Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Learning to Cook

When hubby and I go out to eat we like to try locally owned, independent restaurants in our area. Recently we have begun to realize that even the most highly recommend restaurants often aren't anything special. This week hubby gave me some insight into why we aren't easily wowed. He said, "you are a great cook and while this stuff (at restaurants) isn't bad, your food is better." How's that for a compliment!

He also made another interesting point that most Americans don't cook. They typically just heat stuff up or eat convenience meals. Most people do not prepare meals from fresh ingredients. I thought he must be right so I looked it up. Only 50% of Americans cook .

So why is it that only 50% of Americans cook? Don't get me wrong, I used to hate to cook. Honestly before I learned to cook I had no real interest in learning to cook or learning to enjoy cooking. Before I met my husband I wasn't a real cook, merely a food warmer. On occasion I made simple things like spaghetti or tacos but those meals mainly involved warming of food. We ate convenience food like frozen pizza or mac and cheese and ate out more than I would've like.

So what has changed in the past 4 years for me? I used to not know how to cook and hated cooking, now I anxiously await my new Food Network magazine, and flip through cookbooks to plan our weekly meals. For me the biggest change has been time. I can't give you more time if you are short on time but I will say if you put a little effort into learning to cook, even on the weekends when you have more time, there are a lot of quick meals that you can put on the table in under 30 minutes for those busy weekday evenings.

The other biggest change for me has been simply trying to learn. As time has passed and as I have become a better and better cook, I enjoy cooking more and more. I think this is like any skill, as you get better it is more enjoyable for you. I also like to eat yummy food so that is a good motivator.

If I can learn to cook, you can learn to cook! Here are my suggestions for getting started:

-Invest in a basic cookbook. I have a go-to cookbook for basic things, mine is the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens has a good basic cookbook, anything that has been around since you were a kid is a good basic resource to have. I won't lie, this cookbook isn't going to wow you, it contains basic recipes. It is a good starting place and a good resource. If I want to make white cake from scratch, I go here first, then branch out after my basic recipe turns out well. If I want a peanut butter cookie recipe, I look here too. Any basic thing can be found here as well as cooking tips, substitutions, cooking times for meats.

-Invest in a quick meal cookbook. Two of my favorites are Rachel Ray 365 No Repeats, and Pampered Chef 29 Minutes to Dinner. Commit to trying 2 new recipes a week from the book you choose. If you don't have a lot of time during the week, cook both weekend nights to start. Your confidence will build over time.

-Menu plan. At least a little bit. I know some people are born planners (like me) and others like to do things last minute. I am not telling you that you have to plan 7 days of meals (though I find that the easiest overall) but do sit down, decide what 2 new meals you are going to try, look through your pantry see what you have, make a list of ingredients you need. Do not be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients. Use the internet to look up the ingredient or even ask the store employees where it is located.

-Do not be afraid of seasoning or spice. I know a lot of people with children are afraid to use spices in their meals. I am telling you, don't. I cook with lots of salt and pepper, jalapenos, serrano peppers, my kids eat it all. I have on occasion made my meals a little hotter than my kids prefer but guess what? It didn't kill them. In lots of other cultures children eat much spicier food and they are fine.

-When learning, it is helpful to do the preparation ahead of time. If onions and peppers needed chopped, do that ahead of time. Overall it may take a bit more time but it will help until you get the timing of the recipe down. Once you are more confident you can chop and prep while other things are cooking. The key to the quick meals is multi-tasking.

-Don't be afraid to modify. I typically start with a recipe as a base and modify things as I see fit. This won't happen at first but as you get more confident feel free to substitute or add as you see fit. It never hurts to try.

I hope that helps some of you who are unsure about cooking or not really interested in learning. If I can do it, you can do it. Just get started, start slow, and you'll be amazed how quickly you make progress. Happy cooking!

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