Before I learned how easy cooking was, I found anything that had to do with recipes and the oven and raw ingredients utterly intimidating. Despite the fact billions of people can cook, before I ventured into the kitchen I felt there was some mystery to the art of preparing food that only a few could learn and master. It was one of those things you were born being able to do or destined to fail at miserably… those were actually my mom’s words. She was convinced I was destined for books so my brain just wouldn’t comprehend how to boil water unless it was for a science experiment.
Being very self-sufficient and not wanting others to cook for me my whole life, that idea didn’t sit well with me, so I took a cooking class in Manhattan near my job at what is now the Institute of Culinary Education (previously Peter Kump), and learned that:
1. There is no mystery. Cooking basically involves food being heated. The food inside can be immersed in water, oil, butter, or nothing, mixed with other ingredients or seasonings, and cooked for the length of time the eater prefers. ALL those variables are fluid- you get to decide whether to boil food, sauté it, or fry it, you decide if you want it lightly cooked or well-done, you decide what spices taste best, etc. YOU DECIDE and there is no wrong answer, and there is not mystery.
2. Recipes are just suggestions. You don’t have to follow any recipe to the letter. You can alter cooking times, change ingredients, or the amount of each ingredient,. It won’t ruin the meal because recipes aren’t an exact science with no room for deviation. A recipe states how one person made specific fare, so you can follow their methods if you choose or simply use it as a guide (what I do) to expand on yourself.
3. Trying new things is fun! As long as you follow safety guidelines (safe handling of certain foods like seafood or poultry/eggs), you can pretty much try anything. If you are wondering, safety guidelines focus on how to handle certain raw ingredients (they can carry bacteria that can spread in a kitchen if not handled properly) and the minimum amount of time to cook them to ensure the bacteria is killed. If you are nervous about it, start with other food categories until you become confident and realize you really can cook, and then go back to them later. Have fun trying different ingredients, new cooking methods, combining with different sides dishes, and see what works for your own taste buds.
Ready to try your luck in the kitchen, maybe for the first time? Here are some of the easiest recipes you will ever make, showing you how easy it is to make foods you like in restaurants (and how affordable!) any day of the week.
Two Easy Starter Recipes
Cheesiest Tortellini Soup
2 cups chicken broth
1 tbs olive oil
1 package cheese tortellini
1 cup favorite shredded cheese (Gruyère cheese is a great choice)
1. Heat chicken broth and olive oil in a pot until just boiling.
2. Mix in cheese tortellini and cook for about 7-8 minutes, as per directions on package. Add in favorite spices to taste.
3. Spoon tortellini in broth into large mugs or bowls, and top with shredded cheese. Optional: add some sprigs of cilantro (wonderful flavor and super healthy)
You might order tortellini soup in restaurants as an appetizer, and this is basically all there is to it. You can boil water and drop in a chicken boullion instead of buying pre-made broth, and you can mix in some chopped veggies (carrots/celery/etc) while it boils if you’d like. You can easily make cheesy tortellini soup any time you want at home- a perfect comfort food for cozy winter nights!
Penne alla Vodka
1 box penne pasta
1 jar organic vodka sauce
3 tablespoons butter
seasonings of choice (black pepper is a good choice)
cheese topping of choice (grated parmesan is delicious)
1. Cook penne as per directions.
2. Drain pasta, mix in vodka sauce and butter and stir together over low heat for two minutes.
3. Serve topped with cheese.
This is a staple at reception halls as an appetizer for a wedding or celebration, and you could easily pay $20+ for penne a la vodka at a restaurant, but why when you can make it for your family at home any time you want for about $2 a person. Pair it with some warm bread that you can use to sweep up leftover sauce… bread and vodka sauce is yummy!
Next time I will share the basics of using a slow cooker, because it really is easy to use and creates delicious dinners without much effort or room for error. The slow cooker is a phenomenal invention that lets meats stew all day in its own delicious flavor and juices (as well as the flavors and juices of anything added to the crock pot), to become extremely tender and shreddable, while filling the house with savory smells for hours. You come home at the end of the day to a ready meal- easy, and the most amazing thing is that simply varying one or two ingredients makes a completely different meal. Add cream of mushroom soup for chicken with creamy mushrooms, or add a zesty tomato sauce, corn, and spices for Santa Fe chicken- you get the idea! The perpetual return of popularity of the slow cooker is no surprise to me because everything comes out delicious and it’s hard to overcook with the slow cooker. If you are thrifty, it’s well known that the slow cooker tenderizes less expensive cuts of meat to come out amazing too.
Stay tuned for more easy recipes to help get you into the kitchen, and let me know how these two dishes come out for your family!