Growing up is hard; cooking really isn't (most of the time). If you find stirring pasta sauce on the stove as scary as doing your own taxes, we've got some step-by-step instructions that will wean you off frozen dinners without causing a panic attack. Once you check these 11 cooking basics off your bucket list (sink list?), you might even be ready to handle that tax return on your own too.

cooking basics: Smoothie
Photo: Warm Vanilla Sugar

A really good smoothie might be more than blended fruit and yogurt, but don’t worry—it’s not as hard as it sounds. A good rule of thumb is to try 1 cup fruit + 3/4 cup liquid + a spoonful of nut or seed butter (or a quarter of an avocado!) + ice. And don't forget that handful of spinach that we swear you can't even taste. For a thicker smoothie, add half a frozen banana. For a sweeter smoothie, add a spoonful of honey or maple syrup. Isn’t this better than spending eight bucks on the “mean green lean machine” offering at your local juice shop? 

These simple guidelines lay out how to make a smoothie perfectly:
The Right Way to Make a Smoothie

Ready? Try one (or all) of these 15 smoothie recipes:
5-Ingredient Smoothies That Look and Taste So Good We Want to Cry
 

cooking basics: pasta
Photo: Half Baked Harvest

Pasta is actually as easy as 1-2-3. 1. Boil water with a few pinches of kosher salt. (Why? Adding salt while boiling seasons the pasta internally as it swells in the water.) 2. Pour in pasta, give it a stir, and cook according to package instructions. 3. Drain pasta in a colander and douse with a little olive oil to prevent sticky noodles. Bonus tip: Cut back on your water consumption by only filling your pot halfway. Since you only need enough water for the pasta to absorb, you don’t need gallons of water to sufficiently revive dry noodles. With less water in the pot, your stove is on for less time, and less water is thrown down the drain… if you and your roomies try it this way from now on, your energy bill might be smaller next month.

Learn the nitty-gritty details to perfect your pasta skills:
How to Cook Pasta Perfectly (Because You're Probably Doing It Wrong)

Now that you’re a pasta pro, you’ll want to make all of these:
Pasta Recipes, 'Cause We Can't Say No to Carbs

Still not sure what the difference is between orecchiette and fusilli? This guide will help:
A Visual Guide to the 12 Most Popular Pasta Shapes and What to Make With Them

cooking techniques: boiled egg
Photo: Simple Healthy Kitchen

Boiling eggs isn’t hard if you have a timer. While there are a lot of different ways to boil an egg, we think this one is the best: Place an egg in a pot and fill with water until egg is covered. Add a good pinch of salt and splash of white vinegar (eggshells are made of calcium carbonate; the acid in vinegar will slightly break down the shell while it boils, making it easier to peel later). Next, bring water to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook for no more than 12 minutes (for hard-boiled) and no less than three (for very soft-boiled: silky white and runny yolk). Immediately submerge the cooked egg in ice water for at least five minutes to ensure easy peeling.

Use this handy chart to help you achieve your desired egg yolk consistency:
How to Make the Perfect Boiled Egg Every Time

Put those boiling skills to good use by adding an egg to slow-cooker ramens and curries:
Crock-Pot Recipes That’ll Last You All Week

cooking basics: Vinaigrette
Photo: Diethood

Put down the bottle of ranch and DIY your salad dressing. A simple vinaigrette is a mixture of oil + acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice), often seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs. To get dressing to emulsify—translation: not separate into weird oily bubbles and balsamic—stick with a ratio of three parts oil to one part acid; add a spoonful of mustard to make sure the smooth dressing doesn’t break. Once you’ve mastered the simple vinaigrette, get fancy with other emulsifiers and seasonings, such as tahini, hummus, miso paste, maple syrup, chili powder, chopped shallots, and more.

For super-simple dressing ideas, make sure you check out these formulas:
Easy DIY Salad Dressings That Are Better Than the Bottled Stuff

And for some of our favorite blogger recipes, try these:

Healthy Salad Dressing Recipes to Whip Up in No Time

cooking basics: Salad
Photo: Cafe Delites

If your idea of salad is balsamic over romaine, it’s no wonder you’re sick of the stuff. Get creative, starting with different greens (arugula! Spinach! Shredded kale and Brussels sprouts!). Add raw or roasted veggies, maybe a handful of nuts or seeds, and even a few slices of fruit. Drizzle with the vinaigrette you now know how to make. 

Need more inspo? Use this guide:
How to Make a Healthier Salad

Guess what? You don't even need to add a heaping amount of greens to call it a salad; just check these recipes:
Lettuce-Free Salads Because the Mix-ins Are the Best Part

But if you are looking for lettuce, you best add in some extras (otherwise it's not a meal!):
Dinner Salads That Won’t Leave You Hungry

Leave the packaged guac on the grocery store shelves and start mashing your own avos. All it takes is lime juice, some chopped red onion, salt, pepper, and maybe a little jalapeño. Smush it all together—lumps are encouraged; chips optional.

Want to riff on plain ol' guac? Try these simple add-ins:
Quick Twists to Make Guacamole Taste Even Better

And be sure it doesn't change color before serving it to your guests on Sunday Funday:
The Incredibly Easy Way to Prevent Guacamole From Going Brown

cooking techniques: baked chicken
Photo: The Endless Meal

Cooking chicken is probably the simplest skill on this list. We're big fans of pan-searing, so we don't have to wait for the oven to preheat (see below). But if baking is your thing, you only need to preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place chicken (breasts or thighs) on the baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper; flip and repeat. Bake until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees—start checking after 20 minutes, but it usually takes 30-40 minutes. Note: Raw chicken carries salmonella, so it’s important to clean every surface touched using lots of hot water and soap.

Want to try pan-searing chicken? We got you:
How to Cook Chicken Breast in a Pan

​Hey! Chicken breasts aren't a snooze-fest:
60 Awesome Ways to Spice Up Boring Chicken Breasts

cooking techniques: baked fish
Photo: My Natural Family

Similar to chicken, baking fish is a snap. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place fish on the baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper; flip and repeat. If fish has skin, make sure to bake it skin-side down. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until fish flakes when poked with a fork.

For more specific baking instructions:
How to Cook Salmon in the Oven

Graduated from baking fish? Try poaching or grilling:
Simple Salmon Recipes We Swear You Won’t Screw Up

cooking techniques: grains
Photo: Peas and Crayons

A warm pot of grains can save a meal or snack—and we’re not talking about that instant crap. Most packages of grains (such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat, farro, and millet) include instructions, but you won’t truly master the art of grain-cooking unless you practice. Starting now. A good rule of thumb for quinoa or rice is a ratio of one-part grain to two-parts water or cooking liquid. Too much water and grain will be mushier; too little and grain will be chewier. Adjust according to preference. Boil water, add grain, and simmer with a lid until grain absorbs water. Note: These and most other grains can also be cooked like pasta: Boil water, add grain, then boil until grain is tender.

Trying to figure out WTF amaranth is, or just looking to eat something new? Look no further:
A Visual Guide to Grains So You Know How to Cook, Eat, and Store Them

Now, let's eat!
Delicious Grain Bowls That Make Dinner a No-Brainer

cooking basics: Roasted veg
Photo: Chez Us

There’s nothing like a pile of roasted veggies to make you feel infinitely more full and cozy. Heat your oven to 400 degrees and start chopping. Douse the veg with oil, salt, and pepper, and bake until tender and just starting to brown.

Want more details? This guide for roasting veg breaks it way down:
The Best Way to Roast Vegetables

Like beauty, a perfect chocolate chip cookie is in the eye of the beholder. Like 'em chewy? Add an extra tablespoon of butter and two egg yolks to your favorite cookie recipe, and underbake them for a few minutes. In a crunchier mood? Replace the majority of brown sugar with white and bake for a few minutes longer. And special dieters, we didn’t forget you: For vegan cookies, replace butter and chocolate chips with dairy-free versions, and make a flax egg (2 tablespoons ground flaxseed + 2 tablespoons water). For gluten-free, swap out flour for a GF version with starch, such as tapioca or potato, and a bit of xanthan or guar gum to make them more moist.

For specific measurements and more tips, check out our guide: The Best Way to Make Every Kind of Chocolate Chip Cookie

Not trying to make a full batch of cookies for a midnight snack? This single-serving recipe will make your day:
A Single Chocolate Chip Cookie

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