Cooking School: Everyone has to start somewhere, and learning to cook freestyle

A friend of mine recently invited me to join a Facebook group she named “Creating Less Chaos” and described this way: “The basic idea is to post meal plans, recipes, links to recipes, and other breakfast, lunch or dinner ideas. Also, please share great sales so we can grab cheap food too!”

Sounds great, right?  Lots of people joined, and started posting all kinds of stuff: what meat is on sale at the local grocery store this week, some of those weird “shared” facebook recipes that seem to float around, and their weekly menu plans.  I quickly learned that my friend who started the group must be quite a chef!  Here’s her menu: IMG_1513Yum – can I just eat at her house every night?  But, that plan, without a lot more information, is not something that the newbie home cook could execute.  I mean, do most people even know what panko is?  The only comment on this post says “Hmm… not sure if I’ll make it in this group.  Sounds too fancy and healthy for me. :/”

A few days later, someone posts this, I assume as a joke:

IMG_1511But apparently it wasn’t meant (or at least it wasn’t perceived) as a joke.  Here’s a comment: “I really appreciate the exact ingredients and instructions.  This is a real weak area for me, and all the fancy menus with no ingredients or instructions just leave me feeling inadequate and frustrated.”

Argh… I’m pretty sure the point of this group was not to inspire people to combine 3 pre-packaged, heart-attack-inducing convenience foods with cheese and onions.  It also isn’t to show off how awesome our cooking skills are and make other people feel frustrated that they’ll never be able to cook like that.

This is exactly what I’m trying to address with these weekly posts.  “Fancy” menus and  recipes have their place, but unless you are confident with executing some basic cooking skills, you’re never going to write “panko encrusted fish” on your weekly menu plan.  I read an article in a cooking magazine this month about learning to cook freestyle — being able to throw together or improvise a dish without relying too much on a recipe.  To me, this is the heart of cooking.  Well, that and the ability to substitute/change ingredients in a recipe to suit your tastes, budget, and what’s available in your kitchen and/or grocery store.

I think the next few Cooking School posts will focus on techniques for freestyle cooking various dishes.  I already touched on this topic a bit in my Quick Dinners post, giving basic recipes for stir-fry with noodles and hearty scrambled eggs.  Some other examples from the magazine article* I read were some tips & “template recipes” for vegetable soup, stir-fry, and roasted vegetables.

I want these posts to be useful to you!  What cooking techniques, dishes or ingredients are most intimidating for you?

*  I can’t find the article online or I would link to it — it has a ton of good info.  It’s the Sept 2013 issue of Vegetarian Times if you want to look for it.  Article begins on page 58.

Welcome to my Cooking School series, which is designed to share what I’ve learned as an experienced home cook with people who want to learn how to cook healthy, homemade food. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment!  I try to post a new Cooking School installment on Thursdays.

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7 thoughts on “Cooking School: Everyone has to start somewhere, and learning to cook freestyle

  1. I think freestyle cooking is an excellent idea! Even though I’m pretty accomplished cooking recipes, I don’t freestyle much. The stuff I freestyle is ethnic food (such as Greek) where I’ve learned the typical seasonings from making it so often. I’d like to see some posts that help me freestyle out of my comfort zone (Mediterranean and a little Asian.)

    As far as the tamales/chili recipe: you know that it’s deadly but delicious. =)

  2. Curries. I have always wanted to learn how to cook a curry, but have never mustered the courage. otherwise — most of the time I do “freestyle” cooking and love this!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. I know I have the skills – but really I think the first menu is actually far less intimidating that it sounds. Granted saying you make your own bbq sauce was, well I don’t know, but it was probably to indicate something along the lines of “healthier/cheaper than bottled”. It is the descriptors that make it sound fancy and hard. Here is the same menu without descriptors:
    – breaded fish with broccoli
    – sausage, veggies and orzo
    – crockpot pork sandwiches and greens
    – baked chicken, green beans and rolls
    – spaghetti and salad

    Granted I don’t have kids and can’t seem to cook five separate meals a week. When I encourage planning I encourage not attempting more than three meals at a time. Work up to longer planning periods. And no more than one ‘new’ meal. But yes getting comfortable with free-style cooking really helps. Free-style tends to take less time since you aren’t constantly re-assessing where you are in the process according to the the instructions.

    I’m really liking this series btw.
    Michelle recently posted…Too much fun, too few photosMy Profile

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