By: Karen Thompson
I wasn’t born with the cooking gene. In fact, I’ve had so many cooking mishaps they’ve become legendary stories for my family and friends. Once, while making a whole box of instant mashed potatoes, I added eight tablespoons of salt instead of eight tablespoons of butter (never did it occur to me that eight tablespoons was a LOT of salt). Another time, I cooked a sheet of wax paper into a pecan pie. Sadly, I could go on and on, but instead, I’ll share some tips I’ve learned over the years.
One of the most overlooked steps is the first: Have a kitchen stocked with the basic tools and pantry staples. While you don’t have to get the top of the line in pots, pans and other items that you’ll use in the oven or on the stove, don’t buy the cheapest stuff either. The better quality your cookware, the more evenly your food gets cooked. Trust me on this. I found this list of kitchen must-haves that won’t overwhelm you, plus they offer some great recommendations.
Once you’ve got your hardware, you’ll need some stuff to cook! Here’s a comprehensive list of pantry staples to help you get started on the road to both savory and sweet creations. Don’t feel like you have to get everything at once (it would be pretty expensive to do that!). Build slowly and add a few things each week.
Once you’ve got a basic arsenal of utensils and ingredients, here are some of my favorites ways to use them:
Pasta – Most pasta takes less than 10 minutes to cook, and the sauce and topping combinations can give you endless variety. Keep some frozen meatballs on hand and you’ve got dinner. You don’t even always need pasta sauce--just add garlic and olive oil and you’re good to go.
Low-sodium chicken broth - You can easily make soup by adding whatever you like to the broth: Veggies, cooked chicken, pasta or rice. Whatever you have lying around can be turned into soup! My favorite? Pull all the meat off a rotisserie chicken and add it to two cartons of broth. Sprinkle in some poultry seasoning, then bring it to a boil and add frozen dumplings. Cook over medium high heat until the dumplings are cooked and you’ve got a tasty dinner.
English muffins – These keep for a long time in the fridge and you can make easy breakfast sandwiches with some scrambled eggs and bacon. Or, spread pizza sauce and sprinkle cheese and olives on top for mini pizzas. If you really want to feel grown up, spoon on some ricotta cheese, add thinly sliced pears and drizzle honey on top. Totally Insta worthy.
Smoked sausages and/or kielbasa – Slice into rounds and bake with sliced peppers, onions, carrots and potatoes. Use whatever root veggies you have on hand – there’s no wrong way to do this one.
To me, Pinterest is a big help in the kitchen. Once I week, I look for a few easy recipes and make a grocery list of what I need to make them. It keeps me organized and experimenting with new dishes. Another benefit of expanding your cooking repertoire? You’ll save tons of money. Even if you cut your lunch or dinner outings in half, you’re likely to see the result in your pocket.
Many people find cooking therapeutic. Whether it’s the rhythmic chopping and slicing or the creativity and freedom of experimenting with herbs and spices, your time in the kitchen is whatever you want it to be. And if you accidentally add too much salt or bake something in a pie that’s not edible who cares? Every dish may not be a winner – but you’ll feel like one for cooking in your own kitchen.