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So, for my whole life I have lived alone. All I had to do was fend for myself culinarily with Ramen Noodles, string cheese, seltzer water and cheap vodka.
But, recently, my boyfriend moved in (along with his dog, then I adopted two cats three weeks ago...that's right 0 to 4 in like two seconds...all of them boys).
And I realized....I'm gonna have to start cooking.
No, it wasn't that bad. Actually, I want to start cooking. When my grandfather died, he left me all of his cookbooks, which was a very significant collection. My boyfriend also came with a big box of cookbooks his mother passed on to him. Also, I have done some extensive traveling in the past couple of years. I have been all over Eastern and Western Europe, staying with random families and friends along the way, and most of them have shared their recipes with me. In fact, the first recipe I cooked (probably ever besides apple pies on Thanksgiving) was Menemen...an egg recipe I ate for breakfast every day while I was in Turkey. Granted, it's not very hard to get correct, but still.
So my dilemma is....How do you start cooking? How do you budget time and money while still creating new things in the kitchen? How do you use enough vegetables? And most importantly...how can I use these cookbooks to the best of my abilities...I mean really get use out of them? I have dreams of them being annotated with notes, covered in flour, dog-eared and highlighted.
I owe it both to my grandfather, my mother, and this man now consuming half of my paycheck.
Find a recipe that sounds good to you, get the ingredients, and make it. Later, you may be able to take several cookbooks, compare the recipes, combine them into a recipe of your own, etc., but you are going to have to be comfortable with cooking first.
If you're the type of person who is capable of making a detailed plan and sticking to it, making a detailed menu for what you'll make/eat for each meal for a week/fortnight is extremely helpful for shopping and budgeting purposes. Sadly, I'm too impulsive to make this work for me.
Finally, make sure you're equipped. The state of most people's knives is atrocious, not to mention dangerous. Get some decent tools and learn how to take care of them.
ETA I meant basic tools, like MrsLee said. Not fancy specialized or electric equipment generally, although an immersion blender is awfully handy. I meant knives, cutting board, measuring utensils, cooking utensils, etc.
I buy spices in the Mexican food section of our supermarket. They come in bags and are much less expensive than those in the bottles and cans. Pick a type of cuisine you want to focus on to learn the basics and stock up on those products. You will not have to buy as many different spices then, and they won't go to waste languishing in your cupboard.
I started with family recipes and Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking. I read through the cookbook, then started trying the recipes. They have a lot of instructions as to why you do certain things with the food and what all the terms mean but it didn't talk down to me, plus I've never made anything that wasn't good out of it. I'm sure there are lots of other cookbooks just as fine. Then, I just started reading cookbooks and eating food from cuisines I liked. That gave me a base for comparison. Watch out though. Once you start getting good at this, it will be difficult to find a restaurant you really enjoy the food in. :)
As for budgeting, watch the sales on meat, learn to use your freezer. Shop seasonally for vegetables and fruit. Stay away from prepared spices and sauces and mixes. Get some good quality storage containers for the freezer and pantry. Freezer ziplocs are your friend.
HAVE FUN! :)
We've all had a few Ooops! in our time. Anyone who cooks will attest to that. Eventually you will find that you have a few favorite recipes you make again and again and they get easier each time so that eventually you are comfortable experimenting with them.
When I first learned to cook, I had an aversion to touching raw meat with my bare hands! I'm well over that now because cooking is so much a hands-on experience.
Get a good cast-iron frying pan and season it well. Keep it seasoned and make it your best friend and it will never let you down. I have several different sizes. It is good for getting a good brown colour on meat, and they say it also adds iron to foods which we all can use. I would give up almost anything else in my kitchen before I'd give up my cast-iron pans. Their one drawback is that they're heavy.
Some suggestions for recipes:
Shepherd's Pie - a fair bit of work, but I've never had a person of the male species complain about this comfort food. (After my divorce, my ex called to ask for the recipe...please? LOL)
Stir-fry - Easy and quick and you don't NEED to use a wok. A frying pan will work just as well.
Tonight, I am making spaghetti with turkey meatballs...my first meatball! Will take a pic if it looks all right.
I think chicken is a really easy place to start. Learn how to roast an amazing chicken (which is not only delicious but looks really impressive) and you can have the centerpiece of any dinner.
Right now my favorite chicken recipe is:
1 cut up chicken with skin (cut breast in half to ensure even cooking) + olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper + whatever potatoes and onions or fruit you have on hand
Into a 450 degree oven for 50 minutes and you're done. You can use peaches and plums when they are in season for something a little sweet. Lemons jazz up pretty much anything. Just toss it all together and spread it out in a dish so that the skin is facing up.
When I am by myself, I like to have my own Iron Chef For One challenges where I have to create a whole dinner based only on ingredients I have in the house. As I have been living in New York City the past four years and hardly ever go to the grocery store, I have came up with some pretty strangely satisfying dishes based on a stray acorn squash or chicken breast.
In the end, sometimes you mess up and your food is dry or tastes bland, but you live and you learn and you become a better cook every time you do it.