So you're tired of eating at McDonalds or grabbing that burrito at the burrito shop and you want to learn to cook for yourself. Maybe the need for cooking is the big date you have coming up and you told your lady that you are a great cook. Whatever the reason, you need to learn how to cook a meal and you don't know where to start here.
First we need to make a few distinctions about cooking. There is a big difference between cooking for 1 person and cooking for a family. The more food you cook, the harder it is (bigger pans and bowls, more mixing and cutting, etc.). So after you read this article if you have a wife who cooks for you and the kids, or a mother who cooked for you and all your siblings, go give them a hug and say thank you because they have been putting in work. Now back to the topic at hand...
Nowadays there are many videos online about cooking and with the Food Network and other cable channels there is always a show on television that will walk you through the process of preparing some dish. The problem with watching these shows is that they are a little unrealistic. Did you ever notice:
The food that takes 30 minutes to cook in the oven is put in the oven before the commercial and is done after the commercial break
The person doing the cooking never has to wash a dish
The chef or cook always has all the right pots and pans, knives, cutters, whisks, etc. that you don't have in your kitchen
If you want to learn how to cook you need to first know the basics before you watch a cooking show and we are going to start at the beginning.
Pots and Pans
If you want to cook, the first thing you need is a good set of pots and pans. Do not make the mistake of going out to get 1 frying pan and think that you are ready to go. You will end up spending more money buying 1 piece at a time and it is almost a certainty that when you need a pot or frying pan you won't have it. You can go to a department store like Sears or JC Penney, or a specialty store like Bed Bath and Beyond and find pot and pan sets ranging from $50 to $150. A typical starter set would look something like this 12-piece set that costs $89 at Macys:
If you want to cook in the oven you will need at least 1 roasting pan (a rectangular pan to bake or broil) and some oven mitts to take your hot pans out of the oven. If oven mitts are not your style then get some cloth kitchen towels.
Every chef (and most people who spend anytime cooking) will tell you that a good set of knives are your best friend in the kitchen. Again, don't buy 1 knife at a time. You can go to the same stores mentioned earlier and get a good knife set for $30 to $75 complete with cutting board. Once you become the master chef you will want to buy better knives and they can get quite expensive. For now, stick with the basic set.
You don't need many, but maybe 2 or 3 bowls (small, medium, and large) will do the trick. Without some bowls to mix things in you will not be able to function in the kitchen. When you get the bowls don't forget to get a few big spoons (a few wooden and/or plastic ones of various size) to do your mixing.
Of course you don't have to buy the stove (we hope that you have one in your apartment or house). The key is knowing how to use it. The oven (the lower section) is primarily for baking and broiling food. Baking generally takes longer and is done by placing food in the bottom rack in the oven. Things that you bake (or roast) include pies and cakes, pot roasts and chicken. Broiling happens on the top rack in the oven. The heat comes from the top and since the food is closer to the heat it cooks much faster. Broiling is primarily reserved for thick cuts of meats, fish and poulty (steaks, salmon, burgers, etc.).
The top of the stove usually contains 4 "eyes" or heating areas to fry foods. This is the place where you cook the bacon and eggs as well as fry the chicken, etc. One eye maybe bigger than the others but they all do the same thing.
The key to using the stove for cooking is to use the knobs. These control the temperature you are cooking at. All recipes that call for cooking in the oven give you a temperature to cook at and a time it will take for the food to get done. The same is true for cooking on the stove top. You need to turn the appropriate knob to the temperature the recipe says or your food will be a disaster. Turning the heat up to the highest temperature because you're hungry and want to eat faster will generally not work well.
The Food (and other essentials)
Now that we have the basic tools and we know how to use the oven we need to go to the grocery store and get our food. This article is not about what to eat (see "How to Buy Groceries") but my suggestion is to buy what you like to eat. While you're at the grocery store you will need other things from the grocery store in addition to the food. Aluminum foil and saran swap (to cover your food); some cooking oil (olive oil) and some non-stick spray like Pam; and some salt and pepper. If you are feeling daring you can buy individual spices at the grocery store but I would suggest getting a set of spices (either at the grocery store or at a store in the mall like Williams-Sonoma or Bed Bath and Beyond).
There is no way we can show you how to cook everything in one article. Each month we will try to highlight 1 recipe and this month we will start with breakfast. Here is a video on how to cook a breakfast burrito.
It is almost always cheaper to cook a meal for two than it is for two people to eat out (and yes, that does include McDonald's).
If you need recipes but don't know where to look (and don't want to buy a cookbook) try Champions for Change. They have a very good list of simple recipes for basic meals that many of us eat every day.
There are several great cookbooks out there but we will list a few specialty books here
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