Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Tipday: How To Cook Like You Mean It


Preparing meals at home can save you some serious money. I happen to enjoy cooking; trying new recipes and making new dishes out of whatever I have on hand. If you're sort of useless in the kitchen, but want to get the hang of something other than boiling water, you're in luck. Here's how to give good food.

How To Cook Like You Mean It

1) Begin at the beginning. If you only eat at home by opening a box of this or a can of that, you need to get a handle on some basics first. You can get a fancy how-to-cook book from the library and stress out over reading it. But, I think it would be better to watch others cook more than anything else. Find yourself a cooking show you can get into and tune in as often as possible.

2) Start slow. Some of the easiest ways to get comfortable with cooking is to get started with something super simple. Like sandwiches. If all you ever do is slap baloney on bread with mustard, try adding fancy lettuce, a new type of bread or another flavor of mustard. Getting something easy right will give the the courage to try even more new things.

3) Know what you like. One of the keys to creating a good meal is knowing what flavors go together. Whenever you eat out, take your desire to try new foods along and experiment with different flavors, textures and things you haven't had before. It can also be helpful to eat old favorites in new ways, as well. If you think McDonald's has the best burger, go out and try a burger at Red Robin. If you don't already have a handle on it, start a list of all the foods/flavors you like and add to it whenever you find something new.

4) Get those toes wet. Now that you know some stuff the only thing left to do is start cooking. As soon as your favorite chef makes something you like the thought of, that is also easy to prepare, take note. If you're nervous to jump right into making a full blown meal, that's OK. Instead of making the whole dish, try acing part of it: pasta sauce, gravy, grilled fish, cheese sauce...You can always refrigerate or freeze that bit of the dish until you feel ready to tackle the rest.

5) Jump on in. Hey, you mastered that pasta sauce, didn't you? Watch that episode as many times as needed and go ahead and figure out the rest of the meal. Keep in mind that you don't necessarily need a bunch of fancy tools to cook a good meal. You can also substitute some ingredients for others to get the same type of flavor. A quick Google of "what can I use instead of (insert ingredient here)" should take you to other options. And don't be afraid of short cuts. I never buy heavy cream, for instance, instead I use a can of milk and everything turns out fine.

6) Experiment some more. Once you get that first dish down, keep trying. Now might be a good time to get a cookbook that focuses on your favorite type of food and to add to your cooking show watching. Also, take the list of foods/flavors and use it to help you spruce up simple things or create your own things. Found out you like caramelized onions? Find a recipe and add them to that boxed mac 'n' cheese you plan to make.

As someone who makes up dishes a lot I can tell you that you'll get a great meal 95% of the time if you mix ingredients that you enjoy. (Within reason, of course. Chocolate and ketchup on anything would probably be a disaster, you know.) The other 5% of the time, you'll get a good meal. And there's nothing wrong with that!

7) Make your debut. An official dinner party isn't necessary, but letting someone else eat your creations is. To really get comfortable with cooking you'll need some feedback to see what's working or could use some work. Who knows? The person you cook for might be able to help broaden your horizons even more.

8) Keep on truckin'. The first time I tried brown rice I hated it. Hated it so much, in fact, that it took me over 10 years to try the stuff again. But, when I did? I loved it! Now I can't live without it in the cabinet. The message here is to keep trying. Maybe you won't get the appeal of kale the first time you use it. Look for a recipe that has a lot of other things you do like in it and give it another shot. If you still aren't hot on it after that, it's fine to let it go.

I know that's sort of a long list, but it's not that hard to fix a satisfying meal from scratch if you give it a bit of effort. Good luck!

How do you add special touches to simple foods?


JeriWB said...

Hmmm, let's see, been married 14 years and can barely cook. My husband has just always been so much better at making meals ;)

Jon Jefferson said...

I tend to forget at times that others do not live in the kitchen. Even in culinary school I ran across a few people who were afraid to get into the work and see what happens. Which is the key, you just gotta step in and do it.

Leora said...

I suppose I was fortunate to grow up with a mother who taught me to cook. But she had to learn on her own - she often learned the hard way. You are right that perseverance is key. Regarding brown rice, different types of brown rice taste different. And how you cook it varies. I know own a rice cooker specifically for brown rice - that is good stuff, yum!

BroHawk92 said...

I really liked this post. I have been culinarily shy but want to learn how to cook. Good advice for the novice in us!

Thank you for sharing!

Tope Olofin said...

Considering how much I detest the kitchen, these tips might set back on the straight and narrow.

But it is going to be difficult. My sister and I live together. She loves the kitchen, so it even makes this harder!

Scott said...

These are great ideas for a beginner. Something else I would add: find opportunities to cook WITH someone. Most really good cooks are both eager to share food AND knowledge, so figure out which of your friends/family can really get down in the kitchen and ask them to cook a favorite dish or two with you. It will be fun and you'll learn more from this than you can from any recipe book.

Citygirl said...

Jeri: That's one way to do it!

Jon: Too true, like with so many other things in life!

Leora: Thanks to my husband (and a little trial and error) I make brown rice in a rice cooker, too. It's so much easier!

Bro: Glad you liked it. Let me know if the tips help!

Tope: Cooking isn't for everyone. But, if you decide to give it a shot, remember to start with little things and get used to the process. Good luck!

Scott: Of course! How did I not think of that? Cook with someone who likes to cook. Best idea ever, Scott :)


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