From Gordon Ramsey to Ina Garten, and everyone in between (including our local celebrities like Sean Brock and Maneet Chauhan), the abundance of professional chefs these days is astounding. No matter what time of day you’re watching TV or what fancy new Nashville restaurant you’re checking out, you can find a pro whipping up dishes and making it look easy.
Still, cooking intimidates many of us. Despite a myriad of DIY websites, recipe blogs, and cooking shows, we often don't know where to start. And forget about creating culinary masterpieces when the idea of simply getting a meal on the table is daunting!
Even though I have a degree in Culinary Arts and years of professional cooking under my belt, I still have moments of standing motionless in the kitchen wondering what to do for dinner. But the thing is, you don’t have to go to culinary school or train under a star chef in order to succeed in the kitchen. Start by following these five tips to enhance your skills and enjoy the art of making meals!
- Recipes aren’t rules. We often rely on recipes to direct us through breakfasts, lunches, dinners and the snacks in between. Whether they’re selected from the internet or they’re trusted family heirlooms, our recipes become synonymous with our culinary capabilities. While recipes are a wonderful tool to spark creativity and not only instruct, but encourage hesitant cooks to step outside their comfort zone, we should look at them as more of a guide than a rule book. See, recipes can change and adapt based on the ingredients you have in your pantry, the weather outside or even your mood for the evening. Next time you’re trying to make a recipe, but you’re missing an ingredient, try substituting what you have on hand! Think of recipes as your culinary muse, and allow them to shepherd you through the overwhelming world of cooking, but don’t feel like you have to follow them to a T.
- Stock the staples. Having a well-stocked pantry is an absolute must if you want to whip up a quick dish with ease. Simple things like good quality olive oil, a decent versatile cheese (like Parmigiano-Reggiano), fresh citrus and herbs, and made-from-scratch bread can turn a drab meal into a decadent dish. Keeping them on hand at all times allows you to quickly bring together meals or take your planned dinners to the next level.
- Spruce up your spice cabinet. Spices can transform any meal and add tons of flavor without adding any calories or salt. A combination of cumin, chili powder, and paprika can turn a can of black beans into a Mexican Fiesta. A touch of ginger powder, coriander, and cardamom can add Moroccan flare to your next shrimp dish. Spices give you a chance to explore the world's flavors without ever leaving your kitchen and can raise your meals to the next level!
- If you can make it, make it. Things like homemade chicken stock, hand-kneaded bread, or made-from-scratch pasta sauce will absolutely bring all of your creations to the pro-chef level. Taking the time to invest in your ingredients not only saves you some serious dollars at the grocery store, but also cuts out the added preservatives, shelf-stabilizers, and sodium you find in pre-made items. So next time you have some leftover chicken bones, try making your own stock. Your wallet and your taste buds will thank you.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. If you think that those star chefs have never burned, dropped, ruined or just completely failed with a new creation, then you’re wrong. Their excellence comes from perseverance, and the ability to learn from their mistakes. You should always take big leaps in the kitchen and try new things. Cultivating creativity is key in professional kitchens, and your home should be no different.
The culinary world scares kitchen newbies. With unfamiliar ingredients and a multitude of complicated gizmos and gadgets, it can seem like the fancy meals should be left to the executive chefs of the world. But you don’t need much to create delicious dishes at home. Practice makes perfect. As you gain confidence in the kitchen, you’ll find yourself creating your own recipes based on what you and your family like, and pretty soon, you’ll be cooking like a pro!
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