No matter how old I get, I am positive that I will always ache for my own mother’s cooking. Her meals are thoughtful, delicious, and nourishing … everything you would expect from a girl raised on a farm. She’s someone who appreciates butter and isn’t afraid of a recipe that has more than ten steps. She is an amazing cook and I truly adore her food.
You would think that being raised in a home with delectable dishes I would have somehow inherited my mother’s kitchen skills. I mean, osmosis is a thing! To my mom’s credit, she did invite me into the kitchen often, but somehow I never acquired her skills.
For years I allowed the narrative of “my mom’s cooking is way better than mine” to direct my meal planning. I opted for premade lasagnas and taco “kits”. I told my kids, “Stop complaining, we will have a great meal on Sunday at Mimi’s!” I came to believe that I could not season an Italian dish well or make my own fancy slaw for tacos. Surely I was destined to be a lackluster cook.
And then, I made the decision to stop the excuses and turn my kitchen into a place of learning rather than a place of comparison. I am a smart, educated woman … I can cook. It is not rocket science. I just needed a hefty serving of practice. A dash of time. And a sprinkle of determination.
Much of my decision to become a better cook was born out of necessity. After all, take-out for a large family gets expensive! But I also wanted to become more like my mom; her ability to cook has been a blessing to so many. Food is a gift and it is one I want to give too. Not just for the sake of eating something that tastes yummy, but also for the feelings of joy and laughter and community it can create.
So, I started playing around in the kitchen and I have seemingly become a better cook overnight! Well, technically, it has been over the last few years, but still … After all that time of thinking I couldn’t do it, I now can.
Curious what I did to get over the hump of self-doubt and into the business of making better food? Here are a few of my tips:
Let Go of Fear
So much in the kitchen can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Let go of fear and just try! Recently, I read a recipe that called for a water bath. Hmmm, never done that before… Instead of setting it aside I just did it. I followed the directions, spilled a little water in my oven, and still managed to produce a delicious flan as the endcap to our Tuesday tacos.
Embrace New Spices and Seasonings
Yes, salt and pepper are essential but you know what else is really delicious? Cardamom. And turmeric. And black garlic. And sesame seeds. Rather than shy away from spices and seasonings I haven’t used before, now I specifically look for recipes that will give me the opportunity to taste a new flavor profile.
Study the “Greats”
Read cookbooks and watch the Food Network as part of your cooking education. You’ll soon discover chefs you align with and by studying them and their work you will gain so much in regard to meal planning, ingredient selection, preparation, and presentation.
Follow Beautiful Food Accounts on Social Media
Not all inspiration has to come from career chefs like those on the Food Network, social media is full of cooks that started out like you and I. They truly make food preparation a down to earth experience. My recent favorite follows are The Modern Proper and Minimalist Baker.
For so long I told myself I couldn’t. Then I had an unrelated conversation with one of my kids that ended with me saying, “Forget all the excuses, just give it a try” … which obviously prompted me to take my own sage advice.
Say Yes to Fats
Ya’ll, real butter is not evil. In fact, splurging on Kerrygold is a very worthwhile investment. Bacon fat too. Do not dump that gold. Learn to embrace quality fats and you will hands down enjoy your meals more.
Toss What Doesn’t Work
Give yourself permission to throw out a recipe that doesn’t turn out well. Is it wasteful? Yes. Is it part of the learning experience? Absolutely. If your enchiladas turned to mush or you overcooked the steaks, toss it and order a pizza. You’re not going to be perfect from the get go so give yourself grace to mess up and move on.
Ask for Help
It’s hard to be an adult and confess my cooking faux pas. Things like I don’t know how to use the bread machine I got as a wedding gift or that I’ve never roasted a whole chicken. But you know what? My friends will both love and teach me through my aspiration to become more fluid in the kitchen. All I need to do is ask. Find a friend, or a neighbor, or your good ol’ mom and say, “Next time you make your famous _______” can I come over and prep it with you so I can learn your secrets?
Use Sharp Knives
Dull knives are a kitchen’s worst nightmare. That doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy a new, fancy set, it just means you have to learn how to sharpen your tools so they can work on your behalf. Use sharp knives. You won’t regret it.