© K Martinko

Take your homemade meals to the next level with some surprisingly simple concepts.

If you know how to cook, then you’re set for life. Not only will you have control over your diet, but you’ll be able to budget more effectively, eat seasonally, organize meals in advance, and entertain with ease. But there’s more to cooking than just combining complementary ingredients and chopping onions quickly. Depending on your interest, there are some key ways in which to improve your cooking and take it to the next level.

#1: Practice

The more you do it, the better you’ll get. To become a great cook, you have to prepare food over and over and over again. It doesn’t have to be the same recipe necessarily; simply cooking food every day will make you a better chef at home.

No matter how detailed a recipe may be, or how many times it’s been tested by the cookbook author, realize that the outcome is never guaranteed; nor will you get the same result each time. In an interview with chef Naomi Pomeroy, author of Taste & Technique, National Post writer Laura Brehaut says:

“The final product depends on many variables. It requires active participation, and the capability to make on-the-fly modifications. It demands practice.”

#2: Keep it simple

People get far too caught up in the fancy gadgets they see on food shows and in magazines. You don’t need much to make great food. Work with what you have – as long as it includes a sharp chef’s knife and a sharp paring knife. With those two tools in hand, you’ll be able to prepare most dishes easily.

The same rule applies to recipes and dinner party plans. Don’t stress out about a roast meat dinner with vegetables sides if a simple pasta sauce and salad can do the trick.

#3: Get feedback

Ask your family and friends what they think of the food you’ve made. Ask yourself what you could have done differently, how a dish would have turned out if you’d tweaked or substituted ingredients, and whether you’d want to try that next time. Says Naomi Pomeroy:

“Whether it’s perfect for you, whether it’s perfect for your guests, whether that soup just needs to be thinned out a tiny bit more because your tomatoes were richer or whatever, that’s the idea of honing something. Constantly asking the question of, ‘How could this be improved upon – in my opinion, in the cook’s opinion, and in the opinion of the people having it?’”

Take notes. Use a pencil to write these ideas and thoughts directly in your cookbooks (one reason why I prefer to cook from my collection of well-loved books than online). Put stars behind the winners or X’s next to the awful ones. These references are hugely helpful weeks or months later when you come back to them.

#4: Relax

In a wonderful article for Edible San Francisco, Molly Watson, a professional chef, come to believe that being calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen is a necessary ingredient for good food. Over years of teaching, she has encountered people who suffer from paralyzing fear that they’ll ruin a dish because they lack a special skill. Home cooks need to relax, not stress out, and learn to enjoy themselves in the kitchen. Unfortunately, this contrasts greatly with the explosive TV personalities like Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain that we’ve come to associate with pro kitchens.

“I realized that my job was as much to get them to relax—both to care a bit less whether something turned out and to enjoy the process of making the food—as it was to teach them how to cut an onion.

“The more I cooked, the more I saw that food tastes best when prepared with love and enthusiasm; the stress of a freaked out cook comes through in the dish; sad cooks make flat-tasting food; a joyful effort is remarkably palpable on the palate.”