Key Tips for the Cooking Beginner


Image courtesy of Lola Lambert.

An image of freshly baked (and delicious-looking) chocolate chip sourdough bread.

The transition from high school to college is often defined by a sharp and sudden increase in a student’s consumption of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, instant ramen, and takeout.

For many, cooking may prove to be a daunting and unfamiliar task, furthering the importance of learning to cook earlier on. 

“There is value in high schoolers learning to cook,” said Laura Armstrong, who teaches Family and Consumer Sciences at Air Academy. “Most students will eventually move out of their parent’s/guardian’s home and into a place of their own. Knowing how to cook, feeling comfortable in the kitchen, eating healthy…it’s fun to cook and that’s half the battle when you’re living independently.” 

The ability to cook is especially important because it allows students to retain control of what foods enter their bodies. Microwave foods such as ramen and boxed mac-and-cheese and fast foods such as McDonald’s are notoriously unhealthy and contain a shocking amount of sodium, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients. These foods are also cheap and easily accessible, often making them the default for struggling college students. 

Learning to cook means that students can avoid these unhealthy foods by making meals with affordable fresh ingredients and eating those instead. 

“It is cost-efficient when you create your own meals,” Armstrong explained. “It not only gives you satisfaction when making your own meals but a sense of pridefulness, too. [There are] so many positive reasons to learn how to cook!” 

Without further ado, listed below are the necessary tips for anyone looking to begin their culinary journey. 

Learn the culinary basics. 

It is essential to learn how to properly use knives — secure grip around the handle, rocking motions when cutting — to cook properly but also in terms of kitchen safety. Other basics to learn are how to prepare fresh ingredients such as vegetables or raw meat, or how to properly boil pasta. 

“Some basic skills that will help you be successful in the kitchen are:  know how to read a recipe (terminology) and know your measurements (equivalents and how to measure correctly),” explained Armstrong. 

It is fairly simple to find cooking instructions online, such as this cooking fundamentals video by chef Gordon Ramsay

Additionally, students may be interested in Air Academy’s variety of culinary classes. 

“Students who have enrolled in one of my cooking classes have enjoyed the creativity in making dishes. They have left with a new founded passion for cooking, knowledge and becoming successful in the kitchen. Some students have furthered their education and are chefs or in the culinary arts,” Armstrong said. 

Master a handful of fundamental recipes. 

“To begin, I think it is best to work on perfecting basic recipes,” said Lola Lambert, a junior at Air Academy and an avid baker. “You can find a recipe online, and make it over and over, tweaking it every time until you are happy with it.” 

Listed below are a handful of basic recipes to start with: 

Basic French Toast 

recipe by Elaine Zou 


  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 4 tablespoons butter 
  • 4 eggs 
  • ¼ cup whole milk 
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 8 slices of bread 


In a bowl, whisk eggs, then add in milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon until fully combined. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Depending on the size of the skillet, melt ½ or all butter. Pour egg mixture into a large plate. Coat each slice of bread thoroughly, before placing it into the skillet. Fry until golden colored. Eat plain or top with syrup, fruit, whipped cream, powdered sugar, etc. 

Authentic Fried Rice 

recipe courtesy of Hongtao Cai 


  • 2 tablespoons oil, divided 
  • 3 cups cooked white or brown rice 
  • 4 eggs, whisked 
  • 1 cup assorted vegetables (fresh or frozen carrots, peas, corn, etc.) 
  • ½ cup shrimp, ham, or bacon (optional) 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, more or less to taste 
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil 


In a large pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Pour in the egg mixture and cook until scrambled. Transfer eggs to a separate plate. In the same pan, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add in garlic and fry for a few seconds until fragrant, but not burnt. Add in the shrimp/ham/bacon and saute until fully cooked. Pour in assorted vegetables and continue cooking. Add in rice and cook until everything is mixed thoroughly. Add in soy sauce and stir. Add in sesame oil and stir until everything is well absorbed. Serve with additional soy sauce to taste. 

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe courtesy of  Trisha Yearwood; adapted for high-altitude by Lola Lambert 


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 1 cup cocoa powder 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips 


Preheat oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until fully combined. Add the eggs and mix to combine. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and continue mixing. Add the chocolate chips; mix until just combined. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough and place them onto the baking sheets. Bake, rotating the sheets once halfway through, until the cookies are set, about 11 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Be cautious of altitude! 

This may be a concern tailored specifically to those of us in Colorado, but it can have disastrous effects, particularly when baking. 

“If needed, be sure to make the appropriate alterations to your recipe according to elevation,” noted sophomore Tabetha Brand.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes — and learn to problem solve when mistakes do occur. 

“Be prepared to fail,” sophomore Callie Riewald said succinctly.

This Bon Appétit video is also quite helpful in instructing on ways to rectify mistakes. Some mistakes, such as getting a piece of shell into the bowl, are relatively painless to fix.

“The easiest way to remove an eggshell..use the other half-broken shell. It acts as a magnet!” explained Air Academy parent Candy Jackson.

Others, however, may render a dish unsalvageable, but that’s more than okay.

“Some tips I teach beginner cooks is that it’s okay to make a mistake when cooking. If a recipe fails; learn from it,” advised Armstrong. “You will only get better as you continue to try. Making mistakes makes you a better cook and will eventually give you the confidence needed in the kitchen.”