Cooking: Learn By Doing

I’ve had a lot of discussions of late about how fewer and fewer people do any sort of actual cooking. As a result of all these conversations, I’ve heard all the reasons – no time, no knowledge, no interest, etc.

While I can’t add more hours to the day and can’t force them to be interested enough to turn to the stove instead of the microwave(*) – I can point out a few resources to address the lack of skill or knowledge.


Some of the best cooks I know have learned via the tried and true method of trial and error. They got themselves a book and jumped in feet first. By book, I mean a broad-based, broken down step by step book:

That’s the kind of thing to start with – not a themed book based on some TV show chef’s latest outing. That said – Nigella Lawson may be a big star of the TV cookery world but How to Eat (a title which predated the stardom and led to the TV shows) is one of the best books I’ve found, holding your hand while getting your feet wet, so to speak.



There are also lots of places online you can read about specific cooking methods and even see them at work. YouTube is awash in people demonstrating recipes at all skill levels but if you want something more structured or organized:


I can hear the quibblers quibbling already. “But doing it online by myself isn’t the same as taking a cooking class in person.” No, of course it’s not. Because doing it online by yourself means you can go at your own pace and repeat sessions/episodes as much as you like. Oh and hello? A lot of them are free. Have you looked at the prices of cookery courses lately?

And before the quibble continues, I know that learning on your own – self-driven, self-taught whether from books or online – is not the same thing as learning from a parent or grandparent over a course of years. But people learn in many different ways and – here’s a thought – maybe your parents and grandparents didn’t cook.

My mother is an amazing cook but she certainly didn’t learn from her mother. Dear God, the idea is both ludicrous and appalling. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandmother dearly and while she could crochet like a fiend and was hard to beat at canasta, she could and did ruin everything in the kitchen – from toast to  ‘steam in the bag’ veggies to macaroni and cheese. Cooking was NOT her forte and she had nothing of use to pass on to my mother in that regard. My mother is a self-taught fab cook.


Just try making something. Anything – just to see how it goes.  Pick a recipe that doesn’t require special equipment or skills, or send you to the shops for a pile of expensive ingredients, but which isn’t just boiling pasta and dumping a jar of sauce over it.  Try mashed potatoes – nothing could be easier.

What you need

  • 4 or 5 average-sized potatoes – use the Yukon Gold type potato – not too waxy like the small round potatoes and not as starchy as the baking or russet potatoes.
  • 1/2 or 1 cup of milk or cream (depending on how creamy you like your mash)
  • 2 or 3 tbsp butter (or a bit more if you want super buttery mash)
  • enough salt and pepper to taste
  • a pot big enough to boil your potatoes
  • a colander to drain the potatoes
  • a masher or a large fork for mashing the cooked spuds

What you do

  • Wash the potatoes
  • Peel and quarter the potatoes (though I will be honest, I love leaving the skins on – not only because I like the texture but it’s less hassle and quicker that way)
  • Boil them for about 20 minutes, or until a potato feels soft when you poke it with a fork. (Tip: only put in enough water to cover the potatoes – they’ll cook faster.)
  • While the potatoes are boiling, get the butter out of the fridge, grab the salt and pepper and if you want creamy mashed potatoes, the milk. If you prefer denser mash, skip the milk
  • Get your colander in the sink and drain the potatoes. Put them back in the pot and put the pot back on the stove, with the stove set on the lowest heat setting just to keep things warm while mashing
  • Add butter and start mashing the potatoes with a masher until they’ve reached a consistency you like.
  • If you’re going for creamy mash, this is where you start adding a bit milk and continue mashing and adding milk little by little until potatoes have reached the desired creaminess.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Eat

If you want to jazz up your mash, you can add garlic or mustard, top them with cheese, stir in a bit of hot chicken stock or soup … seriously, you can do anything with them. It’s not brain surgery. It’s food. Try it. No one is watching and if you screw up – so what. Who’s gonna complain? The potatoes?

None of these sites or books or tips will turn you into a kitchen superstar overnight and I’m not saying there won’t be some missteps (even first-class cooks have those). But until you take some action – actually try something, however small – it’s all theoretical. With cooking the only way is to learn by doing and we need to stop equating ‘doing’ with ‘difficult’.

(*) I have nothing against microwaves or ready meals – I have been known to utilize and enjoy both. I simply don’t believe the microwave is always faster and better and it makes no sense (financially or health-wise) to make ready meals the ONLY thing o the menu.



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