Clueless Cooking

How the 2020 lockdown stimulated my cooking skills, and how it can boost yours.

Let me start with clarifying: I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. I never consider cooking as a fantastic way to spend a day. Although it’s not that I never cooked – I see basic cooking as a crucial skill to live somewhat healthy, save a bit of money, and to avoid being stuck on one dish all the time. However, I limited my cooking on meals that are done by 20 minutes, and I stayed miles from any cooking show.

So I can’t believe that I am writing about food. But since the lockdown started, I spent more time in the kitchen than did in years – and actually, there’s something to it!

Normally, I’d mix these quickly prepared meals with eating out in local cantinas or restaurants to get a decent variety to get me through. But when all of them shut to avoid people gatherings, hard times arrived at the gates. It didn’t take long, and I had to figure something new and bring the food variety back to life. If you read some of my previous posts, you know that I really like to explore some new environment, get purposefully lost, and find the thrill in the unknown. It turned out, you can get a portion of that thrill when you try to make food while having no idea if it’s going to work or not.

It clicked when I wanted to make lentil, beetroot, eggs, and some fresh vegetables for dinner. Preparing both lentil and beetroot is lengthy, and I have only one pot. If I’d boil them separately, it would take ages. So I thought that I could bake the beetroot while boiling lentil, cutting the preparation time in half. I sliced the beetroot, put on some spices, and wrapped it in a foil. But I thought that since I am already using the oven, I might as well make good use of it – so I wanted to bake more things. However, I didn’t have anything else of similar consistency – except an avocado. “Hmmm, they say that it is good to eat the food of multiple colors…,” I thought, cut it, and chucked it in with the beetroot. I never heard of such combo, left alone to actually make it. I didn’t look online if it can be done, I just risked it. And it ended being amazing!

Baked avocado was the initiator of my culinary experiments.

Since then, I did many other odd combinations, and so far, I didn’t have any bad results.

And so I thought: If I can do it, you can too!

But, I see that if you also aren’t obsessed with cooking, it can be a struggle just to think about it. For that, I wrote down a few q/a that should clarify some of the possible queries you might have, to get you started:

Why cook in the first place?

  • You won’t have to eat toasts or ready-meals all day every day.
  • You save money by doing so.

Why bother with cooking anything that takes longer?

  • To get a wider variety, and to actually save time. Yes..
  • If you make tons of it, you won’t have to spend any time cooking the next day. Say, if it takes you an hour to prepare the meal, but you’ll end up with four portions, that will equal to 15m of cooking per meal. That’s already decent.

Let’s say that you are sold and want to give it a try. Here are a few tips:

Where to start?

  • Potatoes / rice / pasta. Any of these combined with some side provide arrays of possibilities. These are quick and easy to make, and each of the results will be better than heavily processed foods from the shop.

Take the time to cook.

  • If you start too late and are already hungry, you will end up nibbling the ingredients while preparing the meal, and by the time you are done, you won’t feel like eating anymore. On the other hand, if you schedule it and start in advance, you will finish just by the time you are hungry, and the thing will taste instantly better.

If you do something for the first time, have a backup.

  • If I am to start something that I have no idea whether it will work (which is rather often), I have a box of ice cream, chocolate, and plenty of fruit ready. That way, if I royally mess up, I will have something to comfort me later. And if the food will end up being delicious, finishing it with ice cream never hurts either. Win-win!  
Ice cream makes life better.

How to come up with something new, without following recipes?

  • Explore the corners of your store where you usually don’t shop – sometimes you find something that looks like it will work. The other day I got some Japanese noodles, which I plan to use the next time I will be making soup.
  • While being in store, look at discounted items. There could be something that you wouldn’t consider otherwise, but it could actually work for cooking. Optimally, you will end up using it for cooking some deliciousness for cheap. In the worst case, your losses will be low.
Carrots were on sale, so I made a meal with them.
  • If you lack loads of stuff, try to combine whatever you have left in a way that will hopefully work together. 

Use your time productively.

  • When you put stuff on the hob or in the oven, you might have to wait before anything happens. Fill these time gaps with something useful! But if you turn to a different activity, make sure to set a timer so you won’t end up burning down the kitchen.
The last time I was waiting for my cooking, I fixed an innertube for my bike.

Once you are done cooking,

Serve the meal on a plate.

  • If you eat alone, I know how easy it is to be tempted to eat directly from the pot/pan. It is quicker, and it saves a bit of washing afterwards. But the issue is, eating the food directly gives you no portions. And if the food is good (which it will be), you might end up eating the whole lot before realizing to stop. Then, it’s too late. Nevermind the unhealthy side of it; the worst thing is, you will have nothing left for tomorrow, so you will have to cook again. Yuck! Put it on a plate, and you won’t eat more than you need to. Simple as that.

Finally, don’t worry too much about how the food looks.

  • Every now and then, it can be a nice touch to make the meal look good – mainly if you are preparing it for someone else. However, your first goal should be to make it healthy and tasty. Some people clearly see it differently, as the #foodporn section of Instagram has 230 million posts. But I firmly believe that if you want to see cool visuals, it is much better to visit a gallery than a restaurant.
    To get food looking great on photos, you have to spend time arranging and lighting the scene. I know, I used to do it for a living. Now that I am not paid to do so, I rather use the time to swim in the sea, or by doing something else I see as more valuable more than faffing around plates.

So there you have it. Cooking is easier than it seems. If you haven’t yet, give it a go!