Home Cook It Yourself 5 Things You Should Know About Becoming A Great Cook

5 Things You Should Know About Becoming A Great Cook

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Definitely not my kitchen.. my kitchen usually has spices everywhere.. and random crayon markings. Sigh.

I think, because we always see these amazing chefs on our TV screens, that we think we know what “great cooking” looks like.  Aside from the fact that not everyone thinks TV chefs are, in all actuality, great chefs… we shortchange ourselves idolizing these people.

I mean, I’ll keep it real – Sandra Lee cooks everything from a box or a can. It might look “great” (again, questionable) in the end, but her style of “cooking” doesn’t serve our purposes, here at BGG2WL. Rachael Ray, while she’s all over the place with magazines and books lauding her cooking, is the comfort food queen. Comfort food, if you’ll recall, is the stuff we use to emotionally eat.

I think that idolizing these TV chefs only serves to further separate us from our goals of becoming the person who can create an amazing dish with limited resources and in a short amount of time. I know that when I’m in my kitchen tossing stuff around trying to figure out what, on Earth, to cook… I don’t rock an outfit perfectly matching my kitchen, with perfect makeup, and every perfect piece of equipment in my kitchen. Sometimes, I get gritty. Sometimes, I even sweat (not in the food, though.) And sometimes, I even – gasp – screw up. Having said that, there are five things that I think we should remember when it comes to making ourselves better kitchen dynamos.

1) You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on high-tech equipment to be an amazing chef. Can it help? Yes, much like wearing high heels can make you sexier. Sure, they help you accomplish your goal, but a creative person certainly can accomplish their goal without it.

At least half of my kitchen was stocked thanks to the dollar store. Yes, the dollar store. Spatulas, ladles, cutting boards, graters, kitchen scissors, measuring cups, measuring spoons, pot holders, colanders and knives. All things that you can stand to purchase for a dollar.

News flash: Products on clearance aren’t always “less than” their full price counterparts… especially when that product was full price a week ago. Approximately 99% of my kitchen appliances were purchased on clearance. Have a little patience, save your money for a clearance… then go in for the kill. I own an awesome 15-piece stainless steel cookware set… superclearance for $40. It’s lasted me 3 years thus far.. no trouble.

Beyond all that… there are cultures that make amazing food with little more than a mortar, a pestle, and a bonfire. Amazing food. I’m almost certain they would cringe at the thought of using our fancy equipment. Just another way to show that the equipment doesn’t make the chef.

2) Your screw-ups will taste disgusting, be hilarious, and always teach you something. I remember the first time I realized the difference between chili powder and curry powder. It was a bad day for mankind. I also remember the day I learned just how much ginger I could use in a dish before I sent my daughter crying from the table in a fit of dispair. Again, a bad day for mankind. How about the day I learned how to really cook brown rice? That day, I had to give my little one a hug because she suffered through all those traumatic servings of crunchy brown rice. But now that I know how to make an awesome brown rice? I’m unstoppable. Now that I understand ginger better? My stir-fry is awesomeness in a wok. Now that I know the difference between chili powder and curry powder, well… my daughter actually eats her food. Trial and error is fun in my house.

3) There is no such thing as “that’s not a meal.” I’m generally opposed to big giant monument sized dinners – particularly because small portions of a gigantic meal are the same as gigantic portions of a meal with small offerings – but I’m also opposed to the idea that says something traditionally used for one purpose cannot serve another purpose. You might not eat a slice of bread from the grocery for breakfast… but if you bake a loaf of banana bread and give yourself a slice for breakfast? That is a meal. It is hearty, has fruit, fiber, will wake you up.. and save yourself a few calories in place of cereal and milk. Don’t be afraid to make an amazing dish out of a small amount of ingredients. It allows you to enjoy the flavors you’re combining that much more!

4) Just because you don’t like a fruit or vegetable by itself… doesn’t mean you can’t find a good use for it. There are a lot of things I cannot stand by themselves – cranberries, for instance – that go wonderfully in other dishes – for instance, apple pie. If I counted them out completely, I’d never be able to take advantage of that super sweetness they have naturally, allowing me to use less sugar in my apple pie recipe. I cringe – cringe – at the thought of eating eggplant alone, but I do enjoy it chopped up in a salad with sun-dried tomatoes and a little olive oil. Zucchini and I don’t get along at all, but I learned that they are amazing on pizza. Yes. Pizza.

5) There is something actually fulfilling about cooking… and it’s okay to seek out that fulfillment. I don’t know what it is… but there is a feeling I get from mixing up all the ingredients from scratch, watching it cook to my liking, feeding it to my little one, and watching her fall totally in love with it. Biting into my own work, and feeling as if I’ve accomplished a masterpiece? That’s an ego boost… much like when I braid my daughter’s hair into a replica of The Eiffel Tower (I’m kidding… sorta) or if I finish a project early for work. Just makes me feel like I know what I’m doing… and that never hurts.

What do you have to share with newbie chefs? Are you a newbie chef with questions? Have a good kitchen screw-up to share? (Aw, c’mon, I love those!) Let’s hear it!

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Irendi September 16, 2010 - 10:33 AM

I remember trying a new macaroni & cheese recipe that required evaporated milk. I picked up condensed instead of evaporated…and let me tell you that stuff was disgusting.

Sweetened mac & chz??? Ewww.

Erika September 16, 2010 - 10:40 AM

LMAO! And believe it or not, I JUST found a recipe for mac & cheese that called for – get this – sugar!!!! *collapses in a fit of sadness*

Kesia December 2, 2013 - 11:41 PM

Lol I didn’t get the joke regarding condensed vs evaporated milk until the end. I swear I thought it was the same thing. Lol

I’m no cook.

rissa September 16, 2010 - 10:58 AM

love the post. i’m not a good cook (yet!) and when i am in the kitchen i look a crazy mess. I’ve also had my share of inedible screw ups. but i am trying to learn and trying to get my daughter in the kitchen with me now so that she’ll know how when she’s older.

now get to adding more recipes!!

oh and i’ve had mac and cheese with a little condensed milk and i thought it was fantabulous 🙁 As you can see, i like everything sweet. I’m working on it though.

Erika September 16, 2010 - 11:01 AM

LOL @ “get to adding more recipes”

Y’all are tough! I will not be bullied!

Toni September 16, 2010 - 11:35 AM

I love to cook but I feel like a beginner because I’m trying new recipes and I’m using new ingredients. My daughter helps me alot in the kitchen. You know its “no holds barred” for kids. They will try anything so she keeps me motivated.

Erika September 16, 2010 - 12:33 PM

It’s often hard to venture out into new territory… or even taking old dishes into new territory! Either way, you’ve got to keep at it!

Brandi September 16, 2010 - 12:30 PM

Great article… I love to cook and yes from scratch. It brings joy to me that I made something so good for my family. Keep up the good work.

Love you girl.

Erika September 16, 2010 - 12:48 PM

Co-sign completely! 🙂

Sibyl September 16, 2010 - 2:07 PM

I still have not mastered cooking brown rice. I have been using parboiled rice from either Success or Uncle Ben’s.

Can you offer some tips to cooking brown rice because my rice is rather crunchy too.

Eunice September 16, 2010 - 9:52 PM

I’m always looking for tips to become a better cook! My favorite is the screw-up tips. I’ve made plenty of those! But you definitely learn from those mistakes. And when you can proudly present a plate of food to a loved one (and they actually eat it), that’s a great feeling.

missfitbliss September 17, 2010 - 7:12 AM

I definitely agree that cooking gives me a real sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

The funny part is, I love cooking for my loved ones even more than I do for myself. It’s such a gift to be able to nourish someone you care about and know that they enjoy it is just icing on the cake.

It took me a long time to come to this realization. I didn’t even start cooking until I was in my mid-twenties. Before then it was just prepared foods and boxed goods that were still “healthy” – but I learned quickly that cooking from scratch is the best way to maintain good health in the long run.

cjbrownsc September 18, 2010 - 11:33 AM

I would love to become a “great” cook!

I’m a beginner and seem to be stuck in the rut of cooking the same things all the time.
I know the family is sick of it, but they refuse to tell me that! LOL

Do you make a weekly menu of what you’re going to cook?
Also, how do you know what spices work well together? Is it mainly trial-and-error?

PS: I’m cosigning on a previous comment – can you please add more recipes? The ones that I’ve tried so far have been wonderful.

Erika September 18, 2010 - 12:06 PM

If you can hold off until Monday, you’ll have all your answers. 🙂

Yesssss, I’ll add more recipes. LOL

Allie August 3, 2012 - 8:37 AM

I’m a very beginner cook, but I have a simple way that I use to decide how to season a meal. I just pull out some spices that I think might be good together (complete trial and error), and I smell them. If the scent combination smells good, it normally tastes good, too! I’m sure there’s a more scientific way but this works for me in a pinch.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 3, 2012 - 9:46 AM

This is an AWESOME suggestion. I LOVE this!

Aisha September 18, 2010 - 2:30 PM

Another tip is to get your spice game up. I have over 40 herbs and spices in my cabinet. It’s taken a while to get there. Ethnic markets are great for cheap spices.

Jame February 4, 2013 - 5:59 PM

I was going to say the same thing. Spices can make the same old ingredients taste wildly different.

Another tip. Taste things along the way. And don’t forget to taste with your nose too. Tasting along the way will help you figure out how a certain ingredient impacts the final dish.

If you cook onions a little longer, they add sweetness to the final dish. All of the “bite” goes away. Certain veggies get sweeter with cooking. For example, greens cooked with onion removes the bitterness.

Or adding some acid can help balance out the flavors of something.

Or adding something creamy like greek yogurt or a splash of milk can help round out the flavors.

And don’t be afraid to experiment.

manda September 19, 2010 - 7:08 AM

One of my biggest issues is not having the right size pans. Made some lasagna one time in a too big dish, let me tell you, I had noodles that were harder than a rock. My husband just smiled and threw it away. I can’t cut, nope, so when my husband deploys, I won’t eat diced food for six months if I don’t learn quickly.

Erica B. September 19, 2010 - 10:43 AM

Ok, so I can’t classify my self as a newbie cook. More of a lazy one. I learned how to cook from my grandmother who cooks EVERYTHING from scratch. But lived with my Mom who has a fully stocked pantry of quick boxed dinners. So when I do actually step in the kitchen, I can throw down. But, like I said…I’m lazy. Or I have been. I’m goin to check out some of your recipes and start small by at least trying a new recipe a week. Thanks for the post. 🙂

Renee M September 24, 2010 - 5:12 PM

I am trying to cook more at home rather than eating out (especially since calories are posted on most of those menus)…so last week I made stir fry. I was proud, it came out so well. I followed the recipe to the tee. Except one thing…I FORGOT THE RICE!! OMG, I never thought about it, it never occured to me. Until, I said to my BELOVED…”Hmn, for some reason I thought this would have served more? Don’t know why it’s not that much for 2 servings?” LOL…he sweetly says after he finished the last morsel ever so sweetly, “Baby, next time you might want to serve it over rice.” LOL! I still don’t know how I forgot the rice, but he ate it all…gravy included…hahahaha. I’m gonna get this cooking thing one day. We laughed about it…but I learned something very valuable…

Heather E April 9, 2011 - 8:51 PM

I know this is an older post, but I have to share my mistake that messed up two of my husband’s cook-outs in a row. I was cleaning out the spice jars and refilling them. I put everything away pleased that I had pretty, fresh spices in my spice rack. That night my husband made ribs on the grill with a nice dry rub. They seemed a little too zesty, but with a lot of water we got them down. The next night he grilled again… some nice New York strips with a special marinade.

As we ate, our mouths started steaming up. Jeff might have an off night, but two? In a row?! No way! We checked the recipe… and my husband swore he only put in the 1 tsp of chili powder and 1 T of paprika called for by the recipe.

Now I know you are thinking I mixed up the chili powder and the paprika…. Wrong! I somehow put chili powder in BOTH jars!

~ Marjorie ~ May 31, 2011 - 7:56 PM

My mother is a retired home economics teacher. She always tells me (not just told me) follow the recipe the first time you make it to see what it is supposed to taste like. The next time you make it, make your adjustments to give it your “signature”.

Nadia June 10, 2011 - 6:48 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you SOOO much for this page! I myself am a new cook. I’m learning my way around the kitchen, and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight. For example, I called myself making a stir-fry that even I didn’t want to eat, but I ate it since I didn’t want to waste any food (ick). But I’m finding that the more I’m in the kitchen, the better I’m getting. I even bought myself a George Foreman grill, and let me tell you honey…whoo whee!!! Im grilling fish, chicken, etc. like I’m a chef. I feel more confident because I’m making my OWN meals, so I know what’s going into it.

Tammy August 9, 2011 - 5:30 PM

I went through a pesto phase when I was younger. I learned about pesto and suddenly I put it in everything from eggs and grits to sandwiches, much to the despair of my mother and brother.

Late Bloomer December 28, 2011 - 7:31 PM

My mom always told me that the best food is that which is prepared at home. I am discovering that she is right! I love cooking, and one of my new year’s confirmations is to cook more, saving eating out for get-togethers with friends and other social instances.

A few years ago, I had stopped cooking as often when a friend teased me about it, saying that’s what old people do. So I still cooked but not as much. As a result, my weight went up, and my budget suffered from eating out so much. I am not usually swayed by comments like that but this was a close friend whose opinion I valued at the time, and I foolishly thought that maybe I was dating myself by coming home and cooking. As I type this comment, I now see how ridiculous that her statement was. Due to life changes and such, my friend and I do not keep in touch like we used to, and since that time, I have lost 50 pounds. The last time I saw her she had gained about 50. Last year I invited her out to a venue with some mutual friends. She bluntly and rudely declined, stating that I had probably lost more weight. Go figure…

Aria Loveland January 11, 2012 - 1:31 PM

Thank goodness my mom and dad forced us all to learn to cook! The best advice I can give to anyone just starting out is to get a good set of knives. They will make your life a heck of a lot easier.

foreverloyal January 28, 2012 - 10:09 PM

Try, try again, be adventurous and laugh at your mistakes.
For myself I have learned that for the most part I still need to stick to recipes. My attempts at making up things on the fly are hit or miss. And the hits usually involve using a spice blend, lol.

ashe_phoenix January 29, 2012 - 11:12 AM

My worst cooking horror story involved making a cake in home economics. There were four of us on the team, and somehow we put no sugar in the cake and too much sugar in the icing. It was like eating a communion wafer with over-sugared cream on top!

This post gives me a lot of encouragement to stop being afraid of the kitchen and make healthy dishes I can enjoy.

Nichelle March 6, 2012 - 1:09 PM

It is a journey. I like the idea of banana bread for breakfast and would be VERY grateful if you post it next week. If you are not able to cook full recipes you can certainly sautée or grill some fish or seafood (or even a chicken breast. and add it to a beautiful salad. I do this to get through the week, when I am lacking time or creativity.

Angela April 5, 2012 - 6:11 PM

To one great cook from another… I love the article! I wasn’t born with the love of culinary, but the more time I spent cooking and messing up the better I became! The more we practice, put time, love, and patience into what we are preparing… the better we will become at cooking beautiful, tasteful, and healthy meals!

CoCo June 11, 2012 - 5:19 PM

I remember making homemade sticky buns when I was a teenager. The recipe called for corn syrup to make the icing, and I had no idea what that was. But I had corn starch and syrup, so I thought mixing those together would work just fine. Wrong! The buns LOOKED good, but were stiff as a freakin’ board because all the corn starch made the syrup toughen up.

I’ll never forget my mom’s face when I explained my reasoning to her! lol She looked at me like I had lost my mind.

Same with the hamburgers. I decided to make burgers and fries for dinner one evening for me and my little sister. I called my mom at work, all upset, because the patties wouldn’t stay together. She asked me to tell her step-by-step what I had done. Man, she couldn’t wait to tell her coworkers that I had washed the hamburger meat before I made the patties! I’d always seen her rinse off steak and chicken, etc. so I thought you did that with everything. Apparently not. =)

Anjanette July 4, 2012 - 12:44 PM

What is a good way to find tasty/healthy recipes?

junglebabe July 8, 2012 - 11:05 AM

i am a pretty good cook though a sloppy one. I don’t always follow the recipe and my things don’t always come out the same way twice. i season “to taste” lol. but i have learned a few things. always read ALL the recipe first, and use the correct size of pan listed and correct baking temp, etc. when i first tried pies, i left an egg out of a pecan pie because i thought i’d heard people say you could use less eggs than recipe said. oh no!!!! i also made an old-fashioned blackberry cobbler in a 3quart dish. oh noo!!!! it’s worth the investment in a few basic size dishes, like the 2 quart baking dish for casseroles, etc. learn the basic things like-anything with sugar will brown immediately on high heat; meat will burn on the outside and be raw on the inside on constant high heat; pasta/rice boiling on high heat will quickly boil over; oil will quickly burn on high heat. just about anything burns on high heat:). get one of those classic Better Homes and Garden Cookbooks or A Taste of Home cookbook, etc. wonderful cooking directions in there. I still use it. You don’t have to make all the fattening cream/custard pies, etc. in there. Lots of great recipes in there, and you will learn what ingredients can be swapped for lesser calories, etc. I love to cook so I had to learn to cook different foods. It’s still enjoyable when I have the time.

lynaya February 4, 2013 - 9:16 PM

I always preferred cooking for groups of people rather than myself. Now that I eat to live, rather than live to eat, I enjoy it more. I feel like I’m taking care of myself the way I’d care for a friend or family. I’m glad I’m finally at a place where I realize I deserve that.

I also deserve more recipe blunder stories (he he)….keep em coming Erika!

Dina February 5, 2013 - 8:02 AM

I’m not a beginner as a cook. I’ve been cooking for fun since my teens, and over the last 3 years have been cooking as a profession.
I wanted to say, it’s never ending. I never stop learning about new methods, new ingredients… even from the most “novice” cook.
My little piece of advice is to always keep an open mind. Be a ready, willing, happy pupil to anyone who has something to teach.
Also be a ready, willing, humble teacher to those who seek your advice. It makes food so much better!

Alejandra @ wishfulshrinking February 15, 2013 - 6:05 PM

Just started following this blog on my own weight battle journey- you are hilarious!
Also, totally inspiring.
Thanks for the tips and the giggles.

Marie June 26, 2013 - 11:44 PM

You’ve found an awesome blog!

Funlayo December 26, 2013 - 12:40 PM

I love cooking and my favorite thing is to slip healthy ingredients that people “don’t like” into their meals without their knowledge. My dad, for instance, detests Brussels sprouts, but when diced up in veggie chili he had no idea and ate it like the last supper. So yes, definitely don’t discount ingredients you “don’t like” without trying them in other ways.

Hey May 8, 2015 - 6:02 PM

Hey there. I love your blog. I enjoy reading about other black women who have lost a lot of weight and are keeping it off. It has been over a year and I have lost 113 pounds. I’ve commented on this blog under other aliases. So if I type like a broken record forgive me. However, I am not sure how much a weighed to begin with, because I had gotten too fat to be weighed on a regular scale. I could have lost more or less. Anyway, I have gone from eating at McDonald’s everyday to cooking for myself. I have definitely messed up my share of dishes. I figure that I need some sort of recipe to follow. The other day I made BBQ chicken. Burned the BBQ. 3 weeks ago I made a roast. I poured apple vinegar into the pot. That was the weirdest tasting Pickled beef roast you ever tasted. I am always using too much salt or burning something. I get impatient and hungry then mess up my food.

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