From Our Readers: Tips for New Graduates and New Cooks

Sara Kate's most recent email from The Kitchn offered tips and resources for new graduates (and new cooks!) — but we also wanted to hear from you, our readers. What do you wish you would have known about cooking when you graduated from college, or when you first started out in the kitchen? Here is a look at the stories and advice our readers sent us! The Right Tools & Skills
  • Carol Peterman: I wish I would have learned good knife skills sooner. It makes prep faster and more enjoyable.
  • Randella: Not so much out on my own for feeding myself, but as a new bride trying to impress my now ex-husband. (How intimidating is that!) I wish I knew how to cook meats. Nothing fancy — just simple meats. A beef roast and especially, pork chops, which were renamed, "pork chips" after even several trying and crying attempts. I just didn't know the basics for getting meat done, but tender and not overdone. (I still kinda don't know, but the pork chip name has dropped as I've improved and divorced Mr. Criticize.) I think I would have stuck to cooking more if I could have been more successful with meats.
  • brookeberman226: I wish I'd learned to: Not fear the big chef's knife, embrace protein and lay off the breads, and understand that cooking for oneself is a great way of taking care of oneself. Those lessons would come later.
  • commitments: Great books! That's my answer to the person who likes food but is encountering cooking it for the first time I'd definitely recommend Elizabeth Raby's Surviving College Life Through Cooking or Ruth Reichl's The Queen of Mold. Both were good reads with usable recipes.
  • Susan: I wish I had known about what pots to start out with. Got a "set" from my parents, but really would have done better buying heavy duty pans one at a time. I burned many a dinner with poorly made pans. I recommend one small sauce pan, one large stock pot (for pasta and soups), one large sauce pan and a cook colander.
  • Tinky: I wanted to entertain from the moment I had my first teensy hotplate in a teensy room you couldn't even really call a kitchen. I wish someone had taught me to stick to easy make-ahead dishes when inviting friends over — soups and salads, stews, anything that doesn't require cooking while the novice host(ess) is trying to greet the guests, make conversation, and so forth. And that doesn't require coordination of the timing of several different dishes.
  • Amanda: One tip I recently learned from Iron Chef Michael Symon is to let meat rest before cutting into it. I’m sure I had heard this before, but it wasn’t until I saw him live at Cleveland’s annual Fabulous Food Show that it really hit home. And what a difference it makes! The meat has so much more flavor and tenderness when it’s left to rest immediately after cooking. I was guilty of cutting into meat to test its doneness or digging in because I was so hungry.
  • Wendy: I did not attend college BUT I can remember my first real challenge was MAKING GRAVY!!!!!! I could cook most anything simple but could not master gravy. I did learn however, that it isn't really a big deal, all you really need to know is to STIR and STIR to get the lumps out. I can now make a gravy/sauce for almost anything! My absolute "go to" utensil is my herb cutter. It is a little stainless steel wheel with 4 very sharp blades and I could not do without it and it sure makes quick work of cutting fresh herbs which I use extensively.
  • Brita: I wish I knew how easy it was to make a good vinaigrette/salad dressing! Once you know the basic ratios, you are set and never have to eat those jarred dressing again (plus saves $$)!

The Right Ingredients

  • bashley: I wish i knew these three things when I first began cooking for myself: (1) Garlic is not the seasoning answer to every savory dish. (2) The simple perfection and infinite uses of balsamic vinegar. (3) The delight and surprise experimenting with nuts and fruits in salads can bring.
  • marnielicious: Roast chickens (and quartered chicken legs which are hella cheap in my neighborhood), fried eggs, rice and beans are what have sustained me in my back-to-school-for-something-practical efforts over the past few years. My one good knife has been absolutely essential.
  • koutali: I fully believe that if they know what tools to use and what to buy when shopping, it's an easy formula for the rest of their life: Fresh produce + good knife + pan at the right temperature = the true joy of cooking
  • Crystal Jo: I have been cooking since I was little, in 4-H and with my foodie family. I married at age 20 (7 years ago next Valentine's Day) a year before I graduated from college. So, my cooking wishes were a little different than most. I married a man who wanted only things made our of ground beef! I was just beginning to grow fond of "fancy" food — blue cheese, wine, any mushroom but button! So, I ending up giving up a little of my culinary desires to feed this man I loved. I wish I would have known then how to turn him onto my "fancy" food! I have actually turned that ground beef eater into a steak and blue cheese butter lover! It just took a while.
  • Amy: I was daring in the kitchen when I moved out on my own! I just wish someone would have given me good tips on how to eat right now just what I wanted!!!! I needed a crash course in nutrition and how to shop on a budget given product in season and meat cuts that were good but not too pricey! Those were good times though!
  • Kimberly: I wish I'd known that buying and cooking real food didn't have to be any more expensive, time-consuming or difficult than relying on the boxed foods that comprised the bulk of my diet in my young adult years. I'm still single and usually cook fairly simple, inexpensive meals for myself, and I can honestly say that the pasta with sauteed mushrooms and turkey sausage that I had for dinner last night was cheaper, easier and infinitely more satisfying than the Tuna Helper and boxed mac & cheese I used to eat so often.

Great advice, all! Thank you for sharing it with us!

What about you? Do you have any advice or tips for new cooks that you'd like to add to this list?

Related: For the New Graduate: A Crash Course in Kitchen Basics

(Images: Faith Durand)

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