Cooking is undoubtedly daunting. Here are some real world tips for shaking off that anxiety and learning to love it.
Despite the consumption and absorption of food and its nutrients being fundamental to human survival, many of us don’t experience regular preparation of our own food until we are adults. Research has shown us that the earlier in life we can learn this valuable skill, the greater our confidence, cooking practices, cooking attitudes, diet quality (with the exception of fibre intake where adult learners were higher) and health. Understandably, demands of modern life and the never-ending sense of having “no time” often get in the way.
We might know that it is useful and healthy to cook for ourselves, but why should we care when there are so many easier options at hand nowadays? When groceries are so expensive, how can we get excited about filling our kitchens with ingredients all the time?
How can we possibly learn to love this thing?
Cook what you like
This may seem condescendingly simple to state, but it’s truly very important.
Family hand-me-downs, dusty cookbooks, the internet. There are so many recipes available to us that it can feel utterly impossible to know where to start. The best place is simply to start with your favourite foods.
There is no point in seeking out the hottest ingredients for a viral recipe if you don’t know if you’ll even like them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try anything new (in fact, it’s one of the best ways to appreciate food) but it isn’t the best place to start.
If you love sandwiches for lunch, try making different kinds of regular or grilled sandwiches. Play with textures, different types of bread, add new flavours.
If you love pasta for dinner, start off with learning how to boil dried pasta. You can then learn how to pair your favourite sauces with different pasta shapes. Learn traditional Italian recipes or the most indulgent Western versions of them, whatever you enjoy eating most.
If you love burgers, take a bit of time to try making and cooking your own patties. You can try out different meats and cooking methods, and discover what it is you like so much about them.
Enjoying a foodstuff won’t immediately make you an expert in preparing it, that’s almost certain. However, it will certainly make it easier to spot where you might have made a mistake, or where something is lacking texture or seasoning. Plus, even if your dish doesn’t come out as you’d hoped, you’re still likely to enjoy it!
Cook for yourself
One of the sources of stress that goes hand-in-hand with cooking is judgment. The pressure of impressing someone, or just being the one providing their main meal for the day, can be very uncomfortable.
Cooking can often involve organisational skills and time management. Both are things that require practice and refinement in any area of life. Having the added stress of being watched and or judged while practicing can make it downright unpleasant. Imagine the first meal you ever prepared being a full Christmas dinner, or an Iftar feast? Hellish.
Obviously, you have to feed yourself. Equally obviously, you don’t want to mess up on something. However, having to wait a bit longer to feed yourself, or messing up something that was only intended for you to eat, is a lot easier than explaining and apologising to others.
Preparing single portions of food is simpler to manage than cooking for a partner or for your whole family. It also means you’ll be less likely to disappoint someone or waste a large amount of ingredients if you’re the only one eating. You’ll have time to practice and gain confidence specific dishes or techniques before serving them up to someone else.
This cannot be stated loudly enough. Home cooking is not like cooking in a professional kitchen. Chefs do not learn how to make choux buns or beef wellingtons on day 1 of their training, they start with the basics and later learn how to combine them.
You do not need to have a vast range of herbs and spices when you’re just starting out. You do not need to serve multiple side dishes with every meal. You certainly do not need to garnish everything you serve.
Cooking with simple ingredients, or with just a few of them, is the easiest way to stay on top of what it is you’re making. Beginning your culinary journey by tackling moussaka or curry is a recipe for failure. Starting off with basics such as scrambled eggs or a white risotto will be both more enjoyable, and more likely to turn out well.
Cook what you can afford
One of the worst things about having a dish fail is the waste of ingredients, and consequent waste of money.
Splashing out on fillet steak or a rack of lamb to practice your skills for the first time will likely lead to disappointment, even if the finished product is almost right. Learning to cook cheaper cuts of meat, or even starting with affordable vegetables, is a much better way to enjoy cooking. Typically, they are also easier to salvage if something goes awry.
It’s only human to reject the idea of trying something in case you’ll have wasted money on it. So don’t waste the money. Try your hand at rice dishes, at soups, at potatoes. Beginning your cooking journey with ingredients which are neither hard to find or expensive will bring you much more joy and a lot less pressure.
Cooking isn’t easy, neither is finding the time or motivation to do it. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great skill to have, or that it can’t be enjoyable. I hope even one of these tips can help you out, lovely reader, even if you only ever learn to cook a slice of toast.