Between the growing interest in food and the Pandemic, so many more people are cooking at home. Those things combined will lead to more interest in cooking from scratch, going from base ingredients to finished dishes that make you proud to set before others. But some people are still relying on prepared foods and boxed mixes. They are afraid of cooking from scratch. Their heads fill with images of grandmothers clad in aprons standing in front of the stove all day. There was a time when that was an accurate image, but not anymore. Today, all of us need to know how to cook without recipes and premeasured ingredients.
Anyone Can Cook
Most of us have eaten in a nice restaurant. We have marveled at the beauty of many of those dishes set before us or in front on dinner companions. And when we put on that apron in our own kitchens, we want our dishes to look like those. And it’s not just looks. We want them to taste like the best food we’ve ever eaten in a restaurant or at our mother’s house.
Chefs go to school, most of them, to learn how to look at food differently, at how to use ingredients to complicate flavor that stimulates the mouth and the mind. They learn how to make food fabulous.
But all you have to do is feed yourself. Anything more is gravy. Sure, it’s fun to make a really good meal once in a while. In fact, I recommend you do that at least once a week. It will help you grow as a cook and give you some really great food at the same time. If you push that fear of failure and know even professionals have to call it quits on a dish that went wrong you will amaze yourself with the quality of food you can make and how good it will taste.
Simple Is Best
You’ll see this principle all over the place. Keep it simple. Life is complicated enough already. That should guide you through the whole process. That doesn’t mean you can never stretch out to try new things. It doesn’t mean you have to rely on pre-made foods and take-out. Start with your ingredients. They should be the best quality you can afford. Not everyone can buy top notch ingredients all the time. Buying dried pasta instead of making your own is okay. Just don’t reach for box of neon orange cheese flavored macaroni, it’s filled with extra fat, sugar and salt.
There is nothing wrong with making simple food. You should make that simple food as good as you can. Learning how to cook, learning about food, and learning about different cooking techniques can make even simple dishes into something to savor.
And don’t get hung up on trends or good intentions. Committing to only organic foods or nothing fried is only limiting your choices and your enjoyment of what is both a necessity and a pleasure. Buying only local, in-season produce is great if you live near Southern and Central California, our nation’s primary food growing region. But there’s nothing wrong with frozen and, in some cases, canned ingredients when they aren’t in season for the rest of us. Over time you will develop your skills and tastes to make eating more than just nourishment.
Cooking From Scratch Can Be Affordable
It has always been a mystery to me why processed foods that come in a box cost more than if you were to buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch. But then when you look at the ingredients, you see that many of the ingredients are not something you would find on your local grocery store shelf. In other words, so much of what’s in that food is not really food. Who eats guar gum?
But look at it this way. Eating real food from scratch is healthier, saving you money on medical bills later on in life. Also, because it’s so hard to make little meals for one or two, you can make a full recipe and then have leftovers for quick meals throughout the week. So while you might pay more for all the ingredients, you’ll save money in the long run with better tasting, healthier meals for the whole week. You can prepare ingredients to put together quickly later on and also freeze some for later. The rest can go in a soup.
Have Fun, Gain Confidence
Many people, myself included, have been taught to clean our plates. We have been taught to put others ahead of ourselves. We are taught that anything else is selfish and, therefore, bad. Selfishness can indeed be bad. But there’s a difference between that and being just as kind to ourselves as we are to others. I discovered in the kitchen that I could cook just as well as everyone else I knew. No, I wasn’t a chef. But I was a good cook. That made me more confident to keep trying to get better. I was not only feeding my body, but my mind and soul as well.
That’s what makes food and cooking so exciting to some of us. It’s the fact that food is more than mere fuel, it’s also emotion, creativity, ingenuity, knowledge, faith and love. It is so much more than food.
Have fun in your own kitchen. It’s one of the few places we all can be ourselves, without pretension. Treat yourself right. And start by making good food that you like.
Every cook has had a disaster in the kitchen. Every person has somehow spoiled food. It can be simple, like forgetting to put something away properly. Or it can very complex, like managing to feed yourself when you have little money or few resources. Sometimes you eat steak, sometimes instant ramen. Never judge someone else’s cooking until you’ve cooked in their kitchen. Our refrigerators are a mirror of ourselves. So, that lonely jar of mustard might show we aren’t taking care of ourself.
Food is usually central to any celebration. It brings people together and reminds us that we are all the same in the end. It can be the joy of life, or make the bad times a little more bearable.