(THE WASHINGTON POST) - Growing up, it never occurred to me that cooking was something you had to learn.
I guess I thought that some people simply had the right instincts, like musical or artistic prodigies. They just picked up the knife and knew how to masterfully dice an onion.
That wasn't me, and chances are it's not you either.
For years, I just assumed I was a bad cook and made little effort to improve. But once I was out of college and living on my own, I desperately wanted to take my culinary skills to the next level.
For as long as I can remember, I've always loved food. Going out to restaurants and trying new cuisines brings me pure joy.
At a certain point, I realised I wanted to be able to create that same excitement in my own kitchen, and I wanted to be able to share it with others. Yet I had no idea where to begin, and everything from chopping vegetables to searing meat left me in a panic.
Without basic kitchen skills, even the most simple tasks can seem incredibly daunting.
We were all raised in an era of convenience meals, and some us were barely taught anything beyond how to open a box and press start on the microwave. Meanwhile, we're constantly bombarded with mouth-watering images of food on social media, TV and in restaurants as chefs strive for a spot in our coveted Instagram feeds.
While all of this makes us hungry, it also evokes something else: a desire to cook satisfying, eye-catching meals at home and serve them to friends and family.
It's incredibly satisfying to cook a delicious meal for yourself. Being able to share that food with others makes the experience even more enjoyable. It's both empowering and fun.
However, if you're missing those essential kitchen skills and are lacking confidence, cooking for others can be stressful or downright scary.
I graduated from L'Academie de Cuisine, and over the past eight years, I've worked as a line cook, pastry chef and cooking instructor. I'm now a full-time recipe developer and food photographer. In 2016, I published a cookbook called The Gourmet Kitchen, and I share recipes every week on my blog, Savory Simple.
But even now, I can remember how frustrating it was to read recipes and not understand how to execute them (or to think I understood until my kitchen was on fire). It wasn't that long ago for me, and I want to help you step out of your comfort zone in the kitchen, just as I stepped out of mine. To start, here's an easy toasted cashew recipe that comes together in minutes.
And you don't have to go to cooking school to do it.
Toasted Salt-and-Pepper Cashews
6 servings (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
You can play around with the spices, but what I love about this version is that it demonstrates how much flavour you can coax out of such basic ingredients. Pepper usually takes a backseat to salt, but not here. It gives these cashews a real kick without being overpowering.
These are best served hot or warm; they're so addicting, you'll want to make sure you have guests around to help you finish them.
HANDS-ON TIME: 8 minutes
COOK TIME: 7 minutes
EQUIPMENT: Skillet, spatula, slotted spoon, medium bowl
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups raw whole cashews
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the cashews and stir to coat.
Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently with a spatula, until the cashews are golden brown and fragrant.
Line a plate with paper towel. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the nuts to the plate to drain; do not pat them dry.
While the cashews are still hot, transfer them to a medium bowl and toss with the salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. (I recommend enjoying these as soon as possible!)