Whilst friends often compliment the food I make, I'm far from having any culinary training. I didn't grow up learning to cook from my mother or grandmother. In fact I'm just an ordinary person who loves food and finds great pleasure in being in the kitchen. So what is it that makes my food taste great? Well for starters, it doesn't always! In fact sometimes I get the "maybe don't cook this one again darling" comment from my husband, and that's ok! Luckily it doesn't happen too often, and I think it's because I use 5 basic rules that I thought you might find useful to help you get more success in the kitchen.
1. Use the best quality ingredients you can afford
Did you know that the majority of chronic diseases - heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer, Alzheimer's - can be prevented through diet? It sounds so simple, but sadly there is not enough information out there to help people make the right choices when it comes to food. The reality is that the quality of the produce we buy can help us lead longer and happier lives. Which is what we all want, right?
If so, a good starting point is to buy the best quality ingredients you can afford. What does this mean?
- It means buying whole foods. These are foods that are sold exactly as they're grown, in their natural form. Whole foods haven't been refined or processed in any way, and they require you to prepare and cook them at home. For those of you who don't feel too confident in the kitchen but want to lead healthier lives, hopefully the rest of this post will give you some tips to increase that confidence.
- It means buying locally. I live in London where there are tons of farmers markets open most weekends where you can buy fresh organic produce at great prices. This means you'll be eating food that is in season where you live which has been shown to have profound effects on people's health.
- It means buying organic. I know organic can be very expensive (some say up to 65% more expensive - ouch!). However, organic means the food you're buying has been produced without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides or any artificial hormones of any kind. Not only will make your food taste a million times better, but you will be increasing your intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help you fight disease. A point to note though is that just because something is labelled as organic, still always check the label. If it's not a whole food it may still contain large quantities of saturated fat, sugar and salt. So be aware!
There's a reason you see the world's top chefs prepping food all day on these cooking shows. Because it works! Getting prepared will make your life in the kitchen SO much easier, and anything that will reduce kitchen stress is a must in my books! So, what exactly does 'prepping' entail?
- Clear the decks. Make sure your sink and draining board are cleared. And if you have a dishwasher make sure it's not full of clean dishes! You WILL be creating washing up, and there's nothing more stressful than having to wash up when you've already got a load of stuff piled up in the sink.
- Read through your recipe to see if anything needs doing before the actual cooking. For example when I make raw chocolate it often requires melted coconut oil. This takes a few minutes to do so I always do this first so it's ready as soon as I need it.
- Chop, dice and measure out your ingredients before you begin. You know on cooking programmes when they make it look so easy because they've got everything all ready in those little bowls? Well do that! I promise it will change your life! My husband even now enjoys cooking because of this simple step.
3. Keep it simple
Uncomplicated food made from great quality produce by far wins over a complicated fancy-shmancy dish made from cheap ingredients. And when I say simple, I mean REALLY simple. I often use just 3 main ingredients, and add flavour with onion, garlic, spices and herbs. The Italians do this so well (my fave cuisine).
4. Remember who you're cooking for!
Whilst following recipes are great, you may have different tastes to the person who wrote the recipe. In fact the chances are you probably do. So don't worry about going 'off piste' by taking an ingredient out or adding one in. I often leave out vanilla in chocolate recipes because I find it overpowering. And I often use coriander instead of parsley because a) I LOVE coriander and b) I usually have it in the fridge (stored in a small glass of water by the way - GREAT tip for keeping your herbs alive longer if like me you just can't seem to keep them alive in a pot on your kitchen window sill!). Tailoring recipes to suit YOUR taste buds will give you better results because you'll enjoy your food more!
With this in mind, don't forget to TASTE your food as you go. If you don't taste it, you won't know if you like it until it's on your plate in front of you. And perhaps just a little taste during the cooking process would have prompted you to add some more of this and little more of that. So simple, but we often forget - yes even me! - so here's your reminder ;)
5. Just do it!
Don't be afraid to try something new. I mean honestly, what's the worst that's going to happen? You make something gross, you have to order a take out so you don't go hungry (oh what a shame!), and you know not to make it like that again! And you know what? Getting it wrong is the best way to learn how to get it right! I know that sounds kind of wanky, but it's so true. So go on, just do it. And you never know, you may just create something genius and be incredibly proud of yourself. Surely that's worth a try?
Ok, so those are my 5 simple steps to improving your cooking. I hope they give you a bit more confidence in the kitchen to create some culinary master pieces.