Home Cooking

Are your kitchen misconceptions holding you back from a quick delicious dinner?

fronk | May 20, 201703:56 PM    

I've shared some thoughts about three misconceptions that prevent individuals from getting into the kitchen - but I'd like to hear some of yours!

We'll begin with some examples of common excuses not to cook:

* "I'm too tired."
* "I don't want to do anything after work."
* "I don't have time to cook after work because I have to [activity]."
* "I don't want to deal with clean up."
* "I have money to go out and buy something delicious - screw cooking!"
* "Cooking for myself is boring."
* "Cooking for [number of people] is exhausting."
* "I don't enjoy the process of cooking enough to do it frequently."
* "I suck in the kitchen, everything catches on fire."
* "Everything I cook tastes like dog shit."

The list goes on. You can mix and match portions of the phrases above and find something acceptable as well.

Let's talk mental habits and time calculations:

If you "choose not to cook" and you've made that a firm decision, I'm sad to hear that, but your consciously-made choice is acceptable. I certainly hope you re-evaluate down the line. However, if you "don't want to cook because of XYZ" but have an inkling of desire to do so more frequently, you're much closer to habitually pumping out a post-work delicious weeknight meal than you think.

Cooking, like every other action that you decide to perform (either automatic or not), exists as a conscious choice in your brain at some point during the day. For busy professionals, convenience is generally the priority. The stomach grumbles. The brain sorts through several options. "Cook, pick-up, delivery, or starve." I've been there. Whatever is close and whatever is fast is usually the go-to.

If we define convenience solely on the basis of time, let's look at this hypothetically. Let us say you can actually get something on the table in 25 minutes.

If you were to call or go online and order something and then pick it up, that'd be 2-3 minutes for the ordering process, 5-10 minutes to get there and back, and 2-3 minutes to actually do the pick-up at the restaurant. That's pretty much 20 minutes, barring if the restaurant was close and there was no traffic. If you're really into making that argument as strong as possible, you could've been filling in on that lost opportunity cost podcasting the entire time. However, in roughly the same amount of time, you could've cooked up something that is admittedly tasty, four times cheaper, and all the while, honed one new skill in your cooking game. Oh, and you also can podcast while cooking.

Sure, you can make the argument that 2-3 minutes could be spent on the phone ordering delivery and instead use your resources (read: money) to preserve your time. You get 20-25 minutes back if you don't go out and pick anything up. Twenty minutes is twenty minutes. If you could "order" twenty minutes, would you? Probably. Whether you love cooking or hate it, if you use twenty minutes to cook, you've used twenty minutes. Granted, twenty minutes is not alot of time - it's about 2% of your waking day.

I try and understand when people casually throw out "well, I just don't have time to cook." What I really hear is, "I don't want to cook because I'd rather use my time to do [other stuff]." Earlier, we talked about cooking as a voluntary decision. The decision is either highly manual ("what should I do tonight"), or the decision-maker (you) has outsourced the decision to an automatic "no" or "yes" given a set of circumstances. In less fancy language it means you've set up some kind of system (mental or physical) that makes it an easy "yes, I'm cookin' tonight!"

That brings us to our first misconception. Cooking can take a long time, but it doesn't have to - in fact, it can be as fast as ordering out. Say it out loud, because you don't hear that very often.

Let's step into the kitchen. To make cooking work on a weeknight, three things need to exist:

1. food
2. 20-25 minutes of your time
3. passing skills in the kitchen

Immediately, some of the responses from the anti-cooking crowd:

* "I don't know what food to buy."
* "I don't have 20-25 minutes of time."
* "Everything I cook turns out crappy and is burnt."
* This list is awfully similar to the one above...

The response to most cooking complaints? Misconception number two. Complexity is confusion. Combat it by being simple. That's it.

Meals don't have to be complex, so shopping shouldn't be some huge sprint planning session. Additionally, professional skills in the kitchen are not a hard prerequisite to be in the kitchen. You drive a car right? Are you a professional driver? Most likely not, but you're still on the road.

There are going to be nights when you've got to work overtime a bit, get to the gym, work on your side business, and still find time to cook. These are the nights that "simplicity" will allow dinner to be on the table in 20 minutes. There is no harm in making a dish that is composed of just one ingredient, seasoned well. Kale, sauteéd and seasoned. Two pork chops salted the night before, pan-fried. Some rice with a sprinkling of sesame seed. That's it. Dinner.

Extend the second concept from meals to shopping. If your meals look like the one above, "what do I eat" doesn't have to make coherent sense. When grocery shopping, there doesn't need to be a mad scramble for 15 ingredients that go into one dish. Buy the vegetables you like to eat. Buy the meats you like to eat. Buy some starches and some fruit.

The simplicity mantra works for kitchen techniques as well. As bad as your knife skills are, you can still probably cut your vegetables into a semi-looking dice. Same deal here. Leave the professional techniques to professional cooks for now. Start with what you have.

Thus, simplicity applies to what to eat n' buy, and using what you got. Start there, and it'll make the apparent (but only 2% of your day) loss of time a little more bearable.

The simplicity system serves as a lowered barrier that helps you get into the habit of stepping into the kitchen. From there, understand that there is nowhere to go but up. Your fingers will only become more dexterous, your technique faster, and your meals tastier. If you can do it in 20 minutes in the first couple shots, as you level up, you can ramp up the complexity in the same amount of time. Then, imagine what you could do with *MORE* time.

Third misconception. Remember "following a recipe?" Forget it.

First off, if you're being simple, you don't even need a recipe.

Recipes (some of them, if not most) are written in a manner that expect you to follow it verbatim. Such instructions are not motivating, they're constricting. Long list of ingredients. Longer paragraphs of instructions. More so, it's not printed out - it's on your computer screen, which goes to sleep every 3 minutes. Ugh, TLDR. Recipes are a cause for overwhelm because people search for things that SHOULD be good. They want food that tastes good. Food is already good - all you need is to bring it out.

Responses from the crowd: "So what the hell do I cook?"

Just food. This is where some kosher salt, oil, and some garlic, acid, or herb can help. Think of kosher salt as that medium that brings out the natural flavors of the food you're trying to cook. You'd be surprised how far a food plus some oil and salt can get you. Use it as an exercise to *REALLY* know what the foods you like taste like. What does celery taste like? Kale? Pork loin? What is it truly like, without the sauces, mayonnaise, and condiments?

Keep these in mind:

1. Cooking can take a long time, but it doesn't have to.

2. Simplicity encourages quick decisions in the hands, on the plate, and in the supermarket.

3. Screw the recipe.

What other misconceptions have Chowhounders encountered, dealt with, or overcome in order to get back into the kitchen again?

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