New to cooking at home? Fear not. You can do it. People are often intimidated by home cooking. They think, “But, I can’t cook.” Or, “I’m not a very good cook.” Perhaps they’re not adventurous in the kitchen and always make the same thing. Even with the knowledge that it will cost much less, taste better, and be healthier to eat than restaurant food, people are reluctant to cook at home and they don’t do it nearly as often as they’d like. There’s also the, “What will I make for dinner tonight” dilemma.
New to Cooking at Home? Fear Not
But, really, fear not. We all have cooking disasters and some more than others – thinking of mine here! My first cooking disaster happened when my husband and I were first married and I made beans and rice in our slow-cooker that we had received as a wedding gift. After a long day at work, we came home to a meal where every bean and rice kernel was almost the size of a hockey puck! We ate every bite of that “hobo-dinner” as we came to call it and it lasted nearly a week. After that disaster, I decided it was time to look at a cookbook or two and learn how to cook.
To help alleviate some of this cooking at home anxiety, here are a few rules that have helped me over the years. They’re not really rules as much as they are attitudes and letting myself off the hook ideas about cooking.
Cook with foods that are fresh and in season
Even if you don’t consider yourself a good cook (yet – just keep at it), fish is a great place to start. Fresh fish, cooked simply, always tastes good. Look for fresh fish that’s on sale and get some for tonight’s dinner. Don’t know what’s good in your area? Ask someone at the market what they’re buying and how they’re cooking it. I like a cast iron skillet that’s really hot and fish seasoned with salt and pepper – that’s it.
I cooked these boquerones (little white sardines) while in Spain after asking another shopper how she was going to cook them. They were delicious!
Fresh vegetables are an excellent accompaniment to fish and the fresher the better. Again, cooked simply by oven roasting or sauteing in a skillet, with very little effort, dinner is fulfilling and healthy.
Maybe it’s just me but with pork, poultry and beef I can hardly taste the difference whether it’s straight from the market or if it has come out of the freezer after a month or two. When I find Draper Valley Farms chicken on sale at my local market, for example, I buy several and freeze them.
Learn what’s in season where you live. Try cabbage in the winter, corn on the cob and tomatoes during the summer, and squashes in the fall and your meals are bound to taste good.
You’ll also find seasonal produce almost always cost less that non-seasonal. Not only will this help your meals to taste better but you’ll be saving money, too.
Find a go-to meal
Every week, when I meal plan, I schedule a dinner that includes fish, rice, and salad. It’s my go-to meal. We call it “fish-rice-salad” but really it’s a three part meal that takes less than 20 minutes from start to finish.
- Fish: (or some other protein that’s easy, tasty, and healthy) Try chicken, pork or beef, or substitute a meaty-like vegetable such as mushrooms or tofu if you like.
- Rice: Brown rice or quinoa. Both are super good for you and can be easily spiced up with garlic, onions, or broth.
- Salad: A green salad can be dressed with a quick, homemade dressing in minutes. Sauteed greens (kale, Swiss chard, spinach) are another great option. Chop the greens and with onions, garlic, and a splash of fresh lemon at the end of cooking, you’ll be thrilled with the result.
Thinking of cooking this way (a protein, a grain, and a vegetable or salad) takes the edge off what’s for dinner and makes meal planning for what you need from the store much easier.
Cooking – versus more scientific baking – is not rocket science. Check out some recipes that use the main items you like, whether it’s fish, chicken or pork and then emphasize what you, and your family might like. If you like things spicy, put in more or different spices than the recipe calls for. If you like certain flavors (salty, citrus-y, sour) adjust the recipe to account for this. Believe me, experimenting will not mess up your meal. Be adventurous and the food will taste good and then you’ll have delicious leftovers. I like to call leftovers a night off in the kitchen!
Cookbooks and recipes can provide a great meal or inspiration, but they can also add a stress factor, and many times, countless steps that really don’t add that much to the ultimate taste. If there are too many steps in a recipe, I get lazy and skip steps. For example, when making marinara sauce, don’t remove the tomato seeds like many recipes say to do. Why waste them? Just eat them. I also never peel peaches before making a peach pie. Once peaches are in a pie, they’re delicious, skins and all. Plus, have you ever heard anyone complain when they’re eating a pie?
Use several cookbooks and recipes and see what looks good and then take the parts that sound best from each and use them. It’s taken me a while a few years and a little (okay, lots!) of practice, but just like everything else – but the more we do it, the better we get.
What’s your worst cooking disaster? Have you ever had a “hobo-dinner?”
Go Gingham related links:
My food philosophy (who knew there was such a thing!): Food is life
Just say NO to baby carrots – you won’t be sorry – I promise!
Why I cook with pork – as opposed to other meats – in case you were wondering
Could you give up fast food for a year? Find out here