16 Simple Kitchen Skills Every Frugal Person Should Master


Would you rather eat out than cook? You aren't alone. In fact, owing greatly to the availability of fast food, frozen food, and convenience food, fewer people are preparing meals at home regularly. Another factor is the decline of home economics classes at the high school level, where many basics were taught to both sexes. All of that eating out takes a toll, though, on your budget and your health. Learning to cook can also be relaxing and enjoyable. Ready to give it a try? Here are 16 simple kitchen skills that every frugal person should, and easily can, learn.

1. Make Coffee

How much are you spending each week at Starbucks? Ouch, right? Why not be your own barista? If you own a French press (I paid less than $20 for mine), you can make your coffee concoctions right at home. I love a good latte. Some people are intimidated by the frothy milk, but there is no need to be. It's just aerating the milk, and you don't need fancy equipment. Your "froth" goal is to just double its volume. That can be done in the French press, too, or by using a whisk. Add your favorite Torani syrup, if desired, and you're set.

2. Roast a Chicken

One of the pleasures of being a home cook is the aroma of a roasting chicken on a Sunday afternoon — especially one that contains fresh lemon and herbs. Roast chicken ensures you'll have delicious leftovers for several days (or you can freeze the leftovers). You don't even need a fancy roasting pan; a large, shallow casserole dish will work.

3. Boil an Egg

Every time Easter rolls around, I am surprised by the number of articles online, or in the newspapers, explaining how to hard-boil eggs. Egg hunts aside, hard-boiled eggs are a very handy thing to have around for a quick high-protein snack, an egg-salad sandwich, deviled eggs, etc.

4. Cook Rice

I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't own a rice cooker. No need! It's really easy to make perfect rice on your stovetop, and so long as you use your timer, it's pretty darn foolproof. I always make a big batch, because I think it's nice to have leftovers in the refrigerator for fried rice, a cold rice salad, or to toss into a tortilla with beans and cheese.

5. Cut Up an Avocado

Avocados are so enormously popular right now (watch for Sharwil avocados, now being imported from the Big Island of Hawaii). Full of healthy fat and vitamins, B6, E and C, we just can't get enough of them. How do you cut up avocados without making a mess? If you're a beginner, the chef in this video has an excellent safety tip for cutting out the pit, using a towel.

6. Know Which Knife to Use for Which Job

Ever use a paring knife to cut meat? How about a serrated edge for cheese? Doesn't work very well, does it? Choosing the right knife for the right kitchen job, as well as knowing how to use that knife, will not only keep you safe, but is also more efficient.

7. Use Sharp Knives

Most kitchen accidents occur from use of a dull knife. This is due to the fact that a dull knife requires more pressure to do the job, increasing the odds of slipping and cutting yourself. Is sharpening knives something that you can do, yourself? Sure! As you become more comfortable with cooking, you'll learn to appreciate working with sharp knives.

8. Bake a Potato

I prefer a potato baked in the oven, but you can also do them in the microwave. However, they won't have that nice, crispy potato skin. Few foods are as economical as potatoes, and you can easily make a meal out of one. Try adding chili, sour cream, and onions, or how about steamed broccoli and cheese? Key point: Don't forget to prick the potato with a fork to allow steam to escape.

9. Use Separate Cutting Boards

To minimize risk of cross-contamination, and making yourself sick, use different cutting boards for meats and vegetables. Wash thoroughly after use. If a board starts getting grooves in it from your knives, replace it.

10. Brown Meat

Why do you need to brown meat? Browning meat, or chicken, adds color and flavor, as well as gives it a better texture. If your recipe calls for browned meat, don't skip that step. It's mildly messy, and you need to be careful you don't burn yourself. However, the results make this step well worth the effort.

11. Peel/Chop Garlic

As you begin to do more cooking, you will want to learn how to peel and chop up garlic. This isn't difficult, and it will give your food so much flavor! One bulb of garlic will go a long way. Store in a cool, dark place (but not in your refrigerator). If you prefer, you can put it in a little jar, and cover with olive oil.

12. Grow Herbs

Even if you have no outdoor space, you can still grow herbs inside. Herbs greatly enhance your food — think of dill in potatoes, tarragon with chicken, or sage in stuffing. You can make a quick pesto if you have fresh basil around, or liven up a tomato sauce with some fresh oregano.

13. Make an Omelet

Not only inexpensive to make, homemade omelets are really versatile. Think ham, cheese, and tomatoes at breakfast; herbs and a little shaved parmesan at lunch, or a "filled" omelet for dinner. They take a little practice, but even when they don't come out looking omelet-y, they're still delicious.

14. Make Chicken Broth

After making chicken broth, I let it cool, and then pour into Ziploc quart bags, and freeze flat to stack (don't forget to label with the date). I use broth just about as fast as I can make it, using it in soups, sauces, or in place of water (try in rice). The bonus is the cooked chicken, which you can also use right away in meals, or freeze.

15. Frost a Cake

Not much of a baker, my cakes always had a humorous "made this for you myself" look. I finally sat and watched an amateur cake decorator frost a cake, and what a difference that made. Getting rid of the crumbs was my favorite tip, followed by cutting the cake into the right shape.

16. Plan Your Menu

You'll save yourself a lot of time and money if you learn to plan menus. It doesn't need to be complicated — all you need is pencil and paper. Getting the hang of cooking once and eating twice is a real treat, particularly during a busy week. Learn to watch grocery ads for sales; plan around those and save more money.

Lastly, if you have gone to the trouble of making your own meal, why not enjoy it in style? Here is how to set the table.

What frugal kitchen skills do you find essential?

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