A beginner's cooking guide

Cooking doesn't have to be overwhelming or mysterious. In this article, learn the basics. Gather your kitchenware, a comfortable recipe, and your trusty nose. From there, cooking becomes a fun adventure rather than a leap into the unknown.

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  • When I was 14, I received a cookbook for Christmas from my parents. This unusual gift sparked confidence in the kitchen, which evolved into a fondness and talent for cooking that now defines much of my adult life. By learning a few simple skills you, too, can make company-worthy meals that would make your mother proud.

  • Prep your kitchen

  • Cooks are only as good as their tools. Equip your kitchen with assorted utensils like spatulas, large spoons, measuring cups and whisks. Make sure you have saucepans, skillets, baking pans and cookie sheets. Without a well-stocked kitchen, you’re left with cereal bowls and good intentions, but not much else. Once, I had to bake a loaf of bread in a Pyrex bowl because I discovered too late that we didn't have a loaf pan. Don't make the same mistake!

  • Another essential resource to have in your kitchen is a good beginner cookbook. It’s certainly fun to invent recipes, but for novice cooks this can end in disaster. My husband very sweetly ate the ultra-spicy, rather strange spaghetti squash risotto I made once — but I offer no guarantees how your family will fare. Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics is a good book for beginners.

  • Stick to the basics – for now

  • You may love chicken cordon bleu and crème brûlée, but these are out of the scope of a beginning chef. Stick to meals with few ingredients and familiar flavors, such as spaghetti with marinara sauce, tuna casserole or chicken quesadillas. You get extra points for assembling meals that are a variety of colors, like beef, broccoli and rice all on the same plate. These entrees lend themselves to easy preparation, but they also adapt well to your particular taste once you familiarize yourself with them. In the beginning, recipes are your friend.

  • As for me, I started out with chicken marinated in Italian dressing, along with one of those pasta mixes from a box and some frozen vegetables. It's simple, tasty, and looks so much more impressive than it really is.

  • Use your nose

  • Once you get comfortable with a few recipes, start experimenting! Is that marinara sauce a little drab, for example? Try adding garlic, fresh basil or Parmesan cheese. You shouldn’t be afraid to create something new. After all, this is your kitchen and your recipes. Halving the recipe helps to cut down on food waste if your changes flop. Otherwise, you may end up with a huge batch of something accidentally inedible.

  • A good rule of thumb as you adapt recipes to your liking is to use your nose. Smell one ingredient, then the other. Do they smell gross together, or yummy? Is it a familiar scent combination, or a strange one? By trusting your nose to do the work first, your taste buds reap more rewards in the end. Pre-packaged foods are also a great source of inspiration for flavor combinations.

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  • Cooking gets immediately easier once you have the right tools. By starting simple, your confidence and skill grows, making it a natural next step to start your own culinary adventures. The rest is up to you.

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Sara Hagmann is a stay-at-home wife and writer who loves traveling, cooking, and kissing her husband. A lot.

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