A year ago, I could barely hold my own in the kitchen. I could assemble 7-minute Knorr rice, chicken, and cheese into something that resembled a meal. My food repetoire didn't go much beyond that, boxes of macaroni and cheese, pasta, and the occasional portabello burger. For someone who loves food, I was never really interested in cooking. Everything was so intimidating.
When I was laid off last September, I needed something to throw my anger and frustration into. Cooking became that something when my favorite vegan cook published a new book around the same time. I dove into the book head first. Some things were great (like the dragon noodle salad) while others were not so great (kim-chi portobello burgers). These experiements helped me build the confidence I needed to really excel in the kitchen. The real turning point for me, though, was cooking my first salmon filet on New Years Day. When I pulled that off, I finally felt like someone who could cook.
Flash forward a year, and hardly anything intimidates me now. Most of my go-to meals are still easy meals: kale and quinoa salads, fish, chicken burgers, homemade pizza, lentil tacos, wraps, etc. But these foods are put together using real ingredients, and my health has improved so much since cooking with less processed foods. I've discovered this whole world of new food, and it started with some anger and one cookbook.
I've learned a lot this past year about myself and cooking.
- Don't be afraid to make a mistake. This kept me from cooking real foods for so long. It's difficult to mess up boxed macaroni and cheese, but it's easy to overcook meat, or burn spinach, or whatever your excuse may be. Yes, cooking takes a lot of trial and error sometimes, but it's going to be alright. You learn and you move on, tailoring recipes to what works for you.
- The internet is your friend. Use it. Confession: I spend waaaaay too much time on food blogs. I get so many great ideas from blogs, especially when I'm in a food rut. Some of my most-used cookbooks were authored by food bloggers. Explore some of the top blogs on feedly and bloglovin'. You'll be surprised by how much is out there.
- Eat in season. Produce can get so expensive if you're eating out of season. I live on zucchini in the summer and asparagus in the winter. Peaches and nectarines are amazing and bright and juicy in July and August, but will be dull and overpriced in November. Eating in season made me realize how much I love fruits and vegetables but also taught me that asparagus in July just isn't worth the money.
- Have some easy, go-to meals that aren't from a box. Life gets hectic in grad school, so sometimes I don't have time to defrost meat and make something elaborate. This is where I'll pull together a quinoa salad with produce that needs to be used or boil some lentils and make a taco filling. Having a good rotation of fast meals that sue real food make those crazy days a little easier.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Once a month, or once a week, or whatever works for you, make something that is outside of your normal eating habits. I made chili baked tofu one day and it was amazing. Sometimes you'll discover something new that you want to play off of.
Cooking doesn't have to be scary. It can be the most relaxing thing you do in a day. Get out there and learn what you like, learn what you can do, and learn how to do what you want to do.