Guys we need to get back to basics sometimes, doncha think?
This is one of my most favorite ways to blog, through requests. My sister Julianne is getting all into cooking, but she's a newbie and also is in college and poor, so she asked for some suggestions for easy-to-work-with ingredients and recipes that are ALSO cheap.
I've done posts like this before, but I think it's important for ALL of us, no matter how much we cook, to remember simple things that can make our lives easier and more affordable. So, without further ado, for all you little sisters out there, here are some of my suggestions for cooking easily and cheaply at home:
- Start with money. I know we're all organic and chemical free and lah dee dah, but if you want to cook for yourself on a budget you've got to be selective about which fancy ingredients you buy. Stores like Aldi and, sadly, Walmart (the parking lot makes me want to never cook or leave the house again) have great prices compared to regular grocery stores and CERTAINLY Whole Foods type places. If you DO shop at non-discount stores, use sales and coupons - rather than picking a recipe and then shopping from that list, choose a recipe after you've figured out what things are on sale at the store you'll be shopping in.
- Learn flavors. 1 clove garlic, 1/2 cup white wine, and the juice of 1/2 lemon with some salt and pepper can be simmered for just a few minutes to make a lovely Italian sauce. A sprinkle of cumin, chili powder, and seasoning salt can be added to any protein to make it taste Mexican-ish. Soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, and ginger can be whisked together to make an Asian-style marinade that's great on protein or veggies. Keeping a few of these basic flavors around means that you're not using flavoring packets which are 1. more expensive and 2. less healthy, AND that you'll be able to cook the flavors you want based on the aforementioned cheap produce and veggies that you buy on sale.
- In terms of actual recipes, this chicken skillet, this salad dressing, these burgers (vegan!) and this pasta are great Start Here recipes. All easy and not made with crazy expensive ingredients.
- If money isn't a huge issue (or Santa?) but active cooking in the kitchen isn't really your thing, get a damn Crock Pot. I sell a TON of this taco chicken whenever I make it, and you can just buy taco shells and other toppings and call it cooking!
- If you ARE trying to avoid restaurants for health or money reasons, try to force yourself to make a few things ahead of time, so that when it's time to eat you'll have no excuse. Cooked rice or pasta, salad dressing, and some yummy raw veggies, nuts, and cheeses can be combined to make lots of different lunches and dinners throughout the week.
- When it comes to cooking food in a skillet, remember three things: 1. let the pan heat up for at least 10 minutes so that food sizzles when you add it to the pan. 2. add things in the order they cook: longest cooking time first, shortest cooking time last. So, never add teeny minced garlic to a skillet first and expect it to not burn by the time carrots are done. Use yo brain. 3. Brown food tastes good. Most foods in a skillet (veggies, meats) should sizzle when you first add them to create a nice crust and flavor on the outside.
- Just like prepping dressing or pasta ahead of time, a few other staples are really good to know how to make. Learn how to make marinara (boil pasta, call it dinner), chicken and rice, and mashed potatoes, if NOTHING else.
What are your favorite learn-to-cook tips? I say just do it - being scared of the kitchen is a surefire way to never use it. Start with something simple when YOU HAVE THE TIME TO COOK IT, and with every dish you make that turns out great, your confidence will grow and you'll try more and more things.
Happy cooking, first timers!
PS ask more questions or make more requests for recipes - they're my favorite!