Cooking as a Twenty-Something

I’m relatively new at this whole cooking thing. It’s not that growing up I couldn’t cook. In fact, whenever there was a potluck or community dinner, I delighted in researching a yummy recipe to try, cooking it up from scratch, and sharing it with friends. Admittedly, I’ve always had a preference for baking, partly because I love sweets and partly because the oven was the one part of the kitchen I fully trusted. You set it for a certain temperature. You bake it for a certain time. You test the middle with a toothpick or thrust a kitchen thermometer inside to make sure it’s cooked through, and TA DAH! It’s like magic! You’re done.

The stove top has always been more of a mystery to me. It requires much more finesse. And decent pots and pans. And knowing what “done” but not overdone chicken and other meats look and feel like. There’s also my history of being incredibly accident prone while growing up (okay, and still now too…) which in an effort to ensure my safety, my parents basically forbid me from using the range. This safety precaution turned into a bit of a fear as a I grew older and then by the time I was out of college and still hadn’t really cooked all that much (I lived in the dorms all four years and it made the most sense to have a meal plan so no college cooking experiments for me!), I assumed that I just wasn’t very good at cooking.

Seems silly to assume I can’t do something just because I haven’t tried very much, doesn’t it? And yet, that is the life of someone with low self-confidence.

Now I do have to say that some of my doubts about my cooking abilities came from my mom. She’s never been a particularly great cook. (Sorry mom!) Some things turn out amazing (Like she makes the best macaroni and cheese casserole in the business!) But growing up, I just remember her general struggle with cooking. I think in part, it’s because she hates it. She’d almost always rather be doing something else which many times led to her getting distracted while cooking and having a dish overcook or boil over or burn on the bottom. It didn’t always ruin the meal but it put a damper on her opinion of her cooking abilities.  And I think I assumed a lot of that distrust in my abilities from seeing her struggle.

It’s also important to note here that my maternal grandmother is an amazing cook, and does a great job of balancing all kinds of dishes cooking at once without burning any of them. We used to joke that there was something special about her oven because she could bake store bought cookie dough and somehow the cookies would turn out far more delicious and melt-in-your-mouth than the same ones we’d cook in our own oven! So anyway, one of my mom’s go to lines was “I’m not as good of a cook as your grandma!” And for me, I found myself  in this weird place between my mom who didn’t think she could cook, and my grandmother who seemed like the ultimate cook (for real though, I remember making bread from scratch with her as a kid like it was a totally normal thing).

So for fear of failure, I just didn’t try to cook much.

But when I started living on my own in 2016, I obviously needed to start cooking for myself on a grander scale. I couldn’t just eat grilled cheese and pasta for the rest of my life!

I started simply — with crockpot recipes. I mean, how bad of a cook did you have to be to mess up dumping a bunch of ingredients in a pot and letting it cook for eight hours? And they were a success! I’ve generally found you can’t go too wrong with a few chicken breasts and some kind of amalgam of toppings/sauces. As long as you don’t over or undercook it, you should be golden with a side of rice and a veggie!

But I’ve been starting to branch out even more — Using skillets! Making (non-crockpot) soups! Marinating meats and grilling them on a George Foreman! I’ve even tried salmon in a myriad of ways. I had NEVER cooked fish before and before trying it kind of terrified me, but at the same time with every successful meal I’ve cooked I get more and more confident to try something new!

The difference I found between my mom and I is that I actually enjoy the process of cooking. Yes, it’s no fun to do after work when I’m tired and a bit achy and I really just want to lie down. But there’s something about the creative nature of it that gets me energized, especially when I’m trying something new. When I first made White Bean Parmesan Spinach and Tomato Soup recently, it was supposed to be a 10-minute, one-pot recipe. While it did only take one pot, unless you’re a superhuman vegetable chopper, can-opener, and bean rinser, it takes at least 20 minutes to prep and then you actually have to cook it. But even though it did take longer for me to cook it than your average hoodini chef, I had so much fun! I love deciding what to pair dishes with and decided on an avocado grilled cheese on these little thin slices of french bread I picked up. It was adorable and delicious (especially with parmesan cheese to complement the parmesan in the soup!)

I don’t claim to be any kind of master chef, but I have found that I’m 100% capable of cooking and actually 1.) Being pretty decent at it and 2.) Enjoying the process and creativity. There’s this idea of “made with love” in cooking and you’d think, “How does something being ‘made with love’ make it taste any better?” But I think it really does. It’s not “love” necessarily, but attention to detail or passion for the process. Which shows that my mom isn’t a “bad cook,” she simply doesn’t give it the kind of attention that my grandmother does which is why some dishes turn out amazing and others are a bit of a flop.

So I want to encourage you if you’re like me and haven’t tried experimenting much with cooking before or you’re like my mom and feel like you’re just not good enough, don’t fret! I really think it’s about practice and attention to detail and figuring out what works best for you in your kitchen. If you don’t have the time or energy to do that, it’s okay! I don’t either sometimes. Then I usually order pizza. 🙂

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I also wanted to leave you with a little list of some of my favorite recipes. These have all worked out great for me with my minimal skills and experience so I imagine you can make them too! (NOTE: Some of these recipes did require some Googling. Like: How to cut a green onion? Or: How much lemon juice is in one lemon? So, don’t ever be afraid to Google!)

3 thoughts on “Cooking as a Twenty-Something

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  1. Yes. Exactly. I have been cooking since I was really young but it was things like eggs and boxed meals, just things to feed myself. But when people ask if I cook, I say no and that I never learned because it doesn’t feel as if it is the same thing as the people I know who really cook. I love that you captured that. I’m trying to get back into things and being adventurous now too in order to cook healthier foods. I’m nowhere near white bean soup but this was a good reminder.

    1. Yes! Like I could cook pasta/follow directions on a box usually, but anything that seemed to require finesse scared me! Starting with a crockpot (if you have one) is definitely a way to build confidence because it’s mostly, “Can I chop these veggies?” and “Can I dump them all in pot for a few hours?” but you end up with some super delicious meals. Fish was definitely what scares me and I still only feel comfortable cooking fresh fish (which is more expensive) because I don’t trust my thawing abilities and I tend to over cook it out of fear. But we’ll get there! It’s just a matter of trying new things! Good luck!

      1. I love crock pots. It inspired me to try pot roast lol. Lucky for me I hate fish so I am not motivated to try it at all. I eat meat but I actually also like trying vegan and vegetarian stuff. I feel like there could be an entire blog of just cooking for beginners where you post a recipe and everybody following has a week to try it and talk about the results, almost so it’s like you aren’t cooking by yourself and get the community food was meant for.

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