Having learned to cook on my own, growing up, I’ve gained experience through the harsh reality of trial and error. One of the scarier aspects of cooking is not always knowing what’s going to come out at the end. Why spend a lot of money on expensive ingredients, make way more than you’re ever going to eat, and then have it turn out so disgustingly inedible that not even your dog will beg for it?
Well, here are some easy tips that might help you put away the TV dinner and cook something you’ll actually want to eat.
1) Buy ingredients that you understand, in manageable quantities.
There’s a real pleasure and sense of adventure in buying a complete unknown and researching how to cook it online. If you want to do that, you have my blessing. But if you’re not very experienced with cooking and you just want a good, hot meal, you probably shouldn’t be messing around with Durian Fruit. And although you love mashed potatoes, don’t go for that 20 pound bag of russet potatoes unless you really know that you want to spend every day of the week peeling, cooking, and mashing them.
Let’s face it, you’re not reading this list because you know how to cook. The head chef of a Michelin Star restaurant isn’t going to be knocking on your door for advice any time soon. Keep it simple.
2) Don’t pay a lot of money for expensive pots, knives, or specialty equipment.
When I got my own first “real” kitchen, I got so excited about everything I was going to make. Fresh pasta, ice cream, pizza, bread from scratch, you name it, it was going to come out of my kitchen. How often do you suppose I use my pasta machine and ice cream machine? How many times do you suppose I bust out that specialty yogurt maker? If you answered “all of the time!” you are wrong, sir or madam. Also, you don’t understand context clues.
Our great grandmothers made feasts with very little more than a wooden spoon, a bowl, and an oven powered by hope. You can figure out how to make pretty much anything without an expensive tool. And if you think you’re going to start making fresh pasta every week if only you have an awesome machine for it, then you’re the special tool.
3) Taste everything!
You’re cooking because you’re hungry, right? Taste your food! Maybe don’t start eating raw sausage or anything, but the more you know what everything tastes like, the more you can make food you like. Taste the spaghetti sauce before it’s done, see if you like it. If not, try adding stuff to make it better. What do you have to lose? Best case scenario: you make something delicious. Worst case scenario: you poison yourself and die. Haha, no, you won’t die. (But seriously, don’t eat raw meat unless you know it’s safe.) The real worst case scenario is that you’ll make something you don’t like. You can try again.
Do you know what oregano tastes like? What about fresh basil? Have you tried eating zucchini before and after you cook it? For that matter, try eating a clove of raw garlic, and then eat a clove of garlic that’s been roasted in the oven for an hour. Do that once and you’ll never want raw garlic again, but you’ll be eating roasted garlic like it’s popcorn.
4) Use a recipe, but don’t worry too much about it.
A secret that I will impart to you now, for free, is that recipes are more guidelines than actual rules. This is a hard pill to swallow, because taking this advice TOO seriously means you might end up cooking deadly poison. But I’ve seen people pull out their recipe and painstakingly measure everything, taking a ton of time and not having any fun. Because they wanted to make that recipe, they bought every ingredient on the list, even though they’d be stuck with a lot of leftover ingredients they’d never use. Don’t worry about being a little bit over or under a measurement. Don’t worry about substituting ingredients (within reason) if there’s something you’d like more, or if you just don’t have something the recipe calls for.
One of the reasons to cook for yourself is that you can cater your food to your tastes! See something you don’t like in the recipe? Don’t use it!
Credit: Nevit Dilmen
5) Have fun in the kitchen!
Are you enjoying your cooking experience? No? Well you’re not likely to come back to the kitchen and make more delicious food. If you don’t like cooking, take a look at what’s holding you back. There’s very little about cooking that can’t be modified to suit your style.
Maybe you don’t like standing at the stove for hours. Throw a pack of ground beef, a can of tomatoes, some chili powder, and whatever else you have lying around in a crockpot. Come back a few hours later and BAM, it’s chili!
Or maybe you don’t like cleaning up after all the dishes? Bake your dinner in a pouch made out of aluminum foil. It's cheap, easy, and disposable.
Bored of the tedious food preparation? Turn on music or play a TV show in the background. You can play audio books and divert your focus while cooking, it’s not like you’re defusing a bomb.
Making delicious food from scratch isn’t just a way of saving money and being healthier. It’s also about impressing your friends and family and romancing the pants off of whoever you don’t want to be wearing pants. Is your significant other still wearing pants? Get in the kitchen and see what you can do to change that.