Monday, December 10, 2012

But I Can't Cook!

If I had a dollar for every time I've ever heard someone say "I can't cook," I'd be a wealthy momma.  Anyone can cook! Anyone who can read can follow a recipe. What people usually mean when they claim otherwise is "I'm afraid to cook."

It can be intimidating. You have to being willing to utterly miserably fail and able to laugh it off. I have had my fair share of dinner disasters, and some of them have been really bad! Recently there was a casserole where the noodles swelled and soaked up all the sauce, leaving it dry and somehow still kind of slimy...ick... and a crock pot dish where I didn't cook the beans long enough so Jon and I ended up with horrible stomachaches. (Evie was smart enough to refuse to eat it!) Try to remember that if something you make is awful, 95% of the time it was the recipe and not something you did. Especially if you got it from a food blog where every Tom, Dick, and Harry is posting recipes with no editor and potentially making errors that could totally mess up your meal.

Sometimes, oftentimes even, the food you prepare turns out so wonderful you won't believe you created it. There is something magical about combining random things in your kitchen and ending up with a delicious, nutritious meal. It gives me a sense of pride that is different than what I've felt before. It can be very empowering to take back control over what you are eating. Right now most of us are dependent on giant processed food corporations, and that's how they want it. I promise you can live without Kraft. And believe it or not, you will even come to a point where you don't miss it.

I keep lists of recipes I want to try, both online on Pinterest and in a spiral bound notebook where I put clipped magazine recipes or photocopied cookbook pages. When it's time to go grocery shopping, I sit down and pick seven or so recipes that I want to try and make my grocery list based on the ingredients. I try to pick things I already have most of the ingredients to make, and recipes that have overlapping ingredients. For instance, I will pick two meals that use black beans so I can cook up one big pot and save time on the second meal. There are a few favorites which we eat over and over again, but I try to put new things on the list every week to keep meal time from getting boring.

I still don't pick any really complicated recipes or ones that call for a bunch of crazy ingredients. One thing that is awesome about cooking is that most recipes are very forgiving. If you don't have white flour you can use wheat. You can skip spices if you don't have them. You can use other spices once you get comfortable with how each one tastes and know what will work well. If you don't like red pepper, use yellow. It will still be delicious! One of my favorite tricks is to google search "cornstarch substitute" or whatever it is I don't have. I can almost always find a suitable sub! The great thing about finding recipes on the internet is that you can search through dozens of recipes until you find one that uses ingredients you have.

Cooking isn't something you are born good at, it's something you learn. And you can teach yourself! I fondly remember the months of baked potatoes, white flour spaghetti, and take out when I first moved out on my own. That was literally all I knew how to prepare. I remember the first cookbook I ever used. I believe vegan brownies was my first dish, made for a potluck at work. Everyone kept telling me how great they were and I was amazed. I went on to make many of the simple recipes in that book and slowly started cooking more and more. Even so, most of the cooking I did up until about a year ago consisted of mainly several processed prepackaged foods thrown together (beans and rice box mixes, fake meat and mac and cheese, etc.)

When we started this whole healthy eating venture, everything changed drastically. For a couple of months I was overwhelmed and felt like it was impossible to make everything that I couldn't find a good store bought version of from scratch. It seemed like it took me literally all day to prepare dinner. I'm not gonna lie, it sucked.

These days I think I've pretty much got it down. I have many brands memorized and don't have to spend 20 minutes reading ingredients every time I want a jar of pasta sauce. I have my favorite recipes for things we make from scratch (pancakes, tortilla shells, gravy) so I don't have to search for one each time we make it, and we try to keep the kitchen stocked with our most frequently used ingredients, some of which were totally foreign to me not long ago. You can do this too! It doesn't happen overnight, it happens slowly but surely.

Start small and be brave. It's so worth it.

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