Cooking at home is both cheaper and healthier than eating out, and recently more people have started trying to cook their meals themselves. Bravo everyone! But cooking at home is also a lot of work. It’s hard to choose recipes – with thousands of options from cookbooks, recipe blogs, and recipe websites, and it’s hard to keep all the ingredients you need in stock. Having been a home cook for many years, here are some of the things I’ve learned to keep cooking a simple and enjoyable daily activity!
Choose a Cuisine
This is not advice that I’ve read anywhere else. Cooking resources nowadays almost always feature dishes from many different cuisines. Which is great. I love food from all over the world, and as a novice cook, I’d make a Thai dish one night, a Greek dish the next, then something French the next. This meant that I had to stock lots and lots of specialty ingredients, including expensive sauces that I would very rarely use. I used to read gourmet budget cooking blogs that would price all of the ingredients, which would include things like “a dash of truffle oil – 10 cents.” But the bottle doesn’t cost 10 cents, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the rest of it! So I eventually decided to choose a cuisine and stick with it. I chose Italian food, because my husband is Italian and that is what he likes. We also make typical American foods, because I like them and the ingredients are mostly the same. To my surprise, this helped me become a better cook. By focusing on one cuisine, I am able to perfect techniques, and try dishes more than once to get them right. I’m also able to use more specialty ingredients, because I know that I will keep coming back to them. I’m able to buy expensive items like real Parmesan cheese and dried Porcini mushrooms because I know that I’ll keep using them, and our grocery bill has actually decreased!
Plan a Menu
If you want to keep it really simple, write down a menu for two weeks on a calendar, and repeat it every two weeks. Make a grocery list based on your menu. Don’t forget breakfasts and lunches! Choose dishes that your family likes. Choose some that are harder to prepare, some that are quick. You can generally switch nights around if you find yourself pressed for time on a given night. If any of your meals have very perishable ingredients, plan to make them right after you go grocery shopping. If you need to do something overnight, like soaking beans, note that on the previous calendar day so you don’t forget. This is the best way to keep both cooking simple and your grocery budget small. When you are feeling more confident, look through your cooking resources and choose different recipes that you’d like to try, but not more than 2-3 per week so you don’t get overwhelmed. Remember to plan for dessert sometimes! Enjoy! Italian recipes are generally quick to prepare, and I can usually make a three-course meal in about 30 minutes, if I plan ahead. If your chosen cuisine involves different cooking techniques, be sure to invest in whatever tools you need – a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a pressure cooked. And remember, enjoy!