Pretty much all through my 20’s I would insist I was a bad cook with all of the dramatic foot stomping of a child that fakes being bad at shit so they aren’t, ya know, expected to actually do anything.
Aside from the fact that cooking at home might mean that I would actually have to eat real food, I didn’t like the dishes, the time spent and the fact that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had this perception that cooking was something that you had to learn somewhere, and I hadn’t learned it from anywhere. When I was in my teen years I ended up living on my own with a friend, and we had no adult guiding us to make proper nutritional choices. I lived on a diet that consisted mainly of beef jerky, pizza delivery and cheap liquor.
When my husband and I were trying to get out of debt some years ago, I started to cook more in an effort to tighten our budget. This was my first foray into frugal living. While I got into the habit of cooking more, I wouldn’t say I was really into it though. That came later.
Hot Mess Cooking Hacks to Make People Think You’re a Master Chef
After my second child was born, I decided to get healthier and this meant that I was going to dramatically reduce the amount of food I consumed that was prepared by other people’s hands. At the time, I was also struggling from a major identity crisis, as my job had somehow become my identity and being on mat leave meant that I was suddenly without friends, routine, or anything that I had somehow associated with being me.
I started getting into cooking just as something to do to pass the time with a baby, and started to notice that most recipes and stuff make cooking a lot fucking harder that it needs to be.
The following list are a few kitchen hacks that I have found that help me to make amazing food despite not putting much more time, effort or money into it.
**Actual Chefs be warned. These are the laziest of lazy girl cooking hacks and they are for the average beginner**
Cooking Hacks for Hot Messes
Season your water
When I make rice or grains and I am looking to kick things up a notch I put flavoring into the cooking water. I do this the most with rice, although it can be done with quinoa, potatoes, lentils- anything really that is a little on the plain side that is good at soaking up flavor.
My favorites are:
- Lime juice and cilantro rice (add lime juice to cooking water and fold in finely chopped cilantro after)
- Lemon Greek potatoes or rice (add lemon juice and Greek spice to cooking water)
- Chili powder and Cumin Rice or quinoa (add chili powder and cumin to cooking water for rice or quinoa)
- Italian Seasoning for pretty much anything
Figure out ingredients you can and can’t live without
I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that I can’t make your fancy recipe unless I have some bullshit salt mined from god knows where that costs Lord knows how much!
Sorry but fuck that. Some ingredients are more important than others, so figure out what matters to you and stick to those. A lot of recipes can still be palatable and taste amazing without some of the more precious ingredients.
This comes with practice. There are some things that yes, are essential to a recipe, but a lot of recipes call for some fancy ass bullshit when just a bit of salt will do.
If your recipe calls for some specific type of onion then you better believe I will use whatever is in my fridge. White, red, even *gasp* powdered in a pinch!
I will butcher your recipe and eat the shit out of it anyways, and chances are my family will hail me as the greatest cook alive.
I am a fan of branching out and trying new things, however to keep it frugal I try to stick to trying new ingredients one at a time and if it isn’t cost effective or necessary to keep up then I don’t bother. If I am going to try to make your recipe with one of the fancy things you suggest then you better believe I have at least 2 other uses for that ingredient in mind before I divert those pennies away from my lotto ticket and canned margarita budget.
Establish Some Base Recipes
One of the greatest ways to do more with less is to create some “base recipes” that you can use over and over and tweak in little ways to make things seem fresh. This way you know what main ingredients you should have around, you can think less during cooking (because by 3pm let’s face it most of us are in power saving mode amirite?), and you don’t have to put too much effort and energy into searching for recipes.
Base recipes are a great way to keep your kitchen game hella versatile, while saving you money and time.
One of my best examples would be:
- Asian marinade and stir fry sauce:
- Soy sauce and sweetener (honey or sugar) OR Coconut aminos means that you can skip the sugar
- Tangy agent (rice wine vinegar or lime juice)
- EXTRAS: diced onion, sriracha, hoisin sauce, additional spices
I make this sauce for pretty much any Asian inspired cooking we do and it is quick, easy and delicious. You can use this method of creating a base recipe for baked goods, sauces, smoothies, you name it.
The more practice you do with cooking the more you can start to see a basic framework of what is in different types or “categories” of food.
Make it so pretty it’ll convert your enemies
It’s a sad fact of life that we humans are hardwired to love beautiful things. There are all sorts of chemicals and shit that fire off in our brains when we look at something that is pleasing to the eye. This is a good reason to take a little extra time to put into your presentation.
There is another less glamorous reason to do this. For those of us who have struggled with binge or mindless eating, this can create a routine where you are taking care and putting some effort into your food instead of just mindlessly consuming. I know for me when I kind of zone out and arrange a plate or well stocked burrito bowl I am creating a habit where I am practicing mindfulness, and exerting some ownership and appreciation for my food. I would like to get into this more later, but basically I think that this practice has done a lot for repairing my relationship with food. I recommend anyone give it a try if they are having trouble disconnecting with what they are putting into their body.
So when I say make it so pretty it will convert your enemies, I am talking about you. If you are your own worst enemy with this then arranging your food is a great activity that you can do together- you never know, you just might have something in common *HARD WINK*
Overall if you style it properly, even the most basic of meals can seem fancy. People go more off what they see than anything else so appeal to the eyes and you will have people thinking you are a bomb chef in no time!
How do you feel about cooking? Are you a hot mess in the kitchen like me? Got any tips you’d like to add to this list?