The Basics

- Reading Recipes -

When you start to prepare and cook new recipes, the very first thing you want to do is read through the entire recipe first. Start by reading through the ingredients and finish through the entire directions. I cannot stress how important this is! As a home cook going on 15+ years, my main mistakes are still made when I forget to read through the entire recipe before starting. Just reading the ingredient list will not tell you if you need a special pan or other cooking utensil, etc. 

Most recipes are full of abbreviations. Know all your abbreviations before you start. If you need to, write down the full word next to the abbreviation to remind you of what it actually means. Here is a list of the most common abbreviations:
  • T = Tbs. = Tablespoon
  • t = tsp. = teaspoon
  • C = cup (doesn't matter if it is uppercase or lowercase, both mean the same)
  • oz = ounces
  • fl = fluid (as in fluid ounces)
  • pkg = package (Example: 1 16-ounce pkg of pasta)
  • pt = pint
  • qt = quart
  • gal = gallon
  • lb = pound
A lot of times recipes will call for a "dash" or a "pinch" of something. For newbies it can be a little confusing as to exactly how much that means and nobody wants to make the mistake of putting too much salt into a dish. Here is a list to help you out:
  • 1 dash = 1/4 tsp. or less
  • 1 pinch = 1/8 tsp. or less
  • juice of 1 lemon = 2-3 Tablespoons
  • juice of 1 orange = about 1/2 a cup
Here are a couple of good conversion charts to also help you out. Remember, when you can't figure something out, we live in an age where we have access to technology right at our fingertips...use it!

Chart from:

Chart From:

- Don't Be Afraid -

Don't be afraid to challenge yourself! You will only continue to learn the more you try new things and the more you practice. I never had anyone teach me about cooking. I just started buying recipe books, researching the internet, most recently pinning on Pinterest, but most of all I just jumped head first into it and mainly learned by trial and error - and, trust me, there were A LOT of errors! 

Like the very first time I tried to make corn fritters. The recipe called for corn kernels...well, like a complete noob I thought it meant the hard corn kernels you would make popcorn from (yes, I know, laugh now). I felt like something wasn't right and I should've trusted my gut instincts. And, to my defense, the bag said "corn kernels" on it! I didn't realize it meant corn kernels like corn you would buy in the can! As I put my fritters into the hot oil the kernels began to pop into popcorn. Needless to say it was a hilarious event and I learned my lesson. The next time I made corn fritters the correct way, they came out AMAZING!

Start with recipes that seem fairly easy and work your way up to more and more challenging ones. I try to cook 3-4 new recipes per month and I am still learning all the time. Try a recipe that has an ingredient in it that you have never even heard of. Research the ingredient on the internet, search images, and then hit your grocery store. Searching out the new ingredient will only help you in becoming a better cook. Whenever I search for a new ingredient, not only do I discover where to find that specific ingredient in the store, but I also end up finding other ingredients near it that I have heard of but never knew where to find and I make a mental note for future cooking.

- Shopping -

As a new cook, shopping regularly can become overwhelming. Don't let it! You never want your cooking experience to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, pun intended. To keep it as healthy as possible, of course buying organic, all-natural, grass-fed, etc. is always the best option...however, sometimes these options can become more expensive. Don't be hard on yourself. Buy the healthier options when you can, but don't let being on a budget discourage you from cooking from scratch. If you need to, buy what you can afford. 

Here in the Pacific Northwest (and down in California) we are blessed with Trader Joe's which really helps keep the cost down when purchasing organic and non-GMO items. New Seasons Market is also a favorite of mine though they can be a little spendy at times - they do have cheaper options in their stores though. Organic vegetables and grass-fed meat is becoming more and more prominent in our regular grocery stores like Safeway and Fred Meyer. One store I will recommend staying clear from when it comes to purchasing produce is Winco. I hate to tell someone to stay away from a store that usually has the cheapest of the cheap prices but there is a reason I say this. The produce at Winco is purchased close to expiration date. Have you ever purchased produce from Winco and wondered why it went bad so quickly? There is a reason why their prices are so cheap and you have to be smart about why that is. Unfortunately the same usually goes for Walmart...though they are improving all the time. 

Sign up for store rewards programs if they are available. And not for the gas rewards, (which I never use). I have a Safeway club card and they have really improved their rewards program. I don't even use my actual card anymore. I have their app right on my iPhone and I can easily search through the current coupons they have available and add them right to my card. Their "Just For U" program that is apart of their club card is amazing too! They keep track of your purchases and offer you special prices on items you may be interested in (and I usually am) which you can also add to your card. A lot of times there is a free item or "5$ off your next purchase of 20$ or more", or "10% off your entire produce purchase". I get my shopping list ready, go through my list and search through all the coupons and "Just For U" items, add any of them I may want to use to my card, then at the checkout stand I simply plug-in my phone number that's attached to my club card and viola! 

- Always Make a List -

Always make a shopping list of the items you absolutely need before heading to the store. This will ensure that you get everything you need and also helps you stick to the list rather than making impulse purchases - (my husband always tries to talk me into getting pie or cookies.) 

I use the Reminders app on my iPhone and create a list called 'Grocery Shopping'. As I put each item into my cart I can check it off my list easily and refresh the app so that it removes any items I've checked off which makes the list for easy reading as I walk through the store.

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