Cooking really isn’t that hard. Such a proclamation coming from me is quite the statement. Until a year ago, I had never fully cooked a single meal of my own volition. I’ve worked in concessions and on part of a line at a cafe, but never actually COOKED. Why then the nonchalance? After giving it a try, I must confess… I’ve found a certain love for cooking that I never thought was possible for a guy like me. Cooking in and of itself isn’t hard, its just uncomfortable at first – scary even.
The difficult part of cooking comes in the form of coming up with an idea for something to cook that isn’t just pasta or pizza bagels (something I used to make in high school when asked to eat something other than a microwaveable meal.)
My mom tried to get everyone in the house to cook once a week, but this never really caught on and mostly consisted of a few basic dishes with rather pitiful variations. Pasta with red sauce and pasta with white sauce did not make for a Michelin chef in the kitchen and, needless to say, my weekly cooking night was taken off the menu.
Lately though, my family has revisited the idea, and in my attempt to Do More, I’ve applied the same methods in cooking as I have in the past two years for other projects. So far, in conjuncture with my dad (who is always willing to help, but perhaps a bit too heavy-handed with the red pepper) we have created over two dozen full meals with little direction.
So how have we done it? In all honesty, I’m the least creative person in the kitchen. My pallet is lacking compared with the average person, and yet these last few months have been quite the adventure.
The secret? I’ll boil it down into 4 steps (pun intended):
1. Come up with an Idea. There are plenty of apps and websites that will take every item in your kitchen and provide you with a full list of dishes that you have the resources to make.
Lately I’ve been using SuperCook because I can input the kind of meat I want to use, along with anything and everything I find around the kitchen, search, and Bam – Recipes. I’ve also found AllRecipies and Betty Crocker to be super useful for brainstorming.
2. Do your research. It pays to know the basics before you take on a Gordon Ramsey status dish!
I personally look up 2-3 recipes for the same dish, and read through the entire process – or watch a video first – even before pulling out a singe ingredient! It also helps to Google every term you don’t understand and get familiar with the common mistakes people make. It certainly helps to have a pro around to observe and answer any questions you might have, but once the ball gets rolling, there’s really not much to simple, at home cooking – after all, this isn’t MasterChef.
3. Don’t go for broke. This is not a “go big or go home” situation. The first time you cook, you might want to consider something simple… like steamed veggies and pasta, not a medium rare Beef Wellington followed by a perfect chocolate souffle. In an attempt to change course halfway through an evening, I’ve over salted, under-cooked, burned, and wasted my fair share of dishes. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” “Less is more.” Sound familiar?
For total beginners with no clue what is hard and what is do-able, try House and Garden’s “50 Recipes Everyone Should Know” or Noob Cook for starters.
4. Keep Cooking! There’s no greater heartbreak for me than to watch others politely inform me that a portion of the meal I’ve just cooked them is in some way inadequate. But, on the other hand, there is no greater joy than absolutely nailing a dish! Don’t cook for company your first time in the kitchen, but do cook for a few friends or family members every so often for honest feedback. You might be surprised to find that you really CAN Cook. According to my mother, “Anyone can throw a few ingredients together. Just read the instructions, do what it says, and that’s it.” (Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that, but I think she was just trying to downplay how awesome of a cook she really is.)
In hindsight, the biggest change from our previous attempts has been motivation. Doing anything new comes with its own unique set of challenges and that naturally leads to certain degree of fear. Whether it be a fear of failure or rejection or something else completely, consider the fact that billions of people have learned to cook – many with far fewer ingredients or fancy appliances.
So you want to learn to cook? Start cooking.