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need some quick and easy dinner ideas for a single non-cooker

hi everyone i'm embarrassed to admit this, but i am 28 and don't know how to cook (and my mom's italian too)! i mean i think ive made like 3 things in my life ever, 2 of which were pies! i'm sure this topic has been mentioned millions of times, but i need your wise counsel. btw, i am low on funds and don't like to eat meat too often (but love salads, seafood, fruits and veggies). all i know is i need me some home cookin (and yes i intend to buy a cookbook or 2 in the future, but i like going straight to the source). thanks SO much for your help!

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  1. You might start with eggs and teach your self how to make all of the basic egg dishes, omelettes, scambles, hard cooked (not boiled...never boil and egg it makes the whites too tough and the yolks to firm)frittatas, etc. Graduate to more involved egg dishes like quiche and souffles, The combinations of ingredients you can use in them. There are also egg based desserts like flans and pubbings and custards again an infinite variety and eggs are good for you and cheap.

    There are lots of cookbooks out there and almost every single one of them expects a user to have a rudimentary knowledge of the terms used and techniques. If you are really a novice and are not real sure of your self in the kitchen I would suggest your first book purchase be Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide. She wrote it for her son's when they were moving into their first apartments. It is fun to read and she will walk you through what you really need to know, have on hand and techniques. I often give it as a closing gift to young buyers buying their first home or condo and I have learned through the course of the purchase that they are kitchen novices and with a mortgage there is not going to be a lot of dining out or take out.

    2 Others which might be nice for a bigginer are Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book and Supper Book. Before investing much in cook books get yourself down to your public library and check out cook books you think you might like to own. Read them see if the author suits your style or inspires you to want to cook from the book. Test drive before buying.

    1. I love to make pasta salads, they are so easy and cheap. Cook any type of pasta and add chopped vegetables of your choice (broccoli, squash, etc), olives, cheese, beans such as chickpeas and then add olive oil and vinegar to taste. Its great and easy.

      1. Learn how to make a few pasta sauces, and then have fun buying all the different shapes and sizes of pasta and adding your favorite vegetables to the sauce to change them up a bit. You'll of course want to start with a marinara. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. Simple would be opening up a can of prepared sauce and just adding to it. Medium simple would be starting with tomato sauce, tomato paste, and/or canned tomatoes and building your sauce up with spices, herbs, meat, vegetables, etc. The most complicated would be buying tomatoes and going from there.

        Other simple sauces would be:

        pesto (if you have a blender or food processor it's just a few ingredients: basil, pine nuts, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, and garlic.)

        alfredo: just cheese and cream

        I'm sure others will chime in. Also consider a "raw" pasta sauce, which has been popular on this board this summer. Start with this link and add whatever suits you http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        A GREAT way to start a small repertoire of easy recipes is to check this board daily. Follow along, see what looks easy enough, and cook what others are cooking. That way you'll have people to bounce ideas off of, and if anything goes awry there will be others to chime in.

        1. When cooking for one, some of the best things to learn are how to economize! Things like buy a pack of chicken and freeze the other breasts, legs, wings, things etc in individual portions. Buy in bulk and learn to reinvent ingredients so last nights beef stir fry is tonight fajitas.

          One thing I like to make that is fast and simple is a recipe I dreamt up for salmon. Salmon is great because you can often buy it in individual serving sizes.

          Sprinkle some regular and black (or just regular or black if that is all you have) on to a plate. Take a portion of salmon (or make double for other uses) brush the non-skin side with a marinade of your choice (terikayi, oyster sauce, mustard, hoisin) then put the salmon with the marinade side down into the sesame seeds. This will give a sesame seed "crust".

          Heat some oil in a frying pan with a heat proof handle and place the salmon seed side down in to the oil. Fry the salmon for a few minutes and then gently turn over. Fry for a couple minutes. Finish the salmon off in the oven or a toaster oven.

          I make a wasabi aioli to go with it. Sounds fancy but is just wasabi powder in mayo.

          Hope that helps!


          1. i decided to give my sister and her hubbie and introductory cooking lesson a few months ago, and got some great suggestions on simple foods for cooking novices on this thread:

            this board is a great resource, and a basic cookbook (like one of the moosewood books, or the bittman how to cook everything book) will get you started.


            rose water (f/k/a freddie)

            1. If you have a place to put it, get a small used gas grill (we bought our first one for $20). Grilling is easy and adds terrific flavor. We grill veggies (corn without the husk, squash, etc.) all the time, and it only takes salt pepper olive oil and grill time. Second thing I would learn is to roast - same technique, olive oil, salt pepper, great for root veggies. For instance, roast a whole bunch of beets (throw them in foil whole at 425 until tender, about an hour, then peel), and any leftovers can be put into salads later. Roasted cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes - all very tastey and super easy. Grilling and roasting are my "I don't feel like cooking, but I want it to taste good without too much effort" staples.

              1. I really second the recommendation of the Moosewood Cookbook. It's mostly vegetarian and has loads of user-friendly recipes for cheap, healthy, and very tasty foods. Nigella Lawson's How to Eat is also great, since it's divided into sections with more simple or more complicated recipes (though none of her recipes is very difficult). But don't take anyone's word alone on a cookbook--browse the bookshop and really look through a few to see if they have what you want.

                But as to recipes: there was a post on this recently, but I think it bears repeating that homemade tomato sauce is the easiest thing in the world to make: saute two or three minced or crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil till they start to color, then add a can of good crushed tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, and crushed chili if you want. Simmer just till it's the consistency you like, 15 or 20 minutes. You can cook your pasta in the meantime. Serve with parmesan or pecorino romano and a salad.

                Another really easy dinner is salmon fillets cooked in foil packets. Take salmon fillets (one per person), put them on a piece of foil large enough to wrap them securely (double the foil to safeguard against leaks, use up to 2 fillets per packet). Squeeze over them the juice of half a lemon, add salt and pepper, and place a few very thin lemon slices on top. Fold the foil to form secure packets, place on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes (usually long enough for fillets that are an inch or an inch and a half thick). Serve with salad, or steamed green beans, or boiled potatoes with a garlic-lemon-olive-oil dressing. Very simple, no pan to clean. And you can experiment with the seasonings. Instead of lemon, try sitting the salmon on a bed of dill. Or use both dill and lemon. Or try slices of ginger, shallots, and cilantro leaves with some lime. Or chopped tomatoes and fennel. The possibilities are endless.

                1. Don't be intimidated. Although folks above have suggested some good starting points, many cookbooks and their long lists of ingredients may be daunting (e.g. Moosewood). If you do decide to go the cookbook route, I suggest joining your local library, and borrowing a few books to see what style best suits you before committing to a whole library.

                  Great ones to start with are from British food writer Nigel Slater - Real Food is probably best for the beginner. He takes a no-nonsense approach to assembling food (paraphrase: "after all, it's only supper"), based on simple ingredients and a minimum of fussy technique. The Brits tend to measure by weight rather than volume, but many of Slater's recipes rely on approximations (e.g. a large or small fistful) because his point is that it really doesn't matter most of the time - you should do what tastes good to you. Another good one to try is Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley. Organized by what produce is available by season, and then into menus (e.g., a main course and a salad), this is a meatless cookbook that helps you figure out how to organize your shopping list and cooking time (e.g. do you make the salad first and then cook the main course, do you boil the pasta before making the sauce?) to serve a whole meal, but the individual recipes are simple, great, and several have become my staples.

                  As for non-book recommendations - think of the things you like to eat when others make them, and then start with those - salads are simply about assembling a pleasing group of good quality ingredients, seafood benefits from a minimum of fuss, and clean-tasting veggies are one of the true pleasures of life for those who can appreciate them.

                  Good luck, and let us know how you are doing!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Ottawa

                    What warmhearted, sensible advice! Thank you, Sam Ottawa!

                    1. re: Sam Ottawa

                      Nigel Slater is excellent as is Jamie Oliver, a k a the Naked Chef. They have a very laidback approach to cooking which is sometimes just what you need, instead of finickity instructions to use 2 grams ITALIAN almonds.
                      Start simple and work your way up. Learn to cook pasta and make simple sauces to accompany it. Veggies like potatoes and carrots whether boiled, sauteed or baked. To marinate chicken, meat or fish in a dry spice rub or a simple marinade sauce before cooking it is also simple. For me, cooking is fun more than anything else so if push comes to shove I will go with Slater's and Oliver's advice to "chuck the chicken into the oven", use "a fistful" of herbs and a "whacky load" of lemons.
                      No one is born a gourmet chef. At one time or another even Martha Stewart burned her eggs.

                    2. Learn to make - quickie French omelet, simple tomato sauce, brown rice, steamed veg. with melted cheese, interesting grilled sandwiches, simple roast chiccken, poached fish, steak, a great burger, chiccken noodle soup - that should hold you for a while.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: niki rothman

                        And simple but interesting chopped salads, of course. For example, see how easy this is: bagged spinach leaves, thin sliced apple, thin sliced red onion, sweetened lemon juice vinagrettte, toss toasted nuts on top at the last minute (if you mix in they get soggy).

                      2. Linguini w/clam sauce is fast, easy, cheap, pretty healthy, good for one (or more) & involves seafood (but not meat). SHOPPING LIST-Linguini, oil, garlic & clams

                        Cook 1 serving pasta until al dente (read package) & drain well-don't rinse. Set aside.
                        In med. saucepan on low-medium heat melt 2T butter (Olive oil if health is a concern)
                        Add 1 1/2 (or 2 1/2 if you like garlic) cloves minced/pressed garlic and saute until lightly browned
                        Add can clams (with juice) and warm through (about 3-5 mins)
                        Dump in pasta and heat up. Pasta will soak up some of the clam juice & flavor.

                        The whole thing should take about 15 minutes and is pretty darn good. If you are feeling fancy, sprinkle parsley and or cheese.

                        1. wow thanks so much everyone for your great advice and suggestions. ya know i cooked marinara once and guess what - i didnt cook the onions long enough! oh well, ill be making another batch real soon...my roommate last night made sauce but added hot dogs (eww) and ground meat. the hot dogs just threw me off, but it did indeed taste good (just too many calories for me tho). ill let you all know how i'm doing soon enough...thanks again!