How is the Neurotic Nikkiana Ever Going To Learn to Cook?

I was well on my way to writing a blog post about how I hadn’t been blogging when I wandered into the kitchen and realized that I have no food. At least… no food that I can prepare without going out and getting more food. So, I sat down with a piece of paper and started making my grocery list… which is when the anxiety started flooding my chest.

The list of things that I’d come up with were all things that I knew I would eat and I have the knowledge to cook without fear.  Hot dogs, hamburgers, lunch meat, refried beans and spaghetti…. oh, and butter and milk so I can make the Kraft dinner that I have something like 8 boxes of.   Stuff that’s incredibly simple to make, but you know… probably isn’t considered a great diet if that’s all you eat.

One of the things that I’d told myself that I wanted to do in the new year was learn to cook, and that I was going to eat at home more than I go out.

Partly, it’s a financial reason.

I would say that I had a bit of a wake up call in terms of becoming a responsible adult in the past week. I’ve had a couple of close calls in the past few months with my bank account having a low balance, but I’ve generally at least had enough money to make a grocery store trip to ensure that I didn’t starve before some more money came my way. However, this time around, I hadn’t been paying close attention and my account dwindled embarrassing low… Low to the point where you’re digging around in your change box for nickles and dimes to get on the subway to get to and from work because you don’t want to touch the money in the bank for fear you might accidentally overdraw yourself. Low enough that going to the grocery store was not really an option, I had to eat the food I had.

When I went invetigating in my cupboard for my options, they were pretty limited. I had two cans of refried beans, a package of spaghetti, about five servings of spaghetti sauce left in a jar, a package of saltines, peanut butter and Marshmellow Fluff… oh and about two handfuls left of Cheerios. Everything else I had in the house required either milk or butter to prepare. I had neither.

I tried not to worry too much about it because I knew I’d be paid soon… but the check I was expecting didn’t come. When I inquired to the folks I’m currently employed by, we discovered that the reason I hadn’t recieved my check was because I’d transposed to digits of my house number in my address.

Oops.

I ended up getting paid on Monday, which of course… was a holiday, so I couldn’t cash the check till Tuesday, blah blah blah. So, I’m not poor anymore. I can afford groceries now. Get to the point, Nikki.

*deep breath*

The point is I realized the importance of keeping extra food in the house, and that my parents perhaps aren’t crazy for having enough food in the house to be prepared for a small apocalypse.

I probably wouldn’t have made it the entire week if Anna hadn’t fed me Cheerios and sausage on Monday and James hadn’t fed me hamburgers on Thursday and Sunday. (Thank you, guys, by the way.)

I also realized that I have spent an ungodly sum of money on eating out in the past year, largely because I want to eat better food than I know how to prepare on my own and I’d like to spend far less on food overall.

So, you know… it sort of stand to reason that I ought to learn how to cook.

The grocery list still stares at me, and it’s now been two hours since I started making it. I feel utterly lost about what to do next. I’ve thumbed through recipe books briefly, thinking maybe a recipe would jump out at me that I could buy ingredients for, but instead the anxiety gets more and more intense. I am paralyzed with fear over this cooking thing.

I thought maybe chili would be a good place to start until I realized there are literally five million bajillion recipes for chili and then realized that I just want to make chili that I know I’ll like and if there are that many different ways to make chili how do I know that’s the one I ought to make. HOW DO YOU MAKE THESE DECISIONS, PEOPLE!? WHAT IF I MAKE THE WRONG ONE!?! Supposing I do manage to pick a recipe and then I get home and then I’m too tired to cook and I then get too afraid to try something new and now I have all these vegetables that I’m too afraid to do anything with and then they rot? (Believe me, that happens pretty much every time I buy vegetables).

Do you see the level of neuroticism that goes into this whole “learning out to cook” adventure and I end up giving up because the anxiety level is just too stinking much for me to be able to cope with? How do I not make the excuses? How do I give up the fear? That’s one I haven’t quite figured out yet…

14 thoughts on “How is the Neurotic Nikkiana Ever Going To Learn to Cook?

  1. The best way to start is to find some recipes you can’t screw up. Things that require 2 or 3 ingredients all going into the same pot. Soups are good for this – plus they’re super cheap, easily frozen, and go a long way. Think of simple stuff like chicken noodle soup – broth, meat, noodles, carrots. The meat and the noodles you could on the side and then combine everything. Add some crusty bread and Parmesan cheese and voila! Home cooked meal :)

  2. Oooook. A few things here.

    I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that anxiety is a totally separate issue from cooking, and one I probably can’t help you with.

    As far as the cooking goes!

    First, every good eats episode is on Youtube. I started with the imdb list http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0344651/episodes which has the names of all 14 seasons. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think Alton Brown is the end all be-all of cooking, but he is the guy who explains technique, and ingedients and walks you through it neatly on Youtube.

    It is also itemized in a list. Start with Season 1 Episode 1. If you don’t want to eat that, go to episode 2. The point here is that you DON’T THINK ABOUT IT, just watch, learn, do. Re-apply the things you learn the next time. And if you cook the same thing twice watch the episode again.

    Second, I used to be in theatre. I know something about being poor. To this day I keep extra food around, because I have this thing against being hungry. As in, I fucking hate it. If nothing else, buy a 10-20lb bag of rice and and a couple of pounds of dried black beans (< $15) and stick them in a rubber-made tub in the closet. Gotten me through more than on scrape.

    Finally, vegetables – they are your friend. I normally advocate FRESH vegetables. Hell, I can my own tomatoes from teh farmers market. BUT, for people with hectic schedules go frozen. And go big. Get the 1lb bags of broccoli, green beans, corn, carrots, cauliflower as much as your freezer will comfortably hold. That shit doesn't rot, will keep forever, and you pull it out and steam it.

    If you've never used a steamer before, holler, and I'll happily show you how.

    And finally, ask questions. Those of us who know something about cooking don't mind sharing. The GF if learning a lot from me all the time.

    Calm down. Poke a potato with a fork 10 times and hit the potato button on the microwave. You don't need to be fuckin' Jacques Pepin out of the gate.

  3. Hey chick… email/message me on FB if you want to talk more about this, but it’s definitely not an insurmountable obstacle. I don’t want to drown you with a big list, but maybe look at these things first:

    1) Identify what you already know how to do, at a basic level. This is stuff like: Boil water, cook a fried egg, make a grilled cheese sandwich, make rice, etc.

    2) What do you want to be eating? Don’t look at recipes, just name some stuff. Chili, chicken fried rice, etc.

    After you do that… check in with someone you know that does know how to cook, and find out some of the recipes they use. If you try a skills-based approach to cooking, rather than a recipe-based approach, you’ll be far more likely to cook, and to cook things you really like. I’m happy to help if you’d like. :)

  4. Wowzers! That is a lot of anxiety! With the onslaught of FoodTv-type shows I think people get overwhelmed with preparing food. Sometimes trying to find a recipe you like is a pain in the arse, so many choices…BUT, with experience comes the freedom of knowing what to substitute and how. It comes with the knowldege of being able to blend recipes to get what you want. But first you have to be prepared to fail! I’ve had LOTS of failures. I’m a pretty good cook who often never completley follows a recipe (anymore). It took lots of mistakes to get to this point.

    There are lots of food blogs that can help, but one that I really like is Budgetbytes.blogspot.com. She is on a limited budget, but wants to eat healthy and WELL…good, tasty food. She rarely has ingredients that are unusual (a.k.a. spendy and hard to use in other recipes). She also often includes step by step pictures, which are handy for a new cook. http://WWW.mylifeasamrs.com also has some easy, quick and do-able recipes – I follow oodles of food blogs.

    Cooking can be done in baby steps, as simple as trying one new recipe a week – the simpler the better: like making tacos or burritos (just the act of learning to fold them is a good step).

    And, as usual, I’ve typed too big a reply! I wish you luck…I love to cook and I hate to see people struggle over something that should not be so angst inducing! Oh…and I hope you DO make mistakes – sometimes the outcome is even better when that happens!

  5. All right. I’ll bite (ha!). I throw a 2 week challenge at you. Get it done and I’ll cover big healthy food shopping sprint at the end of it :).

    rules:
    * Daily blogging what you tried, what you accomplished, and challenges .
    * At least one Daily custom made meal (and none of that microwavable stuff).
    * [optional] Bonus points if you invite friends over for own cooked meal (Maybe starting second week, after you had some practice (: )
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  6. I recommend a cookbook like the Betty Crocker cookbook or the Better Homes and Gardens one. They’re big and they give you lots of instructions on how to do things. If I could actually find mine, they’d be sitting on my counter (my cookbooks are still packed in Jon’s study) and would be covered with flour and just about everything else. My mom’s copies are dog-eared and the pages are yellowed. :)

    The other thing to do is just to ask friends for easy recipes that you can make a ton of and freeze in portion sizes. (Lasagna is a good one.)
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    • After I posted this, I noticed the Better Homes and Gardens one that’s been sitting on my shelf untouched and pulled it off the shelf and moved it to the kitchen. Better place for it. :)

  7. I suck at cooking. Even if it comes out of a box I FAAAAAIL.

    I do however want to learn… first I need my own kitchen and…sort the plethora of recipes I’ve collected over years from food blogs & the like.
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  8. Haha! Oh, how I’ve been here. I know this is just more money to put out, but have you thought about getting a crock pot? (Sorry if a commenter above already mentioned it). You can usually find one really cheap at a thrift store or garage sale, and it really makes some foods taste so much better than cooking in the stove, even though the prep is easier. Here’s a recipe I use once every other week or so, and we really like it:

    Put 4 pork chops, one can of diced tomatoes, one big scoop of minced garlic, half an onion just coarsely diced, and a good amount of salt and pepper in the crock pot. Put it on high. If the pork chops were frozen, it’ll take maybe 6 hours. If they’re thawed, about 3. I do it in the early afternoon, and by dinner, they’re falling off the bone and taste amazing… and I just dumped some stuff in a pot. It’s awesome.

    By the way, found you via 20SB :)
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