The best thing you've done to improve your cooking

My husband bought me two omelet pans from a restaurant supply store for Christmas. They’re aluminum, with a silicone handle so they can go in and out of the oven easily. He mentioned when I opened them that they made them in all sizes, so if I liked them I could get some more. Well, they make awesome omelets and clean easily, so I went out and bought a 12-inch and a 14-inch skillet in the same style.

Holy shit, I had no idea what I was missing. I have a Le Creuset skillet, and I haven’t used it since I got these. They make a perfect even sear on meat. Tonight I made some gorgeous center-cut pork chops, and the pan sauce I made afterward was just incredible. I’ve made pan sauces a ton of times before, but they never reduced so well or got so thick and velvety before.

The pans aren’t cheap, but they’re cheaper than my poor neglected Le Creuset was, and are easier to clean.

What small thing have you done to improve your cooking?

That’s funny, I was going to say “got good pans, especially my Le Creuset”. And got a gas stove.

Got married and let my wife do it?

Quality knives.

Got into a relationship with someone with an extremely low tolerance for spicy food, forcing me out of my discomfort zone and opening up a whole new world of subtle seasonings.

Also, resolved to try something totally new at least once a week.

Gas stove.
Good knives
Stainless Steel pots and pans. My Viking pots and pans, while expensive as sin, are amazing. They have taken a beating over the last few years, but still look almost new save a few scratches. I’ve never had pots and pans that clean as easily as these.
Crock pot. Can’t go wrong with a crock pot.
But really, when it comes to cooking (as opposed to baking), what I’ve done is to stop caring. It’s the whole “I cook from here [points to heart]” thing. I’ve learned to just decide on a meat and a basic idea of what I want to do with it and just sort of start cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I still read recipes, but I consider them to be more guidance then anything else. Add what I want more of, cut out the things I don’t like and it usually turns out pretty well. If it doesn’t, well, I always have some frozen pizzas ready to go, but more often then not it works out. Of course I have a bad habit of not writing anything down as I go, so when I make something I really like, I end up making it a bunch more times over the next two or three weeks trying to replicate it so I can write it down.
Here’s a great example of my thought process when I try a new recipe. You can see me going from “I got some pork, what should I do with it” to taking Wednesday’s suggestion and making a few changes to ultimately using her recipe as ‘inspiration’ for what I ended up making.

Oh, also, learning to cook with Guinness and Tequila (not at the same time) helped a lot as well. Tequila brings a ton of flavor to the party (as Alton would say) especially if you add some lime and Guinness gives a savory dish like Beef Stew a whole new dimension. Both of those ingredients will also act as meat tenderizers as well.

The best thing you’ve done to improve your cooking:
I quit trying to perfect the mushroom smoothie.

Meat thermometer. No more overdone meat- yay!

I was going to post “getting an instant-read thermometer.” I agree with Alice the Goon.

I recently finally bought a cast-iron skillet and a good knife that fits my hand.

Why do good quality pots affect the taste of the food? And how?

Cook the food more evenly for one.

IME, the difference between very good quality implements (pots, knives, whatever) and the rest is control. It’s the same principle that makes your handwriting turn out better when rendered with a good pen as opposed to a clogged Bic, or a crayon.

A good heavy pot or pan allows the heat to be transferred from the source to the food in a much more even fashion then something cheap and lightweight. The extra mass will allow the heat to spread as it moves from the bottom of the pan to the cooking surface. This will also eliminate hot spots and lower your chances of burning your food. It also makes it easier to work on other parts of the meal since you won’t have to keep such a close eye on it and constantly be stirring what’s in it. Also, something like stainless steel is ridiculously easy to clean. I’ve yet to really have to scrub my pots and pans with any sort of effort. Some soap and water and everything comes right out and with the teflon layer to peel or chip away over the years. It also won’t react with something acidic like tomatoes. Which is a problem that you might find if you cook with aluminum.

This. I’ve watched a lot of cooking shows and read a bunch of recipes, and finally trusted what I’d learned. I’ve learned what herbs go with what meats, and I actually get inspired to try new stuff!

I rarely make stuff we can’t eat.

Most of the time I make something inedible (to the point where I can’t even choke down enough to be full for a while) it’s usually because I over did it with something. Too much salt, too much dried garlic/thyme/sage or it’s because I’m trying something new and haven’t had a chance to tweak the recipe yet.

You have to taste, taste, taste. I tend to undersalt most of the time.

It’s wonderful feeling confident in the kitchen. It’s taken 25 years! :wink:

New pans.

Meat thermometer

Cooking with coconut oil. I cannot believe how much better everything tastes not that I’ve switched to coconut oil. I seared a pork roast in some before popping it in the oven and the resulting crust was so amazing. I don’t even like the taste of coconut, and the smell of the oil puts me off a little bit, but literally everything I’ve cooked using it from curry to eggs has turned out amazing.

Understood Food Science

I started listening to my instincts.

Took some basic technique classes at a decent cooking school.

I was dubious at first, as I was already a competent cook. But I’d been curious for a while and finally was at a point in my life where I had the time & money to take a good course. I think at the time it was called “French Techniques I”, but it was really more or less basic cooking techniques (and I think they’ve renamed it since).

Holy crap, did I learn a lot. I was far from a beginner, and definitely one of the more advanced cooks in the class, but it was really great. I went on to take the next two courses in the same series, ending up with 75 hours of instruction.

One of the best things I ever did. Highly recommended, even if you already think of yourself as a good cook.