Cooking at home isn’t rocket science and like most things in life it just takes a little bit of practice to get right (and of course a few good tips). Here are eight essential food and kitchen tips so that you can become a good home cook (be careful what you call yourself or some foodies will get upset, just kidding Michael Ruhlman!) :
1. Buy high quality, fresh food. Good ingredients need very little in the way of jazzing up. For example, a piece of, just caught, fish requires a bit of salt and a few minutes in the broiler. Home made pasta requires a bit of olive oil and some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. In general, buying high quality ingredients will take the stress out of making food taste good and also reduce the amount of prep time for most foods (don’t listen to the personal finance types who advocate eating whatever is on sale at the local mega-market).
2. Condition yourself to cook at home. It takes a bit of time before a home cook can become efficient in his or her kitchen. For folks who haven’t spent much time cooking at home, the first couple of months may include long prep times, starting over with some dishes, and what seems like forever cleaning up, but it does get easier over time.
3. Invest in good equipment. You don’t need too many gadgets, but what you do buy should be high quality. Here’s my list.
4. Write down dishes that you enjoy and are good at preparing. Cooking at home doesn’t mean making elaborate dishes every night; in fact, if you have a real life you’ll end up making the same core dishes over and over again. In turn, documenting the dishes that work for you will take the stress out of deciding what to cook each night. This is a fine philosophy especial for the Monday – Thursday time period; experiment with exotic recipes during the weekend.
5. Become a wine expert. Wine was designed to be consumed with food; this is a fact and the more you know about wine the more you’ll enjoy eating and cooking at home. There are plenty of great wine resources on the web (I like Robert Parker, but there are resources including the media crazed Gary Vaynerchuk at WineLibrary, but be careful with the latter resource as Gary both rates and sells wine. UPDATE: just got some clarification on this from Gary V. and it looks like the operation is legitimately concerned about honest reviews and selling inventory is a secondary concern). I always advise folks to get to know a few local wine merchants (there’s no substitute for someone understanding what you like and making personal recommendations; plus the same person will probably give you a discount over time). Yes, the merchant wants to sell wine, but a good merchant favors the relationship over the dollar.
6. Burn your take out menus. If there’s no option to order in or go out for dinner then you’ll certainly begin cooking at home (you gotta eat, right?). Also, 99 percent (especially outside of the big cities) of what you get at restaurants and take out joints is pure junk.
7. Keep a pantry full of staple food items. A well stocked pantry means you’ll most likely be able to whip up a fantastic meals in no time. Here’s a list of good Italian pantry items and a list from Mark Bittman.
8. Keep fresh bread in the kitchen at all times. I always advise folks to purchase a baguette every other day and re-heat it for dinner or lunch once it gets stale. Don’t consume bread with butter each night, but rather have a few pieces with good tuna in olive oil, homemade soup, or a lush tomato salad with plenty of olive oil and basil. Sandwiches are also great dinner items (especially with good ingredients!).