Most good cooks weren’t born with smart kitchen habits. Getting comfortable in the kitchen takes time. Here are 7 smart kitchen habits that made us better cooks. If you’re looking to up your kitchen game, we bet these can help.
1. Meal planning
Planning before you shop means no last-minute decisions and no missing ingredients. The more deliberate you are, the more likely you are to cook dishes that intrigue you instead of falling back on old favorites. If it helps, try one of these meal-planning apps we’ve recommended.
2. Read the whole recipe before starting, including the comments if you’re online
Thanks to the internet, you can find a recipe for any dish, any time. But that doesn’t mean the recipe will be any good.
Have you noticed that the recipes we all share here on Cool Mom Eats are actually edible and delicious? That’s because when we’re looking for a new recipe — as do we all — we read the comments before trying it. If they’re pretty consistent, we listen! Sometimes that means abandoning a recipe entirely and searching again. And once in a while, we have a favorite recipe and don’t understand why commenters have problems with it, so this isn’t totally foolproof, but it helps a lot.
It will also help you learn a few tricks. Like if 92% of commenters recommend cooking the dish for five minutes longer or adding more salt? Do it. We’ve got more tips on how to pick the best online recipe, just in case you need a little more help.
Important: Be sure not to just rely on the star ratings without reading comments to go with them. It’s amazing how many people make a substitution that doesn’t work in a recipe (canned tomatoes for fresh ones, or margarine for butter) and then blame the recipe. Or maybe they ding the recipe for portion size, altitude-based issues, or something as personal as “I don’t like spicy foods and didn’t realize that cayenne pepper was a spicy pepper.” Sigh.
3. Using mise en place
Measuring ingredients and setting them out in order before cooking means making fewer mistakes. Mise en place, French for “everything in its place,” makes me consider the whole process.
Published recipes aren’t always perfect; have you ever read one that called for cooking some ingredients in one pot, some more in a second pot, and then blending them in a third pot? Laying out ingredients in advance lets you think ahead about how you can make a recipe easier or better — and often eliminate some of the pots or dishes required.
4. Tasting (and smelling) as you go
Get your tasting spoon ready! If a dish is missing something, don’t be afraid to add other herbs and spices. Tasting and smelling as you go helps you understand how individual ingredients make a dish better (or don’t). And every pro chef will tell you if you’re not tasting as you go, you’re doing it wrong.
5. Cleaning as you go
So, we’re not sure this makes us better cooks, but it makes us happier, more relaxed cooks, which makes us like cooking more. Also, it helps us remember — and remind the kids — that certain items, like wooden utensils and knives, should always be washed by hand, not tossed into a dirty sink or the dishwasher.
6. Minding waste
We’re careful to use everything we can, composting scraps or using them for stock, and recycling whenever possible. Using as much as possible of every vegetable or roast chicken actually leads to creativity in the kitchen,
Need to use up some leftover eggplant after you make eggplant parm? Time to learn to make baba ganoush! Those chicken bones can be used to make homemade chicken stock, just as soon as you learn how. Did your sister bring you a bunch of arugula from her garden? Make arugula pesto!
The more you have an opportunity to try new things (and sometimes fail), the better and more confident cook you become, and getting creative with leftover foods can really help with this.
7. Doing even more research
We tend to rush into so many things hoping for the best, but a little extra research — beyond reading recipe comments — goes a long way toward becoming a better cook. There might be a reason you need to brine or braise, so don’t just skip those important steps because you think it might not matter.
In the end, what really makes a better cook is practice. Even when you start with someone else’s recipe, if you keep at it, you’ll be coming up with your own perfect variations in no time at all. And that, friends, is when you really become the cook you want to be.