Kitchen Survival: The Basics (and they say LOVE is a battlefield?)

My kitchen and I have been having a staring contest since I moved in. So far, I think I’m losing.

I know plenty of people who are single and living alone who are perfectly capable of cooking somewhat delicious tasting, non-takeout or non-microwaveable meals—but I’ll let you know something: I’m not one of them.

And while I could probably continue to subsist on cold milk and cereal, or Subway and Pizza Hut, for dinner, I realized something over the past year.

would like to be married and have kids someday. And according to Ms. Irene in New Orleans, I’ll have a daughter and a son. The realization came with not just a little soul searching, and well, who am I deny the words of a New Orleans palm reader? All well and good. But then it hit me:

These kids are gonna have to eat.

And while having kids might be years away, it will be nice not to starve until then. So since cooking has always intimidated me, I’ve named November the month to start getting over my tendency to default toward Ramen-like meals.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Buy only the essential essentials…for now
Saucepans, mixing bowls, a baking sheet, and staples like butter, flour, sugar and salt. If you had all these things already, you are way ahead of where I was, um, a few weeks ago. With everything else, you can improvise when you get there. And if you get as easily stressed out by endless recipes as I do, baby steps are the only to preserve sanity.

Find one good cookbook and cling to it for dear life
For me, that’s Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food. She does make it simple, and the hand-drawn illustrations make the read non-threatening.

Mise en Place (that’s Le Français for “everything in its place”)
This one’s a gem from Alice. She recommends reading a recipe ahead of time and laying out not only the ingredients but also the utensils and equipment needed. My own suggestion: read the recipe multiple times and highlight. It’s really annoying to buy all the ingredients you didn’t have on Sunday and be all excited on Monday evening to put it all together—only to read that one portion of your recipe calls for 4 hours of refrigeration. GREAT!

Beg, borrow, steal
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing or pinching ingredients from mom and dad. Nothing can deter a zealous culinary-unhopeful such as myself like a long list of the smaller, less obvious ingredients. Like, for example, a recipe I tried out yesterday that called for ground nutmeg. Ground nutmeg? I’m sure it’s important, but what exactly does it DO? When else will I need it? Right now I need simplicity, not answers. So I (unintentionally) displayed my ignorance to the parents, and they were more than happy to let me take the called-for tablespoon in a plastic Ziploc bag. Crisis averted.

Get used to inconvenience
Like many awesome things, good-tasting and healthy meals  come at a price, mainly inconvenience. I can’t name many drool-worthy Indian meals my parents make (and yes, I WILL most definitely be learning that too!) that don’t require the oven and/or stovetop.

So for now I’ve decided that everything that needs heating or reheating needs to NOT go in the microwave anymore (little steps, remember?). I may not be ready to cook a pot roast yet, but the  shiny new cookware I bought recently mainly for the sake of the next generation (Lord help them) has got to come out of the box!

This week I’m trying to make apple pie and get used to using real, LIVE cookware. Updates to come, and don’t worry, more over-opinionated relationship analysis forthcoming as well!

Any tips from you experienced home cooks out there? Am I missing something?

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6 comments
  1. Lily said:

    I love this blog! Definitely something I check daily for updates.. Keep up the awesomeness!
    Like I said before, I’m in college, so meals can be tricky sometimes. I want to eat something that fills me up for a couple of hours but that also doesn’t take a couple of hours to make. I’ve made two really good friends in the kitchen this year, and their names are Saucepan and Butter. Honestly, if you have those two things, you’re set. Buy your favorite vegetables (frozen or fresh) and throw them into Saucepan with some Butter (or olive oil if you want something healthier), and voila! Something healthy and filling for dinner. Also, if you want to a more balanced meal, chicken breasts are easy to prepare as well.
    As far as spices go, I don’t really use a lot of the crazy ones like ground nutmeg or anything. Salt (seasoned and table), pepper, and paprika for some SPICE are the ones in my kitchen.
    Basically, the best advice I can give is think of your favorite foods and the easiest possible ways you can prepare them.. and trust me, if these methods don’t involve Saucepan and Butter, well then I’m just crazy.

    • Pam said:

      Haha, thanks for the words of advice, Lily! You are way ahead of where I was in college…you’ll be a cooking machine in a few years’ time, no doubt! I’ve picked up on the importance of butter…what remained of my food budget this week went toward 8 sticks’ worth.

  2. LOL!! This one is great!!! Your friend Lily hit the nail right on the head, “simplicity en spices.” Spice is what makes the difference between a Blaise dish and comfort food.. But said spice do not have to be over complicated. Salt, Pepper, Paprika, Oregano (for your basic Italian dishes) I usually keep a small red onion handy and will dice a bit of it up and saute it in a seperate pan and then add it to a dish for a little extra flavor. Another thing you should try is “That one dish” the one thing you make “REALLY EFFIN WELL” (For me personally it’s baked chickent with peppers and onions)
    As I am sure that you have already learned the trick here is Trial and Error… (Just like Derby or Gymnastics, only less physically painful!!) Dont stress pretty soon your going to have that ONE dish that you do so well that you no longer bother with precise measurements, It will be a pinch of this, a dash of that… You’ll be the Julia Childs of Hampton Roads!!!

    • Pam said:

      Hmm, that one special dish huh? It will be nice to have a go-to something when I go to potlucks, instead of my current default, which is candy (healthy? no. but the kids LOVE me!). Something to think about.

  3. Skank Tank said:

    Pamy Pamy Pamy… of course, I have another story. My grandmother started teaching me how to cook and bake at the age of 4. Her reasoning? “If you don’t learn how to cook, you’ll end up with a husband like you’re mother’s” Needless to say Grammy wasn’t very fond of my dad, or my mother’s cooking. While my mom isn’t the worst cook in the world and certainly has her specialties and can even sometimes be creative (cheeze whiz and cornflakes? who knew!) the fact was most of her cooking was bland and usually burnt. LEARN TO COOK! My favorite is Sandra Lee. She does two shows on food network and I’m disgustingly glued to both. One surrounds simplicity and taste, plus she always does an alcoholic beverage and tablescape.. so cute! She uses part homemade and part store bought, it makes things quick but still delicious. Her second is her dollar savers. Most of these are fairly quick as well and are perfect for singles and small families because she always makes two or three meals out of all the ingredients. Pretty nifty! You should definitely check it out and if you ever want some cooking lessons you can always come to my house. I have nearly every Kitchen Aid product known to man.

    • Pam said:

      Hey, don’t knock the cheese whiz/corn flakes combo – that was DELICIOUS!!!!!
      Thanks ever so much for the cooking lesson! I’m stealing the brown sugar/butter glaze idea for future meals. 😀 And I’ll be checking out Sandra Lee online soon enough.

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