Save money, learn to cook
Many people eat out because they’re too busy to cook. But some people simply don’t know how. It’s frustrating to waste food, so you might not want to try anything new. These are situations that start the downward spiral of buying prepared foods at the grocery store and restaurants. Check your grocery aisles. It can be mind boggling, but yes, plenty of people are loading up on convenience foods. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can get back to basics and cook meals at home with fresh ingredients or at least partially homemade. Remember: Every cook had to learn the basics.
Here are a few ways to start.
ASK FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
They’re going to be the easiest sources for tried-and-true recipes. Ask them to teach you and walk you step by step on how to prepare a few dishes. You can take a cooking class together, too. Call your local cooperative extension and see whether they have any classes that interest you. Find community classes that are being offered, too.
You don’t need a gourmet kitchen stocked with the latest in kitchen tools. But do invest in basic bakeware, cookware, cutlery and utensils. Go for quality. You can get by without gizmos, but cooking can be more enjoyable with practical tools such as kitchen shears, a meat thermometer or a microplane grater. Don’t buy everything all at once. Start with the tools you need for a few basic recipes and wait for sales. If you don’t mind secondhand supplies, keep an eye open for items you need.
Borrow easy-to-follow cookbooks such as Betty Crocker from the library or buy them secondhand. Check TV cooking shows and food channels. Many cooking websites have video cooking tutorials that cover basic techniques such as chopping and preparing vegetables. You want to start with simple recipes that are easy to follow. But most importantly, buy cookbooks with recipes that include foods that you and your family like. Avoid substituting and experimenting until you have a handful of recipes you’ve mastered.
LEARN CUTS OF MEAT/POULTRY:
Visit www.foodsubs.com, which will tell you all the various cuts of meat and poultry and how they’re best prepared. It also contains descriptions of thousands of ingredients and substitutions. You can ask for tips from a local butcher or meat-department manager at the grocery store.
LEARN FOOD SAFETY:
Be sure to learn safe ways to clean, prepare, cook and store your food. Visit www.foodsafety.gov for more information.
KNOW YOUR HERBS AND SPICES:
Learn how to flavor your food. Fresh herbs can be grown in your kitchen or in an outside garden. For a handy herb-and-spice guide, visit www.goodcooking.com/herspice.htm.
STOCK YOUR PANTRY:
Keep pantry staples such as canned tomatoes, pasta, flour, sugar, olive oil, etc., on hand.
Some shortcuts will make your work easier. You haven’t failed at cooking if you use the occasional convenience food. Even frugal cooks use frozen vegetables and jarred spaghetti sauce sometimes.
KEEP A JOURNAL:
You don’t have to have a fancy notebook, but notes on index cards or post-it notes on any recipes you’ve tried will help you the next time you make it. Maybe the dish was perfect but could have had a twist of lemon, or maybe it took slightly longer to cook than the recipe stated. Keeping notes helps you and makes it easy to share recipes with others, too. Keep cooking and keep expanding your cooking repertoire.