Want to know how to be a better cook? Wish you knew some tips and tricks to make your food taste better? Check out these ten tips that will help you improve your cooking skills. Not only will your food taste better, but you’ll enjoy your time in the kitchen even more! 

close up image of two halves of a blood orange

1. Utilize Citrus, Rather, Acid in General:

Use fresh citrus juice, citrus zest, and vinegar in everything from sauces, dressings, and dips, to meat, fish, desserts, and baked goods.

  • Citrus zest is great in baked goods, salad dressings, frostings and glazes, marinades and more.
  • Citrus juice is good in cocktails (duh!), salsas, dips, sauces, soups, baked goods, and more.
  • Vinegar is utilized in dressings and vinaigrettes, to finish soups and sauces, essential for pickling, and more

2. Toast Nuts

Toast nuts before tossing in salads, topping yogurt, or using in baked goods for more flavor.

  • Why toast nuts? Toasting nuts deepens their flavor, which adds more depth to a dish than raw do.
  • How to toast nuts:The best way to toast nuts is to arrange them on a baking sheet in an even layer and toast in a 350°F oven. Depending on the type of nut, it can take anywhere from 5–10 minutes. To ensure even toasting, give the baking sheet a quick toss halfway through baking.
  • The key to know when nuts are done toasting? You’ll start to smell their nutty aroma! But set a timer for 5 minutes to check them, then keep setting timers until they’re done—they can easily be forgotten! 
  • I prefer the oven method over the stove-top method because it’s quicker, the nuts toast more evenly, and it’s easier to avoid burning the nuts. 

Hazelnut & Cardamom Shortbread Cookies with Dark Chocolate | Zestful Kitchen3. Keep Fresh Herbs on Hand

A handful of fresh herbs can easily elevate a dish from ho-hum to delicious.

What herbs to keep on hand:

  • Flat Leaf Parsley: So versatile and great with just about any type of cuisine. Use parsley in salads, dressings, pasta dishes, casseroles, egg dishes, vegetable dishes, and so much more.
  • Cilantro: Aside from Mexican cuisine, cilantro can also be used in a variety of applications like dips, salads, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, fish dishes and more. Cilantro can be a bit polarizing, but if you like it, this is an herb to keep on hand.
  • Basil: When basil is in season, I highly recommend keeping it on hand as much as possible. A mainstay in any tomato dish, basil is also at home in salads, soups, desserts, and even cocktails.

Carrot Risotto with Asparagus & Peas | Zestful Kitchen4. Use Pure Extracts

Use pure extracts in baking and cooking as opposed to artificial extracts.

Often added per recipe instructions with little thought, just a teaspoon of a pure extract can really change the outcome of a recipe. More potent in flavor, and definitely more true to flavor, pure extracts are a must.

Skip artificially flavored vanilla, almond, orange, and peppermint extracts (to name a few), and opt for the pure variety. Pure is a bit more pricey, but it’s definitely worth it. Speaking of pricey but worth it, Pure Vanilla Bean Paste is a great addition to your pantry. It adds tons of flavor, and elegance, to everything from desserts to breakfast dishes.

5. Toast Grains

Toast grains before cooking or baking to add more flavor to a dish.

  • Why toast grains? Toasting grains deepens their flavor, which in turn, bumps up the flavor of the dish they’re used in.
  • How to toast grains: For grains like quinoa, farro, bulgur, and sorghum, toast them in a saucepan over medium heat, shaking every few minutes, until grains start to become golden and have a toasty aroma. Continue to cook grains according to package directions.
  • For oats, toast them like you would nuts, on a baking sheet in the oven at a 325°F or 350°F until they become golden and smell toasty. Use in recipe or oatmeal as directed.

6. Season as You Go

Ignite your inner chef, and start seasoning, and tasting, as you cook.

  • For meals with the most depth of flavor, it’s important to season each component as you cook. Some examples include:
  • Season cooking water for potatoes, pasta, and vegetables.
  • Season a dish with salt and pepper from the beginning, like when you’re sautéing onions and garlic.
  • Season vegetables, meats, and grains as they cook, not just after.
  • And yes, you should still taste and adjust seasonings at the end before serving.

Breakfast Burritos | Zestful Kitchen7. Mise en Place

Meaning everything in its place.

Get your ingredients together, equipment organized, oven on, water boiling, baking sheets prepared, whatever you it may be. Get everything ready before you start to cook. Doing this will make the actual process of cooking much smoother and enjoyable.

Also, get yourself some glass prep bowls, they aren’t much of an investment and they make all the difference when prepping a recipe.

8. Invest in a Good Knife, and Take Care of it

There’s nothing more frustrating, or dangerous, in the kitchen than cooking with dull knives.

Whether you’re someone who feels pretty comfortable in the kitchen, or someone who dips their toes in from time to time, it’s well worth the money to invest in a good set of knives, or even just one. It doesn’t have to break the bank by any means, just a middle of the road, good-quality knife. I promise, this one will change the name of the game. Just be sure to take good care of it, use a knife guard or knife block and sharpen from time to time.

I use a Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife and love it.

9. Establish a Pantry

Most often, creating a meal is dictated by what you have at your fingertips. When you establish a pantry, even a small one, the possibilities drastically expand.

Start with quick, easy-to-make proteins like canned tuna, frozen shrimp, edamame, tofu, and chicken. Keep dry whole grains and pasta on hand as well as canned tomatoes, broth, and frozen vegetables—just to name a few. Do I see a pantry post in my future…

Charred Cauliflower Steaks with Romesco Sauce | Zestful Kitchen10. Cook Often and Follow the Recipe

If you want to become a better cook, there’s only one way to do that: cook and cook often.

Start by following recipes to get the gist of things—timings, temperatures, techniques, flavor combinations. With time you will feel more comfortable in the kitchen, which will give you the confidence to try more in-depth recipes and bold flavors.

Honorary 11: Use Good-Quality Ingredients

Use good quality chocolate, meats, cheeses, dairy, grains, olive oil, extracts, sauces, pasta, the list goes on. But as a rule of thumb, remember that the quality of ingredients, no matter how you use them, affects the end result of whatever you’re cooking. Bad in = bad out. Good in = good out.

A large mixing bowl with oats, flour, chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, pepitas, and dried cherries.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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