Breaking up With Brad, My Food Delivery Guy

By , Alicia Capetillo, Staff Writer
I can list the number of meals I can cook on one hand: calzones (with pre-made dough), roasted Brussels sprouts, kale chips, banana bread and orzo with olive oil, mozzarella, grape tomatoes and basil. Once I called my college-aged brother to ask if water would boil without a lid on the pot. I'm the girl who buys a can of bruschetta at Trader Joe's, slaps it on a crostini and brings it to the potluck. Anything you can burn, I've burnt. When I see "better than takeout" promises in magazines or attached to online recipes, I scoff and think "Yeah, sure." Every boyfriend I've ever had displayed an above-average interest in cooking. I think they call that a survival instinct.

These days, I live on delivery dinners and leftover lunches. Most weeks, my boyfriend and I order delivery four times, eat out twice and indulge in a homemade wine-and-cheese dinner the other night. Now that I’m an "adult," though, admitting that I don't know how to cook and don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen isn't exactly met with a "Me, too!" I started noticing that my aversion to and anxiety about cooking raised more eyebrows than ever before. People who used to be in agreement were now giving me their favorite recipes for mango-shrimp tacos and beet root risotto, as if I could just magically cook them for myself. Clearly, it was time for a change.

Which is why I decided to challenge myself: No takeout or delivery meals for 30 days straight. The mission was to learn how to cook a few things, master the art of meal planning so we weren't scrambling for ideas at the last minute and possibly understand how people actually find enjoyment in standing over a hot stove. Luckily, despite not having the time most nights, my boyfriend actually enjoys cooking, so he promised to help me learn with as few tears and hangry outbursts as possible.

For 30 days, I'll work to overcome my three biggest gripes about cooking: a general lack of skills and understanding of kitchen terminology, impatience with arriving home late and not having dinner ready and a general lack of interest. Plus, I'll be sharing tips on how to get over the “I-hate-cooking” hump along the way. According to Katriona MacGregor, a journalist and chef who recently published "Healthy Speedy Suppers," my gripes are actually quite common with those who do not make time to cook. She lists tiredness, lack of confidence and not having grown up in an environment where cooking was the norm as the top reasons people don't make time to cook for themselves.

"Remember that cookery doesn’t have to be complicated," she says. "It’s not as tricky as you think and if things go wrong, that’s how you learn, so don’t worry about the odd mistake."

Finding My Inner Anthony Bourdain

A funny thing happens when you start telling people that you're on a quest to quell your hatred of the kitchen—everyone feels compelled to share a favorite piece of advice or a beloved recipe. Aspiring chefs, much like marathoners, can't help themselves from imparting wisdom and short anecdotes about their own background in the kitchen. Over the last two weeks, I've had everyone from co-workers to my mother to friends and friends of friends and the sweet old lady at the grocery's meat counter offer me tips on how to create their favorite recipes.

On the first day of the grand experiment, in fact, I got lucky—after casually mentioning my mission at a dim sum brunch date with two friends who love culinary creations quickly turned in to a trip to the Asian market in search of my first homemade dinner. "Literally so easy, anyone can do it," my friend swore in reference to her recommended recipe. Her having not seen the one time I called my mother six times while trying to cook chicken in a George Foreman Grill in order to be 100 percent sure I wouldn't get salmonella, though, I had my doubts. The Thai coconut curry soup required just one pan so I figured that even if I messed up the simple steps, at least I wouldn't have a ton of dishes to clean as punishment.

Much to my surprise, the recipe was actually a success and I learned a few things right off the bat. I began noticing recipes everywhere, from SparkRecipes and Smitten Kitchen to Buzzfeed and half of my Facebook newsfeed. With a plethora of recipes at my disposal, I've found that there are a few tricks to deciphering which recipes I can actually create and which will end with a burnt pot of food in the sink as I enjoy a slice of peanut butter bread for dinner.
  1. If you can't pronounce it, it's probably not going to end well. As I got started, I wanted to be the next Ina Garten right off the bat. Mistake. Beginner-friendly recipes are more likely to have common ingredients that should already be in your pantry. Leave the specialty store ingredients for after you've had a few successes under your belt. The same logic goes for recipes with a list of ingredients a page long. "Choosing overcomplicated recipes with long lists of ingredients which take a long time to shop for, prepare and then cook [is the biggest mistake a rookie can make]," MacGregor says.
  2. Add 30 Minutes to "Time to Prepare." For the novice, terms like "mince," "dice" and "blanch" can read like a foreign language. Most websites and cookbooks assume a certain level of aptitude, so save yourself the frustration of a 10 p.m. dinner time by adding a few extra minutes to prep before you get started. Chances are you'll have to look up a term or two as you go, plus we can't all chop with the speed and agility of an Iron Chef right out of the gate. As you cook more often, you'll pick up a new set of skills and your prep time will decrease.
  3. Read though the entirety of the directions before starting to save yourself from a maddening evening. There is nothing more annoying than getting to step six of a recipe and discovering that you need a cast-iron skillet. Kitchen tools, dishes required for cooking and marinade times are often buried within the instructions, so double checking to be sure you have everything you need before you get started is key.
  4. Enlist people who enjoy cooking to help—their excitement might be contagious. "Cooking has always been something I've loved for its sociability," MacGregor says. "For anyone who's trying to [like cooking more], I'd say focus on how happy it can make the friends or family you're cooking for." Even if you're anxious about being in the kitchen, having someone who enjoys cooking by your side allows you to both learn and live vicariously through their enthusiasm. One night I asked my mother to teach me how to make her deliciously perfect chicken curry recipe. Not only did she help me understand how to cut up chicken breasts, but when the stove timer went off, we got to open a bottle of wine and enjoy the fruits of our labor together.  
  5. Just because the picture is pretty, doesn't mean you should attempt recreating it. This is a tough one because we all want to be the person who brings the Instagram-worthy dish to the holiday meal. However, sometimes the prettiest dishes also require the most time and careful attention to detail, which can be frustrating to a new chef. Pictures are great to use as a reference as you cook, but be sure that you're not overextending by attempting engastration when you're still trying to master mashed potatoes. Again, slow and steady is your friend.
  6. Subscribe to a bunch of cooking pages on Facebook or Instagram. The best way to stay interested and engaged in your new hobby is to constantly be inspired. A newsfeed filled with ooey, gooey, healthy, tasty pictures of works of food art is the ticket to greatness.
Check in next week as I learn how to stock an empty kitchen and try to understand the difference between parsley and cilantro. 

What are some kitchen tips you wish you had known when you first started cooking? 

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Know your limits.
I cannot fry.
So I leave that to pros. I go out for pakora that actually has snap.
My oven pakora fritter will do, but sometimes the grease created crunch is needed.
Canned tomatoes, especially fire roasted, are worth it. Muir Glen is my fave, but any will do, preferably no salt. For the prep, roast and clean up time of tomatoes, I’d rather start bread. Or read. Report
GMAM48 8/21/2020
I love my America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks which explain so much about why cooking techniques and ingredients work or don’t work as they have developed their best recipes. I enjoy knowing why things work or not work. It really helps to develop success in the kitchen. Good luck with your month’s challenge! Keep things simple and basic for your own sanity and enjoyment! Report
DMEYER4 8/21/2020
great thanks Report
RO2BENT 8/21/2020
Cheaper and more healthful Report
CELLOKARMA2 8/21/2020
Really enjoyed this. I haven't always been able to cook as well as I do now. I'm really glad to be able to break the cycle and include my children in most of our meal preparations, in a way that I never was. Report
CECELW 8/21/2020
The art of cooking is certainly challenging when you are first starting out. After problem Report
Great blog Report
A refreshingly different Spark blog! I always consider myself very fortunate to have learnt to cook by osmosis - watching my mother. There are still some things she cooked that I don't attempt - I've never, for example, mastered a lemon meringue pie - but, hey, I don't even eat those things these days! Having 'basic' home-cooking skills is a really good life-skill. Keep going! Report
LIS193 8/21/2020
Great blog Report
-POOKIE- 8/21/2020
Great, learning to cook properly is huge life skill. Report
RAPUNZEL53 4/29/2020
Great Report
MUSICNUT 12/14/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
MILPAM3 12/6/2019
Good luck. Report
Never got serious with Brad Report
thanks Report
It's so easy to cook your own food and it's way healthier! Report
Thank you for the information. Report
thanks for sharing Report
Good article. My wife and I love to cook together at home. Report
I would recommend chopping up the veggies in advance. Most veg will last from 3-5 days in a covered container. Also if you are chopping onions or mincing garlic, do a few extra so you'll have on hand for other recipes. If you have any left at the end of the week, you can use it in an omelette, stirfry, soup, or salad. Report
My sister had the same problem...still I picked her up a good 4 ingredient cookbook they are awesome for beginners, I try to go over once in a while by telling her I'll cook supper, but get her to cook the whole thing, she's always impressed when it turns out well.. the secret is all in a good beginner cookbook Report
Hi I love your blog. Report
My boyfriend can whip things up super fast and so I leave most cooking to him. On my own, some things I'm good at and some I need practice with. If it's something important and not going right, that's when imagination comes in. Report
good ideas however with my life style not going to happen.... not setting my self up for frustration
This sounds like me. Really looking forward to sharing this journey with you. I am not big on cooking. However, I have learned that a well made salad served with a great homemade salad dressing usually satisfies my family and friends. Report
I had a girlfriend just like this. She also had trouble boiling a pot of water, carelessly not using a potholder to move it, and dumped it on the floor. For her first attempt at cooking, I bought her a new enamel-coated frying pan. She was frying eggs, and as you can imagine, she burnt them, and pitted the pan. Forty-five years later, I still have the pan (not the girl). Being quite intelligent, she finally grabbed a cook book passed on to me by my mother, a 1950s book (still have the book, too.) She learned how to cook pretty well, so her next challenge was baking. She successfully baked some cakes, without icing, and then it was time to try a birthday cake, complete with icing, candles, and decorations. She was fine icing the sides of the bottom layer, but the top of that layer did her in. Have you ever seen someone bludgeoning a cake with a knife? We raised my three children together, she became a great cook, and I no longer had to use a steak knife to cut my fried eggs. Report
regular delivery dinners and takeaway is 1 of the reasons why people end up in Sparkpeople. Report
Nice article. I really enjoy it. I am looking forward to more. Report
One thing I wished I learned a long time ago was the importance of having good knives, especially a chef's knife. Back in college I bought a bargain butcher block that had different knives but really wasn't very sharp. Many years later I purchased a good chef's knife and was amazed how easy it was to cut and chop things, like a potato. Now I actually enjoy chopping, slicing, dicing, etc. whereas before it was a chore. Report
I love to cook and many years ago we started to eat a home cooked dinner more nights than not. These are great tips, especially through the whole recipe first and pay attention to how long it should take! Report
Love your spirit and your attitude, you go girl. Sometimes it is best to just jump right in! It sounds like you have thought this through and found ways to set yourself up for success. Sadly there exists a huge misconception that everyone has the same baseline understanding of cooking terms, and has a kitchen stocked with the necessary pans, gadgets, and ingredients. In your quest for culinary supremacy, consider watching a food related can learn much and get a better understanding of what foods and spices go together. Like this is how I learned what an aioli is! If nothing else, you will be better prepared with an understanding of new terms when you next read a menu. Ha, wishing you all the best..I hope you enjoy your time in the kitchen. Report
when I cook I cook enough for 4 meals eat one freeze the rest in serving size and when I am too busy to cook I heat it up and it is wonderful so you don't need to cook every day or every meal Keep moving forward
I used to cook for my first husband. I never liked doing it but we couldn't afford to eat in restaurants. As I got older, I cooked less and less. My weight went out of control. I finally decided this time to dust off my cooking skills. I'm trying new recipes from Spark and I actually like doing it. It's also much easier to control the calories that I take in. Report
Good for you finally learning the art of cooking and I know you will just keep wanting to learn more things. Me I learned at an early age from my father. Happy cooking Report
ETHELMERZ - I'd encourage you to read Mark Bittman's book 'cooking solves everything'... Report
Go for it! I'm not there yet so I will put up with the weird stares when people hear, "I don't cook." Thanks for sharing your journey and I look forward to hearing how it goes. Your first article has already inspired me to consider trying something than microwave eggs.
Good for you! That was me, until I had kids and then suddenly had to put "real" food on the table for them. They are now thriving adults and I know a lot more about cooking. Baby steps.... Report
Hmm. Great idea, I like it.
I used to cook all the time. Loved it as a matter of fact. Tried new recipes all the time. Would look at people as though they were crazy who said they didn't know how to cook... I would say it's just following a recipe. But things change! I haven't cooked something pretty, in so many years, it scares me to try. My husband and I have switched roles for the kitchen about 8 years ago, and I try to tell him often that I love his food. :-)

As much as I cooked before, I never blanched anything...

I have no idea how to make kale chips, but love them!

I hope you continue w/these blogs so we can see your progress for this mission. Report
I enjoyed this article and could relate in some ways. I don't exactly love to cook either, and at this point I am sick of some of the recipes that I have made over and over again. Mostly I have been just making grilled sandwiches and just throw some chicken or steak in the oven, or cook organic soups. I like to keep it quick and easy since I work 2 jobs and don't have a lot of time! Report
Good article. Best of luck. I hope you end up enjoying cooking. I do and it's fun to get together with a couple of friends and do some cooking for everyone to share.

We cook most of our meals. We are too often disappointed when we go out to eat. Report
I laughed, because this was me at one time. Once in a while I like to make a big production of dinner. But my motto- less than 5 ingredients and 30 minutes from start to finish. Keep it simple-
I love Spark Recipes. Report
I'm pretty busy myself, but due to a financial reversal when I got disabled and couldn't work anymore, my husband and I are getting by on a lot less, so going to restaurants is now a very rare treat, instead of the norm it used to be, but that's not so bad, eating at home is a lot healthier. At least you know what's going into the food, and you can cut out extra fat and salt. One trick I use is to cut up enough onions, celery, etc., for a few meals instead of just one. It saves time if you have ready prepped ingredients in the fridge, and you don't have to pay outrageous prices for pre chopped veggies. You should also invest in a good food processor to save time. I also make my own seasoned chicken and meat coatings in large amounts and store them in tupperware containers. Fried chicken is a guilty pleasure around our house, and KFC, now matter how good it is is JUST too pricey for us to have very often. And yes, I count the calories and adjust my eating the rest of the day so my diet doesn't get blown. Report
Fun article to read! I love to cook but time is a huge obstacle. I love to see good things turned out in my kitchen; wish I could do it much more often. Report
Good for you on learning to cook, and congrats on your first great success! If you like soup, I recommend making various kinds often. As a rule, soups are pretty easy to make. I make at least 1 pot just about every week and it covers at least 1 dinner and a couple of lunches too! Plus, I have discovered that in a financial pinch, a pot of soup is usually a pretty econimic choice!

Best of luck! I hope you discover your inner Chef! Report
One more tip. Rotisserie roasted chicken from the grocery store. You can get a ton of easy recipes using it. Great job challenging yourself. Your recipe photo look delish! Report
I wish you all the best! Many things are great to make from scratch while others I am happy to have semi-homemade (for example: store bough pie crust) Report
This sounds like a fun challenge for a rookie. Looking forward to your successes! Report
Loved reading this, funny and witty. I just cant believe you cant cook ,you are are missing out, cooking is fun. After these 30 days you can cook anything,
and if you need a recipe for Beef Wellington ,I have a great one. Report
We actually love the jarred tomato sauce more than home cooked. Find your happy medium, to suit your own lifestyle. Cooking yourself does not always save money, because time is money..... Report
Good on you! Once you learn the basics, you'll move on to the joys of - wait for it - cooking meals from scratch!

Not only will you save tons of cash, you'll also cut your calories hugely.

When you realise how simple it is to cook tomato sauce from scratch, you will never ever see the need to buy a jar or can of the stuff ever again...

Look forward to hearing your progress!! Report