Welcome to Part 3 of my Adulting Series – cooking basics. Being an adult is hard. Cooking (for some) can be even harder. I’m thankful I seem to have inherited some amazing cooking genes – but some of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re one of those people who aren’t cooking-inclined, then pay attention! Here is my list of cooking basics, and a few of my own cooking tricks!
Growing up in South Louisiana, I’ve had some pretty amazing food. Before I moved off to college, I made sure to soak up as much cooking knowledge as possible from my parents to make sure I could actually fed myself and not just eat out all the time. And honestly, I am not about that cheap ramen and microwave meal life. Going out to eat is expensive and fast food isn’t generally healthy for you, so I’m happier than ever to know how to cook.
Plus adult parties are a ton fun to host, especially when you know how to cook something delicious. Nothing makes me happier than having people tell me how good my food is. Compliments = life. When you’re finally out of college and eventually in your own house or apartment, you’ll get familiar with adult dinner parties and weekend bar-b-ques. Rather than always being a guest and bringing the signature store-bought chips and salsa because you don’t know how to cook, master these cooking skills and step up your game!
1) Cutting up Stuff
Stop using that steak knife to cut up everything! I’m super guilty of this sometimes, but seriously. Stop. It. Invest in some good knives. Nothing crazy expensive, but maybe something other than those cheap $1 serrated knives from Ikea.
Know the difference between the following:
- Slice – literally slice into thin pieces. Think slice of cheese or onion.
- Dice – Small, equal sized square pieces.
- Chop – Small, equal sized pieces. Not in any particular shape.
- Cube – think of cheese cubes. Larges square pieces.
- Mince – think minced garlic. Very small square pieces of equal size.
- Julienne (for you more-advanced people) – cutting into thin, equal-sized strips. Think of those small carrot pieces in salads. Or zoodles if you chopped them into 3 inch long pieces.
Quickly/easily dice an onion:
I literally cry like a baby every single time I have to cut an onion, but this is definitely a quick way to do it! Start by peeling the top few layers off. Slice the onion in half, straight down from the root to the opposite end. Lay the flat side down on your cutting board. Getting as close to the root as possible, make thin slices through the onion from root-end to opposite-end. Then, carefully slice 2-3 times through the cuts you just made. Then make cuts perpendicular to your first cuts, carefully working your way back to the root. And BAM – diced onion. Check out the video below to help!
Peeling and mincing garlic:
While I grab those little jars of pre-minced garlic, you should still know how to do it yourself for when you need some fresh garlic. Grab a clove and put it on your cutting board. Using the flat side of your knife, carefully use it to smash the garlic with the palm of your hand. Not a super smash, just enough to break the peel. Peel. Using the tip of your knife and in a similar method to the onion, slice the piece of garlic from root-end to opposite-end. Then make perpendicular cuts to make tiny, equal-sized pieces.
2) Cooking Pasta
This sounds like one of those “DUH”, things again, but you’d seriously be surprised. One of my old roommates literally had no idea how to cook pasta, and couldn’t seem to figure it out by reading the box (Not any of the current ladies that I live with just in case they are reading this haha). She thought that you cooked it in the sauce – like actually thought you boiled the sauce and cooked the pasta in there. THE SAUCE YOU GUYS. So it clearly has to be said for some people.
First get a pot large enough to fit your amount of pasta, the amount of water needed to cover it, and room for any spill-over. It’s ok if you pick one that is a little to small – just be sure to stir occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Fill it with water, put it on the stove top, and bring to a boil. Put a little salt in there while you’re waiting – not much, just a pinch or two. And actually get it get boiling – not just baby bubbles. Put pasta in there once it does and cook for the amount of time stated on the box.
Generally, angel hair/spaghetti cooks in 5-7 minutes and anything thicker like penne will cook for 6-8. When it gets close to this amount of time, you can always test a piece to see if it’s cooked or not. Just be careful not to burn yourself!
While we’re on the topic of pasta – learn to do a basic sauce as well! I personally love my Classico Pesto and always have it on-hand. Spaghetti sauce on the other hand, I like to make. If you read my My Go-To Meals post, then you know I usually do an easy Crock Pot version in bulk so I have some to freeze. I also use these handy slow cooker liners for easy cleanup, which means I use my Crock Pot a lot more than before!
3) Cooking Meat
For the stove: Just season and put into a greased pan on medium-high heat. Cook until internal temp is 170F As with all cooking, wait until the pan gets up to temp before putting your food in it to ensure even cooking.
For the oven: Preheat oven to 350F. While your oven is preheating, rub outside of chicken with egg wash and season as desired. I personally love Italian herb blend, garlic powder, salt/pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. I also like to put a bit of butter under the skin of the chicken, and lemon and garic inside. Be sure to take out gizzards in the chicken if not removed already, and place chicken breast-up in your pan. Place on the middle rack of your oven and bake approximately 20 minutes/pound, or until internal temperature reaches 180F. Be sure to take temp in the thigh or thick part of the breast for accuracy.
Frying: Honestly, if you’re looking for legit fried chicken, just pick it up from somewhere. It makes a mess, and will probably taste better coming from a place other than your kitchen. Chicken tenders however, are easy doable at home. While your oil is heating up (375F, and oil of your choice), cut chicken breasts into desired shape/size. Season your flour and in a separate container whisk up some eggs. Take your chicken pieces, toss in flour, dip in egg, then toss in flour again. Repeat for all your pieces. By this time your oil should be heated, so carefully put chicken in hot oil. Do not just drop the pieces in the oil. Carefully place in oil, making sure to drop the last bit away from yourself to avoid splatter. Depending on the size/shape of tenders you make, it’ll take 6-8 minutes to cook, or until golden brown.
Be sure to sanitize anything/everything after dealing with chicken (don’t forget the sink too)! No one needs salmonella all over their kitchen!
Steak is crazy expensive in restaurants, so if you love it at all you should learn to cook your own. I personally love a NY strip steak, so that’s what I always pick up, but this method works for everything. I cook mine in a cast iron pan, but any pan will do really. About 30 minutes before cooking, you want to get out your steaks, season to your liking, and let warm up to almost room temp for a more tender result.
When your steaks are almost ready, start heating up your pan. You want it nice and hot to sear the outside of your steak while it cooks, unless you like your steak cooked to anything over medium. For that, you’re actually better off quickly searing it, then throwing it into a hot oven so it doesn’t dry out. But because I like my steaks medium rare, I won’t go into detail about that.
When your pan is nice and hot, put your steak(s) on. And leave alone until you see the outside edge start to cook. Flip over. Pat or baste with a little bit of butter. After cooking for approximately same amount of time as the other side, take temp. If it needs more cooking, flip again and baste/pat with butter and cook until desired temp is reached.
|Steak Doneness||Remove from Grill at this Temperature||Final Cooked Temperature|
|Rare||130 to 135°F||130 to 140°F|
For something simpler like ground beef for tacos and such, just place ground meat in a heated pan. Make sure it is completely defrosted if it was previously frozen. Season and ocassionally stir until all of the meat is no longer pink.
People think cooking fish is difficult, but honestly it’s crazy easy. Season your chosen fish filet as desired while your pan is heating up on the stove. When it’s nice and hot (not searing hot), drizzle oil in the pan to avoid sticking. Carefully place fish in the pan skin-side down making sure to place away from you to avoid splatter. Do not touch until the fish un-sticks itself. I promise it isn’t stuck on the pan – it’s just not ready yet. When it comes unstuck, carefully flip and cook until (again), it comes unstuck.
Everyone should learn how to roast veggies. It makes an easy side dish, and tastes delicious as well. Preheat your oven to 400F. While it’s preheating, chop your chosen veggies into similar sized pieces. Drizzle on a little olive oil (enough to coat), and toss. Season as desired. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until cooked. Root veggies generally take around 40-50 minutes, while onions and peppers are done in 15-20.
5) Following a Recipe
If you learn the basic skills but not how to actually make food into something edible, learn to follow instructions. Following a recipe is a great way to figure out how to combine flavors/spices, especially if you know the skills to cook, but not how to actually turn food into a dish. My fiancé and I love anything by Alton Brown, so we have every single one of his cookbooks. He also does an amazing job of explaining the thoughts/methods behind the dish itself so that you learn how to cook rather than just read a recipe. I would highly recommend his cookbooks to any beginner! Plus his chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe is hands-down the best.
And that does it! Are you a good cook? Do you like to cook? What are some of the cooking skills you struggle with?
Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!