Over the years, Uniqueka Davis-McKinney has honed her skills managing long-standing governmental, small business, and nonprofit contracts. In her free time, Uniqueka has always enjoyed winding down with activities such as cooking and gardening. Uniqueka recognizes that cooking both out of necessity and as a hobby has been emphasized greatly in the present, as many home cooks have found their passion during the COVID-19 pandemic. She notes that, while creating meals in the kitchen is certainly a creative hobby, there are many ways to improve by focusing on some of the logistics of cooking. By remembering a few simple tips for cooking at home, home cooks can reduce their time spent in the kitchen, make flavorful meals, and make less mess in the process.
Read Recipes Before Cooking
While some home cooks like to learn things about cooking in the cuff, Uniqueka speaks to how preparing by reading a recipe first can be beneficial. For example, reading the recipe allows the cook to check their pantry and ensure that they have everything they need. Many of us have been in the position where we think we have all the necessary ingredients only to end up arranging a trip to the store for a few things. Familiarizing oneself with a recipe drastically reduces potential hiccups that could take us away from the kitchen. Reading the recipe beforehand can also help iron out some of the details of cooking a new meal. When we are making new recipes, we should always account for the fact that we may not know exactly what we are doing as we cook. Knowing the steps and preparations beforehand takes a lot of the difficulty and time crunch out of learning.
Mise en place is a French term that chefs use for having ingredients peeled, chopped, measured, and on-hand before cooking, and Uniqueka Davis-McKinney consistently mentions this method as a sure-fire way to reduce cooking times. When you are not splitting your focus to prepare ingredients during cooking, it takes a lot of stress out of the process and gives you breathing room to slow down and enjoy. One of the biggest issues that new chefs have with cooking is how long it can take when they are new to knife skills and preparation, as it can be discouraging for some at first. Simplifying preparation makes it much easier to focus on what is important- having fun and making something delicious.
Clean as You Work
When Uniqueka Davis-McKinney first began cooking, she had not yet realized exactly how much the “clean as you go” method can contribute to a more enjoyable experience. Almost every home cook has been in the position where the meal is complete and they are content- at least until they see a large pile of dishes awaiting them at the end of the night. There is no getting around the fact that cooking can produce a lot of dishes depending on the meal and the preparations involved. Still, a home cook can avoid the dreaded dishes pileup by cleaning a bit as they work. When something needs to cook undisturbed for a few minutes, consider using a couple of those minutes to clean your area or a couple of dishes while you wait. Balancing small cleanings with simpler parts of the cooking process ensures that, when you are done eating, you can relax a bit more. While it sounds so simple, it is amazing how much more this will make a new chef enjoy cooking more.
Taste and Season as You Go
Even well-established chefs may forget to taste their own food as they go, but it is important to realize how essential tasting is for creating a delicious meal. At multiple steps in the cooking process, the cook should taste small amounts of their dish to ensure that the flavor profiles are where they like them. This tip helps home cooks avoid getting all the way to the end of cooking only to discover that their dish ultimately lacks flavor. By then, the meal may be too far gone. Tasting grants the ability to change things about your dish in real time and gives you complete control over the way your dish tastes. Uniqueka Davis-McKinney acknowledges that, if you plan to cook consistently, it helps to be incentivized by food that tastes like you put the necessary time and care into preparing it.
Invest in Seasonings and Flavors Beyond Salt
Every cook knows that salt is an excellent ingredient for bringing the flavors out of meat and vegetables. So much so, that many chefs over rely on salt during their meal preparations. Uniqueka acknowledges that there is a fine line between food that is expertly seasoned and a meal that is “salty”. For this reason, it helps to diversify seasonings and flavor profiles to make meals with depth. One way to do so is to invest in a few seasonings that you are likely to use during cooking. Good seasonings can be on the pricier side, so there is no pressure to expand a spice cabinet too quickly. Many home cooks start with multi-purpose seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika before moving to seasonings they may need for more specific meals. Home cooks can also benefit from having other flavors on hand that can elevate their dishes in a pinch. Having varieties of vinegars and citrus fruits for acid, spices that have a kick to them, and different sources of fat in the kitchen can help if you need to round out a dish that is good but “missing something”.
Uniqueka realizes that many home cooks have decided to expand their repertoire in the time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, in the haste that many of us have learned, some of us have not perfected our techniques in ways that make cooking as easy and fun as possible. To this point, Uniqueka hopes that this site can act as a resource for those that are hoping to learn more about cooking at home. Future posts will cover topics such as how to meal prep, care for cooking utensils, and simple ways to reduce our food waste.