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This is how pros cook on-the-fly. 

Gillie Houston
May 21, 2018

The mark of any experienced chef is the ability to easily create delectable dishes off the top of their head, without having to refer back to a recipe every five seconds. But in the expansive world of recipes, it can be difficult to pinpoint just which essential dishes will be the most valuable standbys to add to your cooking repertoire. 

Whether you’re just starting out on your culinary journey or are a seasoned home cook looking to up your roster of from-memory meals, these easy-to-follow recipes are the perfect jumping off points to create endless satisfying meals in the future.

The Bases

Pasta Dough - While pasta can come in all shapes and sizes, the base recipe for each remains fairly consistent across the board. Whether you’re hoping to twirl some spaghetti around your fork, layer lasagna, or construct pockets of ravioli, having this basic pasta recipe in your back pocket will make you look like a pro every time. 

Pie Crust - Perfect for both sweet and savory occasions, nailing the perfect pie crust can help you ace your Thanksgiving Pecan Pie or concoct an amazing Quiche Lorraine for your next brunch gathering.

Pizza Dough - Once you’ve mastered the art of homemade pizza dough, the sky’s the limit for the ingredient combinations you can pile your pies with. Whether you’re a sauce and cheese purist or like to think outside of the box with a Grilled Dessert Pizza or Deep-Dish Taco pie, this recipe will get you well on your way.

Simple Salad - While in theory constructing a salad shouldn’t be that complicated, in reality it can be intimidating to choose ingredients that compliment each other and make for a perfect base for other additions. By memorizing your own trademark mix of greens and veg, you’ll be able to easily craft a fabulous dinner menu every time. 

Rice - A pot of perfectly cooked white rice will present you with endless opportunities to create delicious and filling meals, from Burrito Bowls to Shrimp Fried Rice

Zoodles - Whether you’re trying to reduce your carb intake, or just up your daily vegetable servings, zucchini noodles are the produce world’s answer to traditional pasta. Dress yours up with a traditional Italian sauce, or infuse them with Asian flavor, as in this Sesame Zoodle Salad. 

Quinoa - Learning how to master this simple, healthy, and filling base will make meal prep a breeze. Once you’ve got your quinoa technique down, you can start playing around with fun topping combinations, like this Quinoa with Roasted Garlic, Tomatoes, and Spinach.

WATCH: How to make Black Bean and Quinoa Salad

Breakfast

Frittata - The ultimate easy brunch dish, the basic frittata is simple to make and guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, no matter what veggies, meats, cheeses, and seasonings you add to this customizable recipe. 

Overnight Oats - Your morning routine will become far more effortless with the addition of this easy-to-master recipe that can be personalized with different dairy options, fruits, nuts, and more. And, it gets major bonus points for being the perfect grab-and-go breakfast on busier mornings. 

Buttermilk Pancakes - Nailing a simple signature pancake recipe should be high up on any home cook’s kitchen bucket list. Not only is this dish a breakfast classic, but can easily be built upon with a range of add-ins and toppings for countless morning meal options. 

French Toast - Another morning classic, French toast is a shockingly simple to master—but will make you look like a skilled chef in the process. Dress yours up with fun combinations like Caramel Apple Stuffed French Toast or a Double Berry French Toast Casserole

Scrambled Eggs - Perhaps the most essential breakfast recipe, a perfect pan of creamy scrambled eggs will be a big stepping stone to infinite breakfast combos and recipes. Did someone say Breakfast Tacos?

Poached Eggs - There’s something about a poached egg that always makes breakfast seem like a slightly more sophisticated affair. Master this recipe to give your brunch table a major upgrade, whether served up Benedict-style or atop a thick slab of avocado toast.

Proteins

Roasted Chicken - This essential meat dish will take a little more work to master, but is shockingly versatile once you’ve got the hang of it. Eat your roast chicken straight up with some standard sides, or use your meat to create any number of recipes, like saucy Chicken Enchiladas.

A Classic Burger - Not only is a classic burger an exceedingly simple recipe to lock down, but it can be built upon in endless ways, whether you’re a no-frills cheeseburger connoisseur or want to dress it up with more luxurious toppings like a fried egg, avocado, and more.

Poached Salmon - This lean and clean protein will be your new go-to for healthy meals at home. Easy to learn and even easier to pair with sides and salads, this poached fish will be an instant favorite. 

Steak - Learning how to cook the perfect steak is a major moment in any home cook’s life, and for good reason. Not only is a pan-seared steak the ultimate indulgence on its own, but it can also be used in infinite recipes, from breakfast to dinner. For those with grill access, a classic Grilled Steak recipe is also essential. 

Mussels - While shellfish can sometimes be intimidating, mussels are about as affordable and approachable as it gets. Once you’ve learned how to properly clean and cook your mussels, you can dress them up in whatever way you see fit—from a simple white wine mixture to a funkier Curried Coconut Mussels option.

Sauces and Sides

Italian Red Sauce - A simple and hearty Italian red sauce is essential for dressing homemade pasta, zoodles, and more. Once you’ve aced this classic recipe—either opting for a meatier sauce or a vegetarian option—you’ll be set for a life full of delicious home-style Italian dinners. 

Vinaigrette - Nailing the perfect personalized vinaigrette is one of the first kitchen skills any cook should tackle. Easy to make and customize, this homemade dressing can be kept at the ready in your fridge for topping salads, roasted vegetables, and more.

Guacamole - Whether you plan to serve it on its own with a bowl of tortilla chips, or atop just about any Mexican dish imaginable, every cook should have an amazing guacamole recipe in their repertoire. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can play around with ingredient quantities and spice levels to personalize your guac.

Salsa - This less caloric counterpart to guacamole will come in handy in countless South-of-the-border inspired dishes. For fans of tomatillos, this Salsa Verde is also an excellent recipe to memorize. 

Hummus - This essential chickpea-based Middle Eastern spread is not only great for dipping pita, pretzels, and crudité, but is also an excellent addition to dishes like a handheld Falafel Pita. Not to mention, no mezze spread is complete without it.  

Roasted Vegetables - It doesn’t get more simple or versatile than roasted vegetables, which can be completely flexible depending on your personal tastes, the produce that’s currently in season, and the other dishes and ingredients you plan to serve your veggies with. 

Simple Soup - Locking down a classic vegetable soup recipe will provide an amazing base for additions like meat, noodles, and more. Plus, the next time you’re feeling under the weather, you’ll be patting your own back for mastering this comforting recipe.

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