The 7 Best Meals to Learn to Cook Yourself

Cooking is hard for some people. I don't really understand why, as there are a lot of really easy recipes out there and following a recipe is in itself very easy (even easier if there is a video to go along with it), but nonetheless many people still struggle with cooking.

And there are others who enjoy cooking and are decent enough at it, but struggle to find time to fit it into their schedule, and end up ordering take out or going to a restaurant. I have sometimes been in this category.

In any case, if you sometimes struggle to find the motivation to cook the latest recipe you saw on Tasty or Pinterest, it may simply be a matter of opportunity cost.

You see, not all recipes are worth cooking. If you are busy and your time is valuable, then spending all day making croissants probably isn't in your best interest. If cooking is your hobby and you enjoy spending all day making foods that you can readily go buy at a grocery store or nearby restaurant for a reasonable price, then knock yourself out, but if you're somewhat averse to cooking then I recommend at least trying out some of the things I have below...

1. Eggs

Adding chopped chives to anything makes it look fancy

If you're like me, then you love a nice plate of scrambled eggs and bacon with something carby (toast, English Muffin, waffle, etc.) on a Saturday morning. Now, you could acquire this by waking up, putting pants on, venturing into the outdoors, and stumbling upon your nearest brunch establishment, wherein you will wait at least 30 minutes amid the hordes of other people who also like that meal in the morning.

OR...you could wake up, not put pants on, walk 10 feet to your kitchen, and have the exact same meal ready before you'd even get your name on the list, all for about a tenth of the cost.

I don't know about you, but the second option certainly sounds better to me. I know that people tend to be lazy and don't want to have to cook when they're tired (and possibly hungover) on a weekend morning, but in my mind it's much more effort to go out into the world and brave the brunch crowd than it is to just do it yourself. But maybe that's because I'm a 10+ minute drive from any brunch place and also a massive introvert.

But even for the most cooking averse people out there, I'll give you another, perhaps more important reason to learn to make brunch (specifically eggs) yourself: you'll be able to make them better than any restaurant.

If you've been alive and ordered scrambled eggs at a restaurant for long enough, you've probably had your fair share of rubbery, overcooked, bland curds that are a poor excuse for eggs. I usually have to douse them in hot sauce to make them bearable. But what if I told you that your entire life was a lie...that creamy, delicious scrambled eggs do indeed exist, and are easier to make than you think...

The reason eggs at restaurants usually suck is because cooks, in order to fill requests, have to cook them at high temperatures and are probably doing a bunch of other things at the same time, so the eggs inevitably get overcooked. Restaurants are fine with this because overcooked eggs won't kill anyone (but I'd argue people are at a greater risk of suicide after eating them).

As a home cook, you have the luxury of time, and can spend a few extra minutes cooking your eggs at a lower temp and giving them undivided attention. That's the key to making delightfully creamy scrambled eggs. You can do them in a pot a la Gordon Ramsay, which I used to do, but now have found that I can get the same results in a pan, in about half the time (so long as I don't let the heat get too hot).

2. Certain Ethnic Foods

Check out my Chicken Tikka Masala recipe!

America is a melting pot of many cultures and traditions, and one of the effects of this is that you can find a plethora of delicious ethnic restaurants. However, unless you live in a large cosmopolitan city, your choices of ethnic foods might be limited to Mexican and Chinese, and those are both fine options, but if you have an itch for any other culinary traditions then you may be out of luck.

That is, unless you can cook them yourself. I can find a lot of great Mexican restaurants near me, but if I want German, French, Middle Eastern, or any other weird foods, then I'll probably have to make them myself.

But if you do have access to good ethnic restaurants in your area, it'd probably be more worth your while to just buy stuff from them instead of making it yourself. Unless of course they are on the bad side of town and it's something of a gamble to go there...maybe then learn to DIY...

3. Certain Expensive Foods

If you're doing okay in life, then you've probably been to a really good steakhouse on a special occasion, the kind of place that has dry-aged steaks that they cook to perfection and absolutely melt in your mouth.

Those places are awesome, but you may need to blow your life savings in order to dine there.

Luckily, with a little know-how, you can make restaurant-quality steaks for a fraction of the price in your very own home! Now, some restaurants have special access to top-tier steaks, and this adds to the reason they are so pricey, but even a standard supermarket steak can be made delicious if you know how to cook it right. I'd recommend practicing with cheaper cuts that you get on sale, learn how to make them delicious, and then try going to a nice butcher shop and get something that will knock your socks off.

4. Baked Goods

I don't bake a lot and, as a general rule, I don't think anyone should bake very often. The reason is that "baking" usually means cooking sugary sweet treats which, while delicious, are also probably the worst foods to put in your body. I have no doubt in my mind that one day in the future eating sugar will be looked upon the way smoking cigarettes is today.

That being said, you can live a healthy life in which you eat a balanced diet of greens, meats, and healthy grains, and occasionally partake in some sugary indulgences. You're gonna die anyway, might as well make the most of life.

So why should you bake things yourself instead of just buying cookies or a cake at the store? Because the ones you make yourself are better, of course! And the smell of freshly baked cookies in your home is something that can't be matched. Plus, if you're a mom, then baking things for your kids (not too often, mind you) and letting them lick the bowl afterwards (they probably won't get salmonella...) will give them some really fond childhood memories.

On a more practical note, baking things from scratch is, I would argue, actually healthier than buying pre-made baked goods or mixes. Sure, you're still going to use a ton of butter and sugar and white flour, but at least you won't be using any weird preservatives or other chemicals that are found in commercial baked goods. Plus, baking things yourself takes some effort, especially if you're too cheap to buy a stand mixer like I am. The effort you spend mixing stuff is definitely not enough to work off the multitude of calories you'll consume once it's done, but hey, at least you did something.

If you want to take things a step further, you can experiment with using "healthier" ingredients like agave, honey, or coconut oil. The end result probably won't be as good and it may not be any better for you, but worth a shot I guess.

5. Big (But Simple) Meals Meant to Serve Lots of People

There are going to be times in life when you need to prepare a decent amount of food for more than just yourself. It's a good idea to learn how to make at least one nice casserole or other such dish that you can take to a pot luck and create the illusion that you know how to cook. These don't have to be super fancy or complicated, they just have to be edible.

Pro tip: never take French Onion Soup (or any soup for that matter) to a pot luck. I did this when I was in college: I slaved all day making French Onion Soup, and no one ate it. There are a few reasons for this. One, at a pot luck people typically just have a plate, which doesn't do so well with soup. Two, French Onion Soup doesn't look very appetizing in a plastic container. Three, you can't broil it with cheese and croutons in individual bowls, which is one of the best things about French Onion Soup.

Other than pot luck dinners, I think something that needs to be brought back is the old fashioned dinner party. Going out to a restaurant with friends is fun, but it's also expensive. Why not just bring the fun to your home, where you can eat, drink, and be merry for a lower price tag and in a more comfortable environment. For these you want quantity over quality. Your guests probably won't care about some froufrou appetizers you made, they just want something that is hearty and filling.

6. A Fancy Date Meal for Two

Whether you're a guy or girl, being able to make a meal for someone you are trying to win over will undoubtedly help your chances. This type of meal is pretty much the exact opposite of the one in #5 in that you want quality over quantity. You don't want to make something too heavy because you don't want you or your date feeling bloated afterward, that will definitely not help your chances of getting them into...a breakdancing contest with you.

For this meal you have to tread a delicate line between showing off your cooking abilities and not screwing up. You don't want to take too many risks because if you make something awful it is not going to bode well for you (but if your date is a catch then they'll still give you a chance). Even though it is a little tricky to get right, making some really good chicken breasts (I like this method) is a definite crowd pleaser. Steak Au Poivre is also a good option, with the bonus of being able to set your pan on fire (but be careful).

7. Grilled Anything

I almost forgot about this since it has been a while since I've had a grill, but grilling is one of life's simple pleasures that shouldn't be neglected. I can't think of a more idealistic scenario than grilling some meats on a summer Saturday evening after a fun day outside with family and/or friends. Whether it be hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, chicken, pork chops, or heck, even vegetables, grilling just brings out the best in any food.

While grilling is fun, it's not exactly easy, and all too often we are forced to endure foods that may have some nice char marks, but are horrifically overcooked. So always try to get the grill nice and hot, whether you are using charcoal or gas, and pay attention to the different sights and sounds of the food while it is cooking. There are a lot of variables in grilling, so don't rely on cooking times. Also be aware of localized heating. With charcoal you can control this to some degree by concentrating the coals in different locations. On gas grills you can change the heat settings in different burners. Use this to your advantage, put thicker cuts of meat on the hottest part of the grill initially to get a good sear, then move them to a cooler area of the grill to finish cooking on the inside.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post and perhaps got some inspiration for how to get started on your cooking adventure. These are by no means all the types of meals I think are good to be able to cook yourself, but it's a decent starting point for those of you who might lack motivation to get in the kitchen. Bottom line: don't go for too much if you're just starting out. Learn a few simple things and work your way up from there.

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