Top 10 Things A Newbie Cook Should Know

Last week I admitted my failure as a stay-at-home parent.

More precisely, how my children live on Eggos, PB&J, and think “dinner” has to take place in a restaurant.

I asked for help. For recipes. For cooking while two young children demand attention.

The response was amazing.

The encouragement was exactly what I needed.

In one week’s time, we dined out only three nights, and cooked actual meals the other four.

Real dinners. With side dishes. Not our previous “one dish is good enough” that sufficed during rare at-home dinners in the past.

Naturally this means a top 10 list is imminent.

Top 10 things a newbie cook should know.Top 10 Things A Newbie Cook Should Know

10.  Start dinner preparation at least forty-five minutes before you think you need to if you are new to the experience.This time will be required to Google “how do you prep asparagus”, “how do you prep the rosemary, thyme, and oregano you bought fresh”, and “what exactly does simmer mean?”

Farmer's Market Vegetable, Beef, & Brown Rice Salad, recipe via  Chef Chamberlain

Night 1: Neither child appreciated the asparagus, but The Tackler did eat everything else. Lil Diva loved the rice and beef, ignored the squash, but actually ate some of the chickpea/garbonzo beans thanks to their neutral color.

Homemade granola bars.

The Tackler is an expert mixer. Here he helps on a delicious homemade granola bar recipe which was my first step into cooking something other than brownies and cake from a box.

9.  A laptop in the kitchen is vital. You need it close for posting on facebook, Googling, and tweeting. As I prepared my first meal, I found myself asking friends “how do you keep rice simmering when the burner is turned as low as it goes?” and “Do you broil beef on HI or LOW? I have never broiled before. It’s a round cut.”

It’s okay. You can stop laughing at me anytime….

8.  Try to do most of the prep work during your two year old’s nap time and involve your four and half year old as much as possible. Using sharp knives while your legs are crashed into is not recommended. Keeping your older child occupied, engaged, and slightly increasing the likelihood he will eat the food? Priceless.

7.  Aprons were invented for a reason. Namely the high probability you will spill soy sauce or other sticky, staining substance all over your torso. Have one. Use it.

Don’t forget the mini ones for your children.

6.  Enlist your spouse to help clean up. They will be so grateful you’re trying to cook, he/she will bend over backward to help. This is in hope to circumvent your kitchen catching fire, dinner turning into an inedible mess, and/or the likelihood you will give up this cooking venture entirely and make them take over and do it by themselves.

Dinner of yakatori chicken skewers, a favorite from "before kids"

Nights 2 and 3 were Yakatori Chicken Skewers from an old "how to grill" cookbook - an old favorite barely touched since we had children. We had it two nights in a row because of an abundance of leftover sauce.

5.  Any shopping venue containing cooking items is suddenly transformed into your childhood candy store. A simple trip to the grocery store to buy one additional 9 x 13 baking pan results into a shopping cart full of all the items you need for the future meals you envision.

Such as: mini measuring bowls/cups, the thingy you put lemon wedges on to juice, new wooden utensils, tortilla container, new rice cooker because your old one sucks… the list goes on. You only stopped because if you didn’t, your two year old would miss her nap…

4.  A good rice cooker is a necessity. Seriously. The directions to make long grain rice in my new cooker are easier than making instant brown rice, the time is just longer.

But it tastes so good.

And my two year old will actually eat the rice.

3.  Finding the ingredients you’re looking for could suck up several evenings. Every grocery store here carries different things. Even though they are the same chain, some have way more inventory. This means a lot of trial and error in the beginning to find out where you need to go for what you need, then going to more offbeat places for the “specialty” items.

I have been to three groceries stores in a single day, more than I typically would go in a week when I didn’t cook.

Still working on efficiency…

2.  If the food doesn’t reheat well, invite guinea pigs family and friends over to share. Part of the reason we never made more than a single dish (the main course typically) in the past was it alone was enough food to feed the two of us. Adding courses only encouraged us to overeat.

So invite people over. It’s a great way to have a small semblance of a social life and share the food.

They might even be nice enough to either A) help with the dishes or B) distract your children so you can do the dishes.

1.  Don’t be afraid to try things never done before. I’d never tried cooking fried rice. I never dared flipping food by jerking the handle instead of using a spatula. Sure I continue to spill food everywhere as I try to master the technique, or stop to Google or ask my husband “do I brown the onions first and add oil, or do the garlic with the butter, and how much soy sauce does this need?”

I’m learning. I’m trying.

And I’m having a surprisingly enjoyable time doing it.

About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos ( sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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9 Responses to Top 10 Things A Newbie Cook Should Know

  1. John says:

    In time, you’ll know exactly where key ingredients are in specific grocery stores. And you’ll know which produce to buy where, in what season (that’s the biggest thing).

    I do best when I buy the staples in large batches, and then the meat & produce the day of the cooking.

    And, if I can’t find something – I just make it up.

  2. Annie says:

    Awesome! Good for you. :). Sorry I’ve been AWOL. Blogging has really had to take a backseat these days.

    It was so much harder to cook when I was in “baby fog”. Sounds like you are just coming out of the fog, and doing amazing. That food looks delicious!

  3. Paige Morgan says:

    You’re on your way! When do you launch your food blog for busy moms? What I love is that it sounds like you’re having fun and that is the key!

  4. I am so impressed by what you’ve done so far.

    Once you put your mind to something, you don’t do it half-assedly do you?



  5. Katie says:

    I’m impressed–sounds like you’re doing amazing!

    And I’m glad you got a new rice cooker. Ours is probably among the most-used items in our kitchen. We’ve had it since we got married and I’m waiting for it to die so we can get a higher-end Japanese one 🙂

  6. Somehow I missed your confessional blog, too.

    One of the most important things to know is that kids have to try new foods about TEN times before they like them. So just because Diva rejects something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer it again. You can even make a chart! We did this with Monkey and we’d ask: “what do you think?” And he’d say, “Still don’t like it.” Until that morphed into “It’s okay” to “Not bad” to “Weird how I didn’t like that!”

    Glad you are enjoying yourself in the kitchen. And you are right: the cook never cleans! Amen to that! 😉

  7. Elena Aitken says:

    I am SO proud of you!
    And what you’re cooking looks really good. Next, could it be breakfast food besides Frosted Flakes?! I know…pushing it.
    Good work, Kelly. And really, the only reason I cook is so I don’t have to clean. I’ll do just about anything to get out of that.

  8. Pingback: November Mash Up of Awesomeness « Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  9. Pingback: November Mash Up of Awesomeness - renée a. schuls-jacobson

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