Learning to cook better: My journey

This year I spent a lot of time teaching myself to cook more complicated dishes from cookbooks, doing meal planning, and learning related skills. In this article I’d like to share my system for learning to cook better.

Commit to becoming skilled at cooking

This is all in your head: Decide that you really want to get better at cooking.

Get excited. Imagine your favorite tasty dish from a restaurant - eggs benedict in my case - and imagine how neat it would be if you could cook it yourself.

Commit. Tell your friends that you’re practicing cooking and to expect pictures of cooked dishes on social media. You wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

Reserve time each week for cooking

Practice makes perfect: The best way to learn cooking - or really any skill - is to practice on a regular basis.

In my case I decided to cook at least one “advanced” (i.e. cookbook-based) dish per week on a consistent day. To do that I blocked out a few evenings:

  • Meal Planning Day (Sunday) - Decide what dish to cook this week. Write down ingredients.
  • Grocery Day (Monday) - Buy ingredients.
  • Cooking Day (Tuesday) - Assemble ingredients.

Select and buy a good cookbook

To provide a set of cooking goals - that is, dishes to cook - a cookbook is useful. When selecting a cookbook I looked for a few things:

  • Targeted at new cooks.

  • Compatible with my diet.

    In my case I don’t like cooking meat, so vegetarian and vegan cookbooks are good choices.

  • Has pictures of finished dishes.

    Tasty-looking pictures of the goal are inspiring.

  • Uses similar ingredients across multiple dishes. Avoids exotic ingredients.

    With a small number of commonly-used ingredients you learn about those ingredients more quickly than if you had a large number.

    It also becomes less necessary to buy additional ingredients for every single recipe, since you’ll probably have left-over ingredients from other dishes you’ve cooked from the same book.

In my particular case I selected Thug Kitchen - which I prefer to call Swearing Simple Vegan - as my cookbook. It’s directed at new cooks, is vegan, uses common ingredients, and is hilarious.

Work the cooking pipeline

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Meal Planning Day (15-45 minutes)

  • Browse recipes in your cookbook. Mark ones you’d like to cook sometime with a sticky note.

    I also occasionally looked up recipes online as well.

  • Decide on 1-2 recipes to cook this week from your marked potential recipes.

  • Record ingredients which you need but don’t have in stock on a shopping list. Also record any missing cooking gadgets to purchase.

Grocery Day (1 hour)

  • Go to grocery store.

  • Buy ingredients from your shopping list.

  • Go home. Unpack ingredients.

Tip: You can eliminate the first 2 steps by buying groceries online.

Cooking Day (3 hours)

  • Read through the recipe again. Annotate important items like cooking times.

  • Arrange all ingredients on the counter.

  • Follow the recipe instructions. Look for patterns and remember them.

  • Eat delicious food.

  • Photo the meal to record progress. Share on social media.

  • Package leftovers for future lunches and dinners.

  • Wash the dishes.

That’s it!

After practicing for 2-3 months I became confident that I could cook most recipes from the same style of cookbook without it feeling difficult.

I also learned a lot of little tips and tricks along the way to streamline the cooking process. I’m planning to write another article in the near future about the most important tips I’ve learned so far.

Happy cooking!