I consider myself a fairly decent cook. I mean, I’m not getting super fancy on anything. But Joey and I are always fed and almost always happy with what I make.

More importantly (in my opinion), I’m pretty capable at taking a bunch of random ingredients and throwing together an entree and a few side dishes on the fly.

I’m not kidding. The recipes I “invent” are literally discovered through the thought process of, “Well, I like {insert food} and I like {insert other food}…so I would probably like them together? Maybe?”

Most of my favorite recipes since I started cooking for myself have been happy accidents, where certain foods that I knew would taste okay together have wound up tasting AMAZING. ON ACCIDENT. I love that. I very rarely follow recipes (unless they’re from my momma) beyond glancing at the ingredients to get a general idea of other combinations of food that work for other people.

I guess that’s the difference. I just look at all meals as a combination of food instead of a recipe. Maybe that’s what makes it less intimidating?

The point is, while there are definitely MUCH better chefs and bakers out there (this girl, this girl, and this girl, to name a few), I think I have a couple of super basic tips that any just-starting-to-cook person can appreciate.

1. The only spices you really need in your cabinet are cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.
Are salt and pepper considered spices? (I told you, I’m not an expert.) I don’t think they are. You should have those too.

But in terms of straight up comes-in-the-spice-rack spices, the four aforementioned spices will be enough for just about anything you’re going to make regularly. Especially the last three. You can add them to veggies, meat, rice — really any savory food — for flavor you didn’t even know you were capable of. (You can also use them to replace taco seasoning packets, which are made up of basically the same mixture plus tons of sodium. You’re welcome.)

And cinnamon is just good on almost everything. Fact.

Occasionally you’ll probably run into a specific recipe that requires something else, but for the day-to-day-I’m-just-going-to-whip-something-up-out-of-whatever-is-in-the-fridge cooking, these four will do ya.

2. The easiest way to cook vegetables.
I have a friend, who is married to my other friend. He love vegetables, but she does virtually all of the cooking and, for whatever reason, is intimidated by cooking vegetables. I’m intimidated by making meatloaf and potatoes (AFTER THE WORST KITCHEN DISASTER IN MY HISTORY OF COOKING), so I don’t judge. We all have our things.

But the thing is, vegetables are quite possibly the easiest thing in the world to cook. Especially if you know how to roast them. Want to know how? Okay, pay CAREFUL attention.

First, set your over to about 375 degrees. Wash your veggies and either cut or slice them into whatever shape seems normal (for example, cut broccoli into chunks, cut tomatoes into slices…but honestly, you can’t mess this up). Toss the cut-up veggies with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or garlic salt). Spread on a baking sheet and bake. THAT’S IT.

For most veggies, you only need to roast them about 15 minutes. Denser vegetables, like beets or potatoes, can take up to an hour. Check on them a few times to determine the best length of time for your oven.

3. The easiest meal to cook ever.
Are you ready for this? Grab 2-3 vegetables out of your fridge. (Almost anything will work…broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, green beans, spinach, kale, swiss chard, WHATEVER.)(Ok, just not potatoes or beets…as I said, they need special treatment.) Wash and chop them.

While they’re draining, prepare a pot of quinoa or rice or pasta on the stove. Let boil/simmer.

Back to the veggies. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add the veggies and saute for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cumin, and paprika (told you they’re helpful!) — however much you want, but a couple of shakes of each should do the trick. Or you can get really fancy and throw a few chopped garlic cloves into the mix.

When quinoa/rice/pasta is done, and the veggies are fragrant and soft (but not mushy), combine everything. Add hot sauce or lite soy sauce (for quinoa and rice) or a bit more olive oil (for pasta) if you like. If you want protein, throw in a scrambled egg, pre-cooked chicken or shrimp, or even a tuna from a can. EAT IT.

Speaking of hot sauce…

4. When in doubt, add hot sauce or cheese.
You guys. How did I not know about the wonders of hot sauce until, like, three weeks ago? YOU GUYS. It’s really, really good, in case you didn’t know. And better than that, it covers a multitude of sins.

If you’ve whipped up virtually anything, and the flavor just isn’t doing it for you, add a few drops of hot sauce or a couple tablespoons of feta or parmesan cheese. I don’t know why this works, but it has never failed me. One of those three ingredients has saved many a bland dish in my house. Make sure you always have them on-hand.

In general, the best way to get comfortable cooking is by, well, cooking. Once you’ve cooked a fillet of fish, you know how to cook almost every fillet of fish. Once you’ve learned how to cook vegetables, you know how to cook almost every vegetable.

Remember, you’re just combining foods. Don’t be intimidated!

Okay, opening the floor to people who actually know what they’re talking about. What are your super basic, super general cooking tips that you didn’t really learn until you had been cooking for a while? I wanna hear ‘em.

4 Responses to Don’t starve. Learn to cook.

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