By Casey Seidenberg
Are you among the many Americans who claim they can’t cook? I meet them all the time, people who assert they are ghastly cooks, so they don’t bother trying. People who say if they had the knack for cooking, they would do it, but they are just too dreadful at it, so they continue to order takeout night after night. Well, I don’t believe any of you. I understand that many people are too tired to cook or too busy to get to the grocery store. Being tired or strapped for time is a more valid excuse. But being a bad cook — I’m not buying it.
According to Karen R. Koenig, author of “The Rules of ‘Normal’ Eating,” one cause for culinary evasion is the fear of messing up. Koenig explains that some people see their cooking as a representation of themselves, and they don’t want to be judged on the outcome. Ditch that fear. Cooking a meal at home is good for your family. Let that be your motivating factor, not the fear of failure.
Then abandon the negativity. You are not a bad cook. Say it out loud: “I am not a bad cook.” You are not a bad parent if you order takeout, either. But cooking for your family, even on occasion, is a good thing: Home-cooked meals are generally lower in bad fats and sodium and higher in nutrients than takeout or packaged meals.
Next, adopt the philosophy that it is okay to burn your rice. In other words, cooking more makes you a better cook. The more you cook, the faster you will become, the better it will taste, and the more you will enjoy the process. So make mistakes. Burn your rice. Make runny soup. At least you tried. It will surely taste better and be more fun the next time.
If you aren’t comfortable giving cooking a crack without some heavy-duty assistance, I don’t blame you. Cooking can be intimidating. I remember the first cooking class I took in my 20s, when I was working at a food magazine and felt like an impostor because I didn’t know the sharp side of a knife. The techniques and knife skills I learned then have stayed with me. So take a class, or hire a teacher to come to your home for an hour or two to get you started. The Post’s Food section compiles a list of cooking classes every year; this year there are more than 180 (check them out at washingtonpost.com/food).
The Food Network Web site, www.foodnetwork.com, contains countless videos demonstrating recipes, basic knife skills and other cooking techniques. For example, search “chicken 101” and you will find a video of how to make various easy chicken recipes. Search “egg 101” or “basic tomato sauce” or almost anything you want to learn to cook, and you will find it. If you prefer the security of a cookbook, pick up “The First-Timer’s Cookbook” by Shawn Bucher, a user-friendly resource to help you start dominating your kitchen.
It is remarkable what our children learn every day. Demonstrate to them that you can learn, too. Show them that even when you think you can’t do something, you will try. Tell them that you are nervous about cooking but will give it a whirl anyway. When you burn that rice, let them see the pan. They will learn a constructive lesson, and so will you. And imagine how gratifying it will be for all of you when a delicious meal hits the dinner table, cooked entirely by you, a reformed dreadful cook and takeout king or queen.
First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, February 12, 2014.