How I Gained Confidence in Cooking

The Pandemic's Impact on my Time in the Kitchen
Jennifer Lake Bon Aprontit Apron

Prior to the pandemic, if you would have asked me, “What is the one skill you want to learn?” My answer would have been simple – “Learning how to cook.” Sadly, I lost my confidence in cooking a long time ago.

Before March 2020, I never cooked. I mean, never. Keep in mind, I traveled more than I was home. When I was in Chicago, I often wouldn’t eat until 8 or 9 PM. By the time I left work or event, I had zero desire to cook anything but a frozen pizza.

Over time, my confidence in cooking took a nose dive. Sure, I knew how to cook some things. However, I often joked that I could barely boil pasta, much less sous vide a steak.

Amelia Canham Eaton Kitchen Design

Confidence in Cooking

Growing up, my parents rarely cooked. My mom preferred restaurants and takeout. Sure, she could make a few dishes here and there, but she showed her love by ordering meals (and probably saving time and stress along the way).

Looking back, I wish I would have asked her why she really didn’t cook. I’ll never know the answer. However, one thing I know for sure – she was a phenomenal baker. Like incredible. Neighbors, friends, and family still rave about her Christmas cookies and other sweets to this day.

When I was a little girl, we’d spend hours and hours rolling dough, making cakes, cookies, brownies, and more. She taught me how to bake, but not how to cook.

In fact, I can measure ingredients and roll dough with the best of them! However, “trusting my gut” and improvising with ingredients while cooking is a whole other story. “Add salt to taste?!” No, thank you!

Jennifer Lake Crate Barrel Pantry Storage Solutions

Learning How to Cook

One of the surprising highlights of socially distancing, besides spending extra quality time with B, has been learning how to cook. Yep, I’m talking about everything from the basics to advanced techniques.

Listen, I’m not a food blogger. We turn to our good friend, Kit of The Kittchen for tips and tricks on everything from crock pot recipes to Thanksgiving side dishes. Plus, you have been so helpful (and patient) with me as I learn the basics. Countless of you have reached out to encourage me, dropped a note, sent a recipe, and told me everything was going to be okay. It means so much!

Jennifer Lake Atlantic Pacific Pink Dress

Almost a year later, I’m extremely proud of my progress. In some ways, I’m thankful it took me this long to learn how to cook. Now that I’m older (and wiser – I hope), I’m appreciating the techniques and the small steps of my journey.

Why I’ve Struggled with Cooking

Growing up, most cooking methods were taught via cookbooks or through family and friends. Today, there are a plethora of resources.

YouTube? Genius. I’ve learned more about cooking from YouTube in one year than my entire lifetime. A few personal favorites include Basics with Babish and NYT Cooking.

Plus, the Internet offers deep-dive dissertations on everything from kosher salt to cutting boards. Quality cookware, bakeware, gadgets and gizmos? Done! Best cooking techniques? Got you. My go-to resources include Wirecutter, Good Housekeeping (I’ve visited the Good Housekeeping Institute for work, and it’s legit), New York Magazine, and Consumer Reports.

Food blogs? Amazing! I find so many phenomenal recipe ideas via Kit (our friend who runs the blog, The Kittchen), Food 52, Half Baked Harvest, Jocelyn of Grandbaby Cakes, and Jean Wang, to name just a few.

Overall, the modern media landscape has made me a better and more informed adult (and cook).

Jennifer Lake Kitchen Blue Tile

How Bad Were My Cooking Skills?

Friends, I didn’t even know the BASICS. Back in April, Bob had to walk me through the steps of chopping an onion and avocado correctly. Not kidding.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed at my culinary skills. In many respects, cooking wasn’t a top priority in my life. As Bob often says, “if it mattered, it would matter.” Cooking just didn’t matter to me in the past.

On the flip side, I do not like being bad at things. Anything, really. When I took up playing the flute in elementary school? I practiced until I was first chair in the band. Lacrosse? I played until I became captain of the team. Singing? I sang until I got the lead in my high school musical. Running? I ran until I placed at first position of the 4×100 relay. We made it to the pre-qualifying races of the state championship. Greek life at college? I volunteered for every committee and ran for top positions until I won every Greek leadership award. You get the point.

Again, I don’t like being bad at anything, but especially the one thing that keeps us all nourished, healthy, and well… happy.

The pandemic turned a lot of things on their head. In fact, my genuine disgust for a lack of cooking skills transformed into an authentic desire, even quest, to be perfect at it. Well, not perfect, but better!

I enjoy it now! Trust me, I am shooketh to the core.

Jennifer Lake Ginger Garlic Salmon Recipe

Regaining Confidence in Cooking

Now that the vaccine is (slowly) being disseminated around the world, I worry our cooking habits will change. What if we go back to late-night dinners and fast-casual solutions? I really hope that’s not the case.

Sure, I miss dining out and enjoying a multi-course meal. Bring on the candlesticks and tablecloths. However, I know we will continue this trend of home cooking. Beyond the routine continuing to boost my confidence in cooking, I think it’ll just make me happy.

Mastering the Basics

Like most skills, I found success in starting with a solid foundation of basics. How can you possibly advance forward without knowing where to start? Even simple things like flavor combinations, pantry basics, must-have tools, and cooking times.

Over the past few months, we’ve done a ton of research on the best brands and products to invest in. Sure, we got a lot of great items in our wedding registry. However, there are some “niche” items that I never knew I wanted (or needed). Below, I’m including a scroll of some personal fave new pieces that are helping me when I cook.

Confidence in cooking

French Oven | Copper Kitchen-Aid Mixer | Professional Grade Blender | Food Processor | Mini Ribbed Bowls | | Air Fryer | Double-Edge Mandoline

Our Go-To Recipes

In the coming weeks, I’m planning to do a post of some of our most cooked recipes in 2020. These include quick, affordable meals to luxe, divine options. While I still have so many recipes to-go, I’m excited to share some recipes that really “wowed” us.

In Closing

This year, I plan to highlight more posts about cooking tips, tricks, techniques, must-have items, etc. Thank you for your continued support and kindness in this process!

Leave a comment

View All 8 Comments

  1. A
    Annaliese wrote:

    Love this so much! What a great pandemic skill to develop!

    I love both cooking and baking. I’m a big fan of old school cookbooks- love any from Chrissy Teigen, America’s Test Kitchen, and the Pioneer Woman! 🙂

    xoxo A
    http://www.southernbelleintraining.com

    Published 1.12.21 · Leave a Reply
  2. S
    Serena wrote:

    It’s been fun watching your journey these last few months! Cooking is a wonderful skill to have and will make entertaining in your beautiful home so much fun! Sometimes I find that being a good home cook actually allows me to enjoy dining out more: 1) it means I appreciate the work that goes into a good meal 2) it makes me a more inquisitive diner – I’m always curious about the techniques or ingredients that make a restaurant dish pop 3) dining out provides great inspiration for new dishes or new approaches when cooking at home!

    Plus cooking allows me to make healthier meals at home so I can indulge, guilt free, in wonderfully rich restaurant food!

    Published 1.12.21 · Leave a Reply
    • J

      Thanks Serena! I couldn’t agree more; it’s such a learning experience on so many levels!

      Published 1.16.21 · Leave a Reply
  3. K
    Kit wrote:

    So proud of you! You have learned so much in the past year!

    Published 1.12.21 · Leave a Reply
    • J

      I definitely wouldn’t have dived into it all without your advice and support, friend!

      Published 1.16.21 · Leave a Reply
  4. M
    Madiha wrote:

    LOVE THIS!!!! I also especially love how you are so sincere on such a topic!!!! I learned to do some baking (from scratch baking.not from the box). I don’t have the patience for bread though yet!!!!

    I too don’t know the right way to chop an onion. Funny story..when I was pandemicing with my mom. At home I was helping her chop some vegetables for dinner. It ended up.being a HUGE BLOWOUT between us..cuz I wasn’t chopping it her way! Chalked it up to moms cooking..moms way of chopping. 😁 (but I kid you not..there was some major fighting going on). Everything from how items are chopped can reflect how flavors are absorbed 🤷‍♀️

    Something on my list is to get this particular cookbook (chemistry of cooking or something used to be $150) but basically it explains the different runs and such thay happen while cooking and can explain why recipe steps are done in a particular order. I’ve been slacking on getting this book and others but the intention is to get it so I can appreciate baking (I don’t do well with the structure of baking but if I know the why then I would think I can get it). Something similar is salt, far, acid, heat!!

    Good luck on your journey and can’t wait to see more!! I’ve been cooking more too!!! Made me a little more risqué and confident…but also made me realize there are flavors or foods I just don’t care for!!!

    Published 1.14.21 · Leave a Reply
    • J

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I totally want to get the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat book after watching the Netflix series! Good luck on your cooking journey, too!

      Published 1.16.21 · Leave a Reply

Subscribe!

Sign up to receive Jenn's weekly newsletter, filled with exclusive content, sale alerts, and more behind the scenes charades!