Learning to Cook, From Someone Who Couldn’t

(BBQ chicken with cheesy bagels, I could never get over the fact that it looked like a face)

Up until last August I couldn’t cook (I was 25 at the time I started). I was never taught how by my parents as they were rarely home and I never took the initiative to learn myself because I was scared of it. I would eat out or just eat junk food instead of meals, which on top of being unhealthy was also really expensive. Then late last year my dad ended up having to make a shift in his business which left him getting home even later than before and often not having time to eat an actual meal at home (I caught him eating Ruffles covered in blue cheese dressing once and I’ll never let him live it down). This was the push I needed to teach myself how to cook, and now I cook four meals a week for both my dad and I.

(Homemade mozzarella sticks and curry)

While cooking can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before, once you start making things and developing things you’re comfortable with, you’ll always have something you can make without too much thought or effort. One thing that helped me at first was just to make things where you could buy most of the ingredients from the store so there were only a few actual steps for cooking. I started with some really simple tacos because most of the toppings you can just buy and the only thing you really need to cook is the meat. You can obviously make more than that if you want to, but you can make really good ones without having to hand make every ingredient.

The tacos I started with simply involved browning ground beef (something that is visually easy to do), which takes about five minutes at medium heat on a stove. After that I just followed the directions on the ‘Taco Seasoning’ packets you can buy at the store and mixed it into the meat with some water. That’s really it, that’s the only thing I did at first that would be considered actual cooking, but from there you can come up with all kinds of different meals depending on what ingredients you use and how you put everything together.

One of the first ‘recipes’ I would ever actually come up with was just a slight change to that process, but it made a world of difference. Instead of using water when mixing in the seasoning, I used some salsa instead and let it simmer until the liquid boiled off and the beef was thoroughly coated in whatever salsa I was using (my preference is mango habanero).

(Ground beef cooked in salsa with a bit extra on top)

We had a lot of ‘taco’ derivatives at first which led me to eventually expand my repertoire into sauteed chicken. I was super uncomfortable at first because raw chicken was scary, but I was just really cautious and if I didn’t think something was cooked enough, I would just cook it more even if it meant part of it got over done. Over time (and lots of YouTube videos) I would get more and more comfortable cooking chicken on the stove and eventually managed to figure out the right amount of time and temperature to cook it just right. Now chicken and rice with some random sauce from the store is my go to when I don’t have much time and everyone in my family has me cook the chicken whenever we’re making some at home because I’ve had so much time and practice getting everything just right.

(Chicken and rice with some sweet Thai chili sauce I bought from the store)

I’ve come up with more recipes since then like my Meat Bowl (it’s a bread bowl full of meatballs) and homemade mozzarella sticks with curry (near the top of the post, this one was incredible), but it was a gradual process that took some time and a lot of mistakes. If you had asked me a year and a half ago to cook you something, the best I could have done was probably that taco meat and even then I probably would have messed it up somehow.

(Meat Bowl, note: difficult to eat without making a mess)

In that short amount of time I’ve gone from completely terrified of anything to do with cooking, to making my own recipes (which people sometimes actually like!). If you put some effort into it and keep trying you can almost certainly reach the same point even if you were at the same place I was a year ago, barely able to cook for myself, let alone other people. Just try new things, look up recipes, and find things you’re comfortable with so you always have something to fall back on. It really is something that anyone can do as long as they put in the effort to learn and grow as a chef. The more comfortable you get making things, the more exotic and experimental you can get over time. As an example I’ll leave you with tonight’s dinner, something I came up with on the spot at the store when I wasn’t sure what to make tonight: Naan Pizza!

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