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Jul 10, 2014 05:45 PM

Domestically Disabled

Hey Everyone! I'm a longtime lurker and this is my first post. While I love trying out new food, my own cooking skills are sorely lacking. Anytime I cook it turns into a disaster ( smoke alarms, melted plates, etc).

My questions to you are what are some extremely simple ( aka idiot-proof) meals that can be made in a very small prep space ( studio apartment kitchen) and what are the staples I should always have stocked in my kitchen?

I'd really like to start cooking some healthy and edible meals at home instead of eating out so much. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

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  1. Okay, someone, where is that long thread about the woman with the young baby who "fails" at everything she tries to cook. That has GREAT suggestions but I can't figure out how to search for it.

    9 Replies
      1. re: monfrancisco

        YES!!! Thanks.

        BTW, we're going to be in Sonoma not SF. Another time hopefully.

        1. re: c oliver

          Glad to help! And yes indeed, next time.

        2. re: monfrancisco

          That thread is an excellent place to start.

          1. re: monfrancisco

            Hi, Disabled! I know how you feel! I was the poster of that thread. Please read it, but disregard the comments telling me to give up and find something better to do with my time! There is much encouragement and assistance to be found there. Two of the best pieces of advice I received that completely revolutionized my cooking, changed my attitude, and inspired my creativity were these:

            Quit the recipe, for now. Put them aside. For two years I hadn't learned to cook anything because all I did was follow recipes. Put it away and just watch the food, smell the food, taste, taste, taste as you cook. Employ your senses. Even throwing out the meat thermometer helped me cook meat more accurately because I was touching it, timing it. As Julia says, if the chicken is slightly resilient to the touch, it's cooked perfectly. If it doesn't spring back at all then, well, it's overcooked and that's too bad. Trial and error. Take notes after each meal, if that will help you. Most importantly, watch and taste. Don't get distracted. Don't cook three different things if it will pull you away from accuracy. Keep it simple, and once you master one thing, build on that.

            The other thing that really helped me was a book recommendation: Ruhlman's Twenty. CHANGED MY LIFE! Now I follow his blog and have been making all kinds of wonderful, simple dishes. He has NEVER led me astray or disappointed. Check it out from the library where it's free.

            As for meal ideas, sautee or pan fry a meat, make a pan sauce if you like (pour out fat from pan or toss in shallots/onions, deglaze with wine or stock, add stock or water enough to make a sauce, reduce, taste, add seasonings and ever butter or cream off the heat) and roast a vegetable in a little oil. Done. Too much? Serve rice. Let it braise while you fry. Add a little butter and grated cheese, season, taste. Done. Roasted chicken: fryer chicken in oven at 450/425 for one hour.

            You can do this! Don't give up or lose hope! There is a great cook in all of us! Much luck and grace to you! God bless!

            1. re: HumbleFoodie

              I'm so glad you found some ideas that worked for you. I have to confess that I was a bit worried about you! you sounded so stressed and tired! Glad things are looking up for you.

              1. re: HumbleFoodie

                humble - I read and posted a little on that other thread, and I'm really happy to see this post. made my night.

                1. re: HumbleFoodie

                  How's the baby doing?...hope you are including the little one in the cooking experience!

                  1. re: HumbleFoodie

                    Wow ...that is quite the speedy turnaround! Sounds like it has all come together. Yay!!!!!

              2. My favorite simple meals are mainly pasta and sauce. I dice fresh tomatoes (I always peel them, but that's a preference,) season with fresh, minced garlic and basil, a little bit of salt. I boil some noodles, my preference is angel-hair, then drain the pasta. I use the warm pasta pot, put just enough oil to cover the bottom, and add the fresh tomatoes, cooking just long enough to soften them a bit. The tomatoes go over the pasta. I might add some chunks of fresh mozzarella if I have any. Served with a salad, this is a meal for me.

                2 Replies
                1. re: hippiechickinsing

                  In the summer, I do an uncooked 'sauce.' I put chopped tomatoes, capers, basil, anything really, drizzle with oo, s&p. Oh and some grated Parm or equivalent and dump cooked linguine over. Toss and eat.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    me, too -- the warmth of the pasta is enough to warm the 'sauce'

                2. look for videos and television shows -- even kids' cooking shows are a good start. The Food Network "How to Boil Water" is a pretty good one.

                  Find a good basic cook book or two -- I have friends who like "How to Boil Water" (yes, the same as the series above) -- and "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman.

                  start slow. Start with pasta. Heat up some jarred spaghetti sauce and nuke some frozen meatballs.

                  Dinner's done.

                  Keep in mind that less heat is almost always better than too much heat...Be patient.

                  And good for you for recognizing that it's good to be able to feed yourself -- for health and economic reasons.

                  May you come to enjoy cooking as much as the rest of us here.

                  (and yes -- come back and ask us more questions.)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sunshine842

                    "Keep in mind that less heat is almost always better than too much heat...Be patient."
                    Good point. Flavors concentrate as ingredients are cooked together. What doesn't seem spicy or too lemony when first added and tasted can intensify with a bit more cooking, leading to a "holy crap, this is too spicy/lemony for me!"

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Very good point ... and I think especially true where dry spices and herbs are concerned. I wait 5-10 minutes or so to discern the effect of the dried spices I added.

                  2. I suggest that you find a very patient cook who will spend time with you and show you some cooking tips or take some cooking lessons.
                    Pasta sauce is quite easy to make and you can customize to your liking. You need strained tomatoes in a jar, tomatoes, garlic, ground beef if not vegan.
                    Youtube has some great ideas for home cooking.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ruthie789

                      Study your supermarket and you will find dozens of very good pasta sauces in jars. 1) Add to cooked pasta and frozen meatballs as per the excellent suggestion above. 2) Brown ground beef in frying pan with a little fat then add a little, not a lot, of the pasta sauce to make Sloppy Joe to eat on hamburger buns. 3) Now here is your magnum opus: lasagna. No kidding. Buy the "no boil" lasagna noodles, 2 big jars of pasta sauce, a pint of ricotta cheese, a package of italian sausage, and a package of shredded Mozzarella cheese. Fry up the sausage in a frying pan and drain off extra fat then add the sausage meat to your pasta sauce. Beat 2 eggs with the ricotta until well-mixed. Now take a big deep pan or baking dish and spray it with no-stick stuff like PAM. Layer in it the sauce + sausage, the ricotta, and the dry noodles, ending with sauce. Sprinkle the Mozzarella on top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours @ 350---after the first hour, remove the foil. You will end up with 8-12 portions of lasagna. After you refrigerate it and it gets cold and stiff, cut it in squares. Wrap each square in plastic wrap and put it in a plastic sandwich bag and freeze. Voila: many future dinners to be heated quickly in microwave---just make a salad to go with.

                    2. First, learn to fry eggs that are so good you won't want to go out for breakfast often. The keys are to use low heat and to avoid overcooking them. And to use good eggs, of course.

                      The first think I started cooking for myself was beef stew. The key here is to stage adding the vegetables to avoid overcooking any of them.

                      As for staples, I recommend starting simple: unsalted butter to fry your eggs in (I prefer one-lb bricks), all-purpose flour to make a roux (with butter) for the stew and other things to come. Salt and pepper. Use kosher salt for cooking (because it has a nice texture for taking a pinch and because it comes in a 3 lb box).

                      Get The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. Don't get overwhelmed with recipes. Get a few recipes of things you'ld like to eat, that aren't too complicated, and do them again and again until you are satisfied with the results.

                      You have to be able to cook simple food well before moving on to more complicated dishes.

                      21 Replies
                      1. re: GH1618

                        I actually tried baking eggs in a muffin tin tonight. I know it is a cheat, but hey, they were edible, although they did stick to the tin a bit. Thanks for the advice.

                        1. re: NShewmaker

                          Rub them with some butter and it shouldn't stick.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I used cooking spray. Granted, my cookware is fairly shoddy, so that might be the culprit.

                            1. re: NShewmaker

                              I've no experience with this so I hope others will speak up.

                              1. re: NShewmaker

                                Try Bakers Joy instead. The store brand is cheaper and works just as well.

                                Also, a non stick skillet is your friend. Don't crank the heat up so high.

                                1. re: miss_belle

                                  Baker's Joy has flour in it...won't help you at all on baked eggs.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    I know it has flour in it but since cooking spray didn't work on a "shoddy" muffin tin I thought it might be worth a shot. Guess not:-)

                                2. re: NShewmaker

                                  Ditch the spray and use butter. Get one small nonstick pan used only for eggs, and take care of it. No metal utensils. No dishwasher. No scouring cleanser. Hand wash.

                                  1. re: NShewmaker

                                    Re: your cookware - try and replace ONE item every month, if your budget allows. It all doesn't have to be matchy-match when you're first starting out.

                                    OR if you can spring for it, buy a small set of basic Farberware Classic pots and pans (or other GOOD stainless steel pots/pans - the pot/pan should have a bit of heft to them). I've still got mine from a purchase I made about 30 years ago. Well, except for that one 3 qt. pot that I had to replace because I put it on the stove with a steamer basket inside....and forgot to put water in the bottom, so it melted to the electric burner when I got distracted with something else. ;-)

                                3. re: NShewmaker

                                  Baking is much easier than frying, so good idea. I bake an egg every morning for breakfast in the winter, absolutely nothing wrong with that. I use a little individual handled ceramic casserole, line with a piece of thinly-sliced ham, and also throw in some cheese. The ham prevents sticking. I also bake at a low temperature (320-325).

                                4. re: GH1618

                                  Or cook the beef stew's vegetables separately, as I've always done. That way you can control their doneness.

                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                    Here's one I've fixed. The carrots and potatoes are added halfway through and the peas at the very end. Very tasty.


                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      I'm just one who doesn't want the potatoes and carrots cooked in the gravied stew, c oliver. I'd rather add butter to the potatoes after they are cooked separately, and then add a smidge of gravy should I want it. But I do agree to adding the taters and carrots halfway through the beef's cooking time frame.

                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                        So then you really don't like stew but rather braised meat with the vegetables on the side?

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Yes, I like stew. I just don't combine the veg with the beef if it's a basic beef stew. If I make Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon, it has the pearl onions, but no other veggies.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            I guess I think beef stew includes vegetables.

                                      2. re: c oliver

                                        My xperience is that carrots must go in before potatoes. Celery at the very end.

                                        1. re: GH1618

                                          I really love the carrots, onions, and potatoes braised with the meat. Some carrots and potatoes hold up better than others, however.

                                          When I make brisket, I completely fill the baking dish with carrots--really cannot get enough of beef-infused root vegetables <3

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            except for the celery leaves, which I sometimes throw in at the beginning, as they give good flavor.
                                            I've also been known to put in carrots, onions, and celery at the beginning, then fish those out and discard them when they're spent....then cook fresh ones in the last 45 min or so.

                                            Then I end up with long-cooked flavor without long-cooked texture.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              I find that globe carrots hold up really well ... onions sometimes almost dissolve, but I don't really consider that a bad thing--I think it enriches the gravy. Potatoes turning to mush can be an issue ...

                                              1. re: foiegras

                                                totally agree on all points...

                                                Potatoes can thicken the sauce, though....