For those of you at the beginning of your cooking journey; a few tips and basic pitfalls to avoid.
Read the recipe from start to finish.
This may sound incredibly basic, but actually it is very important. It is tempting to look at a photograph, scan the ingredients and then launch into making your chosen dish, but my advice to my children is always:
- Read the recipe from start to finish first and check:
- Does anything need preparing in advance, such as marinating meat or allowing yeast products to rise? If so, how long in advance do I have to start making this dish? There is nothing more frustrating than deciding on a dish, getting/buying the necessary ingredients and then realising you should have started a few hours ago!
- Do I need to buy any specific ingredients?
- Do I have the necessary equipment to make this dish and if not can I compromise?
- Do I actually have the skills to make this dish?!!!
Check you have all the necessary ingredients.
When you have decided that you want to make your chosen recipe (which you have read from start to finish!), go through the ingredients to ensure you have everything in stock. If not, consider if you need to go out and buy them or if you can substitute something else. This is tricky as a novice cook but arguably a necessity as you develop your cooking skills. Savoury food is often easier to adjust. You can frequently substitute vegetables and herbs for example but altering cake recipes is a lot more difficult. This is something that comes with experience. As a general rule, I try to stick quite rigidly to the recipe the first time I try it, but often make changes thereafter to suit both my taste and ingredients available at the time.
Get everything out before you start.
All my recipes provide a list of ingredients, in the order in which you will need to use them, as well as a list of necessary equipment. Unless there is an aspect of the recipe which needs to be prepared at a different time, I always recommend that you start by collecting all the ingredients and equipment you will need. I even place the ingredients in the order given in the recipe – this makes it easier when you actually start cooking and it ensures that you do not miss anything out. I try to put any leftover ingredients away as soon as I have used what I need. This keeps your counters clear and tidy and saves time later. I now have a beautiful large kitchen, but for many years I had a tiny space with a small work surface – as such I had to develop good habits.
Prep your ingredients.
Before you start cooking, make sure your ingredients have been prepared as stated in the list of ingredients. My recipes, like most others, will specify, for example, 1 onion, peeled and chopped rather than just 1 onion. The first time you make a dish, I would recommend preparing all your vegetables as specified in the list of ingredients, before you start cooking. The second time you prepare a dish you will feel more confident to prepare some of the ingredients during the course of actually cooking the dish. If you are sautéing vegetables for 5 minutes for example, you may have time to prep other ingredients during this time. Practice makes perfect and these skills do not take long to acquire.
Wash up as you go along.
Another good tip is to wash up as you cook. As well as keeping your kitchen clear and easy to work in, it reduces that sinking feeling you get when you have finished cooking but are faced with a mountain of washing up! My girls will laugh at this – it is a long-standing battle in our kitchen!
After you have cooked and eaten your dish, think about whether you would do anything differently next time. For example, would you cook it for less or more time, would you add more or less salt/spices, would you add more filling to the cake etc? If necessary, make notes on your recipe. I always think I will remember, but inevitably do not. A quick reminder is a great idea.
Cooking should be enjoyable or at the very least rewarding. Relax, don’t stress, enjoy, have fun and eat well! A lumpy sauce or an overcooked cookie are not the end of the world and hopefully, if you try again, you will learn from your mistakes and make beautiful smooth lump free sauces and cookies which are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Soon you will be cooking your favourite food like a master!