Learn to Cook: The basics

Learn some cooking basics, today.

It’s way too easy to never learn to cook. Why? Because ordering from my favorite Chinese food, or grabbing Chick-Fil-A is just so much more convenient. 

I was never interested (which I kinda regret now that I live on the other side of the country from her) in cooking. I absolutely LOVE food, trust me, but there’s just so many things about cooking that are deal breakers for me!

  • Dishes
  • Time
  • Grocery shopping
  • Looking up recipes (if you don’t have a lot of cooking knowledge)
  • Just NOT convenient.

Ever since I’ve lived on my own/with my husband, things changed a little bit. My bank account started telling me that eating out all the time was a no go if I wanted to buy other things (like GAS). Along with that, I started watching the Food Network faithfully everyday, and I became really inspired to cook for my little family of two.

PLUS, my husband and I both love home-cooked meals, but we don’t cook very much. Not gonna work.

So I set out to teach myself cooking, and my ultimate goal is to develop my own style of cooking. Definitely not restaurant level, but enough to at leave my future family with a “grandma’s recipe” they can use.

I’ve gathered a list of steps, tips, and resources for you, because TRUST me, not only is someone who can cook attractive AF, but it saves you money.

If you have absolutely no knowledge in cooking, or you have very little, that’s where I started too, no big deal.

Let’s begin!

Some motivation

I used to be the kind of person who avoided cooking all the time. And for me it was becoming a family that really motivated me to learn. Well, that and my low bank account. But if you don’t think you’re cut out to cook, read these. We’re not alone.

1. Research the basics

We all start somewhere. There is absolutely NO shame. And if you have a little, you can google in your own privacy, and not tell anyone. I would ask my friends and mom all sorts of questions at first. They happily answered!

Now, you don’t have cook stuff right away, but at least get an idea of what the process is. Or else you’ll do what I did. Try to make a steak by a recipe, and not know how much to season, how long to pan sear, or even what kind of pan to use…..

Here’s some suggestions:

  • How to boil eggs/chicken (yes, this is a thing)
  • Pan searing chicken/steak/fish (different for each)
  • How to bake chicken/steak/fish (temperature and time are important)
  • What kind of pans there are (seriously, there’s a difference)

Additionally, I recommend looking up basic recipes you like to make. I looked up how to make pancakes, roast vegetables, and tilapia, because they’re the recipes I was particularly interested in. This varies for you.

It doesn’t hurt to watch the Food Network, or any other kitchen channel either. If they ever say a tool or ingredient I’ve never heard of, I’ll see what it is and make note of it. I honestly didn’t know what mascarpone was for ages, but I heard it thrown around all the time, until I saw Giada use it in one of her recipes.  (Thanks girl!)

Also, I recommend watching those cooking videos on Facebook. Quick way to find recipe ideas. And kill time when you’re bored.


2. Learn basic flavor profiles

Sometimes you crave “Italian” food. Other times you want “Mexican”, or “Chinese”. The funny thing is that these are also flavor profiles. If you love a certain type of food, learn the ingredients that create those flavors. For example, Italian food uses a lot of garlic, basil, parsley, etc.

Another great source is your family. My Salvadorian culture food is more on the savory and sweet side, rarely spicy.

The wonderful thing about learning basic profiles is that you’ll have a foundation on flavors that go well together. I use these when I don’t have a particular recipe, but I have a flavor I want in mind. I’ll flavor my chicken with herbs and spices that match whatever flavor I’m craving. This is how you develop your own style of cooking.

It’s pretty awesome.

Here’s an awesome post I used to learn about 7 Basic Profiles.

Here’s a post with 36 world cuisines, and an infographic!


3. Pay attention to your surroundings

Wait, what?

By this, I mean, try to “sense” out flavors in your favorite foods that you’re consuming everyday. If you can sense out particular taste and differences in your dishes, you’ll begin to develop a “taste” that will help you in your cooking.

If this sounds difficult, it’s really not.

Think about it this way: Think of the worst pizza you’ve ever had, and the best. Now what makes the difference between the two? Is it the crust? The sauce flavor? How thick it is, how long it was cooked, the ingredients? If you can pinpoint where the differences are for you that make a dish a hit or miss, you can learn a lot. When you start to pay more attention to the differences in how your favorite restaurants are cooking their food, you’ll get inspiration and knowledge on how to make your own versions of you favorite foods.

I learned this particularly when trying to make Pho. I had never made this before in my life, but I’ve had it from a few different places. And my favorite place has more tender chicken and rice noodles, and more flavorful soup which made all the difference for me. So when I tried to make my own for the very first time, I made sure that I tried to make my chicken and noodles more tender, and to give my soup the flavor I love.


4. Practice with “default recipes”

There’s a general recipe for lots of food. And in the cooking world, salt and pepper go a looong way. The best way to start is by practicing with what I call “default recipes”. Think basic pancakes, grilled cheese, chicken, steak, rice, etc. These are the basic ways of doing popular dishes. Don’t aim for the “twist on ____”, or “not your average ___”. Those will usually be a little more customized and unique, and we just want to get the hang of how much salt and pepper to use. Some of you may not need this, but some of us do/did.

I remember the first steak I tried to cook. I had NO idea how much seasoning to use. It took 2 more times before gaining confidence in my salting. Same with fish. I used a little garlic salt and lemon juice, and the more I made it, the better I got at gauging how much of each to use to not overdo it.

It takes practice.


5. Make some fun recipes

So now that you have an idea on basic cooking, you can get to work on making those recipes you saved. It’s like riding a bike with training wheels. Making recipes is the best way to gain cooking knowledge, and you’ll get a feel for what you enjoy making, and what you’d rather leave to restaurant pros.

I’ve learned to make pizza, pasta, boba tea, pho, enchiladas, and turkey burgers -among other stuff- through other’s recipes. Getting recipes from the experts will give you knowledge on how to cook, how to flavor, and what goes into certain flavors. You may also get some inspiration.

While you make these foods, also critique your work. What would you change? How would you make things different next time? Anything you’d leave out?


6. Experiment!!!!

This my favorite step. After you’ve had practice making recipes, you’ve had some time to taste good and bad dishes. You’ve probably made some mistakes, and also made some magical dishes. I didn’t think I could make Chicken Cordon Bleu because it looked too fancy, but after a few tries and messes, I nailed it!

If you’re still unsure about how to go about this, you can still follow recipes, but switch out ingredients. Have you ever seen the show Chopped? These guys are masters at substitutions and improvised flavors. They’ll use candy in their meals because it’s not a candy, but a sugar flavor. You can use the same idea. Ingredients that have similar flavors can be switched out.

If you’d like some inspiration, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Here’s 67 Healthy Recipe Substitutions by Greatist.

Additional tips

Take your time

I’ve been trying to learn to cook for a little over a year now. I’ve got some recipes down, and I’ve made some new ones that I’ve both loved and hated. Also, I still have a long list of things I want to make, so I’ll also be learning for a while. Don’t worry about how long it takes you, just go at your own pace.


Have fun

The hubby and I have made some BOMB pizza before, and I’ve made chicken buffalo dip and other fun food for special occasions. I cooked for our thanksgiving, and some other occasions. It has not all been good, but I had fun. And really that’s all that matters. If all else fails, we’re going to Chipotle.


Try food services like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Green Chef, etc.

If you’re a small family like my husband and I, buying groceries might be a problem, because they come in bigger sizes than I really need. Sometimes I just want a new meal, without buying the ingredients I won’t really use after. Food services like these may help. I want to a comparison of the three this year, I’ll keep you posted on that.


Cookbooks can be your friends

I’ve invested in some cookbooks, and have gotten some wonderful recipes out of them. I like to look for categories I’m interested in (health eating, desserts only, etc). Honestly, it’s easier for me to have the book handy and I can easily save pages, rather than have to dig through thousands of online pages and articles for a recipe each time I want to find something specific, it can be time consuming sometimes.



Please share your cooking journeys!

How did you learn to cook? Any tips you’d like to add?

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