Cooking Tips For A Newbie
I was a clueless cook
Luckily, when I was young, both my parents cooked, which meant I benefited from yummy, home cooked healthy meals on a regular basis. While I enjoyed eating these meals, I never really learned how to make them, so besides being able to scramble an egg, make a cheese sandwich, make toast, and bake a cake (probably from a box), when I got married my cooking skills were sorely lacking. Here I was, used to eating healthy, flavorful food, now being subjected to the frozen pizzas and corn dogs left over from my husband's college food habits. It was okay for a little while, but then I felt something was missing. My body longed for that home cooked food it was used to, not the crap I was eating now. I was weighing more and feeling worse.
I decided someone had to do something about this. That someone would have to be me. Or so I thought. I tried a stew...fail. The stew had absolutely no flavor and the meat was tough. Then I tried a macaroni and cheese recipe from my mother in law..double fail. My first attempt at my mother in law's awe inspiring home made macaroni and cheese recipe resulted in crunchy noodles. I tried it again right after the first failure...and made the same mistake AGAIN. Crunchy noodles. I should have had the recipe in writing because I clearly missed something. "It's not so bad", my husband said as we both ate it anyway. Crunch, crunch, crunch. It was a smart thing for him to say, but I was still livid. Nothing makes me madder than working so hard to prepare a meal and have it turn out like dog food. Cooking a decent meal couldn't be this hard. I had to figure this out.
How I Eventually Learned to Cook Something Edible
I was young and newly married, so of course I was enjoying my freedom and did not want much to do with my folks, but I was desperate for a good meal that did not come from a box or a can and was made of ingredients I could pronounce. I started calling my mother... a lot. I learned that to make a good stew, you had to brown the meat in oil, and brown it well, but don't burn it. This required some vigilance. I also had to use lots of seasoning, more than I thought I would need. Then liquid needed to be added to the meat and allowed to cook for two to five hours, depending on what kind of meat it was, in order for it to not be associated with beef jerky. I found out on more than one occasion that this required vigilance too. If all the water boiled out, the meat would burn up, thus resulting in more dog food...if the dog was starving. Then there was the roux, or gravy making ingredient, which is made of flour and water and stinks up the house for days when you make it. After doing this for 10 years, now I know to cook my flour with the sauteed meat for a while before adding the water in order to keep my house stench free. It's never too late to learn something valuable.
Other than calling my mother on a regular basis, I needed some recipes too, and lots of them. I bought a Southern Living Cookbook, which I still love, and found several recipes from the internet that looked good. Then I followed them to a tee. I made notes on them if something did not work to my liking. If I had a muffin recipe that turned out too sweet and stuck to the pan, I would make a note to cut back the sugar, use sprayed muffin liners, and possibly decrease the oven temperature or cooking time. There are some recipes that are perfect, but most of them need a little tweaking for your individual taste.
Persistence is another thing that helped me. Did I want to give up after the crunchy noodles? Yes. I wanted to throw them across the room. Glad I didn't though. It wouldn't have solved anything. What did solve a lot of my problems was trying again and again until I got it right. Once I had the proper instruction, I actually made the noodle recipe many times again and with excellent results. I also tried lots of new recipes and had some that were great just as they were. I had some I never wanted to try again. For most of them, though, I made a few notes here and there, then I gave those notated recipes a second chance. It finally started to come together. After being so frustrated, it was a welcome feeling for my soul and my stomach to get something right. My husband began giving me compliments on my cooking that were genuine (I could tell when they weren't) and I became more confident and satisfied with my cooking abilities.
How to Improve Your Cooking - In a Nutshell
So, the three things I would recommend doing if you are a cooking newbie are the following:
1. Call people you know who cook well and beg them to give you some tips. These people are usually family members or older people who have been cooking for years. They have already been through their own dog food stage of life and have learned a thing or two about avoiding that situation.
2. Find recipes that interest you. While you are busy asking friends and family for recipe tips, ask them for their favorite recipe while you're at it. Then look for your own. There are so many recipe books that this may be a little overwhelming. Start with something that has a bit of everything and you can hone in on your interests after that. If you find that you love a crock pot recipe for the convenience it provides, it may benefit you to purchase a recipe book that only contains recipes for the crock pot. If you like eating healthy or only like salads, there are recipe books for that too. Instead of purchasing books, the internet is a great free resource for some tasty recipes as well. It helps to look for recipes that have already been rated by home cooks. Look for recipes that have high ratings by a large number of people. These tend to be better. The review comments can be helpful too, as several people use substitutions. I usually bookmark my internet recipe finds and save them to a folder for easy access.
3. Put those tips and recipes to use. If you fail, even though you want to tear your hair out, try again. I know the feeling well, a crazy little growling dog chasing its tail. You see it, it's right in front of you, but you just can't capture it. It will get better. Once you get through psycho dog stage and have a successful cooking venture, you will know you can do this. Then, if you can do it once, you can do it again, even if it takes more than a spoonful of patience.
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© 2015 Angela Flanders