Building your Wheelhouse 101

Posted on by Jennie

Part of being comfortable in the kitchen is having a “wheelhouse,” that is a range of recipes in your pocket you’re ready to make at any time. Once you have a handful of recipes you can make, you can expand from there and suddenly you can make anything.

So how do you get started with a handful of recipes to make for dinner? For me, it started with things my mom made, dishes that I was used to – fajitas, Italian food, steak sandwiches, stuffed chicken breast, the list goes on. Don’t have a guide? No problem – here’s my advice to you:

Get the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.


Corelyn mentioned it in her post on gifts for food lovers, and I can’t stress it enough because it teaches you the basics. When I was in college, I made the lemon pepper chicken probably once a week (Sierra remembers) and confession: I still make it to this day, because it’s quick, I know it off the top of my head, and it’s versatile, so I can add whatever fresh herbs I have.

Here are a few other tips for building your wheelhouse:

1. Read labels. Curiosity is key when you’re making a meal. Tonight, making a stir fry I’ve made a million times, I looked at the label of my favorite Asian-inspired sauce and simply replicated that with the basic ingredients, without having to worry about all those preservatives and additions. So try a handful of store-bought sauces, figure out which ones you like the best, and read the labels to recreate them at home.

2. Be realistic. If you want to cook dinner, work out, watch the latest episode of Parenthood, finish the book club book, catch up on the blogs you read, and do laundry in one night you might be…overreaching. When Jeff and I have a busy night, I pull out a recipe that’s simpler, such as chicken quesadillas with steamed broccoli, that can be put together in 20 minutes before we head to the laundromat. If you only will have 30 minutes to make a meal, don’t attempt to make ravioli from scratch or insist you let the chili simmer for at least an hour. Start small: making chicken quesadillas with fresh chicken is a start to also shredding your own cheese, making enchiladas, making your own enchilada sauce…making chicken quesadillas with fresh chicken is better than making chicken quesadillas with precooked chicken or heating up a frozen meal.

3. Invite people over. Jeff won’t eat soup. I don’t like cilantro. Corelyn and Mary hate olives. It’s hard to please everyone, you guys. So if you want to try something out – a lasagna or a stew or simply a dish you know your partner or roomies won’t try – invite people over who you know will love it. Not only will you get brownie points with your friends, you’ll also be able to cook for a crowd! And, you can always take leftovers for lunches and in some cases, freeze things for later.

4. Relax. Cooking should be fun, and when it’s not, it’s best to take a deep breath and remember that you’re doing good, here. You’re feeding yourself something better. So take a deep breath, and relax. And, if you screw up and have to eat a frozen pizza one night, that’s OK. I have burnt rice, over-salted soup (well that was Becca but who’s keep track?),  and dropped entire plates on the floor before. It’s part of the experience!

What are your tips for experimenting in the kitchen and adding to your wheelhouse?


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