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"Salt and pepper are a must" is one of the top recommendations for becoming a home chef by writer Kasey Carlson.

Photo illustration by Sophie Nedelco/Photographer

MOVE guide: Cooking can be easy if you take it one step at a time

Use these tips to help you begin your on your journey toward being a home chef.

By Kasey Carlson | April 10, 2017

Tags: Food MOVE Guide

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Learning how to cook for yourself is hard. It takes a lot of different skills, but if you combine them, you’ll hopefully end up with a delicious meal that you can be proud of. Here are some tricks to help you on your culinary journey.

The more spices you have access to the better, but salt and pepper are a must.

A nice range of spices allows you to combine flavors to match whatever kind of cuisine you’re trying to make. However, just salt and pepper can take you a long way if you use them correctly. Most dishes aren’t quite right without the correct combination of them, and the proper use can take a dish from bland to bomb.

Marinate your meat.

If you like your meat dry and flavorless, you are probably untrustworthy and shouldn’t be reading this anyway. But if you want the protein in your dish to be as mouthwateringly delicious as possible, make a marinade for the meat you will be cooking. While you can marinate meat for upward of two days in the fridge, even an hour in a marinade can make a difference in the meal. Make sure your marinade includes some sort of liquid and some sort of seasoning. You can whip up your own with any sort of oil, vinegar, sauce or spices that you like.

If you’re cooking with oil, choose wisely.

Some oils are not as all purpose as people might make it seem. Olive oil is great, but if you’re frying something at a high heat, it will start smoking and definitely set off your fire alarm. Other oils like peanut oil might have a flavor that lingers and won’t match the kind of food that you’re cooking. Do a little bit of basic research to decide what oil might be appropriate for what dish. Generally, vegetable oil and canola oil are safe go-tos.

Don’t cook all components of a dish at the same time.

Most ingredients in your dish will not have to cook for the same amount of time. Start off with your aromatic onions and garlic, giving them the opportunity to caramelize. Then add veggies like peppers that you might want to get a little color on. Finish off with crispy veggies like carrots that you might not want to get soggy. Add fresh, green herbs near the end so they don’t wilt from the heat.

Season your food in layers.

Every time you add something new to a pot, add a little bit of salt. Adding seasoning at every step of the cooking process helps your food to be evenly seasoned and delicious. Adding in all of your salt, pepper and spices at the end may overseason one part of your dish while leaving another part sadly bland.

Make sure your meat is actually cooked all the way through.

Salmonella and trichinosis aren’t cute. It’s scary that you can accidentally poison yourself by cooking a piece of meat five minutes too short, so make sure you look up proper cooking times for what you are making and always double check that it has cooked successfully.

Let your meat rest.

After removing your piece of meat from heat, be sure to set it aside for 5-10 minutes before eating it. Allowing the meat to rest lets the juices settle inside the meat to keep it nice and juicy in every bite. If you cut into the meat too soon, all of the delicious juices will run onto your plate and you’ll be left with a dry entrée and a messy, wet plate.

Congratulate yourself on a job well done with a nice pairing cocktail.

Having the right glass of wine or the right beer with a meal can really put the cherry on top. Kick back with a little bit of a well-paired booze and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Edited by Katherine White | kwhite@themaneater.com

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