There are plenty of people out there who don’t enjoy cooking. That’s A-OK, because I don’t enjoy golf or racecar driving. There is a difference, though, between people who choose not to cook because they find it mundane or tedious and people who don’t cook because they think they aren’t good at it.
There are a lot of people out there who think they’re terrible at cooking when actually, there are perfectly reasonable explanations as to why those pesky recipes never turn out properly. So, it’s time to ditch the excuses and dispel some of the biggest myths out there convincing unsuspecting home cooks that they’re better off calling for a pizza. There are lots of reasons why you think you’re a bad cook when you are more than capable of pulling off deliciousness.
You try to tackle complicated recipes with long ingredient lists
I am about to say something incredibly sexist, but in my experience, women take a markedly higher interest in cooking during the early days of a relationship when they suddenly have a significant other to impress. My friend Allison couldn’t make so much as a box of macaroni and cheese, but when she moved in with her now-husband, she was suddenly making stir fries, quinoa and emailing me questions about baked brie en croute. My friend Sarah used to make frozen dinners and dispose of the packaging before her boyfriend would come over so she could just pull dinner out of the oven and pretend the food was homemade.
When you actually start cooking though, it’s rare that you’ll want to make grilled cheese sandwiches or a pot of chili for your special night. You pull out the fancy recipes that are meant to impress. The problem is that if you haven’t mastered the basics yet, you’re not going to know what chicken paillard is or how to spatchcock a cornish hen. Start with simple one-pot type dishes that are flavorful, relatively hands off and require little cleanup. Who wants to spend those early dates fighting over dishes?
A few of my favorite simple dinners that could pass muster for a date or special evening are Roasted Lemon Chicken Breasts, Baked Caprese Pasta or Foil Packet Salmon. For side dishes, make a super simple mixed green – go ahead and buy the packaged stuff — salad and pick up a baguette from the bakery section of the grocery store, which you can serve before dinner for dipping with a nice olive oil. Pro tip: make your guest bring a bottle of bubbly. All set.
You overcook everything because you don’t want to poison yourself
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, then you’ve probably also overcooked fish beyond palatability and have enjoyed a solid month of disinfecting your entire kitchen every time you think about handling raw poultry. I am someone who will cook chicken “for just five more minutes” to make sure that I don’t accidentally murder my friends, but that’s not always going to result in tasty dinners. Invest in an oven thermometer — it doesn’t have to be a fancy one, but it will keep you from eating rubber chicken for the rest of your life.
Recipes lie: preparation time may vary, you’re not a bad cook
Look, it’s really not your fault. The food industry is completely saturated with advertising and marketing meant to convince you that food should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare. There are some recipes that might take a professional 30 minutes, but in a home kitchen with your phone ringing, your work email dinging and a tiny dog clamoring for your attention, it’s going to take approximately double the recipe time to produce anything even remotely resembling food.
When you look at a recipe and think it’s going to take 20 minutes, tack on an extra 10 minute cushion to allot for things the professionals don’t: the UPS man at the door, an olive oil spill or the fact that a professional recipe tester can probably chop carrots faster than you can. The bottom line? Sometimes the recipe will take you longer than the instructions suggest and that is not your fault.
You put something on the stove…and forget it was there…every single time
Whether I’m using the microwave, the stove or the oven, I have a tendency to be a little forgetful. We’re not talking “leave the oven on and leave the house for the weekend” forgetful, but I’ll heat olive oil and then turn around to chop veggies, entirely forgetting that I had left the stove on. I never know when it’s time to flip pancakes or an omelet, but even if my food doesn’t always look pretty, I hold close to the fact that it’s quite tasty. Forgetfulness is something that can easily be translated into being a bad cook, but there are easy solutions.
Instead of multitasking, focus on one task at a time, whether it’s chopping something, stirring something or paying attention to the food you have on a stove. A tactic that really helps is mise en place, a French culinary phrase which meant “putting in place”, as in set up.
Read your recipe, pull all your ingredients out and measure them into the quantities you need. It will make it way harder for you to make a tomato tart without the tomatoes or to mix up the salt and sugar in your pantry.