Since tomatoes are starting to come in, make a simple tomato sauce:
Saute some garlic in olive oil & a pat of butter until fragrant.
Add tomatoes and a generous amount of salt. Don't worry about over salting, tomatoes seem to get better with more salt (go figure). Start with a tsp and add more if you want.
Cook the sauce it reduces a bit, ~10-15 minutes.
Add fresh basil (optional).
Add hot cooked pasta to the sauce, toss to combine, and simmer for about 1 minute.
Serve with or without a grating of fresh pecorino or parmesan.
The most useful thing I learned as a beginner cook was how to make a basic salad dressing with olive oil, an acidic element, salt, pepper and maple syrup! You can make an infinite number of salads based on that building block.
Acidic element ?
@mike2012 'acidic element' would usually be a vinegar or citrus.
- Scrambled eggs or frittata (baked eggs). Just type "scrambled" or "frittata" in the Search box (scroll all the way up to top right of this page). You can put all kinds of tasty veggies, cheese or meat in both. With a good, crusty loaf of bread and a fresh green salad, you're all set.
- Lasagna (pretty hard to mess it up)
- Lots of types of casseroles
- Steak or roast chicken, baked potatoes and a steamed veg
Working with children, and teaching them cooking basics, I always start by asking them what they like to eat. Typically, it will be cookies, but sometimes it is mac&cheese or another pasta dish. I've found that they are most motivated and get the most out of a lesson if it is something they really enjoy eating. In this day and age, I'd then look to see if there is a good utube video that explains how to cook whatever it is. If not, find a good illustrated cookbook (the Good Housekeeping Illustrated cookbook has an honored place on my shelf lo these many years later as it rarely fails. Straightforward recipes with step-by-step illustrations). There is nothing like success to increase curiosity and confidence for trying the next thing. So, if it is chocolate chip cookies that you love -- find an illustrated recipe that will walk you through, and GO FOR IT! A couple things about cooking -- it should always be entered fearlessly! As you try more and more things, you will have some failures (perhaps some spectacular ones! That's what makes life interesting!) For example, I've been reworking a gluten-free cake recipe for a smaller but taller pan (a single 6" rather than two 8"). I just cut it in half lengthwise (so that it can be a small layer cake) and discovered that despite my best attempts, it hasn't cooked all the way through. My initial reaction was disgust and wanting to throw it out, but now I've realized that if I carefully hollow out the underdone piece in the middle, I can fill it with chocolate -- in addition to the strawberry frosting I had already planned-- so it is about to become a "surprise!" cake! Definitely a failure in that it wasn't what I expected, but also an object lesson that many failures have an upside if you just look at them from a different perspective.
Good luck and bon appetite! You're embarking on a wonderful journey! Even though there may be occasional rain, most of the time there will be brilliant sunshine. :)
I agree with your suggestion to use whatever multimedia is available to help. Even now as an experienced cook, whenever I come across a method or technique I'm unsure of (even something very simple, like "what exactly does one do to 'broil' something correctly??"), it's great to quickly youtube a demo!
I started with simple stir-fries in college. Which is great as it teaches you about heat control, and timing and cooking each element correctly. Along with having everything all chopped up and ready to deploy while cooking.
I'd like to second Sam's answer, especially because while your rice cooks, your can put all your concentration into the stir-fry. Later on, try sites like Epicurious and Bon Appetit that have "quick and easy" sections, because cooking may not be either quick or easy for a while. Don't give up. The way to get the healthy food you're after is to make it yourself.
While not a first choice for summer, stews and chili are a great way to learn how to cook with many different flavors, spices, and bases. Additionally, you can hone your knife skills and (especially with chili) working with a basic meat like ground beef or turkey. I have an excellent one-pot recipe for chili that has not made it up on this site yet. Let me know if you would like me to send it to you.
Eggs taught me everything I know. Omelets, sunny-sides, scrambled, boiled soft & hard, coddled, baked – then free-hand poached as a sort of 'holy grail'. If you can learn to prepare eggs in all their various incarnations, you can do anything. Omelets are great practice, require stuffing, flavor pairing, can have varying levels of difficulty as a result. Eggs get to the skills Sam brings up; heat control & timing, and omelets add the skill of handling varying elements. They are great one-man (or two-man) meals easily tailored to your own specific taste with no left-overs – so you can eat the practice and not have to face it again in the morning.
Soup, stock and stews are also a great direction for a beginner to explore as mentioned above. Simple minestrone/pasta+fagioli is great in any season – brilliant for working with whatever happens to be at the farmstand/market this week.
I came here to say "eggs" but it looks like it's been said. Eggs are a great cheap protein as well (so you won't be crying over a 20$ per pound steak that you burn) easy to make for one person or many, and can be combined with any leftovers to stretch into a new meal. Happy cooking!
Pasta. Very easy. Bring a large pot of water to boil (you want those bubbles going crazy) and put in several tablespoons of salt. Put in the pasta and then stir it about once every minute until it's done (follow the time suggestions on the box. I check for doneness by scooping out a piece and biting it in the middle.) It's very easy to make simple sauces for pasta. Once the pasta is drained, I usually toss the pasta with a few tablespoons of olive oil (start small - it goes a long way), some salt and pepper and some kind of veggie. My favorite one right now is to buy frozen broccoli and cauliflower (they're just as healthy as fresh! Feel free to try another frozen veggie, too) and microwave them according to the package directions. I then throw them in with the pasta and everything else. Taste it and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it. If you like things spicy, try tossing in a little bit of Cajun seasoning or cayenne. Again, start small and then taste, adding more if you want to. You can also throw some parmesan cheese in it, too, if you like. Again, start with a little, taste and add more if you like.
Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.
I'm in the start with eggs crowd. Combining the basics of stir fry with eggs, you can saute many different types of vegetables in olive oil, then put them in a baking pan, crack some eggs on top, grate cheese over the top, and bake them in a 375F for 15ish minutes, and you'll have wonderful baked eggs. Also - though it's summer, so this is less applicable - one of the very best things to be able to do is roast vegetables. There are almost no vegetables that aren't good roasted, and it's pretty much the same drill for all of them: chop, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in a hot oven (400-450F), stirring a couple times in the process, until they are tender. Roast vegetables go with or into almost anything!
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