When I was little, I remember my mom cooking a lot. She canned her own tomatoes and peaches, from our backyard garden. She and Dad crocked pickles with homegrown cucumber and dill. I remember her grinding her own meat by hand in this meat-grinder thing, for spaghetti sauce and meat loaf (which may explain my meat aversion). She simmered giant pots of homemade soups and stocks. She even made her own noodles!
But as I got older, so did Mom. The 1970’s and 1980’s brought the onslaught of processed and convenience foods, which were a dream-come-true for tired Mommas everywhere—and my tired (and often sick) Momma took full advantage of meals in a box. She began to simplify dinners for her growing teens and college students—who were often going in 7 different directions. She eventually passed the baton to daughters and daughters-in-law for all-things-holiday. She gave up cooking entirely by the time I graduated from high school.
When I got married at the age of 25, my cooking skills amounted basically to being able to follow the directions on the back of a Rice-a-Roni package. And I could make a mean toaster waffle.
I remember Newlywed Sandy complaining to her best friend Lisa (who was and still is—along with her husband—an outstanding cook) that I had no idea how to prepare dinner for my new husband (aside from Rice-a-Roni and toaster waffles). Her advice was simple: “Just follow recipes!”
That was over 18 years ago, and the beginning of my cooking journey. Read: a lot of trial and error. And error. And error. Think dried out meat, bland soups, soggy crusts and overly cooked veggies.
If that’s you—if you WANT to know how to cook, but you aren’t quite sure where to start, let me offer you a few tips that worked, and still work, for me.
1. Follow Recipes: This is the best advice I could have received. I think this is the only way to learn how to combine and prepare ingredients so they taste good. If you are a beginner, resist the urge to modify the recipe the first time you make it. (I still make almost all recipes the first time exactly as written—but I’m slightly OCD that way.) From there, you can jot down notes and make adjustments for next time. Where are some good places to find recipes?
a. Cookbooks: (I know, Captain Obvious here. Sorry if this post is too deep for you to keep up.) If you are just starting out, you will benefit greatly from cookbooks with many pictures—especially pictures that show you how the dish should look at different stages of preparation. Even in this age of technology, I still love me a good cookbook. I probably have 20 cookbooks that I use often.
b. Internet: Of course, 18 years ago, we didn’t even own a computer, so cooking websites were not an option. But now, you don’t have to spend a dime on a cookbook if you don’t want to. There are millions (!) of great websites full of delicious recipes. You can also watch video demos on YouTube—which is so cool, if you need to learn technique. My favorite recipe site is All-Recipes—I always start there. Namely because of the sheer volume of recipes in one place AND the reviews (which I always browse) from people who have actually made the recipe before me.
c. Food Network: If any one thing has revolutionized cooking in a positive way in my lifetime, it’s the Food Network. It is truly one of the best ideas ever, right there next to coffee makers with timers and TIVO and spandex in jeans. If you are a novice, watch shows like 30-Minute Meals and Everyday Italian. These ladies make normal, easy-to-prepare, family-friendly food. And you can watch the process and technique, which I think is vital in learning to love the art of cooking.
d. Friends: Some of my best recipes, I’ve gotten from friends after they’ve made them for me. Don’t be shy if about asking. Most good cooks love sharing their recipes.
2. Take Notes: I write on every recipe I make. If my family hated it, I don’t want to accidentally make it again. If my family loved it, I want to make sure I stick that one in the meal rotation. Sometimes, I liked a recipe a lot, but I needed to do some tweaking to make it work for my family—I write all of that down, right there next to the recipe.
3. Tab Your Favorites: Any post-it note will do. This is self-explanatory, is it not?
4. Organize the Recipes you Want to Try or Make Again: I am sure there are all sorts of creative and fancy ways to organize recipes. I’m fairly archaic. I prefer paper over these new-fangled things called computers. And my creativity is pretty much limited to stringing words together, not making pretty recipe holders. Therefore, if I’m not using a cookbook, I like to print out my recipes and keep them in one of these-here-fancy-schmancy accordian folders. I am sure there are nifty ways to organize them electronically on my new-fangled computer. But that’s too techie for me.
5. Keep a Running List of Meals that Worked Well: Sometimes, you’ll sit down to do your meal plan, and your mind will go blank. That’s when you can pull out your handy-dandy Meal Idea List. I write down almost every meal that my family likes a lot. Sometimes, I even jot down what side dishes go especially well with a main dish. I forget those things, don’t you? You don’t? Never mind, then. Moving on….
6. Create Your Own Dishes: Yes, believe it or not, you will make it to this point some day. It won’t be long, and you will start getting a good feel for what flavors work well together–which ones your family says, “Wow! What did you put in this?” (in a good way) When that happens, you may be tempted to try to create something without Rachel Ray’s assistance. I say, go for it! What’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s terrible and you throw it out, that’s what. Who cares? That’s why God created take-out. But maybe, you will stumble upon something delicious! If you do, be sure to write it down, and put it in your fancy-schmancy accordion folder. You’ll think you’ll remember it…but you won’t. Well, I won’t. Maybe you will. Write it down anyway. Trust me on this.
Now that I have a few years of cooking under my belt (ha! Get it? Under my belt? I didn’t even say that one on purpose, but it was funny!) I feel extremely confident in the kitchen. Confident enough to try to recreate some of Mom’s old recipes. Confident enough to create new recipes of my own. And confident enough to pass this cooking tradition on to my own children—and to you, via the new-fangled Internet.
My prayer for you today is that you don’t have to rely on Rice-a-Roni as your go-to side dish, neither today, nor for all eternity. That you would feel bold and fearless as you try your hand at cooking. And that God would kindly deactivate your spouse’s taste buds as you experiment in the kitchen. Amen.
Q4U: What tips would you give someone just starting out? If you ARE just starting out, what scares you the most about cooking?
I’m over half-way there!
This week was a challenge on every level. Which is why I’m
surprised shocked to see I lost more weight and inches. I actually ordered dessert last Friday night (I said I wasn’t doing that until I was done with P90X2, but it was a macadamia-nut-brownie thingie topped with vanilla ice cream and real whipped cream!). Anyway, it was huge. Like for-3-people huge. My husband wanted the key lime pie and absolutely refused to help a girl out, so I ate the entire thing. I could have pushed it away after the first third, or the second third…but I didn’t. I consumed all of it. All three thirds.
Not beating myself up. Just keepin’ it real. Because, dude, that dessert was delicious. But, just remember, there’s always a price to pay for too much delicious. I think that’s in the book of Ecclesiastes.
In addition to that, I did extra snacking and indulging here and there the entire week, had a few unexpected nights where we had to buy dinner on the go and eat much too late. A lot of “life” happened in my home this week (stressful, yucky life) which meant my workouts were compromised also.
This is when it starts to unravel for some people. They eat too much. Or too much of the wrong thing. They miss a workout or two. They get busy. And stressed. Then discouraged. Then they fold.
Don’t do it.
Over the course of months, a few days is just a blip in the radar. It won’t matter as much as it seems it does right now. Just keep showing up and doing your best. Cook yourself something healthy and light from one of your new cookbooks. Go put on some workout clothes and sweat. That’s what I intend to do.
Have a fabulous weekend everyone!
Linking up with my friend Jill Conyers! Go check out her Fitness Friday Blog Hop!