New Year New You

Want to become a better cook? Perfect these three key dishes

If your resolution is to do more home-cooking in 2011, Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey, advises you start with these basic meals
omelette, cooking tips and techniques Getty Images

How many nights a week do you cook at home? Whether you're managing to get something on the table every night of the week or struggling with much less, why not make it a resolution to increase that number or improve your skills this year? The fun thing about cooking is it always changes: you can constantly learn new tricks, efficiencies and variations, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

That said, it’s worth it to perfect a few key dishes. These three are simple enough that everyone can master them, but they all can stand to be honed, customized and eaten once a week forever! You can start with a recipe, but try to get to a point where you know how to make each one by heart – and start personalizing so it’s just the way you like it.

1. Omelette

An omelette can be eaten breakfast, lunch or dinner. In fact, a plain cheddar omelette served with toast and a glass of wine is the fastest and best supper I know. Add a green salad and you’re instantly in restaurant territory.

And while it’s as simple as can be, cooking a perfect omelette requires patience and finesse (it took me years to get it right). The best part is that even if it looks messy, you have a great back up plan: call it scrambled eggs and no one will be the wiser.

Expert tip: Make sure the pan is good and hot before adding well-whisked eggs, and cook the omelette gently over medium heat.


2. Pasta made with pantry staples

It gets a bad rap from the anti-carb rabble, but pasta is cheap, fast and convenient like nothing else. While a pot of water boils, scour the fridge for ingredients to add. The key is to work on flavour combinations: start simply with garlic sautéed in olive oil and topped with Parmesan. Then maybe try sun-dried tomatoes with goat cheese and chickpeas; leftover chicken with pesto; a can of tuna with a jar of artichoke hearts, some olives and lemon juice; and if there’s a bag of frozen peas in the freezer, add them too. Again, it looks and sounds simple, but there’s so much you can do with this dish that it can be different every time. And once you’re used to it, a supper is just 20 minutes away, any night of the week.

Expert tip: Save a bit of the pasta cooking water. Add it with the pasta and sauce ingredients, about two tablespoons per serving, then toss everything together. The pasta water is a bit starchy, so it adds a subtle creaminess.


3. Roast chicken

Cooks around the world will tell you that roast chicken is “the easiest meal ever.” Harumph, I say. After 16 years as a professional cook, I still can’t roast a perfect chicken. I can’t get the skin crispy and I perpetually undercook the bird. So that’s my cooking resolution for this year. The great part is that roast chicken can be a simple weeknight meal or a dish for entertaining. Roast two chickens at the same time and you’ve got instant leftovers for the rest of the week. And if you’re feeling ambitious, simmer the carcasses with some vegetables to make a delicious stock for soups and risottos.

Expert tip: Once it’s roasted, let the chicken rest for 15 minutes (at least) before carving. The juices will redistribute through the meat and make the chicken more moist and flavourful.

Above all, my best advice is to enjoy cooking. It doesn’t need to be a chore, and it certainly doesn’t need to take hours. Let supper become a simple, daily pleasure that’s a bit of fun too!


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