You can learn how to cook from scratch with a few easy tips. I learned how to, and you can to!
It wasn’t too long ago that if I wanted to make something, I had to follow a recipe. I didn’t know how to make my own meals based on what I had; I was like many and followed recipes exactly. I had to run to the store frequently to get the ingredients I thought I needed.
In the world of homesteading, cooking from scratch is a necessary skill. I really started learning how to cook from scratch when I started dating a chef. Watching him create meals from items that I never thought of putting together, with no recipes in sight, gave me the confidence that maybe I could learn to do that too.
The chef and I married and moved to a house with a small yard. This is the house where we currently reside. One of the plans I had immediately was to put in a garden.
Gardening Can Help Provide the Ingredients You Need
Gardens are a great way to get fresh ingredients into your kitchen. Growing food forces you to figure out what to do with it. Fresh ingredients are the best ones to start with when you want to create a meal completely from scratch.
I grew up gardening with my mom, but she wasn’t much of a cook either. We grew mostly tomatoes, corn, and green beans. That was mostly what we ate, and the tomatoes were usually canned into something while the beans and corn became side dishes.
She did not know how to really cook from scratch, so our meals usually consisted of something from a box with a side of vegetables.
We didn’t achieve anything creative, and the start of my adult life brought much the same with the exception of the addition of recipes.
I still like to grow tomatoes, corn and green beans, but my uses for them have expanded. The vegetables I’m growing have also expanded. One thing I learned as I gardened is that to have the best success, I needed to grow vegetables that work for the area I now lived in.
Develop Creativity with New Ingredients
Living here in the Pacific Northwest is very different than living in the Midwest where I grew up. It took me a couple years to realize you can’t grow the same things here that we could there.
I had to develop some creativity with the vegetables that did well in this climate.
The chef left the commercial kitchen behind and move into law enforcement. This brought long hours for him and left me with more of the cooking duties we used to share.
These things really pushed me start expanding my culinary skills. It still wasn’t quite in my repertoire yet to cook from scratch, but I was starting to develop the skills that would lead me there.
My cooking improved a lot over the next couple of years, but my health was not where I wanted it to be. Turns out, I had developed an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. All those years of eating a highly processed diet caught up to me.
This was really the kick in the butt I needed to start moving towards cooking from scratch completely. In no way will I claim I’m perfect, but I rarely eat anything anymore that comes from a box or bag.
When I realized that my goals in life were all leading to the dream of homesteading, the skill to cook from scratch was something I knew would be extremely important for that lifestyle. It’s also something that makes us more self-sufficient.
Where did I start when learning to cook from scratch?
I started by studying various recipes and getting to know different ingredients. Part of getting to know them was also understanding what quality ingredients are.
This lead to me starting to learn how different things behaved when cooked and how they effected the taste of a dish when added.
Learning how herbs can change the flavor of dishes helped expand and improve the flavor of what I was cooking. Adding quality salt really brings out those flavors even more.
I started with the basics, herbs and salt.
How do you expand your skills?
After I was feeling pretty good about using herbs and salt, the next step I took was to look at the ingredients of the things I enjoyed eating. I liked some of the flavored rice meals, my husband loves scalloped potatoes, and sometimes we’d buy pre-marinated meat for convenience, among other things.
I started reading the ingredients on the back of the boxes and realized how many extra ingredients they had. Preservatives, dyes, and additives are common ingredients in the fast food or “convenience” meals found in the grocery store.
I started looking into these further and I realized how they were contributing to my health issues.
Reading the ingredients of those convenience meals also gives you an idea of how they’re made and what you will need to start making them from scratch. I would also read other people’s recipes for similar things to see what they used in the dishes.
By doing this, I started to learn how to make the things we liked eating. And by experimenting with the amounts and quality of the ingredients, and adding or subtracting different ones, I found ways to make them even better.
Expanding Cook from Scratch Skills
The natural next step for me was to start learning to use ingredients I wasn’t as familiar with. Part of this stemmed from gardening and the need to adjust what I was growing to my location.
The other part was the need to improve the nutrition of me and my family. Your body needs different nutrients, and if you’re always eating the same foods your body is sure to be lacking in vitamins and minerals.
Plus, it’s nice to have a more variety of foods on your plate. I like to use different vegetables, not only to increase our nutrient intake but it can also make your dishes much more visually appealing. Who doesn’t like to have a pretty, colorful plate to look at?
Every day and every meal still teaches me more about from scratch cooking, and in-turn makes me a better cook. Compliments from my chef husband told me I was on the right track!
Tips to Help You Learn to Cook From Scratch
I was lucky to have a chef help me on my journey to learn how to make quality from scratch meals that taste good. These are some of the things I’ve learned, and I’m hoping they’ll help you learn too.
1. Salt is your friend when it comes to flavor. A good quality salt is important to bring out the flavors in your meal. Don’t be afraid to use it, liberally. It is important to use a quality salt, not iodized table salt. Skip the table salt and use an unrefined salt. My favorite is Redmond Real Salt, but Celtic Sea Salt and Pink Himalayan Salt are good options too.
Your body needs salt, every cell in your body requires it, so it’s important to get enough, but not the amount you’re getting from sodium heavy packaged foods. Unrefined salt also contains trace minerals that are important to your health. Our foods are often lacking in these minerals; using a good quality unrefined salt is an excellent way to add them back into your diet.
2. Simple is often better. Don’t feel like cooking from scratch needs to be complicated. Easy from scratch cooking fits into busy lives better than you might realize. And many times the best dishes are the ones that don’t have a whole page of ingredients. A great steak can be had just by using salt and pepper.
3. Use quality fats. Fats are also another thing that your body needs. A low fat diet has been popular for several decades now, but in reality your body needs good quality fat to work properly. The brain, especially, has to have fat in order to function.
There are good fats, like pasture raised lard and tallow, pure olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. These are the ones I use the most.
There are also bad fats. Stay away from vegetable and canola oils, these are often made with GMO ingredients and have been heavily treated with pesticides and herbicides. They are bleached so they have a uniform appearance on the shelf and undergo chemical treatments during the extraction process that increase the risk of cancer. If you want to better your health, these types of oils should be avoided.
4. Never use a cold pan to cook. Always heat your pan, with the fat your are using if applicable, before putting anything in it to cook. Make sure it’s hot and not just warm. Putting ingredients into a hot pan will help keep them from sticking to the pan. Using a cold pan will cause them to stick, even if you’re using oil or another kind of fat.
This also helps cook everything evenly and prevents over cooking.
5. Sear meat on high heat. If you eat meat, make sure you’re pan is preheated over high heat to sear. Searing gives meat that wonderful, dark brown color that brings out the umami flavor and makes it taste so much better. If you’re cooking meat, don’t skip this step.
This advices comes from the chef himself.
6. Lastly, don’t be afraid of failure. I can’t count how many times I failed and ended up with a meal that was not worth eating. Society makes us think that failure is a bad thing, but really it is the best tool to teach you how to succeed. We need to fail sometimes in order to make changes that will lead us to success.
Don’t get down if you fail, even if you fail many times. Use those failures as learning experiences and you’ll end up a better cook then you ever could have been if you’d never experienced them.
Happy from scratch cooking!