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8+ Kitchen Skills to Know for Fearless Cooking

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Learning some simple cooking basics and kitchen skills makes it easier to embrace cooking at home. While it might not be innate for you, dive in and learn these cooking skills to get started with wholesome home-cooked meals that will save you money, too!

Once you’ve learned some of these basic cooking skills, try replacing some of your supermarket favorites with homemade recipes.

mixing dry ingredients in a glass bowl - cooking basics!

As someone who cooks from scratch pretty much daily, the idea of not knowing how to cook is completely foreign to me.

Turns out, there are plenty of people out there who just never learned the cooking basics I did.

Cooking basics: Traditional skills to learn

Generations of packaged foods and the demise of Home Ec classes in schools has really left a generation behind. We’re sending young people out into the world without some of the most basic kitchen skills.

With an eye toward guiding novice chefs to a certain level of comfort in the kitchen, I’m sharing some simple cooking basics that will empower the uninitiated to move beyond boiling water and ramen noodles.

cooking basics: How to Separate an egg

How to separate an egg

Sometimes a recipe calls for an egg white. Or just the yolk. There are special tools for making this task easy, but really, you don’t need one.

Crack an egg on the counter. Gently open the egg over a bowl, allowing the yolk  to settle into one half of the shell. Carefully slide the yolk back and forth between the eggshells a couple of times. The white will fall into the bowl, leaving behind the yolk.

Be sure to save the eggshells for your garden.

How to peel garlic for cooking

If you’ve ever battled the thin skins of garlic and the garlic won, here’s a shortcut for you. Pull a clove of garlic from the bulb and set it on a cutting board. Hold the flat side of a broad knife on top of the garlic with one hand and give it a good whack with the other fist. The skin will pop right off.

Save money by reviving wilted produce

Whoops! Forgot about the fresh carrots, lettuce, celery and now it’s all limp? Salvage them by submerging them in ice water for 15-20 minutes. Drain revived produce on a towel and you’re back in business.

Learn how to peel tomatoes

If you dislike the peels of tomatoes in your cooked dishes, take a lesson from my mom. Here’s how she peels tomatoes for making salsa.

Related: My Top Essential Kitchen Tools

two hands with a knife cutting on onion on a wooden cutting board - must have cooking skills

How to cut round fruits and vegetables

It’s hard to cut produce that has a curved bottom and wiggles all over the place.

To make it less likely that you’ll cut a finger open while trying to slice curvy produce like potatoes, use a sharp knife to cut a thin slice from the length of the potato. Set the flat edge on your cutting board, and voila! No more wiggles.

How to make a simple vinaigrette

Probably the easiest homemade salad dressing you can make, a vinaigrette can be as simple or complex as you’d like. For a basic vinaigrette, you need only remember a ratio of 3:1, oil to vinegar. Say, 3 tablespoons oil to 1 tablespoon vinegar. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk with a fork. Or shake in a jar. Change it up with flavored oils or different types of vinegar.

vegetables ready to roast on a baking tray: carrots, red onions, yellow bell pepper, cauliflower

How to roast veggies

Roasted vegetables have a flavor like no other. Better? They’re easy to make. Cut vegetables into similarly sized pieces, place on a sheet pan, toss with olive oil to coat, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.

We like roasting sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and onion. Here’s a more detailed recipe for roasting carrots.

Get Organized in Your Kitchen: 12+ Easy Ideas to Streamline Cooking

How to roast a chicken

There are exactly five billion recipes for cooking chicken on the internet (I counted). And they’re great! In the end, one of the easiest ways to prepare chicken is to roast it.

  • Heat your oven to 450 degrees.
  • Check the inside of your chicken (both ends) for the little bag of innards they sometimes come with. Save for making broth.
  • Sprinkle the whole chicken with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  • Place chicken in a roasting pan and seal with tin foil.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Remove foil; bake for another 15 minutes to brown the bird.
  • Done!

chicken stock (bone broth) in a white two-handled mug from above.

Cooking basics: How to make broth

Broth is the basis for making soup. By the mug, it’s a healthy stand alone snack. And it’s simple to make.

Remove as much meat as possible from the roasted chicken you just made. Place the chicken carcass in a slow cooker or stock pot. Add some vegetables: Carrots, an onion, some garlic, or celery are all good options. Fill pot with water. Cook on low heat for 24-48 hours. Need more detailed instructions? Go here.

Homemade broth is the basis for homemade soups and stews, like this DIY Cream of Mushroom Soup or Sausage Lentil Soup. And it’s like finding free food!

Cooking basics and kitchen skills for fearless cooking!

Novice at the stove? This *excellent book will help you learn to be fearless in the kitchen.The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn was not the book I expected it to be. And yet, when I sat down and started reading I was hooked.

Possibly because the author starts out by admitting that she stalked one woman in the grocery store. You know the one: cart full of Lunchables, boxed pasta mixes, jars of gravy, frozen waffles. I have stalked a similar shopper out of sheer curiosity.

What I didn’t do, though, is what the author did. Kathleen Flinn managed to strike up a conversation with this woman and ultimately discovered that she shopped the way she did because she didn’t know how to cook.

Zero kitchen skills.

A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, the author definitely knows how to cook — and cook well. Her encounter with the lady in the supermarket inspired her to share cooking basics with others who simply couldn’t find their way around a kitchen.

With her unpretentious manner, the author convinced nine volunteers to take part in what she called her “project.”

Kitchen counter cooking skills

The lessons – from knife skills to cuts of meat to spices and seasonings – are chronicled in a narrative format that introduces readers to the volunteers and their shortcomings in the kitchen and follows them as they learn to master cooking basics so they could make food for themselves and their families.

Each chapter concludes with a recipe or two, and there are bonus recipes included in the back of the book.

Unlike a lot of other narrative non-fiction books I’ve picked up, this one held my interest from beginning to end. I even found myself taking mental notes about improvements I could make in my own kitchen.

This book would be a great gift for a new bride or for a young person heading out into the world, but it’s an enjoyable read even for folks who are comfortable with a skillet and grill.

Originally published in September, 2011; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

21 comments… add one
  • April Sep 22, 2011, 7:18 am

    I like the sound of that book. I learned some cooking from my mom and was responsible to make dinner often as a high schooler, but I really started getting into after I was married. My motive? I love food. I learned to bake when my son was diagnosed with wheat allergies, but he could eat spelt and kamut. So either I learned to bake or we did without all bread products. Now I make just about everything from scratch. My husband will never eat a store bought tortilla again. He’s too hooked on the good stuff. when I was learning to bake I loved Alton Brown’s book, “I’m just here for more food”. I still reference it. I’m always looking for ways to improve my skills. I actually have most of his books. I also have a James Beard book that I’ve skimmed. I might have to get this book.

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 24, 2011, 9:22 am

      Funny how once you’ve “discovered” homemade bread products, it’s hard to go back to store bought!

  • Sonia Sep 22, 2011, 7:22 am

    I can relate. When I lived in SC and opened my first cooking school it would blow my mind at the questions some of the class participants would ask….I mean, some of the questions were so basic that I could not believe everyone wouldn’t know the answer!…and Kris, this was back in early 1980….when Home Ec was still being taught in some schools and I know that due to the age of the class participants, they ALL were exposed to Home Ec courses….;-)

  • Becky Sep 22, 2011, 7:30 am

    Well, I for one did not learn how to do any cooking at home or at school (I did have home ec for one quarter in 7th grade) unless it involved microwaving something. I wish someone would have taught me how to cook. I am learning as I go, but I do notice that I am nervous to try a lot of new cooking. I am glad I have the internet, because I can learn step by step, which is very helpful. I will definitely read this book.

  • Alexandra Sep 22, 2011, 11:54 am

    I realize every day how much we save since I’m a good cook and can cook from scratch. My mom did not know how to cook. She was a career woman back in the 1930s, when that was really unusual. When she married my dad, she could only cook hard boiled eggs. That’s why my dad decided his daughter would know how to cook. The skill has really served me well throughout my life.

  • Jane Sep 22, 2011, 5:18 pm

    I’m SO picking this book up for myself! Thanks for sharing it.

  • John Sep 22, 2011, 7:12 pm

    This is really an informative post and I have to admit that I learned a lot from you.Yeah! I for one also did not learn how to do any cooking at home or at school unless it involved microwaving something. I wish someone would have taught me how to cook. I am learning as I go, but I do notice that I am nervous to try a lot of new cooking too.

  • Living Large Sep 23, 2011, 1:02 am

    My mother was a good cook, but she did not cook from scratch. While she wasn’t a career woman, I think she felt all of the “convenience” of package foods was liberating her from house chores and allowing her more time to do things she LIKED to do. I also had a pathetic excuse for a home ec teacher. So, for a long time,I only cooked from packages. Since we’ve moved, I’ve learned to cook from scratch, because, well, we cannot even go out that often here. I have a friend who cooks only from scratch. When she tried to use a boxed cake mix, she ruined it! Interesting on the book, I’m going to look into it. At 47 and married for 25 years, I still have a lot to learn.

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 24, 2011, 9:27 am

      When I was first married I relied on those boxed foods. Not because I didn’t know how to cook – I did – but because they were cheap and fast. Something newlyweds on a budget could really appreciate. Now I cringe to think about it.

  • NoPotCoooking Sep 26, 2011, 2:00 am

    I never understood the not knowing how to cook thing until I realized that if your mom (or whoever raised you) didn’t know how to cook, you likely do not know how. Sounds like a great book for those who need a little help

  • Christine Sep 26, 2011, 2:36 am

    This sounds great. It also sounds like a good book to have on hand to teach older children the basics of cooking!

  • MyKidsEatSquid Sep 26, 2011, 4:45 am

    I like the angle she starts with–grocery store stalking, so fun. I’m going to have to look for this book, thanks for the heads up.

  • ruth pennebaker Sep 26, 2011, 5:18 am

    I’m reading this post and its comments feeling embarrassed, since I know so little about cooking. I think for the generation of women like me who came of age during the feminist movement, cooking was considered too sex-stereotyped — so we avoided it. And went to law school. Who knew you could do both?

  • Kerry Dexter Sep 26, 2011, 6:46 am

    I am a confident cook, and always interested to see how others teach. this sounds like an interesting book, Kris. thanks for the heads up. maybe she’ll do a next step version — that would be interesting too I’ll bet.

  • Susan Sep 26, 2011, 3:07 pm

    I took half a semester of Home Ec but my Mom’s idea of cooking was making Kraft Mac & Cheese or defrosting hot dogs. Since then, I’ve learned my way around the kitchen a bit better thanks to cooking magazines and friends who love to cook. This sounds like an interesting read!

  • Sheryl Sep 26, 2011, 3:57 pm

    This sounds like a terrific book for learning the basics of cooking. I could have used it years ago when I was I’ll-equipped by my mother to find my way around a kitchen.

  • Alisa Bowman Sep 27, 2011, 9:54 am

    I can’t wait to read this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  • merr Sep 27, 2011, 10:36 am

    I think it was in Fast Food Nation or Omnivore’s Dilemma or something of that like where the author discusses shopping only around the inside perimeter of the store. Produce, fresh foods, dairy…because what is on the interior aisles is all processed, as a general rule.

  • sarah henry Sep 27, 2011, 4:16 pm

    I was curious what the concept was behind this book. Thanks for the insights.

  • Mimi Jan 27, 2020, 1:44 am

    Hi Kris. I’m curious which state you’re in. I’m in PA and I’m very jealous of your low temperatures of 50I’d kill for a 50 degree day around here. But I shouldn’t complain, it’s been a pretty mild winter so far. I can’t wait til spring and to put some veg in the ground❤️

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 6, 2020, 7:26 am

      I’m in Hawai‘i, at the 2000′ elevation, so cooler than what the tourist board has you imagining. 😉

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