Have you been cooking more than usual the past few months? You’re in good company. Depending on how your pre-existing relationship with the kitchen, you might have:

A. Embraced having more time to spend on culinary pursuits

B. Felt totally overwhelmed

C. Been a little surprised at how quickly you hit a wall in terms of your cooking skills

Which one sounds like you?

If you answered “B” or “C,” then beefing up your cooking skills might help you eat better with less stress. I’m a big fan of doing what’s needed to become a confident cook, generally, but cooking is a skill set that is more important than ever, and if we see another coronavirus flare in the fall as experts are forecasting, that skill set will serve us well for quite a while.

Being a proficient home cook makes it easier eat more healthfully and save money, and it can also become a creative outlet. If you already have kitchen savvy, then cooking more is merely a matter of planning, shopping and executing. But what if you’re lacking in kitchen skills—and confidence?

Learn to cook online

Traditionally, cooking was taught at home, but the rise of processed convenience foods, coupled with more single-parent or two-income households, lead to a decades-long decline in home cooking. Fortunately, you can find quality cooking instruction in online classrooms, so you don’t even have to leave your home—unless you want to. Here’s some of my top picks:

  • Rouxbe Cooking School offers online programs for home and professional cooks. You can pay for individual courses, as well as a monthly membership (which has a 30-day free trial).
  • PCC Cooks normally offers a robust roster of both hands-on and demo classes each quarter at most of PCC Community Markets’ Seattle-area stores. Right now, classes are offered online, so they are accessible no matter where you live!
  • The Pantry puts out a schedule of enticing classes each season, focusing on cooking and food preservation techniques as well as explorations of ethnic cuisines. The classes quickly sell out, and that appears to still be the case even though they are currently being held via Zoom.
  • Ellie Krieger offers a six-part “Flavor Comes First: Healthy Meals that Taste Delicious” series via Bluprint. Ellie is a fabulous dietitian, cook and all-around human, and these classes are as wonderful as her many cookbooks.
Learn to cook…from a book!

Not ready to invest in classes? There are a number of books that go beyond recipes to help you learn actual technique through photos and detailed explanations. Here are several I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order:

  • “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. This book includes detailed lessons on all the essential cooking techniques, along with sections on kitchen equipment, knives and seasonings. A new cook could really grow with this book, and a more experienced cook could pick up some new tricks, too.
  • “How to Cook Everything: The Basics” by Mark Bittman. This resource for beginner cooks even tells you how to boil water. The book starts with a little treatise on “Why Cook?” then segues into how to stock your kitchen. Then he moves into basic food prep skills, from rinsing produce and holding a knife to all the major cooking methods. How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food” (perhaps slightly less basic), which published a revised 20th anniversary edition.
  • “The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook.” It’s by America’s Test Kitchen…need I say more? If you want to go even further, pick up “The Science of Good Cooking” by the Guy Crosby and the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, ATK’s “sibling.”
  • “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. If you have the heart of a science geek, then this weighty tome may be the book for you. This book is packed with the fruits of Lopez-Alt’s methodical kitchen experiments, and his recipes will make your mouth water. When I went to see him speak in 2015 (the year the book came out), I was all, “Yeah, I want to hear what he has to say, but I don’t need to buy his book.” I heard him speak, and promptly bought his book.
  • “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat. This book is beautiful, simply beautiful. And Nosrat presents a different way of learning to cook than you typically see, by focusing on the four basic elements that determine how your food tastes (hint: they’re in the book’s title). She offers some basic recipes as kitchen “experiments” so you can put what you learn in to action, and then a bunch more recipes to further your skills.
  • “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison. This doesn’t teach techniques in the same way some of the previous books do, but many of the recipes are simple, and if you want to eat more plant-based, you cannot go wrong with this book. I love it so much I bought the new edition a few years ago even though my copy of the previous edition was still in good shape.
  • If you’re wanting to learn to bake, The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum is still, um, the bible. It breaks down the recipes and lets you progress from easier to more complex recipes. I love my copy, and I went to pastry school.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking!

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Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!

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