5 Tips to Cooking Simple, Delicious Dishes at Home

for when picking up chipotle just won't cut it

I don’t know about you, but I love staying in on a Friday night.

Some people are energized after a long work week by blowing off steam with friends out on the town; I’m energized by eating an early dinner and going to bed around 9pm. And hey, season 3 of House of Cards isn’t going to catch up on itself, amirite?

On nights like these, the last thing I want to do is work harder on dinner than Claire does lobbying for an ambassadorship. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I thought I’d share the tricks I’ve learned along the way to make at-home meal prep a breeze.

Below, five tips that any guy (or girl) can put to use in the kitchen to prepare simple, delicious meals:

1. Always have garlic on hand

Garlic can pretty much go in any main dish, so for that reason alone you should always have a few bulbs hanging out on your countertop. It cooks well with any meat, and it’s the perfect addition when sautéing vegetables. It also tastes great raw in dressings, dips, or sauces. And it has a long shelf life so you don’t need to worry about finding a mushy pile of garlic even if it’s been sitting around for awhile.

2. Use butter instead of oil

Sure, olive oil is sexy right now, but butter’s made it this far for a reason. It got a bad rap when chefs started using it like it was going out of style (consequently, it did) but in moderation it makes everything a little creamier, and simply put, taste better.

Butter, despite what some people think, isn’t that bad for you. It’s actually more nutrient dense than olive oil, making it a perhaps surprising favorite for doctors and nutritionists to recommend to health-conscious patients (in moderation, of course). Butter also has a higher smoke point temperature, so for those of us that live in smaller homes – aka tiny NYC apartments – with smoke detectors that sound off when you so much as light a match, it just makes more sense.

3. Buy fresh herbs

Ok, yes, that sounds pretentious, but it’s becoming so easy to buy fresh herbs at your local grocery store that we’re all losing any excuse not to go fresh. And be honest, how often have you used that spice rack your parents bought you? I’m not saying fill your fridge with them, but buy one or two at a time and see what works, what doesn’t. You’ll discover what you like, and what you like it in.

4. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Following a recipe down to the teaspoon can be reassuring, but it’s fun to shake things up. Don’t go nuts, but if you’re drinking a nice glass of red wine while cooking up a strip steak, maybe just…splash a little in to see how it turns out. Like any responsible chemist, try to experiment with only one outlier ingredient at a time so you know what works and what doesn’t.

5. Get inspired

I get it, after a long day, the last thing you want to do is dream up an elaborate dish to prepare. So it’s important to bookmark a source of inspiration that doesn’t expect you to concoct a complicated feast every night. I like Blade & Skillet – it’s a cooking website with short, 3-minute video recipes that cut out anything non-essential, the idea being that all you really need to make an awesome meal is a good chef’s knife and a cast iron skillet. Recipes are easy to follow, and everything tastes delicious. Thankfully, new recipes are uploaded weekly, so the selection is always growing.

Tell me:

What’s your secret to cooking like a grown up?

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(photos: Sébastien Dubois-Didcock)