Ever wish you could head into the kitchen and whip up a delicious dinner? The good news is that if you've read this far, you'll have no problem at all — because if you can read, you can cook. The trick is knowing some kitchen basics, what kinds of recipes are best, and where to find inspiration for making mouth-watering meals. Here are some ideas about how to get started.
Kitchen 101: The Basics
Even world-class chefs have to start somewhere. These basic tips can help you get off on the right foot in the kitchen:
- Choose recipes that aren't too complicated when you first start cooking. You don't want to be overwhelmed by a recipe that has unusual ingredients or difficult steps, or that is time consuming. Try one- or two-pot dishes, and be sure to check out our recipe section for some simple meal ideas.
- Read the recipe through from beginning to end before you start. Do you have all the right ingredients? Utensils? Appliances? Be sure you understand all the directions.
- Check the clock and make sure you have enough time to make the recipe. If you have to get dinner on the table by a certain time, figure out when you'll need to start in order to have the meal ready. Most recipe instructions include the amount of time it takes to prepare the dish. It might be a good idea to add 10 or 15 minutes to that time when you first try to conquer the kitchen — just to be on the safe side.
- Assemble all your ingredients in one place before you start. Some chefs like to measure out each ingredient ahead of time before cooking. Pull out the utensils, measuring cups, and spoons you'll be using and keep them handy so you won't need to run all over the kitchen.
- An apron is a good idea if you want to keep your clothes from getting dirty. (You can skip the chef's hat, but it's smart to tie back long hair.)
- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before any kind of food preparation. You may need to wash your hands several times as you cook, especially after touching raw meat, poultry (chicken and turkey), fish, and egg products.
- Never put cooked or ready-to-serve foods on plates, cutting boards, counters, or other surfaces where you have placed raw meat, poultry, fish, or egg products. Wash these surfaces first with hot, soapy water.
- Get permission, especially if you're babysitting. Find out about food allergies. If you're cooking for kids, ask their parents about any allergies. Don't cook without a parent's permission.
Where to Find Recipes
Here's a list of some places you can find fantastic recipes:
- Your family: Does your uncle have a world-famous pasta salad or have you always loved your grandmother's spicy chicken? They'll probably be flattered when you ask for the recipe!
- Cookbooks: Try libraries, where you can photocopy them, or bookstores
- Online: the Internet has many recipe and cooking sites
- TV cooking shows
- Cooking class at school
- Your friends
- Magazines and newspapers
- Supermarkets — check at the meat, produce, and fish sections
- Food packages — the box or bag may have a recipe on or inside the package
- Mail-in offers — if you send proof of purchase, some food companies will mail you a small book of recipes
Keep your recipes in one place — like a recipe box, folder, or notebook. As you start to collect recipes, you can organize them by category (for example, lunch, dinner, snacks, salads, chicken dishes, or pasta).
Getting Creative in the Kitchen
Once you get the hang of reading recipes and mastering some meals, you can get creative in the kitchen! Let loose and:
- Try experimenting with different ingredients — substitute beans for meat, or crunchy green beans for carrots, for example.
- Learn to use herbs and spices.
- Bring out your artistic side by experimenting with different colors and textures in meals.
- Focus on one type of dish and learn lots of variations.
- Try recipes from cultures or ethnicities other than your own.
- Invent your own recipes and try them out on family members and friends.
Most of all, don't be afraid to fail a few times. Cooking is like anything else — it takes practice. So even if no one likes your banana tacos, just remember: delicious meals come out of creative (and adventurous) minds.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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