Become a master chef in retirement

Now that you’ve retired and your nine-to-five isn’t spoken for, you can finally enjoy those early bird specials that have long been a hallmark of the American retirement experience.

Regardless of how impressive the discount may be, however, eating out too often can quickly wreak havoc both on your monthly budget and on your waistline. And, if you’re really being honest with yourself, you know that the novelty of a $10 dollar steak dinner will wear off sooner rather than later. You always get what you pay for!

It’s fairly common knowledge that preparing your own meals at home is one of the easiest ways to save money while simultaneously keeping your health in check. But if you’re not much of a cook, the idea might not be very appealing, especially if the most complicated recipe you feel comfortable with is sold in a box or pulled from a freezer.

While you may have been able to survive off of frozen dinners, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your younger days, maintaining those eating habits won’t serve you well as you get older.

As a recent or soon-to-be retiree, now is the perfect time to get more comfortable in the kitchen. As you learn more about the basics of good cooking, the importance of fresh ingredients, and how transformative the right seasonings and spices can be to the flavor of a dish, you’ll grow to love your own cooking just as much as the meals served at your favorite restaurants.

You don’t need to take an expensive cooking class to get a handle cooking creatively (though you may find yourself itching to learn more advanced techniques once you master the basics)! Here are just a few time-tested tips, tricks, and techniques for making delicious, healthy meals at home.

Read the recipe. Then, read it again.

Before you start chopping, marinating, or even preheating the oven, make sure to read the recipe in its entirety at least twice. As obvious as it may seem, even the best home chefs have been known to ruin a meal by skipping this step. After all, if the dish you’re making calls for 1 ¼ cups of spinach in step 5, but you only read up to step 3, you better hope your neighbor has some extra to spare. Otherwise, you’re going to have to pause the entire process to make a trip to the store, sacrifice flavor by proceeding without the missing ingredient, or abandon the recipe altogether.

Safety first!

Cooking is far from the most dangerous hobby you could take on in retirement, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with some risks. Accidents happen in the kitchen all the time, and they are made by even the most experienced chefs. Make sure to take your time and exercise proper caution when using knives and other sharp tools, and always use an internal thermometer to ensure that your proteins are brought to the correct temperature before serving. Keep your kitchen clean, and quickly wipe up any spills as they happen to avoid slips, falls, and other accidents.

Prep and place

You’ve probably heard the phrase “mise en place” before, but you may not know that it is a French culinary term that translates to “everything in its place.” When it comes to cooking, it always pays to prep, especially when making more complicated recipes. Defrost your proteins, chop your vegetables, weigh out your oils, and pull out all of the necessary seasonings before you start cooking, arranging them neatly on your countertop for easy access once the heat is on. Things move fast in the kitchen, and if you’re rushing to slice onions in the three minute window you have between moving your proteins from the burner to the oven, you’re more likely to make a mistake. If most of your experiences in the kitchen have been high-stress scenarios, you’ll be surprised how much more manageable cooking can be with just a little bit of planning and organization.

Invest in your toolkit

If you’ve never owned a professional chef’s knife or a proper set of pans or utensils, you probably aren’t aware of how revolutionary the right tools can be for your cooking game. While you can save a bit of money by buying some of your more standard tools–like wooden stirring spoons or measuring cups–at the 99 cent store, you’d be smart to pay a little more for quality when it comes to things like knives, skillets, pots, and pans. They’ll last longer, cooking will be easier, and the food you make will likely taste better, too.

Get a handle on the basic techniques & best practices

Did you know that stirring in a figure 8 rather than a circular pattern can help protect sauces from burning at the bottom of your pot, or that you should always bring a steak to room temperature before bringing it anywhere near an open flame?

There is a specific technique for nearly any action you could take in the kitchen, and while nobody is going to walk into your kitchen and slap the spatula from your hands if you should be using a whisk, best practices have been established as such for a reason. Ignoring the hard-earned lessons of the great chefs that came before you could have adverse effects on the taste of your food and on the lifespan of your equipment and tools. Some techniques are fairly common sense, such as cutting away from your body, or turning the handles of your pots and pans to the side to avoid knocking them over and burning yourself or a loved one.

You can pick up more advanced techniques by learning from the professional chefs on the Cooking Channel and Food Network. And if you’re really serious about improving your skills, you can subscribe to popular cooking channels on YouTube, like Binging with Babish or The Victorian Way.

Have your own cooking tips to share?

If you have a cooking hack that has made your time in the kitchen more enjoyable, we’d love to hear from you. Join our new Facebook group, Renew Retirees, to share yours!

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Not sure where to start?

Read our quick-start guide for help, including which questions you should be asking as you approach retirement.

Read our quick start guide

Group Created with Sketch.
Not sure where to start?

Read our quick-start guide for help, including which questions you should be asking as you approach retirement.

Read our quick start guide