Increasing my confidence in cooking
Note: This post contains some photos of food. If you’ve followed my blog for some time or have known me for some time, you’ll probably know that I’m terrible at cooking because I never really learned how to cook (although I shared my thoughts on that a few years back), or frankly avoided anything close to learning how to do so.
Until quite recently.
Being unable to cook was a bit of a weird embarrassment. I know that there are lots of adults out there who place the label of “can’t cook” on themselves, whilst we’re in this world of the internet where it’s easy for people on social media—amateurs and professional cooks alike—to pretend like you can make a pasta in five minutes. You literally can’t unless you’re discounting the preparation time. C’mon. So where do we stand? Apparently you can put a raw piece of chicken in the oven along with some frozen potatoes, serve it on a plate, and call it “cooking”.
I guess that took me back to trying to understand what I personally meant when I said “I can’t cook”. It also made me think what people mean when they say “cook”. Is cooking just not takeout, takeaway, or dining in at a restaurant? Is it preparing and assembling food? On a technicality, is it not cooking if I chop up raw vegetables and buy a cooked chicken and make a salad through assembling ingredients? Is using instant noodles as a base, or cooking up rice, then preparing things to eat with said noodles and rice, cheating? Is it not actually cooking?
Regardless of the questions I asked, I knew that a couple of things were certain.
The first one was obvious to me, and that was this: I couldn’t handle cooking in a pan. I wasn’t good at it because I never properly learned. I was not motivated enough to try and watch videos about it, and when I did, I was faced with so much impostor syndrome combined with shame, that it turned me off trying. I was happy with my ability to cook a fried egg and a perfect soft-boiled one, and left it at that.
The second one came to me only after I’d attempted to make my own lunch at home. My foray into making aesthetic (and delicious) bagels during the pandemic made making certain lunches more approachable and fun. I’ve never really been able to cut vegetables properly because my knife skills are poor, even though I have spent some time practicing. Some time last year I started following dietician Kylie Sakaida—nutritionbykylie on Instagram—and her easy-to-prepare mason jar noodles and Japanese onigirazu (nori sandwiches) caught my eye. She also shared how important it was for her to prepare meals easily because of her ADHD, and was also open about her emetophobia (fear of vomiting) and prior negative relationship with food. She made making meals look easy, a lot of it consisting of very little preparation and including ingredients that I liked.
The key, for me, was being able to create different meals by using ingredients that could be easily swapped with others, focusing more on meals that I could assemble rather than completely cook. It was also important for me to minimise wastage of products. I have extreme guilt related to food wastage.
Although I fucked up a couple of my initial attempts at soup noodles, I decided to put that aside in favour of adding more to instant noodles. Something I learned from Kylie was that instant noodles are not “bad”—it is more approachable for some people, it’s easier to prepare for some people, it can be modified to reduce sodium, and sometimes instant noodles is all people can afford. She said, “Focus on what you can add to a dish, rather than what to remove”. Her colourful bowl of instant noodles topped with edamame, kimchi, tofu, and other condiments made me think differently and also inspired me to take another step to cook my own meals.
Onigirazu became my go-to lunch for a while, but then I stopped being bothered with assembling the rice in the nori sheets, and soon reverted to creating rice bowls. I’ve made many now, and they mostly consist of the same ingredients: rice, some kind of protein, and some kind of vegetable. Sometimes with miso soup on the side. I also realised I could save some money by buying raw seaweed and miso paste and creating my own miso soup instead of buying individual packets. But the ingredients for the bowl follow a formula—one that I am happy with. I usually go for tofu or diced salmon, and lightly pan-fry it. I bought a big tub of kimchi to add to the rice, although sometimes I might go for beans or some other vegetable. I sprinkle some furikake (rice seasoning) on my rice.
The first or second time I pan-fried dice salmon, I managed to cook it better by keeping the heat low and turning the pieces over to cook them evenly. And I kid you not, after I nailed cooking it, I did not want to buy pan fried salmon anywhere else anymore. I realised how well I could cook it myself and it was so damn good that I thought, “Why pay for this when I can make it better myself?” I was definitely proud of myself.
It was also in a YouTube video that Nick and I watched that I understood how to know if a pan on the stove is the right temperature to start cooking. That was something else I feared and didn’t want to fuck up with food wastage—burning food accidentally. The trick to drop a little bit of water in the pan and see how the droplets react really changed my life, so to speak.
When I feel a bit more lazy and don’t want to wash rice, I’ll just put a pot on the stove and boil some instant noodles, but I add a fried egg or a soft-boiled egg to it.
I’ve also fucked up a bunch of times; I made some pretty bland tofu before I realised that I could buy the flavoured stuff to make my life easier. I also bought some really shitty frozen edamame because I have not found a place that sells them.
I will probably keep fucking up over time. My knife skills are still, undoubtedly, very shit. But for now, I’ve made some delicious meals that I enjoy. That’s kind of the only thing that matters to me at the moment. But I wrote this because I’m proud that I overcame some strange fears and insecurities about cooking. I have a bit more confidence in cooking. Some people might not think it’s “cooking” because I ain’t cooking shit from scratch. But I know for sure that I learned from scratch. I went from cracking an egg in a frypan, always breaking the yolks, to making a rice bowl for a meal. 😁