Meet Alex Caspero
Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.
In working with healthy eating clients over the years, I’ve come to realize that people generally fall into one of two camps: you either love to cook or you come up with every excuse possible to get out of it. Me? I am clearly of the former; unofficial President of the “all I want to do is cook all day club”. I’m not a trained chef but that hasn’t stopped me from starting most days in the kitchen, apron on and ready to tackle my latest assignment.
Cooking confidence. It’s the ability to get in the kitchen and feel comfortable around a new recipe, appliance or ingredient. It’s trusting that you have enough know-how to make something taste incredible and understand what happened when things don’t go as planned. While this is instinctual for many, it can be taught.
Lack of cooking confidence is usually the reason behind, “I don’t like to cook.” Ready to improve your kitchen confidence? These eight tips will get you started.
While this may be obvious, blind ambition and gusto are typical starting points for most budding chefs. Unless you’re aiming to be the next Julie & Julia, start with 5 simple recipes until you know them by heart. Most home cooks have 10-15 recipes up their sleeve, ones that they could pull out at a moments notice. Find your five. I recommend choosing recipes that you enjoy eating often; if you’re lacking inspiration, consider your go-to take-out choices. My starting points would be spaghetti pomodoro, lentil tacos, tortilla or vegetable soup, stir-fry and a wild-card.
Do you know the difference between sauté and fry? Roast vs. Bake? It’s time to learn! Whether your teacher is a local cooking class, Food Network or Google, understanding the terms is essential to building cooking confidence. In addition to understanding the various cooking techniques, you’ll learn how to adapt and customize your favorite recipes. If you love roasted rosemary potatoes, try it next time with carrots, turnips or other root vegetables. I first learned to create recipes from building on the techniques and flavor profiles of my favorite dishes. Which brings me to my next point-
It’s not a coincidence that most Italian food starts off with basil, garlic and oregano. It wouldn’t be Mexican food without a little heat, cumin or coriander. Once you learn the basic flavor profiles, you can mix and match ingredients with ease. Knowing flavor profiles of your favorite cuisines will also help you narrow down which spices are essential and what you can save for special occasions.
As you start to build your kitchen, examine the recipes you find yourself gravitating towards the most. What tools do they have in common? Nothing is more frustrating than purchasing all the ingredients only to find out you need a food processor or special pan to make it happen. Sure, tools can be expensive but think of it as building your kitchen for life-long healthy habits. Packaged and convenience food tends to be the most expensive items in the grocery store. While buying new tools will costs more up front, they should pay for themselves over and over again.
I admit, I have way more appliances and tools then my family of two will ever need, but the ones I reach for on an almost daily basis are my my food processor, high-powered blender, quality knives, and cast-iron pan.
As I am reminded of on almost a daily basis thanks to my picky husband- we all have different taste buds. What I think is plenty of cumin or pepper flakes might not be enough for you. Unfortunately, it’s hard to correct the seasoning once you’ve finished the recipe. Taste as you go! A bite here or there can help teach you how the food develops as it cooks and also allow you to adjust as needed. A word of wisdom: if you don’t like it as you cook it, you likely aren’t going to like the finished product.
As you become more confident in the kitchen, keep building on your skills and challenge yourself to add one new dish every month. This is a great way to not only build your go-to recipe collection but also learn new techniques along the way.
I was taught how to cook by three people: My grandmother(s), my mom & Giada. While nothing can replace actual cooking, I have learned a ton by watching my favorite cooking shows. If you’re not sure what something means in a recipe- YouTube It! I can almost guarantee there is someone, somewhere with a video of the recipe or technique you need help breaking down. Watch, then emulate.
Lastly, cook often. All these tips aside, you can only build confidence in the kitchen by actually being in the kitchen. So get in there, break a dish or two, and have fun.