishes you like, and try and adopt your new hobby as a change for life. Cooking at home will save you money, as well as improving your diet.
If you’re keen for extra tuition or you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere fast at home, it may be an idea to investigate cookery lessons. You may be able to take an evening course at a local college or attend a few lessons at a restaurant, for example.
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Food hygiene basics
If you’re cooking or preparing food at home, it’s essential that you’re aware of the basics of food hygiene. If you don’t adopt the relevant procedures or you fail to cook food properly, there’s a risk of food poisoning. If you serve chicken that is still pink, for example, you could develop a bacterial infection known as salmonella. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and headaches. Another common food-related infection is E.coli (Escherichia coli), which can be caused by ingesting contaminated foods, such as raw leaves and vegetables. If you’d like to find out more about food safety, you’ll find details at Unsafe Foods.
If you are preparing food in your kitchen, adopt the same safety guidelines as you would if you were a chef in a professional kitchen. Always wash your hands thoroughly before you begin, and then again after touching raw meat or fish. You should prepare different types of food on different chopping boards. If you’re cooking meat, poultry, or fish, take extra care. Some meats, such as beef, you can serve pink. However, foods like chicken should be cooked through. Make sure you wash salad leaves and vegetables before you serve them.
Tasting your food
If you watch a chef in action in a restaurant kitchen or you watch cooking programs on a regular basis, you’ll notice that the professionals taste their food on a regular basis. Don’t spend an hour putting a meal together to taste it only at the end when it’s on your plate. If you sample sauces, for example, along the way, you can adjust the taste to make sure it’s perfect. You may need to add more salt or a touch more pepper, for example.
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Expanding your repertoire
Like most things, cooking can become less enthralling if you make the same dishes over and over again. As you gain more confidence, and your skill level increases, try and expand your repertoire. Try new things, and use your palate to switch up flavors, and add original touches. Look for more recipes online, and take a trip to the local bookstore. Once you get to a certain level, you can add your own spin on recipes. You don’t have to follow them to the letter. You may cook something like a curry, for example, and decide it needs a little extra heat. Next time, you can increase the amount of chillies you use. Cooking is a learning curve, and you’ll develop your practical skills, as well as your ability to match flavors and create new combinations.
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One of the best things about learning to cook is entertaining. There’s nothing like treating friends or family to a home-cooked meal, getting everyone together, and having a catch-up over good food and a glass of wine. Entertaining is fun, but it can also be stressful, especially if you’re relatively new to cooking.
If you have invited people round for dinner, choose a menu that won’t have you chasing your tail for hours beforehand. Go for starters and desserts you can prepare in advance, and give yourself plenty of time to get sorted. If you’re catering for large numbers, it’s always best to go for crowd-pleasers, rather than alternative dishes that are a bit out there. Make sure you ask if anyone has any food allergies before you start planning your menu.
Once you’ve decided what you want to create, and you’ve told your guests a time, make a list of everything you need to do, and work out your plan of action. If you’re serving chilled starters and desserts, such as a prawn cocktail or a chocolate mousse, you can prepare these in advance, and then store them in the fridge. This means you only have to worry about the main course when your guests arrive. Use timers to remind you when to take things out of the oven, and try and keep your kitchen surfaces clutter-free. If there are pots and pans everywhere, it can be tough to keep track of what’s going on. Work your way through the list steadily, and try and stay calm. If you fall slightly behind, don’t panic. Nobody is going to be angry if you’re a few minutes late when you’re treating them to a lovely dinner.
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Are you a self-confessed ready-meal addict or do you rely on take-outs too much? If you’re keen to hone your culinary skills in 2017, hopefully, this guide will come in handy. Cooking can be stressful, and there may be a lot to do, but many people find it relaxing and cathartic. There’s nothing like enjoying the fruits of your labor.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be put off having a go in the kitchen. Anybody can learn to cook if they’ve got the right kit, and some simple recipes to follow. You may find that it’s a lot easier and much more enjoyable than you thought. When you’re getting started, you’ll need a few basics in terms of equipment and appliances. As you expand your repertoire, you can add new items. Start with basic recipes, and work your way up. You’ll find a vast array of options online, and there are myriad books available. Practice as much as you can, and look into organizing some cooking lessons. Taste your food as you go, and always bear food hygiene in mind. If you’re ready to take the next step and invite people over to sample a homemade feast, plan your menu carefully, and set out a timetable. Good luck!