Making your own meals at home is, quite simply, far less expensive than dining out or take-out or prepackaged meals at home. However, many people simply don’t do it for two reasons: it’s inconvenient and they have no idea how to prepare a good meal.
Let’s first address the inconvenient part: if your lifestyle makes things so busy that you can’t prepare a meal in the evenings (or at other mealtimes), you can still easily cook at home by preparing meals in advance and freezing them, especially “convenience” foods. If you spend a weekend preparing meals and storing them away, you can have home-cooked meals ready to go for most of a month without breaking a sweat – just pop them out of the freezer and into the oven, and you’re good to go.
Now, what about cooking? I’ve hinted many times on here that I’d love to start an “introductory cooking” blog, as food preparation is one of my passions. I enjoy nothing better than preparing a rosemary-crusted chicken with fresh vegetables and such for my family to enjoy. In fact, this has shaped one of my home purchasing criteria – I must have a fairly large kitchen, as our current tiny kitchen is slowly driving me insane.
Most people don’t have the time to go to culinary school, but thankfully there are many books out there that can teach you what you need to know, both in terms of techniques and selecting complementary foods and ingredients. Unfortunately, many of these books are just recipe collections that leave the inexperienced cook quite confused or overwhelmed with details – and makes the process much less enjoyable.
If you’re just starting to learn how to save money by preparing foods for yourself, here are the two books I would use for this process.
The first book you should buy is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. Forget Betty Crocker or even Joy of Cooking (even given my attachment to the latter), this is the single best book I’ve ever seen for beginning cooks. This book is loaded with details on preparation, explaining the finer points of almost every common culinary practice. The recipes (and there are a bunch of them) focus on a merger of simplicity and flavor in an effort to show beginning cooks that it is indeed easy to create something delicious in the kitchen. Even today, I learn something new just by browsing through the pages of this book, even if I don’t use it as a day to day reference. If you just buy one cookbook ever, this would be the one to get.
Once you’ve mastered basic techniques, the second book you should buy is The New Best Recipe. This is a compendium of the best material from one of the best cooking magazines out there, Cook’s Illustrated. Mostly, this book contains the “best” recipes for over a thousand specific dishes, which makes it a spectacular reference when you’re trying to assemble the perfect braised pork loin and so forth. Not only that, it can provide a great starting point when you’re exploring the possibilities of a certain dish.
If you’ve mastered both books and are still reaching, you’ll probably want to dig into reference cookbooks for your specific culinary interests. My absolute favorite of these is Silver Spoon, a giant reference for Italian food.
Cooking at home is not only financially rewarding, it can be quite spiritually rewarding once you gain some basic skills. These two books are your best bet to turning your rudimentary cooking skills into kitchen magic.