Culture September 28, 2016
When I graduated college, my experience with cooking was very limited. My mother, an excellent cook, had tried to instill some basic cooking skills in me before I left for school. Yet, to no avail, my culinary exploration had stalled at scrambled eggs and pan-roasted vegetables. With a campus meal plan to rely on during college, I had never before faced the task of planning my own weekly meals or expanding my cooking repertoire.
When I moved into my first apartment as an independent woman, I wanted to challenge myself to improve my cooking skills while bringing a wide variety of food into my diet. I loved the idea of experimenting with different cooking methods, trying new flavors, spices and preventing repetition (i.e. boredom) in my meals. So I devised a simple mandate: Throughout the year, I would test one new recipe per week.
One meal a week felt manageable and I was thrilled at the prospect of learning how to make 52 new dishes by the end of the year. Pinterest became my new best friend. I bookmarked recipes and searched for ones containing specific ingredients that I had on hand or had started to crave. I began to discover recipe blogs and cooking channels on YouTube that made my mouth water. I told my mom about my goal and she started mailing me recipes, too.
I often bookmarked more than one recipe per week, but limiting my commitment to a single one made the task of learning to cook seem approachable and fun. I worked in baby steps, choosing recipes that featured only one new technique or just a few unfamiliar ingredients at a time.
Cooking for myself, I felt healthier and more satisfied with my food choices than when I had relied on the campus cafeteria. Forced to test new recipes and cuisines, I noticed my eating habits were shifting. I began trying ingredients that I hadn’t grown up with. I tried out the “trendy” foods like quinoa and kale and foods prevalent in the cuisine of other cultures, like tofu and bok choy. Since working with raw meat intimidated me at first, I explored more vegetarian meals than I ever had before.
At first, my friends were content to help devour the large dish meals I wanted to try – namely anything made in a crock pot – but soon they wanted to participate, too. We made whole nights out of cooking together. Besides the opportunity to catch up while enjoying a bottle of wine, we experimented with crave-able concoctions like cauliflower crust pizza. Cooking together became one of our favorite social activities.
Before I knew it, my confidence in my cooking abilities sky-rocketed – and so had the quality of my meals. I had developed a very particular technique to prevent sogginess in my zucchini noodles and discovered the unique heat and tingling numbness of Szechuan peppercorns.
After a successful first year, I have decided to keep my recipe challenge going indefinitely. While my life may be busy, I have found that making the time to learn something new – and eat at least one good meal a week – is always worthwhile.
Send this to a friend