There was a time – circa 2000 – where I dreaded going into the kitchen. On the rare occasion when I would actually attempt to cook anything, I’d usually mutilate it. I’d turn scrambled eggs into a giant pile of burnt … stuff. I’d produce incredibly dry chicken breasts. My tuna noodle casserole … let’s just say it would be more accurate to say that I would pour it rather than serve it.
I felt deeply uncomfortable in the kitchen. It often felt like everything I touched turned into a disaster.
That feeling carried forward for several years. While I would occasionally delve into the kitchen and try new things, most of my food consuption came from prepackaged meals and from eating out.
Thankfully, at the same time I began to really notice how much it was costing me to eat prepackaged foods all the time and eat out so often, I began to realize that I was getting better in the kitchen.
The eggs weren’t burnt any more. The tuna noodle casserole was a casserole, not a soup. My chicken breasts were moist and flavorful.
Because of these factors, I transitioned pretty quickly to making much of my food at home, which saved me a lot of money.
What caused this change in coooking skills? Practice. That’s really what it came down to.
I simply went in the kitchen and started trying. Yes, many of my early meals were disasters, with some of them actually crossing the line into inedible. I had more than a few miserable lunches and dinners.
However, I got better. The meals became tastier. I began to understand how to season stuff well, what level of heat to use, and how long to leave something on the heat.
Today, I’m pretty confident in the kitchen. I feel as though I can make a meal out of whatever’s on hand. I’m not scared of anything I might reasonably take on in the kitchen.
For me, the biggest tool for getting there was a copy of Joy of Cooking. You don’t need a bunch of cooking tools. Just have a good pot or two, a good skillet or two, a couple bowls, a good chef’s knife, a cutting board, and a stirring spoon, and you’ll have what you need for an awful lot of dishes.
Don’t worry if you mess up, either. Just sit down and figure out what you did wrong, then try it again next week. Soon, you’ll find that it turns out right.
When you reach a comfort level in the kitchen, you’ll find that preparing food at home is actually quite enjoyable, often quicker than a restaurant, and usually far, far cheaper, too.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.