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Cooking is a constant learning process, but like any life skill, it’s best to start with the basics. Whether you’re on your own for the first time and have no clue how to use your cooking appliances or are just tired of spending money on takeout, learning how to cook can feel intimidating. But once you nail the essentials, your culinary world will open wide. Learn how to cook these 17 foundational dishes and you’ll be on your way to becoming a phenomenal cook.
Rice, one of the most common side dishes around the world, pairs well with just about any protein. There’s a variety of rice you can make, including white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice and others; the methods of cooking these different types of rice can vary. For the sake of people just starting their cooking journey, we have a basic white rice recipe. Most people cook rice on the stove; it’s important to have the perfect water-to-rice ratio, which is 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of plain white rice. If you still struggle to get it right, there’s no shame in turning to a rice cooker or Instant Pot to make perfect rice with ease — follow the gadget’s instructions. When you feel ready to kick it up a notch, you can try adding more flavor, like in this cilantro lime rice.
Cooking pasta doesn’t seem difficult, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Knowing which pasta shape to use is important because certain types need less time to boil than others. Make sure you read the instructions on your pasta’s packaging to see how long it needs. You’ve probably heard the term “al dente” tossed around, which translates to “to the tooth” in Italian. This means the pasta is tender but still slightly firm when you bite into it. This level of doneness is perfect for most applications of pasta, whether you’re serving it simply with a jar of tomato sauce or using it as an ingredient in casseroles. Start simply with this pasta with tomatoes and basil, which takes less than 30 minutes to make.
Meatballs are one of the best things to cook with kids because the ingredients and techniques aren’t terribly complicated. That means they’re good for beginner cooks, too. You can use ground beef or pork if you want to keep it classic. If you want your dish to be a little healthier try ground turkey or chicken. For one pound of meat, use 1/4 of a large onion, 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, plenty of minced garlic, 1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg. Mix it together, roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls (a little smaller than a golf ball) and bake in an oven at 400F. Add a jar of marinara sauce, serve on top of pasta or on a roll and enjoy!
Much like meatballs, meatloaf doesn’t take a lot of effort to make. There are many variations on meatloaf, but if it's your first time attempting to make a loaf, we have a foolproof beef meatloaf recipe you can follow step-by-step. Be careful of overmixing; it can cause your meatloaf to have a firm texture similar to burgers or meatballs. Once you’re feeling a little more confident, throw in some black beans for this Tex-Mex version.
Once you learn to make burgers at home, you’ll never want to order from a fast-food joint again. Or maybe you will, but it’s good to at least to have this in your back pocket. Making burgers is one of the most straightforward things you can do with ground beef. For a basic burger, take a quarter pound of ground beef, shape it into a 1-inch thick patty, season with salt and pepper and cook the patty in a pan on the stove or the grill. Complete it with your favorite toppings and condiments like cheese, tomatoes, onion, ketchup and mustard. It’s just that easy! After mastering a basic burger, get creative with our 50 favorite burger recipes.
Chicken is probably the most versatile meat protein. You can slow cook it, fry it, grill it or try any of these 101 ways to cook chicken. If you’re just starting, we recommend learning how to bake chicken in an oven. All you have to do is season the chicken with a mixture of garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, place it on a pan and bake at 425F until the meat is tender. Now you have baked chicken that you can serve with steamed veggies, on a salad or in your favorite pasta dish. You also can add some diced potatoes, carrots and other vegetables to the pan while the chicken is baking to create a delicious sheet pan dinner for any day of the week.
If there’s one food you have to learn to make when you’re just starting to cook, it’s eggs. Luckily for you, we have the secret to making the best scrambled eggs every time. Start with fresh eggs, crack them into a bowl and whisk them very well with a fork. Add a tablespoon or two of butter into a nonstick skillet, melt it and cook the eggs over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Season the eggs with salt and pepper, or top them with a little everything bagel seasoning.
After you have mastered scrambled eggs, it’s time to take things to the next level and learn how to make fried eggs. Start with a sunny-side-up egg. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add in 1 tablespoon of butter. After it melts, crack your eggs into the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook for about 4 minutes, keeping a careful eye on the egg to make sure the yolk doesn’t overcook. That’s it! If you want to make over-easy eggs, flip the egg at this point and cook for 10 seconds longer — you want the yolk to still be runny. For over-medium, flip and cook for one minute until the yolk has a jammy texture, perfect for improving your burger. Finally, for over-hard, flip and cook for 90 seconds to two minutes; the yolk should be set and firm. This level of doneness is just right for a NYC-style bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
Hard boiling is just one of the 12 essential ways to cook an egg. The process may seem easy but timing is of the essence. That’s why we have this foolproof guide for how to hard boil eggs and peel them perfectly every time. You want to start with eggs that are just past peak freshness and place them in a pot of cold water with a splash of white vinegar. Once the water reaches a boil, cover the pot with a lid and let your eggs sit in the hot water for nine to 12 minutes. Give them an ice bath, peel and enjoy. After you’ve made hard-boiled eggs, turn them into anegg salad sandwich or deviled eggs.
Our egg saga isn’t over yet! Knowing how to make an omelet is essential and not nearly as scary as it may seem. Like scrambling an egg, start with a nonstick skillet, well-whisked fresh eggs and plenty of butter. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, add your whisked eggs, gently stir and scrape down the sides until the eggs are cooked through. If that all sounds confusing, don’t worry! We have a step-by-step guide to making the perfect omelet. Just be sure not to add your toppings while the egg is in the pan! You need to rest your omelet to make sure it firms up.
Roasting is one of the basic cooking methods you need to know. And when you need an easy side dish, roasted vegetables are a great go-to. This method includes vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces, oil and a bit of seasoning. Put them on a sheet pan, cook at a high temperature and enjoy. These roasted caramelized carrots are a great basic recipe as are these salt-and-pepper-seasoned beets. Roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes and baked potatoes are also easy sides to have in your back pocket.
Soup is great no matter the weather. For beginners, there’s no better place to start than learning how to properly make classic chicken noodle soup. Not only does it taste phenomenal, but it’s also the best way to soothe your upset stomach when you’re sick. Customize it with your favorite veggies and noodle shapes. Keep this comfort dish in your freezer and reheat it whenever you’re too busy to cook for the week.
Salmon is one of the best fish to eat and it’s easy to cook. It tastes great baked, grilled, smoked and even air-fried. For beginners, you can simply use this sweet and spicy salmon recipe to learn how to sear the fish. It’s one of the fastest ways to cook salmon and all you need is a pan, oil and your favorite seasonings. Once you feel comfortable with cooking salmon, take a jab at these other simple and spectacular salmon recipes.
There are countless ways to cook steak. Grilling steak is one of the most popular, but if you don’t have a grill, then pan-searing is one of the best methods. Use this pan-seared steak recipe as your go-to when it comes to cooking steak any time of the year. Get yourself a really good cast-iron pan or skillet and cook your steak until it browns on both sides. Then let it broil in the oven until it reaches desired doneness. Serve with a baked potato or steamed broccoli.
It’s a pretty simple side dish to make for weeknight dinners or holiday celebrations. You can follow this creamy mashed potatoes recipe for reference, but essentially, you boil potatoes (skin on or off, whichever you prefer) in a deep pot until you’re able to stick a fork in the center. Drain the water and add half-and-half or milk with butter before using a potato masher to mix everything. Season according to taste and then voila, it’s as simple as that. If you want to take things to the next level, try making loaded mashed potatoes.
Who can say no to pancakes? Not us! There’s no need to reach for a box of pancake mix. You can make easy classic pancakes by using pantry staples such as milk, flour, eggs, sugar and other ingredients already in your kitchen. Once you master the basics, you can try adding one of these unexpected ingredients to make your pancakes even better. Make use of summer berries to prepare these mixed berry pancakes for kids before school.
Combine bread, butter and cheese in a pan and you have a beautiful grilled cheese sandwich for any time of the day. It’s definitely one childhood dinner recipe that you’ll carry into adulthood and something everyone should know how to make. It’s hard to beat a classic grilled cheese sandwich, but there are ways to improve it. Swap out American cheese for mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss and more. Or you can try adding in bacon and tomatoes. Now that you’ve got these basics down, it’s time to apply the skills that you’ve learned by cooking one of these easy dinner recipes for busy weeknights.
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