• Amanda Darby, Chef/Owner

Simple Cooking Tips Series for Beginners, Part 1

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

All of sudden people are having to cook for themselves 3x per day for themselves and their families. Many people I've talked with find it difficult, overwhelming, and a disappointing eating experience, BUT I am here for you. I've created several tips to give simple meals more flavor, create less dishes, and find peace in your kitchen! I'll roll these tips out over the next few weeks but if you need more tailored help please reach out for a virtual cooking class and I can help you with a customized class.

Tip 1: Start Simple

If you find yourself frustrated that your food doesn't taste like your favorite restaurant DO NOT DESPAIR! If it is a corporate food chain, remember they have a team of food scientists using a plethora of food flavoring and additives to make food taste really, really good. You can't compete with that at home BUT real, home cooked food has more flavor and nutrition and no additives that contribute to cancer, obesity, and other negative health effects. So yay for cooking your own food!

If you are comparing your cooking to your favorite local chef, using fresh local ingredients, please keep in my how much practice that chef has had, AND remember all chefs started at the beginning and so are you!

Start with simple dishes like quiches, frittatas, simple pasta dishes, affordable meat dishes (no fancy cuts yet), homemade salad dressing and marinades (yes, they are simple), and focus on good technique (searing, adding enough salt, and knife skills). Use recipes as needed and follow them as best as you can.

TRY NOT to get overwhelmed with recipes especially if you don't have 1 or 2 ingredients. If you are missing any ingredient think carefully about what the ingredient is. Is it liquid, solid, acidic, salty, sweet, spicy, etc? Then think about the texture of the ingredient and what would be similar. For example, if a recipe calls for kale but you don't have kale, what is good substitute? Kale a firm leafy green that isn't too bitter and can be cooked. So you need a mild leafy vegetable that can be cooked as well. Can you think of any? Spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, etc. Another example could be a recipe calls for apple cider vinegar but you are out. You know vinegar is sour and a liquid so you need something similar like another vinegar or citrus. If a recipe calls for an ingredient you have no idea what it is, google it, I do this all the time.

Practice on the recipe below. Look at the ingredients see if you have everything you need and use what you have or buy what you don't. Or try substituting with your own pantry staples.

Here's how I would think it through if I didn't have each ingredient:

garlic: essential, strong flavor, could omit or sub for dried garlic; could use ginger if I wanted another strong flavor but it would change the flavor of the recipe.

lemon: acid, sometimes sweet, could sub with any vinegar or lime, shouldn't omit because salad dressing really needs an acid.

dill, mint, parsley: could omit, could sub with any green herb I prefer like parsley, thyme, chervil, sage, basil, cilantro, mint, etc.

miso paste: first, I'd be like, what the heck is that and then google it. It's a salty/umami bean paste (...oh yeah I have had miso soup) so I need another salty/savory add in. This sub is tricky, but I know I can substitute with a salty hard cheese like parmesan or asiago or just omit.

honey: sweet, thick, floral undertones; I would sub with a pinch of white sugar, a smidge of maple syrup, or other sweetener (never sub with zero calorie fake sugar).

cold-pressed olive oil: Again, if I were new I'd be like, what is cold-pressed mean? So I would google it (hint: it's how it's processed and affects the quality of the olive oil). Then if I didn't have it I would use whatever olive oil I have and if needed any other vegetable oil.

As your practice doing this, you'll get better and better at it. You'l become more and more familiar with new ingredients and how to substitute them or work with them.

Recipe of the week:

Green Goddess Dressing

This dressing can go on any cooked vegetables, over your favorite salad, or you could use it to marinate meat in. It's very versatile and you could add avocado (start with 1/2), raw or cooked jalapeno peppers, a couple of slices of cucumber (if you use a blender to mix it) or extra herbs (cilantro maybe?). Be brave and try something new!


2 cloves garlic

1/2 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons dill

1 tablespoon b tasil

2 tablespoons fresh mint

3 tablespoon parsley

1 teaspoon of white miso paste

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4-1/2 cup cold-pressed olive oil

pinch of salt


Add all dressing ingredients into a bowl/cup/jar and mix well with a whisk, immersion blender, or by shaking with lid on.

Photo Credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelly

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