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