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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to Cook: An Answer

Not THE answer, of course. In my strolls through the blogosphere, not to mention real life, I am always meeting people with the same lament: I CAN'T COOK.

Helpful types are always proffering advice: Get Mark Bittman's cookbook. It's so easy. It's true. It is. But giving someone such a massive tome is often counterproductive: all those recipes are intimidating.

So here's how to begin, carnivore version. Get a slow cooker. Buy a piece of pot roast beef (chuck, brisket,whatever). Put it in the cooker with a little water and an onion. Too hard? Throw in some of that dried onion soup mix. Cook for a long time. This will give you enough for several meals.

Are you a vegetarian or a vegetarian wannabe? Mash up some beans (drain them!). Put on a tortilla with some cheese. Roll it up. Heat in the oven, the microwave, or in a pan. Serve with salsa.

See? It is not a big deal. If you eat both items, you have the basis for 3 meals--half the week.

If I had to recommend one cookbook for the timid cook, vegetarian or otherwise, it would be Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. This is not as well known as other veggie cookbooks that, to my mind, are far inferior. (Mollie Katzen comes to mind.) Everything is good and easy. Many of her pastas and grain dishes are one-dish meals. Some are so simple: rice mixed with broccoli and feta, for instance.

The book is short so it doesn't provoke a panic attack or send one back to reading The Paradox of Choice.

If you MUST get the Bittman, this is what it looks like.

The Lemlin (or the Bittman, really) would make a great gift for the holidays. Lemlin lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, near where I visit every summer. I wonder if I've ever caught a glimpse of her strolling through the wonderful downtown.


FB @ said...

1. LOVED the Paradox of Choice

2. I want to inform everyone that I had never cooked a meal in my life until I turned 19 when I moved out.

No joke. Beyond ramen, opening a can of soup or microwaving frozen meals, I did NOT COOK.

If I can learn (and even love it), so can you :) Watch Top Chef for inspiration, it gets me going.

Shelley said...

I would recommend the Universal recipes in the Tightwad Gazette. They taught me the idea of just cooking stuff, without a recipe; or of using a recipe just as a general guide.

Frugal Scholar said...

@FB--I learn better from reading than from watching.
@Shelley--That's a good idea: template recipes. A cookbooks that has a lot is "How to Cook W/Out a Book" by Pam Anderson.

Duchesse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duchesse said...

(Previous post removed b/c of typo)

Beef with onion soup mix fills you but does not set up good culinary habits. Like driving, cooking is a skill set that depends on building good habits. And if you begin with certain moves, you could even cause an accident :)

I'd buy the person Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat". If not a book reader, she can watch cooking shows or YouTube videos (or hang out and watch s friend cook) to learn techniques like flipping an omelette or roasting a chicken.

Duchesse said...

I am back to say that when I hear someone say "I can't cook", I wonder "Why?" The answers usually fall into two categories:
1. Skill issue: Has not yet learned how
2. Motivational issue: These include: does not enjoy cooking; does not want to engage with food, is fearful of other's judgement, would rather someone else do it- or a number of other "don't wanna" reasons.

I regard the ability to prepare a nutritious, balanced meal for ones' self to be a key life skill.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse-I've only done that once, but it was good. It's one of those embarrassing recipes. I think it's good as a started because it is so easy. Takes away the intimidation factor.

And yes--key life skill. The funny thing is that it's not that difficult. I take it your boys can cook.