The Essential HomeMaker Playbook: Let’s Learn to Cook
I’m lucky, I’ve got memories of hanging on my grandmothers apron when I still had loose teeth, fetching things out of the pantry and watching her cook. Her jambalaya is still my favorite comfort dish for a rainy day. I’ve got to say though, somewhere in my childhood, we moved away and my dad (who did his very best single-handedly raising me and my brother) ended up spending more and more time at work to try and give us the things we needed growing up, and as a family we stopped cooking. By the time I was in high school, home cooked meals were a Saturday night treat, and I knew more about making Kraft mac & cheese than about how to prepare veggies or bake a casserole. When I started at university I had no time or money for cooking, so I followed the same pattern I had through high school: Poptarts for breakfast, cold cut sandwich for lunch, and a microwave dinner. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when my husband and I first moved in together that I decided I didn’t want to keep going that way, that I wanted to learn how to have a home made dinner on the table every night.
It’s important to me that I be able to provide a home experience to my family that I ended up loosing. I think a lot of our generation ended up not having that experience of sitting down for family meals every night and learning to cook by helping out in the kitchen as they got older, because so many of our parents had work multiple job and odd hours in order to take care of us. It’s not their fault, but I know I’m not the only millennial woman who got out on her own and didn’t know how to do much more than boil water and cut vegetables. Learning to cook becomes a bit of an adventure when a lot of us don’t have the money to drop on cooking classes, we’re concerned about nutritional value, sustainability of our food sources, allergies, and time constraints. What starts out as an easy enough idea becomes a daunting task that’s enough to have anyone running back to the boxed dinner mix aisle at the grocery store.
For reference, I’m a full time student, who works 40+ hours a week as an accounting clerk, I’m trying to loose weight, and I have a nightshade allergy. My husband is a carnivore to a fault, and is trying to bulk and add muscle. Got to love a man who can fill out a uniform in all the right places! What this all means is that I need meals that are nutrient dense, high protein, don’t contain tomato or potato (my two big alkaloid triggers), and that won’t destroy my diet. Now, I know there’s someone out there who’s saying “Why not make yourself dinner and make your husband worry about his own food?” Well, I won’t do that because I like to cook for my husband, I like for the two of us to be able to sit down to dinner and eat together, and if we’re just going to have different things it makes things complicated and expensive pretty quickly. This means I had to learn how to cook and get a collection of recipes under my belt that served me well.
Depending on what you want to do, and how much money you want to spend, there are a few options available to you. I’m going to go through what I did, and tell you about some of my favorite recipes I’ve gotten.
1. Meal Kit Service
To be completely honest, my first stop was meal kit services like HomeChef and HelloFresh which I honestly loved! I’ve linked both for you, and so you’re aware, if you sign up for either service using my referral code then we both get a credit on our accounts. You’ll receive a new account credit and I get a credit for referring you to their services. Both services are pretty good for someone with little cooking experience, and no recipe library to pull from. I love the recipes at HelloFresh, but HomeChef ended up having a better variety for me to choose from. Everything in both packages comes individually sealed though so it’s easy enough to remove any allergens you may have. I used both services for a couple months, switching between the two services depending on which recipes were available that week, and I ended up collecting a good stack of recipe cards that I still reference. I’ll link my favorite recipes down below.
I ended up moving away from both of these for the most part, when my husband got temporary station orders. The size of the meal kits just doesn’t really work for one person. I was throwing away too much food, and spending as much on the kit as I would have on groceries. I ended up with a good stack of recipes I liked from both services, and a growing confidence in my cooking skills due to the helpful pages teaching blanch foods, or what the difference is between diced and minced veggies. At that point I felt confident investing in a cookbook or two so that I could expand my horizons.
If you’re lucky enough to have a box of old recipe cards stashed away from your grandma then I will tell you right now that I am incredibly envious of you! My aunt kept my grandmother’s recipe cards after she passed, under the promise that she’d get them made into a family recipe book, which has yet to happen. This means that I was starting practically from scratch when I tried to put together my own collection of recipes.
Having a goof cookbook or two is a lifesaver, and it’s well worth the investment. A cookbook is going to contain TONS of recipes for you to reference for years to come, and you’ll quickly figure out which ones are going to be family staples. The trick to picking out a cookbook is to find one that fits your budget, your dietary needs, and isn’t super specialized.
If every single recipe in your cookbook calls for some exotic ingredient where you have to take a trip to a specialty store across town in order to make dinner, it’s not going to be a good fit for most people. If you’re a vegetarian, do not go for the cookbook with meat on every page, intending to modify recipes, because trust me, you’re not going to experiment with nearly as many of the recipes as you think you will. Especially to start, pick out a cookbook where you’re confident you can use most of the recipes.
Starting out, it’s also important to get cookbooks that are going to be useful for a majority of your meals. While that cute book full of recipes for tea parties is right up your alley and you can’t wait to host the perfect afternoon tea, are you going to eat scones and cucumber sandwiches on a weekly basis? The book of slow cooker recipes might end up being more useful to start, when you’re trying to figure out what to make for weeknight dinners. That’s not to say you can’t splurge and go for the book of cookie recipes, but if you’re on a budget make sure you’re prioritizing.
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The Taste of Home Cooking for Two cookbook is a great place to start, especially if it’s just you and your spouse. I find that recipes are easier to scale up, than to scale down. That’s why I tend to look for smaller recipes. I also recommend checking out their recipe library on their website.
Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook: 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved RecipesOnce Upon a Chef, the Cookbook
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Once Upon a Chef not only includes some delicious recipes, but tips, tricks, and useful techniques on how to cook. And don’t forget to check out the author, Jenn Segal’s, blog of the same name.
Pinterest is an amazing resource for recipes. I’ll be honest though, the reason I put it third on my list, is because it took me some trial and error and a little bit of cooking experience to 1.) feel confident in making some of the things I found on pinterest, and 2.) to be able to tell the good recipes from the bad ones. That’s right, some of the recipes you find on pinetrest are just plain bad, and they’re not always for blatantly gross stuff like peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. Sometimes it’s as simple as the dish just being bland or having the wrong cook times on everything. Some of those are easy to fix, but others…you’re better off continuing to look for a similar recipe.
These vegetarian tacos are one of my favorite go-to dinners, and my meat-eating husband loves them! If you’re needing extra protein feel free to through some shredded chicken or pork in there too. I like to serve them with chips and salsa on the side.
I have four words for you. Blackberry bacon grilled cheese. I’ll just let you absorb that for a minute. Okay, good! Blackberry, jalapeno, bacon, cheese….this is a great way to dress up a simple classic, and it’s four of my favorite things in sandwich form!
If you think you don’t like brussel sprouts, then you need to try these. I used to dislike brussel sprouts, and then a friend talked me into trying this pin. And let me tell you, I am a believer now! All joking aside though, the combination of cheese and brussel sprouts changed my entire opinion on the tiny little cousin to mustard. And, for a real crowd-pleaser, try pairing these brussel sprouts with some steak! If you’re a big brussel sprouts fan, check out my 5 favorite brussel sprouts recipes too.
Everybody’s recipe collection is going to end up looking a little bit different. Maybe you like salmon more than I do, or you hate cream sauces. The fun thing about building a collection of recipes for your family is curating a collection of food that is unique to your families tastes. What are your favorite recipes you’ve collected over time? Do you have a secret variation on a standard dish that makes it unique to your home and family? Share your go-to’s in the comments!