It should be simple, right? You put stuff in the hole to keep yourself alive. That part is easy enough. What is more difficult, however, is preparing victuals that will both sustain you and taste good. Now I know I have it easy: I don't have to mess with a wood stove, lug buckets of water to my house, pluck feathers off my fried chicken, or grow any of my own food. I enjoy the benefits of electric appliances, convenient grocery stores, and a world wide web full of recipe ideas. But despite all the ways I have it easy, cooking remains so dang-flabbing hard.
In the last few years of fending for myself in the dangerous aisles of Winco and wielding weapons for good and evil in the kitchen, I have experienced my share of triumphs and defeats. Surely more failures are yet to come. Through it all, I have learned some valuable lessons that I would like to share...
1. The day will come when you will be sick of Top Ramen, and even (dare I say it) free pizza.
Do I still have a $5 pallet of Top Ramen in my cupboard, from well over a year ago? Yes. And I am never going to eat another bowl of the stuff. I haven't reached the place yet where I'd turn down a free piece of pizza, but there was a time last year when I came pretty close. I pray that day never comes. Have my tastes refined? Or did I just reach the limit?
2. If you're not sure if you'll like something, don't buy 5 boxes of it.
Why do I ever buy microwavable egg rolls? Every time, it's a trap. Those low low prices and the lure of convenience sometimes get the better of me. I just want delicious egg rolls, you know? Without having to go to a restaurant for them. But frozen egg rolls are always disappointing and mushy.
3. Even though you know you should eat your veggies, you also know you're not going to, so stop buying salad.
Stop watching spinach turn slimy in your fridge. Just own up to your faults, and admit you aren't strong enough to go through a whole bag of green leafies by yourself. Stop lying to yourself every time you go to the grocery store, thinking a new flavor of salad dressing will change everything. Come on, you're better than that. Just be true to yourself and buy a box of Cheez-Its instead.
4. You are one person, and a small one at that. Buying in bulk won't actually save you money.
Sometimes you just have to pay more for less to avoid slicing an inch of mold off that giant block of cheddar cheese every time you want to make a sandwich.
5. Food strategy: cook a giant meal on Sunday and eat left-overs all week.
The good news is that you won't have to prepare a lunch or bother with cooking dinner after a full day of work. That bad news is that you will be sick of potatoes and chicken by Wednesday. You'll also make way more potatoes than chicken and veggies, so by Friday you'll have run out of the things that make potatoes interesting. And be warned, if the left-over feast you worked so hard for doesn't turn out and you actually hate it, you're stuck with a lot of it.
6. When you're trying out a new recipe, be careful not to let it grow too powerful.
Just because a recipe exists on the Internet does not mean it's a good idea. And if you give that bubbling pot an inch of freedom, it will persuade you to dump an extra can of tomato sauce into its greedy maw, and another cup of ground beef... and before you know it, you've tripled the recipe and don't have a pot big enough to contain its hunger for power. And, guess what? Potato-apple pancakes aren't as good as you expected, and gnocchi with cannellini beans and red sauce is absolutely disgusting. You poor fool.
7. Put enough olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasonings on anything and throw it in the oven, and it will be good.
I promise you, it will be delicious. Also, double the amount of chocolate chips in any recipe.
8. Don't be afraid to try something new, or modify an existing recipe.
While a healthy amount of fear is essential to any cooking venture, don't let that stop you from getting creative and listening to your instincts. Need to get rid of something? Just throw it in there and see what happens! Some tasty experiments I've tried recently are brownies with banana chunks and chocolate cookies with peanut butter.
10. Most importantly, cooking should be fun!
Yes, it's terrifying and exhausting, and you have to wash a hundred dishes afterwards. Yes, things can and do go horribly wrong. Yes, I'm bored of rice, carrots, and chicken. But remember that this is just another adventure, and adventures can be uncomfortable at times, but the high stakes and element of danger make it more exciting. If you choose your adventuring companion wisely, it should be easy to have fun, no matter if the outcome is delicious or suspicious.