Kitchens come in all shapes and sizes. But, no matter the pretty package, it’s important that you feel comfortable and confident in the main hub of your home, for this is the place you will nourish yourself and feed your family. Lack of confidence in a kitchen is usually the reason why you find every excuse under the sun not to cook. So, what do we need to do to get confident in our own kitchen? Well, I believe it’s a matter of progress and practice. Think of your kitchen like a new friend (or a date, even). You know nothing about each other, but you’re interested in getting to know more. It takes time to feel familiar and comfortable, but you can’t rush this process because you may miss vital bits of information that you may need in the future. Make sense? Let’s take it step-by-step. Here are Five for a Fiver’s steps on how to get confident in your own kitchen.
1. Remove clutter and stock efficiently
Cooking comes with a huge learning curve. You’ll never really know everything and you can bet your bottom dollar that things might not come out perfect. It doesn’t matter! Call this process a labour of love, but the first thing you need to do is make it easier for yourself to get the ball rolling. Perhaps the clutter of crockery, pottery and cutlery have accumulated over the years, or you have been using the same spoon to eat your cereal with for the last 15 years. It’s about time you refreshed your kitchen – and your mind! Start by throwing away your scratched up pot with the metal poking through the ceramics and any chipped, worthless equipment that you will never, ever use. Kitchen items are considered as necessities in this day and age, so you can replenish your stock pretty quickly and easily at a reasonable price. If you’re wondering how much you should keep of each cookware, crockery or cutlery set, I normally go by a simple formula to ensure that I don’t over or understock on items.
X x 2 + 4 = Y
X = How many of you there are in the family
Y = The amount of each set you should stock
The additional 4 is for any extra guests that may visit.
So, for my family, i.e. 2 adults and 2 children, my formula would look like this:
X = 4
4 x 2 + 4 = 12
So, 12 spoons, knives, forks, cups, plates etc. It’s plenty, but if you have as many guests as we do, it’s not even enough!
If there’s one of you, this is how it goes for you:
1 x 2 + 4 = 6
So, you’d have 6 of everything.
It sounds like a lot and you, obviously, don’t have to follow this formula, but it’s what I use and it seems to have worked for me so far.
2. Sort through your cupboards and organise your items into logical areas in the kitchen
After you have removed anything and everything that won’t ever be used or, alternatively, have been overused, then, it’s now time to sort them all out efficiently in your kitchen. Section off your kitchen into small areas, i.e. stove, sink, dining etc. If you can, store your stove essentials nearby the stove and sink items near the sink. If this is not possible, then at least keep your crockery together and your cutlery all in one place. Not all of the areas in my kitchen are as logical as I’m making it sound now, but I do make sure I keep the mugs, glasses, plates and bowls together by the dining table, which really does helps me function properly whilst I’m cooking.
You’re wasting valuable time hunting around in an illogical and messy kitchen, so keeping your kitchen efficient, clean and prepared will spur you to cook more, which, leads me to my next tip.
3. Keep your kitchen clean, tidy and welcoming
This goes without saying, but a clean and tidy kitchen is a welcoming place to be and if you maintain it, you don’t have to take more than an hour or so to really scrub up your kitchen (obviously, depending on size and content). Use this chance now to take everything out of your cupboards and drawers and give them a good clean. It may eat up some of that busy time, which, I know, is invaluable and precious. But, if you don’t have a cleaner, then you need to get into the habit of doing this at least once a week (maybe, once a fortnight, but that’s pushing it). Slowly start to put your creative stamp on your kitchen too and make it an inviting place to be. Have a favourite colour? I do, it’s red, so I’ve turned my kitchen into a simple red, black and grey theme. It makes it inviting and opens up valuable floor space to move around in.
The more care you take of your kitchen, the more time you will want to spend in it and, ultimately, the more you will want to cook in it!
4. Start small, learn the cooking techniques.
Roast vs. bake? sauté vs. fry? Al dente? Blanche? SousVide? Any of these words mean anything? Well, now is the time to learn! We live in an age where Google and YouTube are our on-call teachers and we can access them any time we want – for free! Whaaat!? Yes, we have teachers all around us, willing to teach us how to cook, so let’s utilise them. Understanding cooking terms is probably one of the most fundamental goals to becoming confident in the kitchen. Imagine if you could dice up your onions as well as (if not better than) your chopper/processor. You may nick and graze your fingers a little bit to start off with, but practice makes perfect. Before you know it, you’ll be throwing away your chopper and flourishing in your Michelin-style knife skills. Ok, one can dream…
5. Pick 5 – 10 favourite recipes and practice with your newfound cooking skills
If you’re mainly ordering from your favourite takeaway menu or buying dinner for the kids, then why don’t you just try and make them at home instead. You can find a recipe for anything on the net, so if you like Spag Bol, learn how to make it. It’s actually one of the easiest recipes to practice and improve on because you can afford to be creative with the Bolognese sauce (which can be as basic as you want it to be) and then you just have to cook the pasta (once you know how to cook pasta, you will always know how to cook pasta.) Check out super Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo showing us mere mortals how we’re really meant to cook pasta – legend!* Oh, and here is how to make Spaghetti Bolognese, Gennaro-style! You’re welcome. J
The more you make a dish, the better you’ll get at it. And, what’s great is that you’ll start to learn which ingredients go well together. Then, you can afford to get creative and adapt your 5 – 10 recipes to your newfound culinary knowledge.
6. Examine basic flavours that go well together and spend time stocking up on your seasoning, condiments and oils.
Understanding how you combine and balance flavours is also a crucial step to gaining confidence to create fabulous dishes. You can learn this step quite well through simply cooking and trial and error. But, there are also tons of resources on the internet that can help you work out which ingredient goes well with which. Start with the basics like sugary, salty, sour, bitter and spicy flavours. There’s a great article on the net about the five main identified flavours and how to balance, enhance and complement each other in Cooksmart’s article, ‘Study Flavour Profiles’. Well worth a read!
Throughout your cooking journey, spend the time to learn about seasoning and, by that, I mean herbs and spices, as well as the bog standard salt and pepper seasoning. Every time you head out to the supermarket, think about buying an additional herb or spice and find a recipe that uses it. Learn what it goes well with and how it tastes. This is how you build on your palate and become a chef superstar. As you become more culinary minded, progress onto condiments and oils. I have a larger than needed oil collection because I have learned, through the years, the importance of selecting the right oil for the right recipe. From sesame oil to extra virgin olive oil, even if you don’t know where to add them yet, you’ll certainly have great fun experimenting and trying out new recipes.
7. Always read your recipes from start to finish and prep your ingredients before you start cooking (Mise en place)
Mise en place? More kitchen jargon? Mise en place means, very simply, ‘putting in place’, i.e. organising and arranging all the ingredients you need for the recipe you’re about to make. It may seem like a lot of work before you’ve actually started cooking, but imagine you’re going on holiday and you need to make sure you have everything you need for your trip. So, you make a list and pack everything nicely into your suitcase before you’re ready to set off on your travels. Jumping right into a recipe is something I’ve been guilty of when I’ve been pushed for time. But, I’ve actually wasted more time looking for what I needed during the cooking process and, to make things worse, my timing was completely thrown off and I ended up creating a dish with a less than desirable outcome.
If you’re halfway into cooking a dish and you realise you’re out of a vital ingredient, your dish won’t look or taste the way it’s meant to be and your confidence levels will sink again. So, avoid this totally avoidable issue and read your recipe first, from the first to the last word. Even, if you’re not going to follow it to a T (I rarely do), you still need to make sure you have all the ingredients you need and in the exact amounts before you start. Not only will you have a good idea of how the recipe will to turn out, but you’ll whizz through the recipe in half the time. Confidence levels raised.
8. Taste your food before you serve
Good chefs always taste their food! If you’re serving a bland meal then you’ll get a lacklustre response, ultimately leading to a knock in your kitchen confidence. Having the courage to taste first and then admit that you need to add a little bit more of something to deepen the flavour shows that you’re using your initiative and getting to know what will improve on your recipe. This is where you go from being an average cook to a great cook.
9. Watch the professionals
I know I’ve touched upon turning to Google and YouTube for lessons on how to cook and get better at cooking. But, if the chance presents itself, go out and actually watch the professionals at work. I’ve been to some Chinese and Turkish restaurants before where I’ve had the privilege of watching the chefs cook the food before my very eyes and their flair and grace behind a grill/wok/stove is astonishing. The confidence in their culinary skills simply glides onto their kitchen tools and the recipes they create before you are delicious, beautiful and inviting. Study them, perhaps aim to learn one new skill that you can take away with you and practice in your own kitchen. Watch celebrity chefs on TV and listen to them explain why they are mixing certain ingredients together. I love watching their flamboyant approach to cooking and the way they so passionately talk about their food. It’s infectious and inspiring.
10. If at first you don’t succeed…
…. Always try, try and try again. Believe in yourself and stay proactive. It can be hard to keep motivating yourself to cook if you are not massively in love with cooking anyway. But, the more you practice, the better you will become.
Kitchen confidence not only boosts your knowledge of food in general, but it also sustains and nourishes your family’s wellbeing. As you progress in cooking, so will your thirst for cooking knowledge. Your palate will increase and so will your confidence to pick up on balancing and enhancing flavours that will ultimately lead you to creating beautiful dishes in the kitchen. Who knows, there may be a chef in you waiting to be found!
*if you’re wondering who Gennaro Contaldo is, he is Jamie Oliver’s mentor and a super amazing chef. He practically raised Jamie Oliver into the mega celebrity chef that he is now!