I do most of the cooking at home, yet never really learned how to cook. Truth is, I still mostly just wing it, while trying to balance speed, taste and variety. Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years that I now use all the time. No complex kitchen wizardry, just practical tidbits and thoughts for fast, everyday cooking.
Many herbs can be bought frozen in handy containers. When you use them, they come pretty close to using fresh herbs, without the hassle of limited shelf life, cleaning and cutting them. They’re ways better than dried variants. You don’t have to unfreeze them before using them, just add them immediately to your dish. This is pretty much the only way I use garlic these days.
Time your spices right
There’s no hard rules here, but in general fresh/frozen herbs go in at the end, otherwise they dull due to the cooking process. Dried spaces and strong flavors (e.g. pepper) are better at the start so you have more time to balance them out in case you added too much.
Use more salt than you think you need
This might be common sense, but I grew up using very little salt and hence never learned to use it properly. Salt is a universal flavor enhancer: use it liberally, even in things that are supposed to be sweet. Not every salt is created equal.
Replace water with stock
If you want to add extra flavor to a dish, try cooking with bouillon/stock/broth instead of (or in addition to) water. Works especially well with rice. No need to prep the broth yourself (that takes a lot of time), just buy it in your local supermarket. In my experience, the liquid versions are much better than the dried cubes.
Add a spoon of sugar
A spoon of sugar will make a lot of things better. Brussels sprouts, (glazed) carrots, green beans, tomato sauce. A small amount of sugar won’t make your dish sweet, it will just work to tone down other bitter or sour tastes.
Use low heat when needed
I’ve often used too much high heat on the kitchen stove, usually because I am trying to get food on the table quickly. I’ve now learned that some things require low heat and a bit more patience to do right. Especially sautéing onions, garlic and mushrooms are easy to mess up on high heat.
Finish Pasta in the pan
Use a stir-fry pan to make your pasta sauce, cook your pasta separately. When your pasta is almost done, add it to your sauce pan and add some of the pasta water as well (don’t overdo it!). The result will be a more smooth pasta - the starch in the pasta water will do that.
Cook meat right
Everyone can cook a steak. For most of us however, cooking a steak properly is an acquired skill. This doesn’t only apply to steak, but really to any piece of meat (or fish). Some things I learned:
Pre-heat your oven
This might be another no-brainer to most people, but I used to never pre-heat my oven as someone once told me it wasn’t required for hot air ovens. I now know it makes all the difference - cooking time actually matches what the packaging says.
I love kitchen appliances I can just turn on and not pay attention to until the timer goes off.
A vegetable steamer for example was a life changer for me. If you buy your (fresh) produce pre-cleaned and cut, you can just toss that in the steamer and your dinner is already half ready. They say it’s healthier as well as you don’t wash away “the good stuff”.
Combine steaming with putting some meat or fish in the oven on a timer or time-based contact-grill and your active cooking time is reduced to something like 10 min for simple but healthy meals.
Others timer appliances:
One challenge will all of these of course is having the space to store them all. Cleaning can be an issue too as they’re not always (entirely) made to go into the dishwasher.
While some all-in-one devices exists (e.g. multi-cooker), I’m hesitant these are devices that are just mediocre at everything they do, often with limited meal volume and a dozen accessories that are a pain to store and clean. IMO, there’s more room for innovation here.
While the internet is obviously full of recipes, I still maintain my own list that is tailored to my family, preferences and what ingredients are easily available in our local supermarket. Most are just one-liners or a list of ingredients without instructions but there are periods during which we use that list very extensively to determine what to eat.
I’m planning to create a dedicated post about meal planning at some point in which I’ll share this list and some other thoughts.
Meanwhile, here’s 3 egg related recipes I found fun.
A friend recently recommended these to me. Looks fancy and pretty tasty too! Recipe.
I rarely eat poached eggs, because 1) I didn’t grew up with them - I only learned of them when seeing them on a hotel breakfast menu and 2) I’ve only tried making them a few times and most of them failed. However, last time I followed these instructions (vinegar, fresh eggs, drain the whites, vortex) and they turned out ok!
What are your favorite cooking tips?