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frustrated non-chef needs help

Hi fellow 'hounds! I'm a 31-year-old woman who loves food, but I don't know how to cook. I'm not being humble here, making oatmeal in anything but a microwave is tough for me. Yet every once in a while, I get a crazy urge to try to make something. What I'm looking for are recipes that are heathy (low fat, mid range calories, balanced with carbs/meat/veggies, full of fairly natural ingredients that I can pronounce) and easy.

That easy is the hard part. Because every time I think I find a recipe that someone like me can try, I'm foiled! You have to brown the meat before putting it in a crockpot, you have to broil the eggplant before baking the casserole, you have to cook the rice/noodles according to package instructions while doing something else, etc, etc. I know you real chefs out there are snickering, but this is daunting for me!

That being said, are there recipes out there following my version of healthy outlined above that are truly easy? I'm really looking for a recipe where you dump several raw ingredients into a cooking aparatus, apply heat, and end of with a great meal. I don't care if it's a stove, oven or crockpot as long as it's the least amount of work possible. I would even avoid stirring if I could. Help!

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  1. How about a hearty soup or a stew. You can use beef or chicken for your protein, or go all vegetable.

    I tend to be a bit of a lazy cook and don't always follow the cooking method in the recipes. I don't brown meat before throwing it the crockpot. When making chicken soup, I short cut it by getting a rotisserie chicken, pull off all the meat (except legs and wings) and use the carcass to make a quick stock by adding a chunk of celery, a whole onion and garlic gloves. After about 1 1/2 hours, I pull the solids out, strain the stock and throw the meat back in. Then you can add vegetables and a starch. To make it even easier, use a bag of mixed frozen vegetables (I choose to use fresh, though) Quick, easy, healthy and delicious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: janetms383

      I agree. just chop everything up and chuck it in a pot. In fact:

      chop a big carrot into bite sized chunks, big ones. Everything needs to be around this size, except maybe the potatoes because it disolves a bit. Make them bigger.
      Chop up about 3 carrots, 2-3 potatoes, an onion, a leek or two, and a bunch of lamb. Greens are good too. Put all this stuff in a pot, cover with water and add a stock cube (veg or chicken but not beef). Bring it to the boil, then simmer it for about an hour I guess.

    2. Crockpot seems like your best bet to start off with. Not all crockpot recipes involve pre-pot steps, and you can often skip the browning (although it will taste better if you do it). A few ideas:
      Raw chicken or pork + cut-up veggies if you want + salsa or enchilada sauce = something resembling stew that you can serve wrapped in a tortilla
      Chicken broth or stock + veggies + chicken thighs or breasts = chicken soup
      Beans + veggies + beef broth + a can of tomatoes = bean chili

      This potato leek soup recipe was just posted on another thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/598129

      I also really like this recipe which is like ratatouille:
      1 can of stewed tomatoes + 1 package of mushrooms, halved + 1 small diced zucchini
      You can also add diced bell peppers, onion, and garlic, and can mix some cheese into the veggie mixture.
      Put in a casserole dish, sprinkle cheese on top, bake at 375 for about half an hour.

      1. Debbie,

        I'll probably get slammed by the die-hard Chowhounds here, but if you want relatively healthy and easy recipes, I would check out some of the recipes from Ellie Krieger (from the Food Network).


        1 Reply
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I love her! Her book is awesome and I've made a lot of recipes from it. I never tell my husband that the recipes are 'healthier' and he's loved everything... except the pasta with red peppers and feta. And that's because he never told me he doesn't like those ingredients!

        2. Watch Jacques Pepin on the PBS Create channel. On his "(More)Fast Food My Way" shows he makes a complete meal, pretty much in real time (albeit with some pre-prepping of ingredients), in 30 minutes. Tasty, balanced meals.

          1. I just did this one last night.

            In a dutch oven (or large deep pasta pan), put 1 package of dried split peas. Add 8 cups of water to cover, bring to a simmer. Let cook for about 1/2 hr. Add 2 peeled, sliced carrots, 2 sliced celery stalks. Add 1 cup of cubed Ham Steak, (I used cooked bacon).
            Cook on medium low for an hour to an hour and a half. Taste, and add 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. It's simple and delicious. Can't ruin this soup.

            1. You may consider asking a friend or relative to show you some pointers in the kitchen. Or you could take a basics class at a community college or culinary school. It's a small investment that will make you more comfortable in the kitchen. If you know some of the steps that go into a dish, you'll be able decide if you want to drop them or not from a recipe. It might also save you some money by not eating out so often.

              Otherwise, check out foodnetwork.com and link to 'quick & easy' recipes or the 'beginner cook' section on epicurious.com.

              1. Hey debbie,

                PBS also has a series called "Everday Food" that is somehow affiliated with Martha Stewart, but has really easy accessible recipes. I just made this incredibly good roast chicken breast with potatoes and arugula in my TOASTER OVEN. Crazy...I know. But it was great and involves very little effort.


                That website contains lots of other recipes, many of them equally simple.

                3 Replies
                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                  Rosemary, That is an excellent suggestion. I was this show every Saturday and the recipes are really quick and simple.

                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    Martha Stewart has a new cookbook, "Cooking School", which I haven't seen but I understand it is aimed at teaching newbie cooks. Saw an interview where she said her aim was to do for today's new cooks what Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking did for their mothers and grandmothers, which is to say step-by-step teaching of the how's and why's, but with the modern American kitchen in mind, not French cuisine.

                    1. re: RosemaryHoney

                      I watch the show and have the Everyday Food cookbook. The recipes are truly delicious, and everything in the book has the fat/calorie count. Many of the recipes can be frozen and reheated.

                      Since you're just starting out, I would suggest taking advantage of the grocery store. Buy a few things already started and you won't get overwhelmed. Start by getting some pre-chopped veggies and work your way up to chopping and prepping. Ask for help everywhere you can- and write it down. The butcher, fish person, and produce manager can give you great tips on how to store the product and simple ways on how to cook it.

                      Just remember- start out simple. Grill a piece of fish, steam some broccoli, and make a perfect baked potato. Once you get comfy in the kitchen, there's no limit to what you can make.

                    2. Debbie - we can "feed" you recipes all day long.... I would suggest gettinbg some "professional" help. As in cooking lessons. Check around your area for kitchen stores that offer classes, community colleges and other adult education programs that offer classes. You can even get many Personal Chefs, like me, to teach you techniques or host a cooking party where everyone learns and everyone eats the results.

                      Your notion of just dumping stuff into some apparatus and having a magically wonderful meal come out is only realistic with crockpots and soups or stews. Even they take a certain amount of preparation. No machine will peel the potatoes and de-string the celery for you. You can get a lot of mediocre to good meals that way, but nothing really Great to fabulous.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: KiltedCook

                        Good point. You don't HAVE to brown meat before making a dish -- but it won't taste as good if you don't. If that's not a problem for you, then just skip the stuff that seems like too much work. What you'll have will still have nutritional value. But there are very few recipes that are absolutely delicious and require no work (steamed asparagus?).

                        1. re: KiltedCook

                          I disagree. I didn't cook for most of my life, until I was forced to do it and at first I didn't make more than sandwiches and the family style Italian that I knew from watching everyone else do it. And I made mistakes at first, until I developed my own style.

                          I always had a great love for food, and didn't like just heating stuff up... I started watching cooking shows, reading cookbooks, and experimenting on others!!

                          I don't mean to come across rude KiltedCook, honestly because I do think it's a nice suggestion to take lessons but I just wanted to add my humble 50cents... I didn't take lessons, and I'm somehow able to make fabulous food. Just takes a little patience, and lots of practice. (And I come from a family of cooks that will let you know that I NEVER wanted to cook or play in the family restaurant...) The ability to laugh at yourself and find friendly resources in places like this, and from friends and family... You'll get where you want to be Debbie, if I can do it...

                          1. re: Boccone Dolce

                            I disagree with the disagree, but it's not a black and white issue. I've never taken a lesson either, and I can cook just about anything (except good crusty bread). You are of the same ilk. But that reflects a personality that likes to experiment, isn't concerned about making mistakes, doesn't mind involved processes. The OP does not appear to have that personality -- she's finds just about any cooking "daunting." I don't think someone like that is going to teach themselves through trial and error. I'd say she would benefit from a cooking class - at the very least, it will give her some confidence.

                            1. re: sbp

                              I see your point sbp- just re-read Debbie's plea. She doesn't even want to stir, so maybe I read too much into it the first time, I thought she wanted to be 'better' - when maybe she just wants/needs basics. I truly did not know how much of anything when I first started-and the confidence you mention came from others when I dragged my experiments in to the office, or whatever. But knowledge is power, and the more she learns the higher she'll get. Unbelievably, I'm the one people come to (in my humble circle) now for food/cooking/restaurant questions - flash back just 10 years ago and I'd never even dyed easter eggs on my own (which one is vinegar?!?!)

                        2. If I may be so bold as to suggest something somewhat different than you asked. It sounds like you get daunted by all the "hidden information" that seems assumed in a lot of recipes. I can't blame you-- if you are a real beginner, there's a lot of stuff that seems confusing, while to those who have cooked for a long time it's "just obvious".

                          I bought my teenage daughter a great cookbook called "Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures". It's by a famous chef and his teenage daughter. My daughter never was much interested in it, but I use it, and one of the things I really like about it for a beginner is that it explicitly goes though "these are the things you should do first" and tells you exactly what they mean by "chop an onion". So if you're willing to put in a bit of time to learn this stuff, I think it can really help. It's *not* a book where you dump everything in a crock pot though. And I think you might find that once you get the hang of things, the "dump everything in a crock pot" is pretty limiting. Just my two cents.

                          1. I agree with those who say get a beginner-type cookbook or take some classes. It doesn't sound like you're lazy, it just sounds like you aren't sure what some of these terms are and if someone showed you some of these basics. For instance..."Brown the meat." I also skip this step most of the time when crock pot'ing. Nonetheless if someone showed you just what needs to be done to "brown the meat" you would probably be saying "That's all it is? Even *I* can do that!"

                            You can probably even find some good demo videos on youtube and the like.

                            1. hey debbie, First of all, don't give up! We've all been there.

                              I suggest you flip over some cooking magazine and get a feel of what you like to eat and what you feel comfortable about taking on the recipe. I think if crockpot is what you've been doing, it is a great start. But it doesn't hurt to learn something new such as baking muffins or scones, making a salad, simple pastas and marinated meats and fish. Cooking healthy need to involve a variety of foods and different preparations. ie. veggies cooked for a long time looses some of its nutritional value.

                              One of the things that helped me is setting up a "mise" - there is nothing worse than not knowing what you are doing while it is messy. Have everything you need taken out and prepared (chopped/cut), have a plate to hold your measuring cups/spoons (so you know where they are) and have a large bowl for garbage handy. it will certainly make you feel prepared and calm while taking on your new endeavor.

                              Chowhound has helped me plenty on my kitchen endeavors so don't be afraid to ask questions. i'd say we have quite a bit of "regulars" you can even post pictures!

                              Good luck.

                              1. You guys are amazing, thanks for so many quick replies! Although quite a few good things were said, I'm mostly excited about the fact that I don't have to brown meat before putting it in the crockpot. I also like Pia's ratatouille recipe. Although I don't think I want to cook bad enough to do a cooking class, I do think I might try one of the kids' cooking books mentioned here. That seems to be about my speed! :)

                                I actually don't mind at all if you continue to "feed" me recipes, please post your easiest ones. I tend to like tomato based over cream based.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: debbie421

                                  My suggestion is to make the same crockpot receipe without browning, and then once on a Sunday when you have a bit more time, try the browning. You'll learn what for yourself whether the effort is worth it or not. You can make enough for more than one meal so the effort pays off. Also there are some classic stews where the meat isn't browned anyway. It's those kinds of experements that will teach you how to cook, and to cook foood that you enjoy.

                                2. Some good advice for you on this thread.

                                  I would just add that you should cook as often as you can and do not be afraid to experiment. You will gain experience that way and I promise you that someday you will look back at what you felt was difficult and think about how comfortable and relaxed you are doing it.

                                  Sure, you'll burn some stuff along the way, or mess up dishes. Who hasn't?


                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: CPla

                                    Hey Debbie! When I first read your post, the first thing that came to my mind were pasta / Italian dishes - one pot, except that you do need to cook the meat before adding to pasta (cooking in the *easy* way... popping chicken in the oven to cook; cooking sausage on the eye of the stove).

                                    I think you could find some very simple Italian cookbooks in the bargain books at Borders or, I have a some I am glad to share with you... they may not be "5 minuters", but aside from the cooking of the meat separately, they are all "one-poters".

                                    Another option would be some Asian stir frys....

                                    Like, for example, tangerine beef:

                                    * 2 tangerines
                                    * 2 teaspoons cornstarch
                                    * 4 tablespoons water
                                    * 3/4 pound boneless sirloin steak, trimmed and thinly sliced
                                    * 3 cups small broccoli florets
                                    * 3 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
                                    * 1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
                                    * 2 garlic cloves, minced
                                    * 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
                                    * 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

                                    grate tangerine and set aside; brown beef and then remove it and set is aside. Add broccoli (for 2 minutes) and then other ingredients (1 minute). Then add the beef & tangerine grating back in.

                                    Voila! Tangerine Beef --- yummy & low fat!

                                    1. re: Tehama

                                      Stir fry seems scary (all that stirring and browning), but I do like all things citrus so I may have to try that out.

                                  2. I have a red wine and chicken recipe, brown or not, crock pot, easy, you can even use some shortcuts if you want. Carrots, peas, red wine and stock tomatoes, chicken or thighs roasted serve over a boxed quick cooking rice or pasta, some fresh or dried herbs and it is great. Not like the best you ever had, but pretty darn good.

                                    Also one with a light cream sauce, lots of vegetables, no roasting or pre cooking and great.

                                    Also beef tips with mushrooms and a rich gravy served over some amazing fresh pasta, or even dried bagged pasta. Whatever is easy for you. With some fresh herbs and a couple of spices ... easy and no work. This can even go over rice or biscuits.

                                    These are my favorites, I'll be glad to post but hate to post them all. Some are close to others posted but a bit different. Any interest just post and I put it up for you.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                      That red wine and chicken one sounds great!

                                      And to clear up some earlier discussion on the thread, I actually have no personal interest in cooking whatsoever. I really don't like cooking at all. But I also realize that the fiance and I eat out every day, sometimes twice a day. While we're blessed with good jobs that allow us to do that, the economy is crazy right now. Which makes me think I should learn to cook one or two extremely easy meals so I can say I did my part. But to be honest, I'd rather just eat out twice a day. :)

                                      1. re: debbie421

                                        There are many meals that you can do really quick and I love to cook, but I also have stand ins that use hardly anything. You can make some awesome pizzas 1 for each with minimal ingredients and store bought crust. Quick and great flavor. Saves over 1/2 the cost. Makes for an easy night. Take a 1/2 of romaine head, yes (packaged store bought romaine hearts, drizzle with some oil salt and pepper and pan saute or grill for just a couple of minutes. Some dressing and a great salad for your pizza. Literally 5 minutes. if that.

                                        Pork roast in the crock pot, some beer a onion and some of those baby carrots in a bag, even whole mushrooms right from the box, some generic seasoning and turn on and cook all day. Easy, quick no fuss (maybe not gourmet) but to help out absolutely, it will be good. Serve thin sliced with vegetables over some (even store bought mashed potatoes) if necessary Add some sour cream to them and garlic or just buy the flavors you like. Or just add the potatoes to your crock pot in the morning. all in one meal.

                                        Fish perfect, 5 minutes inside on the broiler, hardly any work, easy taste, inexpensive, especially catfish and tilapia. Tilapia is great on the broiler, a little lemon, seasoning and grill or broil. A quick side, chick peas pan sauteed with garlic olive oil and parsley and 1 small diced tomato. 5 minutes too. Some fresh green beans done in a foil pouch in the oven. Hardly any clean up 1 pan and under 8 dollars for 2 people.

                                        Lots of meals, very quick easy but still healthy and inexpensive. I personally would add several ingredients to each dish, but just me. They are equally as good without and should help you save with still a healthy aspect and satifying need for dinner.

                                        FYI, the red wine chicken is good and easy.
                                        Also, I eat out 1 a month if that. I hate it, but understand those that do. I just cook so much better when I have time and hate eating out, but ... each is own. Try cooking some at home. 1-2 times per week. You will be amazed at how much you save and you have leftover at time for another meal.

                                        My pork, use the left overs in a quesadilla. Add some cheese and some sour cream and diced tomato and salsa and dinner 3 that takes 10 minutes. Grill outside or in and nothing more. You would pay 10 or more out. Get some cold brews and make some quesadillas and enjoy a quiet nite at home.

                                        1. re: kchurchill5

                                          Look at all this great stuff! The pork one looks good.

                                        2. re: debbie421

                                          Wow lucky you! If you don't mind me asking, do you dislike cooking b/c you feel you're not good at it or b/c "why bother, let someone else cook for me?" If it's the former, start out with some really basic dishes. Once you get a dish right, there is a personal satisfaction you get from it For example, garlic (you can buy it peeled and chopped) + olive oil + s & p + pasta is a great dish on its own. But you can throw in any type of protein (already peeled raw shrimp, chicken, etc) or add some tomato sauce, and it turns into a bunch of different dinners.

                                          If you reason is the latter, then I suggest heading to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and go crazy on their prepackaged sauces, proteins, etc.

                                          I'm still learning to cook myself, and certain things are still intimidating to me. It's all about the baby steps.

                                          1. re: lawgirl3278

                                            Some just never learned to cook. My mom did, but I out cook her. I have this obsessions with creating, but non the less she is a great cook, just doesn't have that obsession. parents who don't cook, many of their offspring also don't like to cook because they haven't been exposed. But not always the case. I hope that everyone learns a bit how to cook and at least can cook a few meals now and then.

                                            1. re: lawgirl3278

                                              It's because I'm all about having someone else cook for me. I'm the tyoe that gets a maid to clean my 900 square foot, 1 bedroom condo. I'm all about paying for services. But cleearly that also means I'm all about wasting money. Gotta stop somewhere!

                                            2. re: debbie421


                                              I have been there. Other posts had some great recipes, my suggestion is to take one Saturday a month and cook with your fiance. How interested is he in cooking at home? My husband and I do this, I meal plan and do the food shopping, he does a lot of the grunt work (chopping, salad and dressing, cleanup). If your FI is interested, he plans the meal, you do the grunt work, eventually you pick up a lot of skills and learn what is worth the extra effort. This is a weekend night for us, and it's great.

                                              You eat out a lot, a nice starter idea for the two of you is a simple meal using great ingredients, like salmon, lobster, or filet mignon. Seafood is especially easy because it cooks quickly and the flavors stand alone. You will be amazed at how much money you save over eating out, especially if you usually have wine with your meal. It's a nice way to spend time together too.

                                              1. re: ellaf

                                                When moving recently I ate out a lot. I hate eating out, and I do cook, but it was sort of a necessity during the 1 month period. In 1 month I would of saved (based on what I normally spend and what I spent over 400 dollars. Helloo!!! I hated every minute and most of my meals, but it was almost necessary. With the two of you ...
                                                well said ellaf, 1 or I would make it one day a week to cook together, shop and pick out something. It could be pizza, pasta or a great steak anything. Try something together and enjoy that time together. Share the cooking and the cleaning. Nice idea ellaf.

                                                There are a lot of ways to have fun in the kitchen. Make yourselves try something new each time, either a veggie, starch, a meat and or fish. Have fun and experiment and have fun with your cooking. Don't make it a chore, make it fun.

                                          2. Why don't you just buckle down and learn how to cook? <smile> It's fun, quite easy and once you master some basic techniques, you won't be forever searching for simple recipes with almost no ingredients. "Mistakes" are rare and each time you have success, it will encourage you to keep at it. And after all ... feeding people brings joy to both the cook and those who eat the food. It's SOoooo satisfying. 'Nuf said.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Kodozzz

                                              I totally agree. nourishing someone you care about is one of my greatest pleasures. Being able to prepare a meal with good ingredients is a great way to learn nutrition and new ingredients. I mean, when is the last time you had really good heirloom veggies or mustard greens (in reasonable quantities) in your local restaurant?

                                            2. Debbie! I've read the other posts, and I have a couple of other suggestions for you. You actually want recipes that will help you pull together things that are already "partly" prepared as one thing (e.g., a roast chicken) into another (say, chicken fajitas or a casserole of some sort). Okay - there are loads of things that can help you here, although if you want to venture a little,you're going to have to do a LITTLE prep work - especially with fish or shellfish. First of all - go take a good stroll through your grocery's frozen veggie section. See if you can find frozen chopped onions, frozen chopped peppers or even tri-color peppers, sliced mushrooms, potatoes, garlic. If you're lucky, you're also gonna find some chopped herbs. Prepared pesto you can find in a jar on the shelf! Presto - you have now eliminated most of your pre-cooking chopping. Don't forget - you can also buy frozen chopped carrots, broccoli and corn. You're pretty much set on chopped veggies, if you are willing to figure out various cooking times for using the frozen stuff (don't pre-cook it!) You're much more a Sandra Lee (I think) kind of cook - what you want to do is to take a look at those recipes and figure out not so much cooking, as assembly. You are, though, going to have to learn how to use herbs and spices to enhance these dishes, particularly since you'll lose the flavorings added to and from the vegetables. Penzy's is going to be your friend, because their spice blends, for the most part, are particularly effective (plus, their catalog has easy-easy suggestions for use!). Remember - the frozen veggies work, their flavors is often very good, and no matter how tempted you are - avoid the canned stuff, unless it's for things like black beans or chickpeas. Good luck!

                                              1. Dear Debbie: Here is an actualy recipe, that someone gave me, that we have for occasional fast dinner.

                                                Mu Shu Chicken (in Moments)

                                                1/4 c vegetable oil
                                                2 large eggs, lightly beaten
                                                2 t grated ginger
                                                1 garlic clove, finely chopped
                                                1/4 t dried hot pepper flakes
                                                1 (16 oz.) bag coleslaw mix
                                                1/4 c water
                                                2 T soy sauce
                                                1 T sesame oil
                                                3 T hoisin sauce
                                                1 bunch scallions, chopped
                                                flour tortillas
                                                coarsely chopped chicken meat (without skin) from a rotisserie chicken

                                                1) Heat 1 T of oil in skillet and then cook eggs. Transfer scrambled eggs to a plate.
                                                2) Add remaining oil, cook ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes for about 1 minute.
                                                3) Add coleslaw mix and 2 T water, and cook covered for about 5 minutes.
                                                4) Stir together soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce in a bowl. Add to skillet along with eggs. Cook about 2 minutes.
                                                5) Heat up tortillas
                                                6) To assemble, spread hoisin sauce on tortillas, add mixture, chicken, scallions, roll up and eat. ( I sometimes heat up the chicken in with the mixture to heat it up a little. Depends on your taste).

                                                I asked Dear Husband to prep last night, so he chopped up some chicken, peeled and grated some garlic cloves (not enough) and grated the fresh ginger without peeling it! He didn't know. So when I got home and started to cook, he peeled more ginger and grated it.

                                                Tell me if there's anything you don't understand in this recipe. It's simple, but I don't know your level.

                                                I totally agree with the suggestion that you hang out with people cooking. Offer to help, and tell them you're trying to learn. They'll be happy for the company and the help, and you'll learn a lot!

                                                And don't worry -- I can cook up a storm, but my house is always a mess. I think some of us can either cook or clean house, but not both.

                                                1. And here's another one, from I forget whose cook book:

                                                  Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry with Warm Pita Bread
                                                  2 tbsp vegetable oil
                                                  1 medium onion, chopped
                                                  Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
                                                  1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
                                                  1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
                                                  1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
                                                  1 tbsp curry powder
                                                  1 bay leaf
                                                  1 ½ cups red lentils
                                                  Pita bread
                                                  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a saucepan or kettle, bring 3 ½ cups of water to a boil.
                                                  2. In a large saucepan over high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, and 3 to 4 minutes.
                                                  3. Add the sweet potato, ginger, garlic, curry powder and bay leaf and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the boiling water and stir in the lentils. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the lentils break down and the sweet potatoes are tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Season with salt.
                                                  4. While the potatoes and lentils are cooking, wrap a stack of pita breads in a slightly damp cotton towel, and place in oven for 10 to 15 minutes. (I don't do this -- either I make my own pita chips, or I buy pita chips to eat with this, becasue I like the contrast of crunchy chips with mushy lentils.)
                                                  Serves 4

                                                  1. I don't know if you have tried it or not but the simplest recipes I have seen are by Alton Brown of the food network. His books are illustrated and every step is detailed. Most of his recipes are healthy. I hope you find something that works for you. Good luck

                                                    1. Try this. In an oval crock pot:
                                                      1 chuck roast
                                                      1 really big onion chopped, sliced, diced, whatever
                                                      1 bottle of beer (dark beer is better)
                                                      Some salt and pepper
                                                      2 tablespoons of tapioca in the beer (not on top of the roast)
                                                      Let it cook for about 6 or 7 hours.
                                                      Put some water in a pot and start it heating on top of the stove.
                                                      When it starts to boil, add some flat noodles. Boil them for as
                                                      long as it says on the bag. Like maybe 9 to 11 minutes. Drain them
                                                      and put some butter in to keep them from sticking.
                                                      While the noodles are cooking (boiling):
                                                      Put some mixed frozen vegetables in a bowl. Add a little water and
                                                      seal the bowl with clear wrap. Nuke for 5 minutes.
                                                      Put a chunk of the roast on your plate. Put some onions on top. Put
                                                      some noodles on your plate. Spoon some of the gravy from the crock pot
                                                      on the meat and noodles. Put some of the vegetables on the plate.
                                                      Don’t stand around, now. Your plate is full. Go sit down.
                                                      If any of this doesn’t work to your satisfaction, next time cook it for a
                                                      shorter or longer time. This just has to work.

                                                      This is not fast; it's just easy. Start it on Sunday morning.

                                                      If you want to see how to do cooking things, just Google up some videos.

                                                      1. Try the joy of cooking (cookbook). It's a little pricy but it really does take you step by step through what you need to do. I also grew up on the Australian Woman's weekly cookbook series, which has some great simple recipes that have step by step pictures that you may find useful.

                                                        My last suggestion to you, which is probably the most helpful, go out lots and enjoy the fruits of other people's labour...

                                                        1. FYI, you don't need to brown the meat before putting in the crock pot. Not all the time and mostly it just gives some extra flavor and color. I do. However, NOT always required. Eggplant, not always pre cooked either. I make 5 or more than don't required pre cooking. Just slice, bread, layer and cook.

                                                          I make a easy vegetable casserole, you can easy use some pre sliced ham with this. You do have to slice some vegetables however. FYI ( use some store bought saves tons of time if you hate slicing) All veggies just get thin sliced.

                                                          In a 13x9 casserole dish. Glass is fine or metal or you can use any casserole dish you have. Spray with pam or use a little oil on the bottom in fine. Layer slices of eggplant (baby or small eggplant doesn't need peeling, most stores or farmers markets carries them), then onion, then baby spinach leaves, then tomato, then 4 tablespoons of store bought dried bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil, then mushrooms (buy a package of pre sliced crimini or button (white), then a good store bough deli ham, then bread crumbs, just store bought and some grated cheese your choice, I like monterey Jack or provolone or even mozz. Don't worry over what kind (also store bought). Then do it again, same thing. But before you add the final bread crumbs and cheese Add 1/2 of chicken broth and 3 tablespoons butter.

                                                          Sounds like a lot but most is store bought. Just slice the tomatoes, onions and eggplant and the rest is just packaged. This makes a great dish, ham veggies and cheese. You can make it the night before and when you get home, just bake. I bake at 375 for 40 minutes.

                                                          FYI, you can use slices of any meat, proscuitto or any honey baked ham or even left over chicken or diced of ham, anything. A easy baked healthy casserole.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                                            This sounds amazing! And you don't have to precook the eggplant? Can't wait to try this!

                                                          2. Seems to me that you're going to need three things to become a good cook: desire, ability, and confidence.

                                                            The fact that you posted here indicates that you've got a start on the "desire" front. Above you say that you don't like cooking at all, but my hunch is that you'll begin to enjoy it once you've had some successes. And realize that once you've mastered a few basic skills, you'll be able to make food that's better than you can get in 90% of the restaurants out there.

                                                            As far as ability goes, there's only one way to develop it: learn by doing. But you don't have to reinvent the wheel; let somebody teach you. Sure, cooking lessons might be one way to go about that, but I suggest a technique-oriented cookbook.

                                                            Technique-oriented is important. Many cookbooks are just a collection of recipes; they don't talk about the principals of cooking, they don't differentiate between a dish that's easy and one that requires multiple skills, and, most importantly, one recipe doesn't build upon another. A technique-oriented cookbook discusses a basic cooking technique (eg, pan-frying), and starts with a basic recipe that uses that technique and will produce a tasty but simple meal. But here's what differentiates it from cookbooks that are just simple: once you've mastered that recipe, you turn the page and a the book adds a few new techniques and/or ingredients to make something a little more complex and interesting. This way you learn skills one at a time, and should never feel overwhelmed.

                                                            Some of the kids' cookbooks might be a good place to start, but most (can't speak to Rick Bayless's book, which I haven't seen) limit themselves to simple recipes. You say that's what you want? Sure - for now. But why not get a book that starts with very simple recipes and then builds on them? I highly recommend Julia Child's "The Way to Cook." If you have a strong analytical bent and enjoy corny geek humor, Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food" is another good bet.

                                                            As your abilities grow, so will your confidence. With time, you'll be able to make complex dishes and build sauces that seem daunting now. Browning meat or cooking a stir-fry will be something you don't think twice about. But don't worry about that yet - start with baby steps. You'll get there.

                                                            Meantime, here's a bonehead simple recipe that makes a delicious dinner:

                                                            Poulet au Pot (loosely based on a Julia Child recipe)

                                                            Half a pound of carrots
                                                            One onion
                                                            Half of a bunch of celery
                                                            A big pinch of dried tarragon
                                                            One bay leaf
                                                            A couple of big pinches of salt
                                                            A few grinds of pepper
                                                            One chicken, cut up (or 3-4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces - I prefer thighs)
                                                            1-2 cups dry white wine
                                                            1-2 cups chicken broth

                                                            Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces (julienne them if you want to practice your knife skills) and toss them with salt, pepper, and tarragon. Put half in the bottom of a dutch oven. Layer the chicken on top. Add the rest of the vegetables, toss in the bay leaf, and pour the liquids over the top, using just enough to cover the solid ingredients. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Taste the broth and add more salt and/or pepper if you think it needs it. Serve with crusty bread.

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                              I posted on Bayless's book. It's definately not "simple" recipes-- I use his as the basis for my pot stickers for example, and he also has a toritilla soup there. Lots of international recipes. I like it for beginners because it doesn't assume that you know how to grate ginger or that you know how to chop scallions, for example.

                                                              1. re: DGresh

                                                                Then it sounds like what I'm calling a "technique-oriented" book as opposed to a kid's cookbook. Especially given my admiration for Rick, a copy may be in my future. It might be just the thing for my 12- and 15-year-old chowpups. Thanks for the recommendation.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  I lied- no tortilla soup. But for example, just a few random pages, "Vietnamese Rice Paper-Wrapped Salad Rolls", "Chinese Celebration Hot Pot", "French Potato and Cheese Supper","Vegetarian (or Not) Soft Tacos with Guacamole","Poached Salmon with Irish Butter Sauce". But the instructions (never more than two pages big type) are very detailed, with every step explicit, and lots of "until it looks like" etc.

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    Chowpups! I love it! I have one child who is that, and one who isn't. The one who is, indulged in oysters last night for the first time. Yeah! The one who isn't made vomiting gestures across the table. I think Chowpups are born, not made. But both of my children fear no food, I'm happy to say.

                                                                    1. re: rememberme

                                                                      If they both "fear no food," they're probably both Chowpups. One of them just wants to be contrary at present.

                                                                      1. re: yayadave

                                                                        Too true! The one who was contrary last night has in the past impressed her Chinese boyfriend's family with her fearlessness when they take her to dim sum. I suppose as long as they behave well outside the home, I've done my job.

                                                              2. Oh Debbie, I feel your pain:) You are going to love this site though, I think.
                                                                Step by step and with pictures. And they tell you WHY you need to do something. I learned to cook, and take chances, by waitressing at a high end restaurant. My first dish, fetuccini Alfredo, took 6 different tries to make it stop tasting like Mac N Cheese:) Not that that is a bad thing......
                                                                Good luck and let us know how you do!

                                                                1. Have you checked out "The Basics" right here on Chow?


                                                                  It's "recipe-free cooking", and there's bound to be one or two dishes you could try.