Learning to Cook in Four Easy Steps

06
June

Anyone can learn the basics of preparing and cooking food, and serving good-tasting and nutritious meals. The process of attaining a solid skill level in food preparation can be accomplished in less time than it takes to move your things into a new apartment or house. Four learning steps can provide a guide to attaining basic cooking skills.

1. Follow Safe Cooking and Food Handling Procedures

This most important step involves two elements – safety in cooking and safety in food handling and consumption.
Safe cooking is all about being careful with heat. Burns caused by stovetops, flames, red-hot cookware/utensils, and boiling water are startlingly common, and serious burns are not rare among even experienced cooks.

The new cook needs to focus on this above all else. You must be aware of burners that are on and ovens that are hot, and especially be aware that any cookware and utensils that have been in or on the heat source will be very hot, and can sear your skin in an instant. Use good quality hot pads or gloves when handling hot cookware, or even cookware that you suspect might be hot. Safety around the stove is absolutely critical in learning to cook.

Safely handling food involves keeping your family and yourself from becoming ill from bacteria and other contaminants. One such cause of contamination should always be considered as potentially present. That is, a lot of the food you bring home from the store already has the potential to cause illness.
Vegetables and fruits should be washed with soapy water and rinsed in tap water. This includes fruits whose skin is not consumed, like citrus and melons, as the process of removing peels or cutting through rinds can insert germs into the food. As for meats and fish, thorough rinsing while brushing the flesh will sufficiently clean the food prior to cooking.

Lastly, keep raw meats and fish, as well as milk, butter, and all cooked foods refrigerated. Cold temperatures greatly slow the growth of bacteria. This is the reason that frozen foods can be kept for fairly long times.

2. Learn About Cook-tops and Ovens

A stove is composed of a range (cook-top) and an oven, although the range and oven are separate in some kitchens. Stoves are fueled by gas or electricity.

Control of heat is accomplished by a dial in either case. A gas range heats up very quickly because it is an open flame, and cools almost immediately when shut off. Most gas ranges and ovens have always-lit “pilot” flames, which enable an instant fire when the dial is turned. More modern versions have igniters, which spark a flame when the dial is turned on. In this case, the clicking sound of the igniter is unmistakable, and the flame should shoot up right away.

Electric ranges and ovens use heat coils that heat up rather slowly, but still produce heat after the dial is set to “off”. Likewise, heat level settings are slow to change from low to high and vice versa. Therefore, one of the secrets of electric cooking is to anticipate the stove’s reaction a minute or two later. This prevents “boil- over’s”, a very common problem with electric stoves. The effect is even greater with “smooth top” electric ranges.

3. Become Familiar with Cookware and Utensils

Cookware for the range (mostly pans and pots) should be of heavy gauge metal, as this provides for much better heat dispersion than lightweight, cheap cookware. Cast iron is very good for evenly spreading heat, along with higher gauge aluminum and Teflon coated pots and pans. Cooking sprays and oils also prevent burning and sticking, and are best applied after the pan has been heated but before the food is added.
Oven cooking trays, roasting pans, etc. do not need to be of top quality, because the cooking methods do not focus heat as directly as range cooking. Still, application of oils or cooking sprays can reduce sticking to the tray or pan.

Cooking utensils, such as spatulas, turners, colanders (drainers) should be sturdy. Metal utensils (or wood cooking spoons) are in order when the utensil will be in extended contact with very hot cookware. Soft, bendable spatulas are handy for efficiently removing foods from a cooling or cold pots, pans or trays.

4. Use the Right Cooking Method

Cooking techniques include baking, broiling, frying, roasting, boiling and steaming, as well as other more advanced techniques. Most foods can be well prepared using several different techniques. Meats and fish are usually roasted, broiled or fried. Roasting and frying are appropriate for vegetables too, although they are more often boiled or steamed.

Baking and roasting are performed in the oven with bottom heat, while broiling uses top-heating. The broiling selector on the dial turns on the heat source in the “ceiling” of the oven. The pan or tray should be coated with oil or a lubricating spray, and the food requires a coat as well to keep it from burning. Baking or roasting, using the lower heat elements of the oven, can be done at a wide range of temperatures -consult a cookbook. Coat the bottom of the pan to prevent food sticking.

Boiling and steaming are done on the range top. Sauces of many types are also prepared or heated up there. Cooking of sauces is done at low heats, and requires lots of stirring to prevent sticking and lumping. Again, coat the pan or pot bottom BEFORE adding sauces or ingredients for heating.

Two staple foods that are usually boiled are pasta and rice. Rice should be carefully measured, along with the water to be boiled, and cooked for the precise time noted on the package. Pasta, on the other hand, is boiled using a large pot with excess water. Cook it according to box specifications, and then very carefully pour through a big strainer to dispose of excess water.

SUMMARY

After applying this knowledge of the basics, the new cook can go on to learn more advanced cooking techniques, and learn the uses of spices and herbs, along with other techniques of advanced cooking. It is easy to become interested in cooking and begin the path to gourmet cooking.

This post was written by

jasonjason – who has written posts on Home Tips Plus.
I'm a father of three, married and a home owner since 2006. I've worked in fixing up homes and rental properties.

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