How to Learn to Cook
My mom is probably the only remaining person on the planet without a food blog. And that’s only cause she doesn’t own a computer. I think we can all agree that the market’s about as saturated as my last Chrome-filtered Insta post (if you don't believe me, just scroll to the bottom of this page) and that fact alone has deterred me for a long time. That and the fact that oftentimes I have the attention span of a goldfish. And my lexicon is limited. And I start too many sentences with And. Also that I couldn’t properly work a camera with a gun to my head and that basically every one in the world (aside from my mom) is doing this thing better and artsier, and more beautiful than I ever will. All logic and internal dialogue says, “Just stop now. Shouldn’t you be working on some kind of portfolio development project or something? Pretty sure you have some emails to return.”
Over the past few months I’ve been learning more than ever that perfectionism all but crushes progress. Somehow I grew up to be a super restless (read: indecisive) creative entrepreneur. I still hesitate to own that because it seems too wild and unexpected to be true. Honestly no one saw that coming. Not me. Not my family. After all, homegirl has a degree in Finance. It certainly wasn't who I was growing up but somehow today it couldn't be more accurate. The girl I’ve always been though is the look before you leap kinda girl. And by look I mean study intently for months (or maybe even years!) taking into account all possible outcomes, over-prepare for each, and maybe take a class or two before making any REAL tangible moves. As you might imagine, those two selves are well at odds with each other. The voice on my right shoulder says “Leap!” and one on my left says, “Look!” Together they’re pretty obnoxious. And where am I? Lying on the floor paralyzed with inner conflict obviously.
It shouldn’t surprise you then to know that I can be incredibly insecure. While I don’t care what everyone thinks, I do care more than I care to admit what a few select people think and that’s more than enough to keep me from moving forward before everything is just right. Talk about killing progress. So many things hold us back from taking action on what we dream of doing. All of those are just a few of mine.
Take this blog for example. The Urban Domestic was never intended to be it’s name. It’s had a half dozen names because every time the angle of the content changed in my mind the previous name no longer fully suited. You only get one first impression so it better be just right, right? No pressure. I’m well away from finishing all the workshops I’ve invested in that will show me how "define my brand", "establish my voice," and boost my all-important social media presence. All of that gets debilitatingly overwhelming. But for now, "perfect "will have to yield to "perfectly in progress" because name or not, prepared or not, perfect or not, I’m no longer content to wait. And you shouldn’t be either.
If you’re just starting to learn to cook, we can be perfectly in progress together. I’m learning that the best way to make said progress is to just do. To stop reading about doing it, thinking about doing it, planning to do it, or waiting until you're somehow already perfect at it and just DO it. Regardless of all the reasons and excuses and hesitations that have limited you up until this point. I can confidently say that the best way to learn to cook is to cook.
So that is my first bit of advice. And I have three. The second is this:
Don’t fear the flames, the mistakes, the mess, or anything else. Cooking is an adventure and there will be some very wrong and inedible turns. Not for awhile, but FOREVER. So you can lay to rest this vision of yourself as the next Ina in a country mansion effortlessly preparing garden lunches and classic cassoulets that come together in 15 minutes and come out perfectly every time. You wouldn’t believe the behind the scenes on all that stuff. That biz takes an army of people. I make a living as a member of it so trust me when I say, there’s really no such thing as perfect. Cooking can be simplified, but it’s not effortless. And finally,
Change your language.
The truth is you do know how to cook. You just haven’t yet had the time or the right foundation or resources to make it a habit. Part of it is confidence. I get that. Believe me. But changing the way you think can have huge repercussions. I’d venture to say that just the simple act of switching up your language from “I can’t cook” or “I don’t cook” to “I know how to cook” would bring about more change than you think. I don’t mean to sound new-agey. I’m the farthest (furthest?) thing from it. But I am I am learning to change some of my own internal dialogue too obviously. It’s hard, I know but it makes a big difference.
Are you still with me? Okay, sweet. So now that you know what you’ve got to do, what exactly do you need to do it? I love practical application too. In my opinion, you need four things:
The right tools.
Cooking is manual labor. When you think about it, we don’t actually do a whole lot of that anymore. If you’re not used to being on your feet for awhile or don’t like to get your hands dirty this might take some getting used to. Washing, chopping, peeling, seasoning. Cooking is such a feast for the senses from beginning to end. The sizzle of chopped garlic in a hot saute pan, the crunch of hand-harvested sea salt between your fingers, the spicy sweet aroma of freshly cracked black pepper, the caramelized beauty of a properly seared ribeye steak. It’s all within reach my friend. But to experience it you’re gonna need a knife (and you’ll enjoy it much more if you know how to properly use it), the right pan, and a few other simple things.
Any endeavor taken on without the right tools is destined to end in frustration and it will have likely been an uphill battle to get there. Will there be an investment required? Yes. But I'd love to tell you exactly what you DO need (it’s less than you think) and steer you away from wasting money (and kitchen space) on the things you don’t.
A very basic knowledge of some fundamentals (the right tools 2.0)
All you really need to get started on the right foot is a clear understanding of basic cooking methods and how to properly use your knife. From there you can go anywhere. And you’ll be less likely to chop your finger off on the way. The art of cooking is a freeform one and this is very good news for all you perfectionists out there. Like art, most savory recipes are simply inspiration, open to interpretation on so many levels. That’s amazing and so freeing. The fundamentals simply give you a universal language by which to interpret the piece and the confidence to draw your own conclusions.
A few planning skills
Take a few hours on a Sunday afternoon and prep a few things for the week ahead. Most every weekend I make up a big batch of granola, enough of my weird green smoothie to cover me for the first couple days of the work week, and a double recipe of something savory to have as leftovers. It saves me precious time during the week, money that I would’ve spent on emergency take out, and quite literally, my ass. Whatever I make is likely to be ten times healthier than something I would’ve picked up. It’s also a good idea to get in to the habit of going to the grocery store with an intentional list. That way you get home with more than a frozen burrito, sliced cheddar, and a pint of ice cream. Instead you’ve got exactly what you need for your Sunday prep plus the ingredients for at least one additional meal, a frozen burrito (there will still be those nights), and a pint of ice cream. You weren’t entirely off the first time around. Last but not least,
Ahhh yes. Dedication. There was bound to be one odd, intangible, somewhat annoying piece and part to this. Cooking takes time. Planning and shopping and clean up takes time. I know. We’re talking about a lifestyle change though. And that means a change of habit, priority, time, all that. It’s so worth it. You don’t need to be whipping up a four course meal for yourself every night. Cereal still holds a solid spot in my top five favorite dinners. But you do have to make a conscious effort to cook. Whether it be a new weekly dinner party plan with a few close friends, inviting your neighbor over every so often, or simply dedicating one or two nights a week to making yourself a decent meal. You have to make a little time. And a little space. Some days it can be all about the hella long game. Slow cooked sauces, an honest risotto, a beautiful braise, the two-day labor of love that is puff pastry. There’s a time and place for those endeavors. But for the most part you can simplify. On the reg, quick fix meals and kitchen hacks are your friends. And they’ll teach you to cook just as much as that epic duck confit recipe you’re thinking of tackling. Balance out the ambitious with plenty of the approachable and you’ll be a million times more likely to stick with it.
Simple Roast Chicken
The very first cooking lesson I gave to my best friend (who has been the inspiration and head cheerleader for this site from first thought) we roasted a chicken. If you can roast a chicken, you can host a dinner party or feed yourself for days. She ended up needing to lie down for an hour or so mid-lesson (remember what I said about manual labor) but to her credit the chicken turned out beautifully. Use your kitchen thermometer to make sure that the bird registers 160 degrees where the leg meets the thigh. You don’t want to die but you don’t want it dry.
1 Organic chicken, patted dry with paper towels and little inside surprise bag removed
Extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, halved
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
Digital, instant read, or meat thermometer
Thirty minutes before you want to cook pull the bird from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken in a roasting dish, pour olive oil over, and use your hands to coat the entire bird. Sprinkle very generously with kosher salt and black pepper. Fill the inside with the cut lemons and garlic cloves. Roast on the center rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes depending on the size of your bird. It may need longer but take it’s temperature near the end of this amount of time so you know what’s happening in there. If it’s little legs start to get too dark just tent them with a piece of foil.
Toss a few handfuls of cut vegetables with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss them into the pan alongside the chicken to roast for a one pot meal. Dinner done.