Cooking for the Non-Cook

I’m writing this entry because I want some of my posts to be practical.  I’m assuming that a considerable portion of my audience are single young adults like me.  Going out into the world “on our own” for the first time usually brings the realization of many things we didn’t realize we didn’t know how to do.  Cooking is often one of those things.  So, if I’m aiming for practicality, what’s more practical than preparing food to eat?

(This post is a continuation of If You Don’t Know How, Then Learn. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to–but it won’t interfere with your understanding of this post if you haven’t.)

I first realized my lack of food-knowledge was a problem when I studied abroad during college.  We were tasked with purchasing and preparing our own food using unfamiliar appliances in a kitchen shared by about 40 people.  (It was England, so the food wasn’t all that unfamiliar, but there’s also a reason England is not known for its food.)  It wasn’t the greatest situation for someone whose cooking experience didn’t go much past grilled cheese.  To get to the point: I gained several pounds, felt gross most of the time, and didn’t really enjoy eating.

When I returned to the States for the summer, I decided to do something about it.  I had a fairly simple, low-stress job for the summer (in other words, the only job I’ve ever had that didn’t involve children/teaching), so I had the time and energy (and my parent’s kitchen) to devote to practicing some basic cooking.  Two of my main strategies were…

  • asking my mom to show me how to make three of her “staple” meals (I don’t remember what they all were, but lasagna was one of them)
  • purchasing and making use of The Healthy College Cookbook, a book I should get commission on because I’ve recommended it to so many people who have also purchased it (many of were well out of college, by the way).  It starts as simple as can be (hard boiled egg, a “recipe” I still check sometimes I can’t remember how long to boil it) without making you feel stupid (no “dummies” in the title).  The recipes are tasty (I just made a mushroom pasta sauce the other day that amazed me), but basic enough that you can learn their “tricks” … including some of my favorites:
    • you can put almost anything in a tortilla, bake it, and call it a quesadilla
    • nonfat plain yogurt most always works as a substitute for mayo (egg salad, anyone?)
    • “pizza” can be made on english muffins and bagels (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it)
    • mushrooms are a tasty meat substitute (but don’t worry, there are lots of meat-based recipes, too)
Once you’re more comfortable with basic recipes, don’t be afraid to try some that are new or a a little more complicated.  Remember…
  • make use of recipe websites (I use most often, but there’s all kinds out there)
  • when you don’t recognize an instruction or an ingredient, google it (once I had to look up what it meant to “julienne” zucchini… and I’m constantly googling substitutions and conversions)

There… how’s that for practical?  If you’d like to share some of your own suggestions or favorite websites, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

By the way, I thought I made up the term “non-cook” just now.  But, as with many ideas thought to be original, google proved otherwise.  My disappointment gave way to amusement, however, when I found this website, Picky Grouchy Non-Cook, complete with descriptions of different non-cook personalities, from “Non-Cook by Comparison Non-Cook” to “Pro Gill Non-Cook.” If you have a few minutes, it’s worth some entertainment and some commiseration-styled encouragement.

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