Kitchen 101: Building Kitchen Confidence

December 19, 2014

I was pouring the custard over the top of that passion fruit bread pudding the other morning when my sister in law asked me;

“did you just, come up with that?”

Well, yeah. It was one of our last mornings in Hawaii, and we had that extra loaf of Hawaiian sweet bread, and those eggs, and the yogurt….most of the ingredients that we’d need to make something delicious, special and different for breakfast so….I just put it together. 

I’m sure she wondered how I knew that it would work, how I knew what I would need, etc etc. Bread pudding is pretty straightforward after all; if you have eggs and milk to make a custard, and plenty of bread, you have what you need, especially if you have some other fun seasonings or ingredients to punch it up a bit. The only thing I excelled at in this case was remembering about what the recipe was, and in digging through the cupboards and refrigerator to fill in the missing holes. But, none the less, her comments – and apparent surprise when I pulled it from the oven 45 minutes later, fragrant, fluffy, and golden – got me thinking about building confidence in the kitchen. The truth is that helping you to discover your own kitchen confidence is far more valuable than any specific recipe or formula that I could share. 

For me, all the confidence I have ever found in the kitchen sprung from something that I would have considered a mistake at the time. Or a grand mess. And, from lots and lots and lots of practice. The deal is that until you go for it, and just cook, you’ll always be sheepish and feel you have to stick to a recipe. And sometimes, you won’t even know what went wrong. There really is no such thing as a kitchen mistake (unless you burn the house down) So long as whatever you’ve made is edible, you’ve succeeded. And especially so if you learned something about a new technique, ingredient, method or even your own interests and tastes. Here are a few things that have helped me to be more savvy in the kitchen and I hope they will help you get organized, get focused, get cooking and grow your confidence in the kitchen too.

  •  Clean out your kitchen drawers || When your kitchen drawers are filled with obsolete, old, improperly functioning or unhelpful gadgets, your clarity on what/and how to prepare gets clouded. Give yourself a fresh start: give, throw away or replace any cooking utensils and gadgets that you haven’t used in the past year, or specialty tools that you don’t use often. Bring in drawer organizers in to keep everything visible, clean, and ready to use.
  • Practice good mise en place || Cooking in a dirty, disorganized kitchen is a recipe for disaster, not success. Clean your kitchen regularly, and make sure you know where your equipment lives. Then, before you start cooking, measure out and organize all the ingredients and equipment you’ll need before you ever start the process. This will make sure that you’re always ready for the next step, focused on the matter at hand and on the road to success.
  • No excuses. COOK! || When you’re un-confident in the kitchen, it will always seem easier to get take out or quick ready-made products than it will cook. You make time to go to the gym, to call that old friend, or to watch your favorite program – depending on how much you presently cook, make a promise to yourself to spend a couple of nights in the kitchen. Just spending time cooking will allow you to uncover your inner chef.
  •  Take the time to finish a recipe right || Picking up all the ingredients for a recipe is just the beginning step of doing it right. Reading through the directions, double checking your equipment and time requirements are necessary too. Plan backwards, or set aside the night or Sunday afternoon to tackle the recipe without feeling squished.
  • Keep a little cooking journal. Write up recipes in your own words. || This sounds like a big commitment but it doesn’t have to be, just a small notebook in your kitchen junk drawer, or attached to the fridge will do it. Each day, challenge yourself to write one sentence about what you cooked/prepared, what worked and didn’t work. Better yet, create a page for each of your favorite recipes and write down the results each time you try it. Even for your breakfast cereal. Before you know it, you’ll be remembering exactly why you loved that last batch of cookies, or that specific frittata.
  • Study up on your knife skills. || Knife skills aren’t just about looking pro and making tiny cuts; proper knife skills are all about safety, speed, and good taste. Properly sized cuts insure that all of your food cooks consistently and appears in each bite in appropriate quantity. And, the faster you chop those onions, the faster your mirepoix will be done! There are lots of online resources for improving your skills – this is my favorite and its FREE. Get your favorite knife, sharpen it, and chop chop little onion.
  • Build a repertoire. And then flex it! || Knowing what your good at, and practicing that thing, is the key to building confidence in all areas of your life; cooking is no exception. Do you have a great chocolate chip cookie recipe? A killer chili? Maybe you know how to do pasts like a pro. It doesn’t matter what the dish, when it’s good – flex your muscles and play with the recipe until you know it in and out. Then expand what you know into other recipes and techniques.
  • Once a month, challenge yourself to try a new recipe. || Now, your really ready to dig in. Set a goal for yourself of cooking one new dish once a month. Aim high, do your research, get all the ingredients. Do you love pad Thai? Carbonara? Donuts? Devils food cake? Research recipes, read up on the technique and set aside a nice Sunday afternoon to work on the recipe. Producing something you love, from scratch, is rewarding and fun.
  • Try, just try, not to restock the pantry. || I constantly fall culprit to the idea that just because I’m out of almonds, avocados, quinoa, whathaveyou, I have to run to the market and restock because what if we want that thing? Not so. Out of almonds? Try walnuts. No quinoa? Try barley – challenge yourself to use the items you find in your pantry in new and unexpected ways. Maybe not everyday, but more often.
  • Repeat after me: there are no kitchen mistakes! || The truth is that you are your worst critic, and, so long as a dish is edible, it’s a success. Who cares if the cake flops, the pasta is a bit sticky, or the cookies are slightly burned. You made them. By hand, you’re feeding yourself, learning along the way, and that is AWESOME.



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