A lot of people I know don’t cook. They don’t want to; they don’t like to; they aren’t good at it, etc. I never used to be someone who cooked a lot. Cooking meant mac and cheese, frozen pizza, or fried egg sandwiches (nom nom nom). I started cooking more chiefly because I no longer had my mom to cook for me (horrible day). Then it kind of grew on it’s own as I moved towards a healthier, more organic diet. I would suggest Michael Pollan or the Slow Food movement for anyone more interested in why they should cook. I’m still not an excellent cook, but I’ve come a long ways from the mac and cheese days. So now I’m going to post some tips for you non-cookers out there to get you on your way.
1. Start Off Simple
It’s easy to screw up meals and get discouraged, especially when you aren’t sure what you’re doing. So you’ve got to ease into it. Start with basic recipes. Try to keep the ingredient list down and the amount of things to do at a minimum. I probably spent an entire year or two where I mostly made a pasta/stir fry thingy. Great starting point. Buy some meat, a few veggies and throw them in a pan with a little oil. Add noodles and sauce and you’re good to go. Or rice I suppose. But I still screw up rice so maybe hold off on that. Or maybe it’s me. I’m not really sure why I struggle with rice.
As you get the hang of things, you can get a little more adventurous. Saute mushrooms on the side? Easy and delicious. (Saute just means put in a pan with butter for those of you super-non-cookers. Lots and lots of butter if you’re following the Shane School of Cooking). Which leads us to point 2…
2. Figure Out What You Like
Explore a bit. Try different things in your stir fry/pasta. Or different recipes if you’re really feeling crazy. Tangential story (but still totally applicable, so…parallel, maybe?): I was part of a CSA for a summer. CSA is community supported agriculture. Very basically, I got a box of veggies from an organic farm every 2 weeks for the entire growing season. I know! Sounds great, right? Especially as someone who loves veggies so much! (Yes, that was sarcastic). Not my best idea.
I could never use up all the veggies, most of which I didn’t know how to cook and most likely didn’t know what it was. I had many a stir fry/pasta that was overflowing with random veggies just thrown in there. If I didn’t know how to cook it, it got thrown in. If I did know how to cook it but was too lazy, it got thrown in. Generally speaking, pretty much all of the veggies got thrown in is what I’m trying to say. Kind of a waste of money and good food. But I learned a few things.
I hate mustard greens. Ick. Leafy greens. Don’t really use them for much. Baby spinach…way better than grown-up spinach (or adolescent spinach. NOTE: may not exist). Since then, I’ve also discovered that I don’t actually hate peppers–I love peppers. The girlfriend and I go through a bell pepper or two a week now. Onions = awesome. You’ve got to play around to figure out what you do and don’t like. And in all cases…
3. Invest in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This shows up all the time on cooking shows. You’ve probably heard of it. Just go buy some already. Put some in a pan and you can use it to saute almost any veggie. Vital piece for the stir fry/pasta thingy (which really need a name).
4. Don’t Fear the Recipe!!!
This is a big one. Recipes are intimidating. All these crazy herbs and spices. And they want you to do weird things, like peel a peach (not an easy task, I might add). But you can’t be afraid of it. If you don’t have the herbs and spices, don’t worry about it or find an easy substitute. Google is a new cook’s best friend. Seriously. It might not taste exactly as the recipe planned, but most of the time it doesn’t change it that much. Plus you can experiment this way. Throw a little ginger in instead and see what happens. Figure out what stuff you like (once again).
Often times, the instructions are more intimidating then they seem. All those different steps–it’s really just sauteing stuff at different times so you don’t overcook them (something I never noticed for years. Helpful, but not crucial). I would suggest reading over the recipe right beforehand though. And don’t freak out about the times (I mean stay close to them, but it’s not life or death). The point I’m trying to make is don’t end up in the situation where you forgot an ingredient and you can’t find it and everything is GOING TO COOK FOR TOO LONG BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FIND THE F*&$ING GARLIC POWDER. And everything kind of melts down from there. Been there. Avoid it.
5. Salt and Pepper
Meal missing something. Add some salt. It helps. (It’s also what most terrible-for-you restaurants do, jacking up the sodium, but we’ll save that for another time). Add salt and pepper while you’re cooking. Cooks the flavor in better. If you’ve ever watched Top Chef (or at least like 4 years ago, when I watched it), they always hammered the chefs on needing more salt and pepper. Seriously works. Just don’t overdo it.
6. There’s Always Takeout
Why not try to cook? It can save you money in the long run. If you get the hang of it, you can make some pretty tasty stuff. You become more conscious of what you’re eating and therefore become more healthy. And when things go to shit, and they will sometimes, you can always order food anyways! Plus it’s pretty satisfying when you successfully make something good. Feel free to brush your shoulder off. And guys…girls allegedly dig a guy who can cook. That’s the word on the street from what I hear. (Also, it’s a cheaper date to cook a dinner than go out–plus more romantic. Just keep it simple and not too adventurous unless you’re feeling REAL confidant).
So remember, it just takes some practice. Screwing up and trying different things is what makes you good at cooking. It’s really not that hard. When in doubt, just throw it in the pan and make a stir fry/pasta thingy. (Mass Sautes. There. Named it. Make a Mass Saute).