Of course you can cook! I mean, you totally toast bread every morning, and yeah sure, it sometimes burns a bit, but that’s nothing a bit of peanut butter can’t cover up. And how about those knife skills? You’re probably the world’s best spreader of all time if, in fact, there was some way to measure that. Jelly, butter, honey, you name it!
Okay, let’s get real. You can’t cook. Better yet, it’s not that you can’t cook, it’s more that you have yet to realize your cooking potential. You’re simply a bit clueless in the kitchen. Whether you’ve been depending on your mother or dining hall chefs all these years, at one time or another it’s going to catch up with you, and you’re going to have to set foot in that kitchen and get cooking! You’ll be surprised with how fast it is to acquire the basic skills needed to assemble a healthy, hearty, and appetizing meal. So get over your kitchen phobia, or your general indifference, and harness yourself with these suggestions. In no time you’ll be skipping the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars to critique Rachael Ray’s rendition of chicken cordon bleu on The Food Network.
Introduce yourself to the kitchen.
If the kitchen conjures images of, well, this:
…you’re not alone. But c’mon, really? You know how to press buttons, to read “high”, “medium”, and “low”, and you most certainly learned caution techniques when your pre-school teacher instructed you to look left and right before crossing the street. The kitchen may be foreign ground to you, but it is navigable, and if you take the time to look at the different devices, there’s no reason why any of their functions should surprise you. Have patience, use common sense, and relax! You’re going to mess up a lot before you reach success in the kitchen, so give yourself some leeway and use the time to get comfortable. You won’t burn the house down (hopefully), but before you get it right the next time, you might overcook your meat, undercook your pasta, or realize two hours too late that your cake hadn’t been cooking at all.
- The knife takes the lead in this play. Cooking involves a lot of chopping, dicing, and cutting, and having a good knife makes a world of difference. Slicing with the suaveness of Wolfgang Puck is half skill, half fancy-schmancy knife. Yours doesn’t have to break the bank to be good though! You can buy online for as low as $20.
- Respect the surface! You can pick one up for as low as $5-15.
- Just imagine all the smoothies you can make for breakfast, the shakes you can make for lunch, and the ice cream you can make for dessert. Check this out for some creative, delicious recipes.
Pots and Pans
- Pasta, rice, and soups. Can’t do them without these guys.
- We aren’t cavemen.
- Store food you make in plastic containers to take with you to work for lunch or to save leftovers. Go to your local pharmacy and pick up reusable Tupperware.
There are some spices, herbs, and condiments that are absolutely necessary, such as salt and pepper, and others that I would suggest depending on the kind of food you most often cook.
Italian fare: oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme
Middle-Eastern fare: paprika, red pepper flakes, mint, parsley, turmeric, saffron
Mexican fare: cumin, chili powder, cilantro
Asian fare: white pepper, ginger, mustard seed, soy sauce
Indian fare: curry, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron, anise
As a general rule, one teaspoon of dried herbs substitutes one tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Always keep your refrigerator stocked with the foods you eat every day. Make sure to always have healthy snacks available, such as baby carrots, grapes, and yogurt, and versatile ingredients, such as salad greens, garden vegetables, fruit, eggs, and cheese. Buy in bulk to keep shopping expenses at a minimum.
The key to salads is the dressing. Let’s face it, greens are boring unless paired with a delicious dressing, and you can change it up to make them taste entirely different each day. For example, a classic salad dressing consists of lemon juice and olive oil. If you substitute the lemon juice with balsamic vinegar, though, suddenly you have an Italian-inspired salad with a more complex taste. Little tweaks like that will make the ultimate difference. Often, you can create consistency in your meal by marinating your meat in whatever dressing you use for your salad.
Remember, you eat with your eyes first! Salad is all about color and variety. Instead of loading on the calorie-dense croutons, cheeses, and dense bottled dressings for taste, try adding color to create a more visually appetizing meal. Add red with tomatoes, yellow with bell peppers, purple with red onion, and green with avocadoes. Your salad will look like a work of art and your taste buds will love it!
The key to cooking beef, chicken, and fish is to lock in the moisture! No one likes chewing dry meat. First, marinate your choice of meat in some olive oil, lemon juice, and desired spices. While you prepare other aspects of your meal, let the meat sit and marry with all the flavors in the marinade. Bring a pan to medium high heat, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, and cook the beef or chicken on each side for 3-5 minutes. This is called “searing”. You are essentially creating an outer coat on the meat that will prevent the juices from escaping while you bake it. While searing the meat, you don’t actually cook it all the way through. After searing both sides, you take the pan and pop it in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat is cooked all the way through. The amount of time depends on the thickness and type of meat. Usually it’s about 10-20 minutes.
Fish, on the other hand, cooks much quicker than chicken and beef. You can sear fish, especially the meatier types, such as salmon, halibut, and cod, but generally you can just bake them in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. While cooking, try to see for yourself when your meat is ready. Eventually, you’ll acquire the intuition to realize when to pop that baby in and out of the oven with ease.
Baking is easy in that if you follow the recipe you have word-for-word, there is no way you can mess up! Once you are more comfortable baking, you can tweak recipes to your liking based on your experience in the kitchen. I like to tweak traditional recipes to make them healthier. I’ll replace egg yolks with egg whites, butter with oil, sugar with agave nectar, and white flour with wheat flour. I’ll also add nuts, dried fruits, and dark chocolate to some recipes to make the flavors more complex and exciting! Go here for some inspiration.
Ready, set, cook!
The kitchen is a place of trial and error, experimentation, and adventure. Yes, you’ll fail. But you’ll also succeed. No matter what, though, you’ll always have fun! Check out the recipes below to get you started!
This salad is perhaps my favorite.
- 1 avocado
- ½ cup salsa
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup diced red onion
- 1 thinly diced garlic clove
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- Juice of ½ lime
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Greens (romaine lettuce or spinach)
Mash the avocado into a mush with the back of a fork in a salad bowl. Fold in remaining ingredients. With clean hands, massage the mixture into salad greens until each leaf is evenly coated. Serves 2.
This recipe is wonderful because the dressing has the density of ranch dressing and will fill you up without packing on the pounds.
Chocolate Banana Ice Cream
- 3-4 peeled bananas, frozen
- ½ chocolate bar
In blender, blend the frozen bananas until fluffy in consistency. Add the chocolate bar to give the ice-cream surprise chunks of deliciousness!
Tip: You can also add cocoa powder to make the ice-cream even more chocolate-y. If you’d also like it to be sweeter, add 1-3 tablespoons of honey.