While many people strive to cook more, they only look at cooking as creating an entire meal or a large item like a loaf of bread or a cake. Much of cooking is the mundane, the miniscule, the overlooked, the small things. To understand how to cook, cook more. That may sound simplistic, but it really is the crux of the matter.
Is this person familiar? He (it's almost always a male) decides to cook a meal and now the entire household is put on notice -- "Do not enter the kitchen/backyard I'm cooking/grilling." He then tends to make a production of creating a single meal with all the energy and activity of one of MacArthur's south sea island invasions. Cookbooks, the right music, a glass of beer or wine,.pots and pans banging, curses thrown high and low, an emergency run to get a forgotten ingredient. Then, after an interminable five hours or so, dinner is produced with a flourish. This happens once a month or less, but everyone is expected to ooh and aah and deal with the false modesty of "this was just a little thing..." while others are left to clean up, of course.
Normally, he couldn't be bothered to help feed the kids, or to make something for a pot luck. Cooking is work and the day to day can be a grind. But with practice you gain skills and can accomplish simple tasks faster, recipes and snippets of recipes become second nature and can be prepared without thought and your preparation time really starts to drop off.
With more people trying to cook at home in an attempt to save money, you can also save a bunch on your grocery bills by not buying things that you can be easily made. Look inside your refrigerator and tell me the number of bottles you have. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Yup, that's a bunch. Think of them as somewhere between $2 and $5 each and you can see where some of that lunch money went. Well, if you want to start claiming some of that money back and get some important kitchen time in, think of making what's in those bottles yourself.
A quick list of things I'll (hopefully) never buy again:
- salad dressing
- canned beans
Soup is something that you really should just make yourself. It's a great way to use up the bits of things that are migrating to the back of the fridge and to add variety to your diet. Soup is easy to make, just add stuff to water and simmer it. That's all there is to it. You needn't get crazy and make cream soups or bisques or potage du thisorthat, just cook some vegetables in simmering water, add spices and you have soup. Add other things to keep it interesting, such as pasta or beans. These act as thickeners besides, giving your soup a little more body. Experiment, you'll be fine.
Mustard is something I've just started making, but simple condiment is anything but simple. Look at all the mustards at your local grocery store! You can start out making your own grainy style mustard by simply soaking 3 tablespoons mustard seeds with 3 tablespoons liquid (water, wine, vinegar or beer) and a crushed clove of garlic for a day and a half. But the soaked seeds in a blender with a pinch of salt, a 2 teaspoons of honey and start blending in pulses. Add water until you get the consistency you want. Bang! Whole grain German style mustard for about a quarter ($0.25).
The last one is one that I cannot stress enough -- cook your own beans. You don't eat enough beans anyway, so learning to cook them is really important. I tend to soak my beans, but that's not necessary. I like to cook mine in a crock pot so I don't need to spend a lot of time with them, but you don't really need to do much with beans after you bring them to a boil except turn down the heat and cook them until they're tender. When you have finished cooking your beans, freeze 'em with the bean water. Add 'em to salads, put 'em in your soup, grind 'em up and make a dip out of 'em or throw 'em in with sauteed greens, garlic and lemon juice for a great side dish. What people pay for beans makes me crazy -- for the price of a half a bag of beans, folks just bought a can of overcooked mush with some toxic canning water. Bleah. Make your own, ean more and save yourself a ton of cash.