Kitchen tools on a colorful background

Dotdash Meredith / Sabrina Tan

SET: Intuitive Cooking Is Where the "Ah Ha" Moments Happen in the Kitchen

A personal chef walks us through the tools of intuitive cooking.

When creating this package and the name, we were very careful to define each of these four weeks and what would be included in each. Ready was all about establishing preferences, physically assessing your kitchen, and making a meal plan to give you foundational habits on which to build. SET is centered around intuitive cooking and the mental tools needed to think on your feet and make informed decisions. These tools include classic techniques, flavor combinations and bases, and tips for successful grocery shopping and storing. These skills will round out your library of knowledge before turning on a stovetop burner and going for the finish line. 

There are moments during food preparation that don’t go according to plan like not finding or forgetting a key ingredient at the store, menu planning on the fly while in the grocery store, and creating dishes from what is available in the home only. As a personal chef, these are the times for which I must pivot, be resourceful, and use my experience and knowledge to deliver a finished product. I want to help you do that, too.

Let’s make our way to the starting line.

Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup Recipe ingredients

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

A Curious Cook Is an Intuitive Cook Is a Good Cook

What is intuitive cooking you ask? While it might be a misnomer for you now, this is where your future “ah ha” moments begin. Intuitive cooking is cooking using all of your senses (especially taste), your memory, and your experience. It is rooted in your curiosity, your appreciation for good food, and the knowledge to get to a desired result. When these things coalesce, you will hunger for more and develop a mental shorthand to cooking—from menu planning to grocery shopping through the finished product.

Intuitive cooking is based in the knowledge of classic ingredients, pairings, and the cookery of the foods you cook most often. Together with the information gathered in READY about your preferences, stocking your pantry accordingly, and menu planning, intuitive cooking will feel like you have the ability to learn through osmosis. 

There is a whole world of regional and national cooking methods and techniques to learn based on your cuisine preferences. For those foods you love, research (a.k.a. eat out/order in), ask questions, and be a sponge. Those techniques and ingredients used can be applied to many dishes to fail (part of learning), to try again, and to perfect.

By way of an example, my client's favorite recipe of mine, miso marinated skirt steak, was born from my love of Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s miso cod. I love Japanese food, I know the foundational ingredients, and making it over and over again allowed me to perfect it. It is this curiosity that will lead you to being the best intuitive cook you can be too. 

peeled onion on a cutting board partly diced, with chef's knife

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Why Mastering Basic Techniques Are Essential for Intuitive Cooking

No matter the cuisine, there are many foundational techniques for which we think you should be familiar. Learning how to hold your knife, practicing mise en place, and learning how to cut an onion, are a few great places to start. Be humble and start at the beginning. Crawl. Do not run. 

Outside of learning basic universal skills, learning techniques specific to your favorite cuisines identified in Ready is essential to becoming a more intuitive cook. Think wok cooking for Chinese food, cooking in a tagine for Moroccan food, and how to make pasta or pizza for Italian food. Knowing you can translate your favorite foods into actional recipes using your kitchen, stocked with the right ingredients and tools, plus the right technique is a powerful thing. 

Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and White Rice)

The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

Why Intuitive Cooks Rely on Flavor Combinations

One of the best ways to become a more intuitive cook is to know classic flavor pairings (burger and fries, rice and beans, peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese) and your favorite combinations too (I will do anything for banana and dark chocolate). Knowledge of the classics and discovery of your own favorites will play a large part in menu planning, especially when you find yourself in a rut. Figuring out a new permutation of a classic dish or meal combination, either in cookery or by ingredient, is the perfect way to wow yourself.

Begin your flavor combinations research with aromatics. They are vegetables, herbs, spices and seasonings used in varied permutations to make flavor bases. They are the foundation of recipes and are usually first in the pot or pan. It is aromatics that set the tone for the dish and perfumes the rest of the ingredients. 

It is the combination of aromatics that give cuisines their unique character like Indian, Thai, African, and Chinese. The most known combination of aromatics is mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrot. It is used as a base for soups, stews, braising, and sauces. The holy trinity of green bell pepper, onion, and celery is the base of Creole, Cajun, and Southern foods like gumbo, etouffee, and collard greens. 

Seeking out foundational aromatics for your favorite foods means you will always make sure you have them on hand in your refrigerator and pantry. Are you beginning to feel intuitive? 

A packed grocery cart in an empty grocery aisle

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / Getty Images

An Intuitive Cook's Guide to Grocery Shopping

For some, grocery shopping is not the move…EVER! However, now that you have done all of the hard work assessing your household, taking inventory of your kitchen, and preparing a meal plan, you can be a focused beast in the supermarket or make the time to be a nosey meanderer, like me, checking out new products while I shop from my list of items, most times in my head.

When I first started my business in 2002, all of the options we now have in online shopping, bulk shopping, specialty markets, and farmers markets were not that readily available. There is an option for every taste now and I currently find online shopping the best for me.

For those who are venturing to the physical supermarket, here are my tips for ease and success:

  1. Get to know your most frequented market well. Spend a little downtime or, during a light shop, walk through the aisles, see how and where they have shelved items, talk to the butcher, the baker (fine…and the candlestick maker), and introduce yourself to the manager. Ask when they receive deliveries, “what is fresh today”, and to taste a new product that interests you (this is respected in some chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s). The information you gather will assist you in your future shopping.
  2. Make a list of ingredients needed from your menu plan before adding any of the non-menu food and household needs. Make sure you double check quantities needed for a recipe as you might need to double it. This process assures you will see all you need to cook your meal plan and allows you quickly identify items you already have on hand in Step #3.
  3. Shop your kitchen first. You can do this from your Pantry Police Sheet before physically looking in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. You might already have what you need.
  4. Make some room in preparation for your new groceries. This can be done while you shop your kitchen. It’ll make putting away groceries a lot easier and faster.
  5. STOP! EAT SOMETHING BEFORE YOU SHOP! I know we have heard this many times and for good reason. You are guaranteed to walk out of the store with some extra choices in your cart if you are hungry.
  6. Grab more reusable bags (and hot and cold bags) from your stash that you think you will need. This will help you stop wasting time trying to MacGyver a full cart into three bags. 
  7. Shop in order of weight and perishability. The suggested order: Non-perishable canned, boxed, bagged items (center isles) as they can withstand being on the bottom of the cart; Meats, poultry, seafood wrapped in plastic bags to avoid dripping; Produce and breads, putting the more weighty produce like squash and root vegetables in first before the more delicate like leafy greens and fruits; Frozen foods to lessen the time out of the freezer before check out.
  8. Bag groceries categories together—pantry dry items, in-store refrigerated produce, non refrigerated produce, meat/poultry/seafood, dairy and refrigerated items, frozen foods.
  9. Go straight home! Do not pass GO! Do not collect $100! You have frozen and perishable groceries to put away to avoid defrosting, spoilage, and loss of your hard earned money.
Stored Food in Refrigerator

 The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

How to Store Your Groceries

Grocery shopping does not end once you get home—now you have to put everything away. Tired? Need a quick break? If you followed the grocery shopping tips for success above, Tip #8, to bag grocery categories together, you just need to put away the frozen and perishable refrigerated items (including your meats/poultry/seafood). Continue with the balance of the non-perishable groceries when you are ready.

For those who believe “a place for everything and everything in its place”, we have you covered with the absolute best ways to store your groceries. From produce and breads to meats and cheeses, your refrigerator will look like a social media influencer’s ASMR restock video.

My hot tip? As a household of one, I take my meat and poultry storage one step further. I buy family packs to save money. Before storing in the freezer, I clean (yes, I rinse all of my packaged proteins), pat dry, season (salt, pepper, and granulated garlic), portion, wrap in freezer wrap, and into a labeled freezer bag. This way I can move portions to my refrigerator to defrost instead of having to defrost the whole package.

You are now at the starting line, in position, and ready to COOK. On your marks. Get set. GO!