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I started cooking almost a decade ago and it has been the greatest life skill that has shaped my life for the better. In that time, I have also learned a lot from the good to the bad.
From spoiled groceries to burnt cookware, I have had my fair share of unfavorable experiences in the kitchen. I wanted to share a few things I wish I knew before I started cooking with you all in hopes that one of these lessons could be of use when you are in the kitchen.
Whether you are new to cooking, you feel like cooking is a chore, or you simply want to learn a thing or two, it’s the simple tricks and habits that I am about to share below that could save you time, money, sweat, and tears. It will also make cooking a breeze!
3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Cooking On My Own
Although there are many tips and tricks I have learned over the years, I want to start off by sharing what I think are the 6 most essential ones.
Properly Storing Fruits and Vegetables
I learned the hard way that not all fruits and vegetables can be stored the same way and that they can last longer if stored properly. Here is how I store some of my fruits and vegetables.
Photo by Max Vakhtbovych from Pexels
- Soaking strawberries in vinegar and water for 5 minutes will help destroy harmful bacteria or chemicals while preserving the flavor. Depending on the number of strawberries I am cleaning, I will use 1/4 cup of white vinegar for every 1 cup of water. After 5 minutes of soaking, rinse the strawberries well with cold water and dry them off with a paper towel. Alternatively, you can allow it to air dry on a lint-free towel. Once the strawberries are completely dry, line a container with a paper towel and add the strawberries side by side. Cover with a paper towel and close with an air-tight lid. This should stay fresh for up to 2-3 weeks.
- To extend the shelf life of herbs such as cilantro, green onions, and parsley, store it in a glass with some water (like storing flowers in a vase) and cover it with a ziplock or plastic bag. This should stay fresh for up to 2-3 weeks.
- Wrap any green leafy vegetables such as lettuce or spinach with a paper towel to keep the leaves fresh for up to 2 weeks.
- Store whole, uncut tomatoes at room temperature over the counter. If there are leftover sliced tomatoes, cover with saran wrap and store them in the refrigerator.
- Store fruit such as oranges or grapefruit (making sure they are dry) in the crisper bin in the refrigerator.
- Keep avocado and bananas separate from each other over the counter. The gasses released from the bananas will promote ripening in avocados. To extend the shelf life of avocado that is ripening, store in the refrigerator.
Growing up, I thought the freezer was only meant for ice cream and meat. Of course, I don’t eat meat anymore so I use the freezer for other foods. Below is a list of some of my favorite foods to freeze that don’t compromise the taste or texture when they are thawed. It also saves me time when I am cooking and helps prevent food waste.
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- Bananas ⇒ I use frozen bananas for smoothies. No need to thaw, just pop it in a blender and it is ready to use!
- Garlic and onions ⇒ I mince them first and store them in Ziploc bags. I break off pieces and use them when my recipes call for garlic or onions.
- Bread ⇒ When the bread is about to go stale, I store it in the freezer to use it in the freezer. To reheat, pop it in a toaster or oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 5-7 minutes.
- Rice ⇒ I like to freeze rice to make rice porridge. I usually give it a good rinse before storing it in a container and in the freezer. When it’s time to make porridge, I just throw the frozen rice in a pot of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. It comes out perfect every time.
- Chili peppers ⇒ are usually sold in large amounts so I will store them in the freezer and take them out as needed. Since the chili peppers I buy are usually small, it doesn’t take too long to thaw and is perfect to add a little spice to my food.
- Green peas, edamame, corn, and diced carrots ⇒ These vegetables are perfect for the freezer. To reheat, add these veggies to a bowl and pour hot boiling water over them. It should take a few minutes to completely thaw and they are ready to serve!
- Cooked foods ⇒ Unfortunately, there are certain cooked foods that won’t taste the same once frozen. Through trial and error, I figured out that the following cooked foods are perfectly fine in the freezer: dumplings, tofu, soup, and tomato sauce.
Benefits of Meal Prep
There’s nothing quite like a freshly made meal. The taste, texture, and appearance of a fresh meal are one of the best things in the world that we can experience.
Meal prep, on the other hand, can be repetitive, boring, and the food doesn’t taste the same after a couple of days.
However, life is busy, and sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to cook. So, that’s where meal prepping comes in and saves the day.
The key to enjoying prepped meals is to make something you truly enjoy eating.
So, if you really like fried foods, go ahead and make it but don’t forget to add some vegetables and grains to balance it out. We don’t need to restrict foods that are deemed ‘unhealthy’.
Sometimes it’s what we need at that time but it’s important to try our best to balance it with other foods that are good for our bodies.
A few of my favorite meal prep recipes include:
- Mapo Tofu with Garlic Green Beans and Five-Spice Glazed Eggplant
- Crispy Fried Mushroom Rice Bowl
- Zucchini Somen Noodle with Mizuna Salad
- Sweet and Sour Cauliflower
Even by the third day, I’m still craving for more because it tastes so good! Meal prepping has saved me a lot of time, effort, and has alleviated decision fatigue. We’ve all been there when we just don’t know what to eat!
It’s tempting to buy an entire 15-piece knife set. Depending on your needs (or if you have aichmomania 😜), it might be useful for you to buy a large set. However, you truly only need 3 types of knives:
- a paring knife ⇒ to cut fruit or vegetables
- a bread knife ⇒ to cut bread
- a chef’s knife ⇒ for everything else.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
It is important to invest in a top-quality, sharp knife to make it easier to cut food and prevent injury. A dull knife is extremely dangerous.
Mise en Place
It used to take me a long time to cook my meals and I felt very disorganized. I would be running around in my (small) kitchen trying to find all the ingredients as my food was cooking. There were a few instances when I wouldn’t add a sauce or seasoning in time and my food would burn. It wasn’t until I learned about mise en place that it made cooking much easier.
Mise en place is a French culinary phrase that means everything in its place. Having all your ingredients prepared before you start cooking will make cooking a breeze. Preparation is key in the kitchen!
If a recipe calls for chopping vegetables, mincing aromatics, or any sauces, make sure it is all prepared and laid out on your kitchen counter. By having all your ingredients ready, you’ll notice how easy and quick cooking can be.
Cooking Food on Medium Heat
One of the small but crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years is the importance of cooking food on medium heat. Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, it is always best to cook your food on medium heat to prevent burning your food or ruining your pots and pans. For the longest time, I never understood why that would continue to happen. I would turn the stove to high heat in hopes of getting the pan to heat up fast but that only leads to more harm. With a little patience, my food turned out much tastier.
Let me know in the comments below or find me on Instagram @tifflovestofu if you can relate to any of these cooking tips or find them helpful!