A while back I happened upon this blog post, which basically instructs the reader on how to manage cooking for yourself, without eating things that only come out of a can or box, while having absolutely no clue to what you’re doing.
I realized that even though, yes, of course, eating at home is cheaper, the primary obstacle for most people is that cooking at home is about as familiar as Abu Dubai. It takes a long time to get up to speed if you weren’t raised to be a cooking adult; I grew up on McDonald’s, convenience-store ice-cream Snickers and bagels (through no fault of my mother’s–she was an awesome cook, but I was stubborn and unteachable).
I agree with most of her points, but having ventured further and further into culinary utopia as of late, I figured I’d let you, gentle reader, in on a few additional things I’ve picked up along the way.
First, run – don’t walk – to your local bookstore and pick up The Joy of Cooking. There is a reason it’s been around as long as it has, and why it’s been one of the most popular bridal shower gifts for women who’re traditionally setting up their own kitchens for the first time. It’s that good. In fact, of the dozens of cookbooks I currently own, it’s the only one that’s NEVER yeilded a recipe that makes more of its way to the dog’s stomach than mine.
Still not sold? It’s so good that someone else decided it was respectable enough to model one of the world’s most well-known sex books after it. It contains every single thing you ever wanted to know about every ingredient you will ever encounter, and then some. Do you have it yet? No? Why are you still reading this – I SAID GO! I’ll be here when you get back.
Now that you’ve torn yourself away from your new book, I’ve got a couple other tips for you:
Even though the author of the aforementioned post advocates for it, DO NOT under any circumstances, EVER purchase a George Foreman Grill. EVER. The worst crime against food this particular appliance commits is its temperature. You can not regulate it. The grill is either on, or off, and leaves the cook little to no recourse for combatting the tough, leathery outer layer to her meats, shielding the raw inside from being adequately heated through.
Anything you may want to do with a GF Grill, you can do better on a stovetop griddle (or even in a frying pan) or on a charcoal or gas grill outside. An attentive hand and a well-chosen non-stick pan or two will serve you far better in the long run.
If you are going to splurge on an appliance, make it a food processor. They can be had for as little as $50 for a brand-new low-end model, and is considered an “essential” by most chefs I know. While you can use a hand-mixer, or even a strong arm and a whisk as a substitute for a stand-mixer, your oven can serve the same functions as most BBQs or toasters, and a four-sided grater can do the work of about 6 other (expensive) tools, the Food Processor has no substitute and is called for (or will save a great amount of time) in a lot of recipes. Bonus: It can also do the same jobs as a blender.
One thing I do agree with Jen on though. is that she’s absolutely bang-on when she goes over steps instructing new cooks to familiarize themselves with their local farmer’s market, butcher and fishmonger. These people are invaluable resources for fresh food, and can help instruct you on what’s in season and how to prepare most any of their products.
A great tip for the locals: Edible British Columbia offers a series of Marketplace Tours in the key “food” areas of Vancouver: Granville Island, Chinatown, Commercial Drive, and (in season) the Richmond Night Market. For the price of a good meal in a good restaurant, you’ll not only get lunch, but a guided tour of one of these locations, where you’ll be informed of and introduced to the best local vendors, and ideas of how to find ingredients and prepare great, local cuisine.
Eat local, eat in-season, and suddenly your entire world will turn topsy turvy and the words Kraft Dinner and Pizza Pop will all but vanish from your regular vocabulary.
The best tip for a new cook though, is one I’ve never read ANYWHERE and something I’ve had to establish all on my own: If you don’t like it, THROW IT AWAY.
I know you’ve probably been lectured since you were wee that wasting food is a very big no no, and you may even be feeling the pinch in your own pocketbook. I understand. But there is absolutely no sense in forcing down something awful. Tossing it will also help you move forward faster, toward culinary greatness!
If you completely botch a recipe and subsequently force yourself to eat something you completely dislike, you’ll suffer through an unbearable meal, and feel not only ill, but discouraged that your attempts at feeding yourself only lead to discomfort.
If instead you toss the offending dish, you will feel bad about throwing it away and wasting food and money, but you will also be much more likely to pay closer attention to what you did wrong, and think about how to remedy or avoid it next time.
You could even take the 5 minutes you’re waiting for the water for your ramen noodles (which you keep in the back of the cupboard for such an occasion) to boil, to google “how to fix dropping the entire box of salt in the soup” which will yield you the expert advice of thousands of cooks who’ve gone there before, and suggest throwing some potatoes into the mix to absorb the sodium.
Above all, don’t be afraid to try something new, pick up an ingredient that sounds utterly unfamiliar, and expand your cooking and eating horizons. You have nothing to lose but your Big Macs.