the 10 things you need to be a great cook

9 May

I’ve decided cooking isn’t hard. So many people I talk to about cooking think it’s this mystic art, and I think people like giant corporations whose sole purpose is to make our lives easier by selling us prepackaged food make us think that. Check out this stat from an article in the Atlantic on how kitchens these days are just expensive excuses to look fancy to our friends:

When my grandmother was growing up in the 1920s, the average woman spent about 30 hours a week preparing food and cleaning up. By the 1950s, when she was raising her family, that number had fallen to about 20 hours a week. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women average just 5.5 hours—and those who are employed, like me, spend less than 4.4 hours a week.

Because what used to be a full-time job is now something we have to find time to squeeze in (which, if you think about it, is a pretty crazy predicament for something as essential as giving our bodies the fuel they need to live), we don’t know cooking. Which means we are afraid of it. There are wacky tools and impossible ingredients, and on top of it all, we now have a whole class of foodies who make it look like they can afford to spend a mortgage payment each month on truffles and the latest ridiculous gadget from Williams-Sonoma.

This is unnecessary. Now that I’ve cooked a few things, I can assure you it is totally doable. In fact, you should start right away. I’ve been thinking a lot about how cooking seems to boil down to a small list of basics, aka the 10 things you need to be a great cook. (Good news! You probably already have a bunch of them.) Here’s my list:

1. A chef’s knife. Seriously. It will cut just about everything you’re going to need to cut in the kitchen.

2. Pots and pans. Some small ones, medium ones and big ones.

3. Olive oil. Olive oil is the nectar of the gods and you can almost never go wrong by adding it to anything, ever.

4. Vinegar. Vinegar is one of my most favorite ingredients in life. You need red wine and balsamic to start. Later, you can add white wine and apple cider to the mix. I already can’t wait for you.

5. Salt. It makes things better. I use it as liberally as I want to get the flavor of my food right in the kitchen, but avoid it at the dining table.

6. Bowls. A set of mixing bowls, plus small ones to hold stuff when you prep (I also use small plates for this).

7. Dairy. Eggs, butter, milk. Shopping list staples, and with good reason, because inevitably you’re going to need them. Good to have on hand always.

8. Herbs and spices. You will build these over time, but a few of my go-to faves are garlic, basil, cumin and rosemary.

9. A willingness to experiment. Once you have this foundation, go find a recipe and try it! (Here’s how.)

10. A willingness to fail. Sometimes when you cook stuff it’s not going to turn out as delicious as you want–and then you are going to have to eat it every day until it’s gone because you spent all your grocery money on that one dish. And that’s okay, because most of the time it’s going to turn out pretty well, and other times you are going to cook things that are so good, they remind you why life is beautiful in the same way that family and friends and sunsets do.

What would you add to the list?

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12 Responses to “the 10 things you need to be a great cook”

  1. Jacqueline May 9, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I would add a cookbook. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just an easy to follow one with pictures as an added bonus. I many not always follow the recipes but use them for inspiration. When I hit the creativity wall and find I’m cooking the same recipes week after week it’s time to go through the cook books for fresh ideas to play with.

    Keep up the great blog Gina!

    • Gina Welker May 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

      Good call, mama. I use the internet a lot these days which is nice because then you get the recipes plus the tips from other people who’ve cooked it. :)

  2. mimitabby May 9, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    I would add a paring knife to that. A french knife is great for most things, but not everything.

    also, lemon!

    ps glad to see you writing again.

    • Gina Welker May 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

      Lemon!!! I had a hard time deciding whether to include that one. Glad you added it.

  3. Allyson May 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    I say add a grill. I grill so much, especially during the warmer months. I’ve never lived without one – not sure I could. Also, I would pair salt and pepper together. Half the time I cook, they are the only spices I use for a touch of flavor. But keep the salt off the table! Our cooking is too good to ruin with post-cooked food :) That’s all I’m adding for now!

    Great post, G!

    • Allyson May 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

      and by “post-cooked food,” I mean post-cooked SALT

    • Gina Welker May 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      This makes me really want a grill. Agreed on salt and pepper together, although if I had to choose one I would def. be on team salt.

  4. Jamie Fortune May 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Great list Gina! I would also add wine. You know, some to cook with and some to drink.

    • Gina Welker May 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

      OMG–HOW did I manage to leave that one off the top 10 list??!!

  5. Magneto May 10, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    I would add a cooking support group. For example, a girlfriend who has a food blog and is an amazing cook that you can call to ask questions.

    • Gina Welker May 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      You’re cute. Cooking date this weekend?

  6. Gina Welker May 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    I just realized I forgot chicken stock.

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