Once upon a time, I was a naive young lady who gets out of bed and finds a full meal on the dining table ready for me to eat; who picks out chocolates and ice cream to fill the fridge; and soon, a struggling self-reliant young adult who couldn’t ever cook to save my life. When I was in college, I was away from home but never felt the need to learn how to cook. At the dorm, we had free meals. At the hotel-dormitory I transferred to, I could order room service or I could just eat out! Things changed when I went to New York after graduation. The first few times, my mom and sister, who are very good cooks, took turns in cooking. But then one day, they went back to the Philippines and there I was: compelled to live independently with zero kitchen skills whatsoever.
Of course, I began with the basics: canned goods. Also, from time to time I would order Chinese, get food to-go or eat at a friend’s or cousin’s. I learned a few dishes (mostly savory and soup meals) over time but never really mastered the art of cooking. I didn’t even realize that I don’t know how to fry until I went to Pinas, cooked fish for my dad — and flopped! Sunog na ang labas girl pero hilaw na hilaw ang loob!!! 😅 I mean, come on! I always fry spam, bacon and hotdogs! I can even make a mean fried or scrambled egg! Seriously, I was proud of that. Feeling expert na bigla.
Fast forward to today, 5 years of marriage and 3 years with a kid later, I can say that I’ve really improved and I’ve learned quite a lot after several mishaps, burnt stuff and oil blisters. Am I now an expert? Hardly. Did I get any professional training? No. I am actually still in the process of learning but I’m just hoping that by sharing what I’ve learned, in a way, I could help new moms/wives or anybody out there who’s learning to cook. Be warned though that these are solely based on my experience and I have no technical background on this. If you are a chef reading and my tips are fluffed in a professional’s point of view, you are very welcome to point that out. I’d love to learn from you.
Tips I wish I knew when I started:
- ◉ Familiarize your stove/induction cooker/oven. I could not stress this out more. Some appliances use special settings for frying, etc. while others don’t. Some ovens are “hotter” at 370 than other ovens. I know, it’s weird. But it is what it is so get to know your appliances well.
- ◉ Use a grater for mincing garlic and ginger. Many recipes involve these and while chopping with a knife is normally done, most beginners find it quite challenging. I used Slap Chop before but I find using a grater/microplane easier.
- ◉ Invest on at least one good chef’s knife.
- ◉ If you’re using a recipe book or some sort of cheat sheet, read the entire thing first before you start cooking. And make sure you have all the ingredients you need.
- ◉ When sautéing, heat the pan first. After heating the pan, heat the oil. Make sure that before adding the oil, the pan is already dry because a droplet of water added with oil can cause oil splatter. You wouldn’t want that. Then, you can add your ingredients. Heating your pan and oil before adding meat also avoids meat sticking on your pan.
- ◉ You cannot completely avoid oil splatter. For one, meat and veggies are usually wet from the washing or from being frozen.
- ◉ High temperature on pan as well as fat cause more splattering so brace yourself. Or get a splatter screen. Or use a lid as a shield.
- ◉ Do not cook meat straight from the freezer.
- ◉ Do not poke meat when marinading. I used to do this a lot but I was told that doing so causes the meat to lose some of its juice.
- ◉ Make meat as tender as you want it to be. If the recipe you’re using tells you to boil/cook for 15-20 minutes but by that time the meat’s still not as tender as you would have it, extend the cooking time. Don’t be afraid of adding more water until it reaches the tenderness of your liking. When it’s done or tender enough and the soup/sauce is still too watery, simmer on low-medium heat until it reaches the right consistency. Of course, always taste test and adjust/add seasoning as necessary.
- ◉ Make sure butter, eggs and other dairy products are in room temperature before cooking or baking.
- ◉ A dash of salt brings out flavor. If you’re baking something chocolatey, sprinkle some salt into it to produce a fuller chocolate flavor. Remember that salt can reduce bitterness and improve sweetness when used in low concentrations. If used in high concentrations, it can reduce sweetness but can enhance umami (savory taste).
- ◉ Don’t be scared to improvise when cooking. Experiment and adjust according to your family’s taste. You can substitute some ingredients with another thing you like, too! I always do this when cooking, and truthfully have no exact recipe to some dishes I make. (I’ll attach a SUBSTITUTE GUIDE that you can print out soon.)
- ◉ When it comes to baking, making improvs is not exactly wise unless you are a professional or super savvy baker. Keep the exact measurements or if you adjust one, adjust everything else accordingly. For example, a recipe tells you to put 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking soda and 2 tsp vanilla extract. If you only have 1/2 cup flour, only put 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Just put it this way: Baking is a science. Imagine it more like your Chemistry class. Exact measurements is key.
- ◉ Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Remember, all great chefs have failed and thrown some food away at some point.
Learning to cook is definitely not a cake walk. It takes practice, patience and a whole slew of oil blisters! Good luck to us, noob kitchen monsters!6