As I get older, I find it becoming more and more important to learn how to cook. Let me clarify that, to learn how to cook well. As far as most single 20-somethings are concerned, I already know how to cook, but what happens when you get tired of pasta, scrambled eggs, and tuna fish sandwiches (the mainstays of most young people trying to save time and money in the kitchen)?
For years, I’ve known how to follow a recipe (this is why I’ve always been a more than adequate baker), but I’ve envied the men and women I know who can toss a few ingredients into a pan and VOILA they have a fresh, yummy meal. So, since leaving the hectic pace of graduate school and starting my grown-up life in Litchfield, I have made the conscious choice to become one of those people I envied. I decided that I too would be the culinary master (or should I say mistress?) of my domain.
This has proved to be easier said then done. My first hurdle: I live in a studio apartment with a kitchen that consists of a small refrigerator (sans freezer), a small electric stove, a sink, and one 2′ X 2′ counter. The second hurdle toward becoming a good cook: becoming an even better shopper. I’ve learned how to plan meals based on what’s on sale and what produce is in season. I’m still learning, but every week my grocery bill is a little less and my spontaneous menus are slightly better in their execution.
Now, on to the actual cooking. I grew up with two wonderful culinary guides. My mother is a wonderful cook, with an approach best described as semi-homemade. My dad doesn’t cook except for breakfast foods, but when it comes to Sunday morning brunch nobody does it better. In addition to my parents, I’ve been learning a lot about cooking fresh, whole foods from scratch by watching my boyfriend’s mother, who is an absolutely amazing cook. To flesh out my food education I’ve turned to the Food Network and, more importantly, to books.
The book How to Cook: An Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner is absolutely indispensable. This book teaches you all the basics of cooking and it gave me the confidence (and the arsenal of easy recipes) to really come into my own in the kitchen.
The two cookbooks I turn to the most (especially as a beginner) are The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything. If I need to know how to prepare a certain vegetable or what temperature I should cook a specific cut of meat, these are the two sources I look to first. They provide enough information for you to understand the preparation, but the recipes leave a lot of room to experiment.
For hearty, fresh, and comforting recipes I turn to Ina Garten. I love all of the Barefoot Contessa books, but my favorite recipes (including a simple, yet delicious roast chicken) are in the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.
A little something for dessert: I couldn’t end without recommending one of my favorite and most heavily earmarked books: American Pie. This is part travelogue, part memoir, part cookbook and it’s wonderful. As a lover of pie, I’m inherently biased, but it’s a book I love to recommend both for the writing and the recipes.
~Tricia is the youth librarian at OWL and loves books, movies, music, Rutgers Football, zombies, apple pie and counted cross-stich.