I just love cooking. I’ve loved it since I was young, I loved it through college and my 20s, and now in my 30s I’m learning new cuisines and experimenting with more complex techniques.
As I write this (because I have to multi-task), I’m cooking risotto, a dish classically known for being time consuming and requiring a lot of effort and patience. I do not have a lot of time or effort or patience, so I searched “easy baked risotto” and found a recipe I knew I could handle.
But I haven’t always known what I could handle. I’ve burned a lot, missed steps, overlooked key ingredients, and forgotten to preheat the oven so many times I could write a memoir about it. I think that’s all pretty typical kitchen stuff for anyone, but because of my ADHD it’s probably happening a lot more often.
Through the blunders, I’ve developed a few strategies to help me do the cooking thing (mostly) right. I can’t promise you’ll never ruin another dish with what I’ve laid out below, but the probability may go down a few degrees!
As with all of my tips and recommendations posts, please don’t think you have to do all of these things at once. Just pick one and go!
Read the Damn Recipe
Didn’t really mean to curse at you. In a way, I’m cursing at my past self for making the mistake OVER and OVER again of overestimating my memory.
Seriously, read the recipe. Read it a couple times! You do not have to memorize it, but read it thoroughly before you cook it because you have to know you can follow it.
It may include techniques you don’t know, or too many steps, and by reading it thoroughly, you’ll hopefully be able to get a better sense of how long it will take to make and whether you’d be comfortable doing so.
If you don’t like written recipes, there are a lot of other options now – YouTube and Facebook have tons of cooking channels and pages and groups, and you can follow along and pause the video as needed. But before you decide to make it, watch the damn video.
“30-Minute” Meals Do Not Take 30 Minutes
Do not be fooled by recipes that claim there will be five minutes of prep and 25 minutes of cooking. The cook time may be correct, but in my experience the prep time is rarely, if ever, properly estimated.
Maybe a professional chef can dice a bell pepper, an onion, carrots, celery and chicken breasts in five minutes. That’s cool. But if you are not a professional chef, or just amazing with a knife, five minutes is probably not enough time.
My rule of thumb is to multiply the recipe’s presumed prep time by at least 1.5, and up to two if there are a significant number of things to chop. Five minutes becomes 7.5 minutes, 10 minutes becomes 15 minutes, and so on. Remember too: gathering your ingredients counts toward prep time!
Set Yourself up for Cooking Success
Prep, prep, prep! How many times can I use the same word in one post?
There’s a good reason that sous chefs show up to restaurants hours before opening time. When you have your ingredients out and ready to go, you can focus on the actual cooking, and it decreases the likelihood of trying to do two things at once.
Ever try sauteeing, chopping and grating at the same time? Probably yes, you have, because you were so excited to get started that you skipped the critical food prep.
Read the ingredients list when you’re ready to start cooking, then measure each thing one at a time, then re-read the list to make sure you got it all. Get your equipment out too. Pots, pans, colanders, knives, measuring spoons and bowls. Prep isn’t just for food!
Recognize Your Cooking Limitations
If you’ve never cooked traditional paella before, please do not go out and buy a paella pan and a bunch of fresh fish and fresh saffron and attempt a completely-from-scratch recipe. I’m not saying you’re going to fail on the first try. Maybe you’re a cooking prodigy!
But, don’t let your impulsivity get the best of you. Traditional paella sounds really fun, but can you start by trying a simpler version using the tools and skills you already have?
Alternatively, if you have a recipe you want to try but you’re missing a piece of equipment it mentions, or don’t recognize a technique in it, don’t toss it! Make search engines your friend. There are so many amazing alternative techniques, shortcuts, and step-by-step videos out there.
For example, a fruit zester can be used to grate cheese, and a cheese grater can be used to zest fruit. Deglazing is as simple as pouring in broth with one hand, and scraping the pan with a spoon in the other hand.
If you want to try a recipe but feel overwhelmed by the techniques or steps, you can always drop me a line on any of my social channels (below!) and I’m happy to help you break it down into something manageable!
Preheat That Oven
Just a friendly reminder to preheat the oven! Put a post-it note somewhere in the kitchen, if needed. Make it the first step – before you prep, before you even open the fridge – the moment you step into the kitchen, preheat the oven.
One last pro-tip, in case no one ever told you: Baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable. If you have more kitchen tips or a great cooking fail, I’d love to hear about it!
If you were wondering – the risotto turned out pretty bad, but sometimes that’s the chance you take on a new recipe. At least I remembered to buy all the ingredients. Also, more tips are on the way soon – follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook so you don’t miss Part 2!