How I Got Over My Fear of Cooking and Settled Into the Kitchen
I really don’t know how to cook. Of course, over the last month I’ve made stir-fries, steaks and all kinds of pasta, but they don’t count, right? They were light! Many people think that learning how to cook is too difficult, but in reality it is not. This is how I got comfortable with cooking by accident.
As a child, I never “learned” how to cook. I learned how to cook one or two meals here and there, but never really got interested in the art behind it. Even basic chemistry confused me, so picking up a bunch of powders, liquids, and meats and hoping for something tasty was more like alchemy than an everyday task that people have performed since the dawn of civilization. A few years ago, I decided that I needed to become a fucking adult and learn how to cook properly. Here’s what I’ve learned and all the ways I’ve screwed up along the way.
Start with minor changes to what you know
When I first decided I wanted to learn how to cook, I knew how to cook exactly three things: spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, and burnt cheese sandwiches. Also, the spaghetti hardly counts because the sauce was technically ready, so I was actually just boiling water, stirring the noodles, and heating up some sauce.
It wasn’t much, but it gave me a starting point. I knew I wasn’t going to immediately learn how to cook chicken tikka masala, whatever that was. But maybe I can figure out how to make another pasta. My wheelhouse was not very big, but I knew what was in it. The next step was to develop this.
Just kidding. It would be wise to use recipes that I knew how to cook. Instead, I did something stupid. I tried to cook the exotic food I ate in the restaurant but had no idea how to cook it: naan . Oven baked flatbread that I ate in Indian restaurants that I really liked. With very little culinary experience behind me and the occasional naan recipe that I searched on Google, I decided the best way to expand was to make bread .
I’m an idiot.
Unsurprisingly, this was a disaster. I didn’t let the yeast dissolve enough, I didn’t add enough flour, and the dough came out watery. While it sounds simple to “follow the recipe,” I didn’t have a frame of reference for how certain stages were supposed to look, so I misinterpreted the directions and ruined the batch. In the end, I was so confused and disappointed that I cried into the mixture, which not only made it more watery but also salty. That’s rough.
However, failure taught me an important lesson. Start with what you know . After failing to bake bread, I went back to something simpler: I changed the spaghetti recipe I knew. I started experimenting with different spices, different sauce flavors (still ready in the can, but gradually) and different types of noodles.
It helped me understand what “cooking” really is, more than just blindly following recipes . When I first started out, I didn’t have to figure out how to make a Thanksgiving spread from scratch. It didn’t really matter that I used ready-made sauces, as long as I learn how to make the dish taste good . I’ve already done most of the hard work and it allowed me to play with taste. Even if you don’t have a single recipe that you already know, you can start by experimenting with something simple, like ramen .
Build your kitchen gradually
When I got my first apartment, I received several housewarming gifts from some friends, including basic cooking essentials. Measuring glasses, a set of pots and pans, and a few utensils. At the time, I didn’t have a well-stocked pantry full of various spices, oils, and baking ingredients that I would need over time. I didn’t even have all the tools that a well-stocked kitchen should have (and I still don’t have them).
It was overwhelming at first. Every recipe I found had a long list of things that they thought were just found in most kitchens. For example, this spicy chicken breast recipe included several ingredients that I still had to purchase: pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, and ground cayenne pepper. Kitchen professionals may have it all idle, but I didn’t have it. It’s just that purchasing all these spices will cost more than the food itself. This is a tricky question unless you are in a good financial position to buy a ton of materials all at once.
Fortunately, you don’t have to buy everything at once. In the early days, I started buying pre-mixed spices . Instead of a single-spice crepton bottle, pre-mixed spice bottles contain a blend designed for a specific flavor. Think of it as a simple mode for seasoning a dish. I didn’t have much flexibility with every dish, but I could make a simple chicken breast without spending my grocery budget. Granted, premixed spices are often easy to make on your own if you have all the basics, but for beginners, it’s a quick way to learn.
In the end, I adopted a long-term strategy that helped me fill my pantry without overwhelming my budget. When I read about a new recipe I want to try, I make a list of the spices it contains. Then I keep track of how many spices are repeated across multiple recipes and mark the ones that occur most frequently. After that, every time I go grocery shopping, I could buy one bottle of spices. I would take a bottle of premix or one of the spices on my list. It’s worth noting that you can also buy spice coasters that are pre-filled with a couple dozen basic spices . This method also works if you can afford the high upfront costs. However, keep in mind that the spices in the prepackaged racks may not be as fresh and may not last as long. Especially if you only plan on using a few of them in the near future.
However, I found that by buying my spices, as well as new cooking utensils, baking ingredients, home appliances, etc., one at a time as needed, I understood each one better . Every time I bought a new ingredient or tool, it was done on purpose. I had a special need based on my existing knowledge. Even if it was more expensive, it was still worth buying my kitchenware piece by piece.
As soon as you feel comfortable, start feeling uncomfortable.
For seasoned chefs, adding garlic to spaghetti is one of the least scary things you could do, but it was unnerving in the early years. When I used to experiment with a few recipes that I knew it was time to do what I’ve never cooked. Like a steak. Mmm, delicious steak. That would be good.
There are many reasons why a steak might go wrong when cooked. You may end up with the wrong piece of meat. You may not soften or soften it at all. You can use the wrong marinade or, God forbid, marinate it. You may be using the wrong seasoning or cooking it wrong. I know all this because every man, woman, and child in America has a different opinion on each of these statements . Not knowing how to cook the steak properly, I went to cook.
Steaks are a good food to learn how subjective recipes can be, because there is no real “right” time to cook them, or even how to cook them. You can cook it longer for a well-done steak, or shorter for a thinner steak. Determining how well a steak is cooked is subjective, requiring a few more creative tricks than just looking at the clock. This process naturally takes trial and error. Error is the key word. When you learn to cook, you are going to screw it up, but it’s okay if you are learning something . There are worse things in the world than food that didn’t come out the way you wanted it to.
Those first few steaks I cooked weren’t all good. Firstly, I neglected the marinade, because then I did not understand it (which, as it turned out, is not entirely necessary?). I bought a ready-made condiment and it turned out to be pretty good. The cut of steak I bought – and continued to buy for about three years before my girlfriend taught me the best way – was tough, but damn cheap. Despite all the shortcomings and shortcomings of my early steaks, they were still good food that I enjoyed. I quickly realized that failing a recipe was not as easy as I thought. Even though my first few steaks were objectively terrible.
This whole process was inconvenient for me, because I was used to doing something “right”. For example, when I assemble a computer, everything is either connected correctly or not. You cannot look at it until it becomes correct. Every step of cooking a steak – and cooking in general – runs counter to this type of thought. You can marinate or not, you can choose completely different spices and burn as much or less as you like. This is a great tutorial on how to play around with food preparation. It is more important that you experiment and learn how things work than trying to do things “right.”
Do not be afraid of the “easy way”
When I think about what it means to be able to cook, I imagineguys using words like herbal and fried with skills that I can never match. However, while there will always be chefs who make you better, you don’t have to compete or make things difficult just because of the discipline. All you have to do is prepare delicious, preferably healthy food.
Enter the multicooker. Eventually, I got to the multicooker. Read Lifehacker long enough and you’ll start to think that multicooker is a gift from the god of cooking . This is because they are. In the end, I bought one about a year and a half ago and decided to start cooking as many dishes in it as possible.
One of the first recipes I made was a pot roast. Like the spaghetti I learned how to make so long ago, they were mostly made with pre-cooked ingredients. A can of mushroom soup, a can of beef broth, and a bag of onion soup. I didn’t need to learn how to mix spices correctly, nor did I need to carefully check a roast to know when it was fully cooked. I didn’t even think about it. Just add the ingredients, maybe brown the roast a little first, toss in and set the timer. When I come back in 6-8 hours I will have delicious homemade food.
It looks like cheating. A slow cooker can make you feel very lazy, even if you cook a meal for four. However, this is not necessarily a problem. As the great Carl Sagan taught us,if you want to make apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe . How far do you have to go before you feel like you’re “done” cooking? Doesn’t that count as cooking if I haven’t mixed the spices myself? Should I cook the broth myself ? How can you even reinvent the universe?
While this sounds like philosophizing over trivialities, I found that it became a real psychological barrier for me. No matter how many times I cooked, I still felt like I “really” didn’t know how to cook. If you think you don’t know how to cook, you hesitate to try something new and more risky. I might get the impression that I experimented a lot. In fact, months passed between each new experiment, because I was afraid to spend money on something that I would obviously spoil – all because I am so bad at cooking, right?
Well, I bought a pressure cooker last week. It is clear that someone who “does not know how to cook” does not deal with such a device, but I did it anyway. So far, we have used it three times in my home, without major disasters. The food was delicious too. How about this? I didn’t have to attend class or spend all day deep in cooking to learn how to cook chicken. Before that, I cooked the same recipe on the stove. The pressure cooker was simpler and there is nothing wrong with that.
I still don’t call myself a “cook” because I don’t think of myself that way. And I’m certainly not the best person to give advice. Nothing here should be construed as the correct way to cook something, because what do I know? I am good at the kitchen, but there is still a lot I don’t understand.
But that’s just the point. If you’re afraid to cook, don’t worry. The worst thing that can happen is you make food that is not that great. Or you end up crying over a puddle of watery dough and then posting about it online. Either way, cooking is an extremely accessible skill that benefits everyone. We’ve written over a billion articles to help you learn how to cook if you’re new to it. You can even check out our Skillet sub-blog for everything but cooking tips all day long every day.
My cooking learning journey will obviously be different from yours. Most of the problems I had were purely psychological and everyone learned in their own way. Every culinary resource you can find is a starting point, but it’s okay if you don’t have a recipe or an instructor to hold your hand all the time. Even if you spoil your food, it’s still better than eating fast food.