Teaching yourself to cook. Just do it.

People often say something to me like “Oh I wish I could cook like that,” or “Could you teach me to cook?” 

Honestly, there’s no big secret to it.  But I thought I’d share with you a little of how I came to where I am now.

If there was a secret to teaching yourself how to cook it would be this:  Just do it!

I know that sounds very “Nike” but it’s the truth.  You’ll never learn until you just get in there and get your proverbial hands dirty. 

While I did spend time cooking with my mom growing up, I didn’t really learn to cook from my mom.  I learned some things from her, but that only took me as far as grilled cheese and gravy.  I primarily taught myself to really cook in my adult years.

It’s much like what I had to do to get in my daily quiet time / devotional / Bible study routine.  I couldn’t rely on my past to get me where I needed to go in my relationship with the Lord.  I came to a point when I just had to throw down the gauntlet and decide once and for all I was just going to do it. 

So what does that mean practically in the kitchen?   Here are some tips that I think mirror how I taught myself to cook

  • Simply start following recipes.  Follow them exactly and to the letter at first. 
  • Pay attention to flavor combinations that you and your family like whether eating at home or eating out. 
  • I suggest that you make your kids try whatever you have cooked or try something specific to the restaurant where you are eating and don’t offer alternatives like making them a sandwich.  (In our family, dinner is dinner and I’m not a short-order cook unless it’s leftover night.  This may be a totally different post in and of itself.)
  • Periodically buy the little recipe publications at the check-out stand in the grocery store.  These provide some inexpensive and easy recipes that allow you to try some different flavor combinations and types of food.  
  • If you eat something out at a restaurant that you really enjoyed, do some investigating on the internet.  It is likely that it’s not all that difficult to make the same thing or something really similar at home.
  • As you get more comfortable, push yourself to try some new techniques.  I find that taking a cooking periodical such as “Cook’s Illustrated” is good for stretching and teaching.  The articles that are written in Cook’s Illustrated in particular are excellent for seeing the differences between and results of different techniques and ingredients.  The natural next step would be to actually put into practice some of those new techniques and more involved or difficult recipes. 
  • You may even challenge yourself to cook your way through a particular cookbook.  This is especially helpful if you have a particular genre of food (like Italian or Indian) or a specific area of cooking (like baking bread) that you want to learn. 
  • Gradually, as you learn what flavor combinations you and your family like, and as you become more comfortable with a variety of recipes and techniques, stop looking so much at the recipes themselves.  “Eyeball” some ingredients and play around with the recipes a little.
  • Begin to substitute different flavors and ingredients into a recipe to customize it to your own and your family’s preferences. 
  • Take some old recipes and apply new techniques that you’ve learned and see if you can improve the old recipes and make them something new and better.

In general, you can get to where you may only use a recipe that you see as simply a guide or even as inspiration to make something completely different.  It will take a while, just like it took a while before I felt like I was really fellowshipping with the Lord in my daily quiet time.  It takes time and practice.  But I do believe it can happen for anyone.  You just have to resolve to make it so.

Just do it.

I’d love to hear if you have other tips to share about teaching yourself to cook.


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  1. carollackland says:

    Really practical and good advice. Now that my children are grown I find they push me to be more adventerous in my cooking. My son seems pretty fearless in trying new things (yes, he loves to cook) and that keeps me from falling into a recipe rut. Good article…Love the hair!

  2. Wonderful post! From a very early age I loved to cook. At age nine mom taught me how to cook marinara sauce…..and from there I was hooked. I remember pretending I was Julia Childs instructing others how to cook…when other girls were playing barbies. :) I did go to culinary school and later become a Sous Chef….but what I would tell people is that it starts in your own kitchen. Just start playing…..and like staples in your kitchen….there are a few staple things that you can learn to make that that can then be changed around in so many ways.
    Donna, this was a great teaching tool….great instructions for a new bride/new cook. :)

  3. I have never been a great cook. I have been more focused about it this past year. The improvement is slow, but it is there! Thanks for the advice.

  4. @Sharon… I didn’t develop my true love and passion for it until my young adult years even thought I was in the kitchen with my mom a lot as a child. I so agree about having some key recipes that can be changed up. It’s like having building blocks. Speaking of staples, I have in mind writing soon about things I always keep in my kitchen.

    @rhonda… you can be a great cook. Slow improvement is still improvement. And remember, we all mess it up. I once put cilantro in my lasagne instead of parsley. OOPS!

    @carollackland… glad to hear your kids are adventurous. I’m hoping mine stay that way. My 9 yr old daughter recently asked to try artichokes. So we did! They weren’t her favorite, but she had a desire to give it a try.

    Thanks for the encouragement, ladies.

  5. Very good and practical tips Donna. I’ve always been one to cook but have never really enjoyed it on a daily basis although I was never really head over heels about it :) However, I’m a HUGE holiday cooker. Resurrection Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas I LOVE to cook on those holidays and my family looks forward to it too. My husband says I really massage that bird (turkey) and he’s right. I massage all the seasonings into that bird and he is tasty when it’s all done (smile).

    Now that we have one child on her own and one about to leave for college I cook a lot more of the quick 30 minute meals or less. I find that quick and easy.

    Thanks again for sharing! Blessings and peace!

  6. Wonderful advice.

  7. I don’t enjoy cooking. :) How’s that for honest? I just do it as simple and fast as I can. LOL

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