Cooking for Beginners

roasted-chicken

Much like language and religion, food is one of the great social unifiers. Eating is a necessary part of life, but food is so much more than just the solution to hunger pangs. It’s more than just a pyramid or how much of what you should put where on your plate.

It brings people together and creates conversations. Food evokes memories and comfort. It is the cornerstone of our holiday celebrations and reminds us of home. We break bread and forge bonds. Our eating habits and ingredient choices reflect where we come from, and how people persevere and adapt.

Families who eat dinner together have overall better physical and psychological well-being. The more frequently students eat with their families, the better they do in school and the less likely they are to abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol. Our world moves and changes so quickly, and it’s important to take every opportunity to enjoy the company of family and friends. Mealtime is the allotted space within our day to sit down, relax, and conversate.

In the speed and efficiency of our world, it’s easy to pick something up on the way home and turn on the TV once we get there. If you’re doing this every day, believe me, you’re missing out! I’m an advocate for cooking at home because food you prepare yourself is typically both cheaper and healthier than anything you could pick up. And even if you swear you could burn water, don’t be discouraged. Basic cooking skills are easy to learn, and once you master them you’ll be able to create meals out of whatever you have on hand.

Let’s start with a few basic rules:

  • Clean as you go. Rinse pans/utensils and keep cabinets wiped down. This saves a ton of time!
  • Meats and vegetables shouldn’t ever mix during prep. Use separate cutting boards and utensils, or wash both thoroughly with hot, soapy water before switching items.
  • Don’t turn the burners up too high. You can always increase the heat, but can’t really go back from scorching something.

How you stock your kitchen will depend on your needs and culinary interests. You’ll need a more extensive inventory if you like to bake, or want to explore more complicated or specific methods of cooking. The list below is a basic inventory of things you’ll need to prepare everyday meals.

  • A skillet, saucepan, and stew pot
  • A cutting board
  • Wooden spoons (they’re basically apocalypse-resistant and won’t destroy your pans)
  • A set of knives
  • A spatula, ladle, and slotted spoon
  • A vegetable peeler
  • A can opener
  • A pair of baking sheets
  • A crock pot
  • Measuring spoons and cups

As you expand your skills, you’ll take on new cuisines and additional spices in your cabinet. Starting out, though, your needs are pretty simple. Most everything tastes good with at least salt, pepper, and garlic. Those three, and a handful of others, are what I keep on hand at all times.

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Garlic
  • Cumin (excellent for mexican dishes, which are my favorite)
  • Lemon Pepper (lemon pepper is great on chicken and fish)
  • Bay Leaves (good for adding depth to stews and soups)
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Soy Sauce
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A wide range of meals can be put together quickly from a few simple ingredients. The list below will build you a pantry that offers a good variety of dishes for cheap.

  • Dried pasta
  • Rice
  • All-Purpose Baking Mix
  • Any canned vegetables you prefer (we keep green beans and carrots on hand)
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Canned or dried beans/lentils
  • Chicken broth

My everyday cooking is quick and small batch, and a well-stocked freezer helps me save money and food. I always have frozen fish fillets and chicken tenderloins/thighs, frozen vegetable medleys, and frozen fruit for smoothies.

What rotates through your refrigerator will largely depend on your personal preferences, but there are a handful of foundation items that are good to keep on hand. These are things that I always keep in my fridge, alongside whatever fresh produce I’ve picked for the week.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Salad Greens/Dressing (As both a side dish and in wraps)
  • Parmesan Cheese (For making quick pasta sauces)
  • Lemons (For brightening fish/chicken dishes, vegetables, and making vinaigrettes)

Cooking employs a wide range of skills, but all of them rest on a few basic building blocks.

  • Boiling – Bringing water/broth to a rolling boil with large, rapid bubbles. This method is good for cooking pasta and making hard boiled eggs.
  • Simmering – Keeping water/broth right beneath boiling with small, slow bubbles. Used for thickening sauces, letting flavors develop, and making tough cuts of meat tender.
  • Steaming – This method is great for vegetables. Bring a small amount of liquid to a boil and place the food just above it using a steamer basket, then cover the pan.
  • Stewing – Slow cooking tough cuts of meat makes them tender and flavorful. This method brings meat and vegetables together with just enough barely simmering liquid to cover them.
  • Braising – When using this method you’ll brown pieces of meat in a small amount of hot fat, then add liquid and cook covered at a low simmer.
  • Deep Frying – Submerging pieces of food in hot oil until they’re cooked through.
  • Pan-Frying – This method is used for meats like fried chicken, pork chops, and fish. Proteins are cooked in a small amount of hot fat over medium heat.
  • Sauteing – This method is common in stir-fry dishes and for vegetables. It involves cooking small pieces of meat and vegetables quickly in hot fat over medium high heat.
  • Roasting – This method is great for both meats and vegetables, particularly root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and carrots.
  • Grilling/Broiling – Cooking meats and vegetables over or under high, open heat.

Building a meal is as simple as pairing a protein with a vegetable (or two) and choosing a starch, but if you don’t like the idea of all that freedom there are tons of amazing recipes on the internet. Pinterest is a great tool for sifting through recipes or searching for something specific. Whatever approach you choose, be patient and enjoy the process. Happy Cooking!

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