12 Ways to Be a Better Cook

Words: Robyn Samuels

There are few descriptors as popular as ‘foodie’, but as we know, not all foodies are cooks and not all cooks are foodies. The great news is that there are many ways to improve your skills, and it all begins in the kitchen. Here are 12 tips for becoming a better cook.

1. Make time to cook

cooking hacks

First things first, being a better cook actually means getting in the kitchen and making time to cook. We all lead busy lives and mustering the energy to make food from scratch can seem like a huge effort, especially after you’ve had a long day. But there are some great cooking hacks you can try to cut down on time spent in the kitchen.

Investing in useful cooking equipment like blenders and air fryers help cut down cook time considerably. Another way to get the most out of your cook is doubling down on ingredients, so you have enough for the next day.


2. Improvise

They say ‘hunger is the best cook’, but so is improvisation. In fact, some of the world’s most popular dishes and food inventions were happy accidents.

Improvising is one of the best ways to inspire creativity in the kitchen.

When it comes to cooking, there are no rules and substitutions can be made. Improvising is also a great way to make use of what’s left in your fridge before it goes bad. Try introducing new ingredients to a familiar dish. It could be simple, like incorporating pomegranates into pico de gallo to make your guacamole even more refreshing.

Of course, baking is a little more complex and specific, but certain recipes could be improvised too. Ran out of ingredients for tart? No problem, easily use avocado as a butter substitute for you tart base or use it for a chocolate mousse filling. Improvising is one of the best ways to inspire creativity in the kitchen.

Get the recipe for Avocado Pastry Tartlets or Chocolate Avocado Mousse Tartlets.


3. Make a list + check it twice

ethical overwhelm

Nothing hurts more than having to make a second trip to the grocery store. If you’re trying a new recipe, check your pantry before going to the store instead of playing a guessing game. Make a list and check it twice. A dish is only as good as what you put into it.

Check the quality of the produce and expiry dates for freshness.

Forgetful shoppers will love the app, Any List, which allows you to check things off your digital list and share it with friends or housemates.


4. Read the recipe

how to be a better cook

Reading goes a long way. If you are following a recipe, read it in its entirety before getting started on a dish. This helps have an understanding of the steps involved and the complexity of the dish. It also tells you what can be prepared beforehand, instead of frantically trying to get it all done and missing a crucial step in the process.

If you’re viewing a recipe online, one of the best and overlooked sections in recipes is the notes section.

It includes helpful tips and best practices to ensure a better cook or bake. Another helpful thing to read is the comments; other home cooks often share what should be adjusted, so you can avoid what they’ve mucked up.


5. Flavour combinations

Surprise your taste buds with flavours you wouldn’t normally try. Pairing two unexpected ingredients could result in a pleasant surprise. Think of ordering ice cream – it’s always best to go with one classic flavour and one contrasting flavour. You don’t want the flavours to compete with one another, but rather complement one another.

Flavour also changes with technique. Instead of making regular butternut, consider taking the caramelisation one step further. This adds a lovely depth of flavour to an already delicious taste – try our Burnt Butternut Mash and see for yourself.

Unique methods like curing or pickling could lead to great flavours. Sometimes simplicity is the best way to exact flavour from a dish, like this Citrus & Fennel Cured Trout.


6. Texture

Texture has the power to completely transform a dish. There are certain foods we dislike and sometimes it’s not so much the taste, but rather the mouthfeel that’s off-putting. If you think about it, the crunch factor is what often most attracts us to foods regarded as ‘less healthy’. When conceptualising a dish, consider the different textural elements you could incorporate for better mouthfeel (think croutons and soup).

Versatile ingredients are great for adding texture to dishes.

Take chickpeas for example, when toasted in a pan with some oil, the outer skin becomes crispy. For an extra crunchy texture, they could be finished in the air fryer. The mealy texture means that they incorporate well in veggie burgers and even dense desserts like chocolate brownies. Looking for a smoother texture? Hello, hummus!

Get the recipe for our Healthy Homemade Hummus or Chickpea Pecan Brownies.


7. Expand your food knowledge

Getting better at anything requires up-skilling. The great thing about food is that there are amazing cookbooks to pore over and shows to binge-watch, as well as YouTube tutorials and social media food trends to try. There’s a world of cuisine to explore and it’s all at your fingertips. It’s also a fun way to improve your cooking skills.


8. Seasoning

how to be a better cook

One way to discredit your efforts is by under or over seasoning your food. When it comes to simple flavours, you want the ingredients and fresh produce to shine, but skimping on the salt could make the entire dish dull.

Uplift the natural flavours of your dish by adding just enough salt/pepper or even a bit of acidity.

Similarly, overcompensating by adding too much seasoning is an overkill. Seasoned cooks will know what to expect when it comes to the strength of spices, but they also vary across brands, with some having a high sodium content (especially meat rubs). Taste your spices before adding them to your dish to gauge the potency.

Take your cooking from bland to bold with these umami pastes.


9. Taste as you go

how to be a better cook

Don’t sabotage your hard work and preparation by forgetting to taste your dish as you cook. As a rule of thumb, you should taste your stew, sauce or dish after every addition.

This is something we often forget to practise when we are familiar with a certain dish and cook routinely with set weekly dishes. Remember, cooking is like an onion – each dish has layers/depth to it and each ingredient adds a different flavour profile.


10. Clean as you cook

how to be a better cook

Have you watched an episode of MasterChef where one of the contestants has a messy station and the camera crew zooms in on it? Don’t be that person. Clean as you cook!

Everyone has their own rhythm in the kitchen and a system that works for them, but a messy kitchen means a bigger cleanup.

Creating a little bit of order by tidying your chopping block and making sure you prep beforehand helps control the chaos.


11. Cook with a partner

how to be a better cook

Cooking feels like less of a chore and more of a hobby when you have a partner. Even if the other person isn’t the best cook, it’s a great way to spend time with your kids, friends or partner; some of the best memories are made in the kitchen.


12. Cook for yourself

co

One of the joys of cooking is bringing comfort to friends and family. But, cooking can also become an expectation, making it less enjoyable. Apart from that, we usually cook according to other people’s preferences, which is especially true if you live with fussy eaters, AKA kids. Cooking for yourself allows you to indulge your taste buds and explore more flavours.

Remind yourself why you love food and cooking in those often rare and quiet moments.

There are many ways to become a better cook, but it starts with having fun in the kitchen. Don’t be overly critical of your efforts and remember to trust your palate.

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