Being older has its advantages. I've been cooking for over 25 years as a homemaker, and have learned a few things that have really helped me. I would like to share the first 10 things that came to my mind . Perhaps you'll benefit, regardless whether you're just starting out or have been "at home on the range" longer than I have. There's always something new to learn to make life more pleasant and simpler.
1. Invest in good knives. I don't mean expensive, but not cheap either. Sharp knives will save you time and energy, and give you great results. You can get by with a butcher knife, a long bread knife, a paring knife, and a set of six steak knives for guests. Using dull knives is actually more dangerous. If you find yourself pressing, pulling, or pushing a knife instead of gliding through meat and veggies, you need to get sharp ones.
2. Use a Crock Pot. I wish I'd done this as a single girl or newlywed. I thought a Crock Pot was just for big families or crowds. Not so. It's great to make a large quantity at once and have it hot and ready when you return home from a long day out AND for future meals. A tip I recently learned on Pinterest is to prepare everything and put it all in one or two gallon Ziplocs the night before. (Use the zipper kind; the plain seal kind sometimes pops open.) Don't even wait till morning to open the canned goods or add the spices. Put it all into the Ziploc bag, store it in the fridge, and dump it all at once into the Crock Pot . Then don't forget to actually plug the pot in and turn it on. (I didn't make that mistake twice!)
3. Double your meals and freeze leftovers as often as possible. You'd be surprised how much time and money will save you in a month. While you have the knives, cutting boards, mixing bowls, spices, and whatnot already out, go ahead and make extra. Or do everything shy of cooking it, then simply label the meal with cooking instructions. You'll thank yourself when tempted to just do the ol' drive-thru thing when you're hungry and tired. Tell yourself to drive on home and put that yummy homecooked meal in your microwave.
4. Lay a wooden spoon over the top of a boiling pot to prevent it from boiling over.
5. If you're making a cake from a box mix, empty the mix into the bowl but keep the box out on the counter to put your trash into as you go. It keeps things neater. Not that I always follow my own advice. Ahem.
6. Keep a bottle of lemon juice on hand. It's useful for many things, not just for the best homemade lemonade or lemon-pepper chicken. Rub it on your hands to take off onion smell.
7. Purchase a cookbook that appeals to you on many levels: glossy pictures, easy-to-understand recipes, ingredients you use every day, a lay-flat binding, multiple categories, etc. Then, when you use a recipe, jot down notes in the margin --on how you may have tweaked it, the occasion you made it for, and how it was rated (I use a 5-star scale or put quotes in the margin from family member)| For example, "4/5 stars, "A hit with everyone at church picnic 7/2/01" or "Don't make this if hosting; too time-consuming." Don't forget the negative comments: "not worth the effort" or " only makes 5 doz, not 6" or anything else that will help yu next time.
8. Make food look as pretty as you can. We eat first with our eyes. Think how NOT to make a monochromatic meal such as golden baked chicken with yellow corn and mac ' cheese. Sure it tastes good, but colorwise, lackluster. In the event that's what happens, add a slice of tomato or a bunch of grapes for color. By the way, all food looks good on white or ivory plates. Avoid greyish white plates.
9. Photograph your food when you like the way it looks. I like to print a photo and keep it with the
recipe for future reference. Or, more often, I post it right here on the blog. (Try to take the pictures before calling folks to the table. They won't appreciate cold food that's supposed to be hot, no matter how pretty it is. Ask me how I know.)
9. Always taste your food while cooking. Don't wait till you've served it. Take a bite and hold the
food in your mouth a few seconds with your eyes closed. Ask yourself what it needs to be better. Salt is usually the first thing to start with. But it might be too salty by accident; if that's the case, add half a potato to absorb the salt. Trust your taste buds. Sometimes you need a pinch of sugar or a green herb like dried basil or a dash of red pepper. Don't feel like you've got to be Bobby Flay or Paula Deane to make good food.
10. If you're going to add a hot spice like cayenne or green chilies to soup, dot it at the end.
Foods get more flavorful as they simmer and sit. You can ruin a whole pot of soup by adding hot spice too soon. Remember you can always add more later or at the table.
I hope you've been helped. Happy cooking!