« Back


What Are Some Useful Hacks for Beginning Cooks Who Work During the Day?

What Are Some Useful Hacks for Beginning Cooks Who Work During the Day?

By Jonas M Luster, Food writer

You asked for hacks, not for a step-by-step which means I like you already. Here's some hacks.

  • Slim and trim your kitchen. You can cook with two pans, three pots, a chef's knife, a paring knife, three cutting boards, a can opener, and a colander. You don't have to go THAT low, but mess in the kitchen starts with too much in the kitchen. Like photography, work yourself into the field by starting to just "do it" on a small tool budget instead of going all out.
  • Make it a habit to spend 30 minutes on the weekend to sit down and dream up some dishes for the coming week. Research them but don't write them down, necessarily. Make a shopping list but let that just be a guide to you. If you run across some fresh mushrooms in the market but have no mush or room planned, get them anyways and think about what you can do with them and how you can incorporate them.
  • Never shop when hungry :)
  • Have a friend or friends over for dinner once a week. Maybe for Sunday lunch or something. Have them critique you, tell them you do not want to hear anything positive, only the gripes. Then eliminate those gripes the next week. Also oversalt the dessert of the loudest whiner, because spite is close to spice and spice is nice.
  • Find a knife sharpener nearby and take your chef's knife and paring knife there. While they sharpen find a honing steel (they should sell them) and ask to be shown how to use it.
  • Ask a friend, a friend's parent, or someone you know to show you their most favorite dish and how they make it. Once a month do that, then invite them over six weeks later and have them try your copy of it.
  • Try something new every month. Find a book of foreign cuisines and just cook something out of it.[1]
  • Think like a coder. When you can reuse (use pre-made things) components instead of writing your own (making stock, butchering your own hare) do it until you're comfortable with all the other aspects. Then throw out more and more premade stuff[2].
  • Post monthly on Quora and show off your most recent creation.
  • Make a list of stuff you really want to learn. Like, for example, "make pasta" or "make a stew", and then set out to learn the theory behind it, one thing every two months or so.

Some time hacks:

  • If you make the sauce ahead you can make pasta in around ten minutes if you use pre-made pasta (it's permissible, see above).
  • My favorite time hack is to make stock (from chicken or beef bones) and reduce it to 1/3. If you have doubts stir in a packet of gelatin (let it bloom in some cold water, then stir that in). Pour the stock into ice cube trays and stick in fridge. After an hour or two you have lots of handy stock cubes that you can use to make a sauce or a soup in seconds.
  • If your friends become fans of your cooking make them the mules. Let them buy the ingredients and cook for them. Less work and time spent for you.
  • Use your microwave whenever you can

Some cooking hacks:

  • Touch the tip of your nose. Now touch your upper lip. And your chin. That's how rare, medium, and well done steaks feel. Try to gain and never lose touch with your food, use your hands and learn how things "feel".
  • You can discern a cooked and a raw egg by spinning both and stopping them quickly. Once you remove your hand the raw one will resume spinning. Makes sense, if you think about it, but I can't count the times I smashed a raw egg by accident in my early months.
  • Home improvement stores sell $30 infrared thermometers. These are extremely useful to find out the temperature of food from a distance. Shooting your roast from across the room has a cool factor, too.
  • When making sauces it's always hot in cold or cold in hot for the thickener.
  • Get two bricks from the home improvement store, too. Pack one in aluminum foil and one into a 2 gallon ziptie bag. You can use them to weigh things down or prop things up.
  • Self-rising flour is expensive. If you get into baking and the recipe calls for it just mix 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
  • If you don't have baking powder, you can make it from baking soda, salt, and corn starch.
  • Almost every recipe will have you use boiling water at some point so make it a habit to start a pot when you walk into the kitchen. No salt, you can always salt later.
  • Speaking of boiling water: if you're not sure when to add the cookables into the water, the general rule is: if you want the flavor in the water add the cookable into cool, if you want it in the cookable add it into hot water.
  • Zapping citrus fruit in the microwave for 15 seconds allows you to extract more juice since you blow up most external cell walls.
  • Melt your butter to a creamy consistency in the microwave and whip in 1/2 the amount in water. That'll give you a creamy spread that is lower in fat and works extremely well on potatoes and corn. You can also add some herbs, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic to make a "maitre d'" butter for steaks that way.

Lastly, this is a fun exercise. Don't make it a chore. Enjoy yourself, sing loudly in the kitchen, make some noise, and never, ever, let anyone tell you to stop or do something differently just "because that's not how it's done."

[1] I just recently bought a book about Somali cuisine and started cooking Somali dishes. Some of the stuff is... odd... but I learned a thing or two about baking and braising I didn't know, yet.

[2] Rule: if it tastes good, use it. Then, when everything else is 100% replace that with your own version and make it taste even better.