I’m going to break the myth that cooking from scratch, at home is faster or less expensive than snagging some takeout. In some cases, it absolutely is, in others it probably isn’t.

Cooking, like any new skill, takes time to learn. As you do more, you know more, once you know more you can do “it” faster – cut it, find it, prepare it and put it together in a snap. Once you build a foundation of basic knife skills and reserve a little space in your mind for making dinner at home sans the box or bag or plastic container you will make dinner faster. Once you know three ways to cook chicken breasts, then you may remember that bird came with a set of thighs, you will cook those a time or two then go all out and roast the full bird, then you will prepare it faster. Once you manhandle a full bird you will realize you can get two or three meals from it, then you will cook it cheaper. After you get all of that figured out, then it will hands down be faster, less expensive and far better tasting, to cook at home from scratch rather than snag take out, but it takes time.

You will stumble, burn a dish, not time things correctly, forget to read the recipe all the way through only to realize you are without an essential ingredient. You will say to yourself, with pots a boiling and pans a blazing, “Oh, shit! This called for collard greens?! I don’t have collard greens!” then you will dial your nearest Pizza Hut. But one day that will all change. Instead of opting for delivery in such situations, you will think, “Oh, shit! This called for collard greens?! That’s fine, I have Kale, I guess I will just use that.”

Light bulbs will go off, angels will sing and you will realize you have become an intuitive cook. You will read recipes for basic flavor profiles and create something of your own based on what you have. It will be wonderful. You will be happy. Your stomach, taste buds, dinner plates and bank accounts will thank you. They really will. I promise.

Just give yourself a break. Learning to cook takes time – you are LEARNING something. Give yourself permission to screw it up, try something new, and figure it out. Sometimes if a recipe fails, it’s because it’s a poorly written recipe or it was written for a cook at a different skill level. It’s not because you can’t cook. Don’t give up. Start with one homemade item per week then expand upon it. Buy one new vegetable, fruit, grain or bean a week. Take it home, do a quick Google search and find a recipe that sounds like something you might enjoy then make it. The important thing is that you find value in the experience. Once you do that then making a pot of beans is really no big deal.

I hope 2013 brings you pancakes on your plate and a chicken in the oven, so here’s a quick beginners guide to cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner with your own two hands.

Breakfast

Ditch the Bisquick. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs and leavening agents come in handy. It’s nice to have them around because then you can make banana pancakes like these: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/banana-pancakes-recipe/index.html

Once you are comfortable with that recipe add some spices like cinnamon, or vanilla, substitute some all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. If you don’t like banana then use berries. The key to good fluffy pancakes is not to over mix them. The batter can be lumpy. You can even have a bit of flour lingering uncovered.

Lunch

Rock that grilled cheese. It totally counts.

Dinner

Buy whole chicken. Remove parts from inside cavity. Rinse it inside and out with cold water. Pat it dry. Stuff cavity with some chopped lemon, onion and rosemary. Finely chop some more rosemary, and if you’re into it, maybe little thyme mix toss them in a bowl and add a touch of olive oil. Stick your fingers between the skin and the meat of the bird. Rub herb/oil mixture on meat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Put it on a baking sheet; slide it into a 425-degree oven for about an hour to an hour and a half. If you want to get crazy, chop some root vegetables, toss them in salt, pepper and olive oil and spread them out around the chicken. Dinner is done. If you don’t want to get crazy, then open a bag of frozen veggies, put them in a bowl with a little water and microwave for about 2 minutes.

If you do nothing else this year make popcorn from scratch. Invest the $1.50 in a bag of kernels, break out the frying pan and lid you keep stored in your oven and pop it. Go back in time. Remember how good it tasted when you were younger. It should be light, fluffy, crunchy and even a little earthy. Popcorn is pretty good without the grainy aftertaste of artificial powdered butter.

Wishing you a tasty New Year!

What is your favorite dish to eat at home? Email miller.summer@gmail.com


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