Better Pantry Cooking Basics

The best first step to eating smart is to cook more at home. Cooking your own meals gives you control over the ingredients. You can also adapt recipes to fit your family’s tastes. Here is a collection of helpful resources showing basic cooking methods that help you cook healthy meals, save time in the kitchen, and most importantly, prepare delicious meals for your family.

Knife Skills

Most recipes start with chopping ingredients, so safely and efficiently using a knife is an important skill to learn. The New York Times has an awesome guide to learning to use a knife, filled with videos, tips and tricks, as well as video demonstrations for the different types of cutting recipes call for.

Measuring Ingredients

Recipes require you to measure out different ingredients. When baking, accurate measurements are important for your bread or muffins to turn out right.

how to measure ingredients

Using a Food Thermometer

Using a thermometer is the only way to know if your meat has reached a safe temperature. I have found that it actually helps me from overcooking just as much as undercooking my food, so meat is juicier. Here’s an overview of using a food thermometer, including how to calibrate the thermometer.

Thawing Foods

There are three ways to thaw foods safely – in the fridge, in the microwave, or under cool running water.

Stovetop Cooking

The vast majority of recipes are made on the stove top. Generally, stovetop cooking is finished faster than oven cooking, so this is a great method for busy families.

Sautéing or pan frying are the terms for cooking in a skillet. This is a dry cooking method that uses a little bit of fat for cooking to keep food from sticking. You can fry an egg, stir-fry veggies, sauté ground beef for spaghetti sauce, or pan fry a salmon patty.

You can also boil, simmer, poach, or steam foods on the stovetop. This is a moist cooking method that uses water or stock to cook your food instead of fat. This cooking method is best for tougher cuts of meat, or sturdy veggies like potatoes. This is also how you cook grains like rice or noodles.

Oven Cooking

Oven cooking can take a little longer, but you don’t have as much hands-on time for stirring, etc.. And there are certain things you just can’t make on the stovetop. Baked goods like bread or muffins, casseroles, or roasted veggies and meat are cooked in the oven.

I recommend learning how to roast a whole chicken and how to make oven fries. Whole chickens are generally very affordable and can be used for multiple meals (roast chicken, leftovers for chicken salad or other recipes, and homemade chicken stock). Once you’ve mastered oven fries, you’ll make them all the time! You can get the same great flavor as deep fried french fries with less fat. This is also a test of your knife skills since you need to slice them thinly and evenly.

Slow Cooking

This is another easy cooking method best described as “set it and forget it!” Slow cooking is a moist cooking method using a slow cooker. You can make pot roasts, cook dry beans, or make your own stock.

I save all my veggie scraps (onion and garlic skins, carrot peels, etc.) in a bag in the freezer until I have a full bag. Toss in a slow cooker, cover with water, add a bay leaf and any spices you prefer, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Strain and enjoy! You can also freeze stock for later. I use a silicon muffin tin for the perfect portion and store the “pucks” in a freezer bag until I need them. Anytime I cook greens, I pop in a stock “puck” and sauté until wilted – super easy, quick, and delicious!

Salad Dressing

Last but not least is making your own salad dressing. As you’ll see in this video, it is so simple! You get to control the ingredients, can customize to your favorite flavors, and you likely have all the ingredients you need in your pantry.

As you get more comfortable in the kitchen, you can begin to build your own recipes using basic cooking methods. Be on the lookout for a series of 10 Build Your Own recipe videos and blog posts next month. What other cooking skills are you interested in learning more about?

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