I hate cooking. I need to love it.
October 20, 2007 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I hate cooking. I hate cooking. I really, really, really hate cooking. I need to learn how to love it.

I mean, I even get annoyed when I have to slap something frozen on a cookie sheet, and I even very often don't make toast, for God's sake, despite liking it. (No problem with shoving a frozen meal in the microwave, however.)

All that having been said, this massive aversion is a real problem that I want to complete turn around 180 degrees — both for the cachet of it (so few guys cook) and for the simple health of it (eating self-cooked food is going to be much healthier than a near-perpetual diet of delivery, frozen meals, junk food, and fast food.

As best as I can figure this out in my head, I'm essentially asking for two categories of responses here: practical and behavioral.

On one hand, I'm looking for practical tips (both any procedural tips or "kitchen hints" you might have, as well as very-quick-prep healthy recipes) as to how to make cooking (i) extremely low-impact, timewise; (ii) fast and efficient; and (iii) actually fun and not incredibly boring — keeping in mind the level of aversion described above.

On the other hand, I'm looking for behavioral tips. (I wouldn't be surprised if this angle of the question has been asked before in other Ask Mefis with other things people detest but have to do — but I wasn't sure how to frame the search in order to dig them up.) If you hate to do something, but it's necessary that you not only overcome the hate but transmute it to enthusiasm, what steps do you take?

I find cooking an extremely annoying obstacle to doing other things that I want to do, and I find that I'm incredibly bored while I do it and that something deep within me just frames the whole thing as a immensely boring, massive waste of time. How do I change that gut emotional response? I need to start to actually like this stuff.

Thanks, guys.
posted by WCityMike to Home & Garden (87 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Cook dishes that don't require much prep work. Make dishes that smell really good while you cook them (soups, sauces, curries, anything with herbs). Prepare desserts now and again. Join a CSA or farm-to-city arrangement, so that you get a constant influx of ingredients that you have to use. Eat out at restaurants that you've never been to before, to try new foods and get inspired.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 PM on October 20, 2007

Do you like eating?

I can't imagine liking cooking without liking the whole sensory process. For me, that's intimately tied with the whole sensory process of eating. So... what do you really love to eat, and are you cooking things that align with that?

Given what you say you're eating ("a near-perpetual diet of delivery, frozen meals, junk food, and fast food"), I might actually start with that end of it and try changing the meals you're buying to higher-end, fresh-ingredient, "oh my god I can now die happy" types of experiences. Figure out what you love to eat, then work backwards toward the types of things that would excite you to cook.
posted by occhiblu at 10:06 PM on October 20, 2007

It might help if you told us a little bit about things you *like* to do. Do you hate cooking because it feels poorly controlled and mysterious? Or because there are intervals of forced waiting?

If the former, you might look at Cooking for Engineers. If the latter, then maybe you should try to focus on recipes that have minimal waiting - like sautees and stir fries - rather than baking/toasting/roasting.
posted by janell at 10:09 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not going to ride this thread ... I've seen the bad results of that ... but just to clarify things early, I need detail, i.e., what are some dishes that don't require prep work? What are recipes for some dishes that smell really good? What's a CSA? And, I apologize, perhaps it's the late hour, but for someone who has no skill cooking, I'm really not sure how to parse the "try changing the meals you're buying to higher-end, fresh-ingredient, 'oh my god I can now die happy' types of experiences" into something specific I should go do.
posted by WCityMike at 10:09 PM on October 20, 2007

Response by poster: > It might help if you told us a little bit about things you *like* to do. Do you hate cooking because it feels poorly controlled and mysterious? Or because there are intervals of forced waiting?

Basically, I don't want to be doing it; it's a hassle and work at a time when I want to be decompressing from the day. It's easy to shove a meal into the microwave. It's time-consuming to make and eat breakfast in the morning, or to make and cook a non-microwaved meal for dinner. Additionally, I just find the actual process boring.
posted by WCityMike at 10:12 PM on October 20, 2007

Response by poster: > If the former, you might look at Cooking for Engineers.

This looks like a great site — I'll definitely be investigating it more.
posted by WCityMike at 10:14 PM on October 20, 2007

I'm sure there's a whole cognitive behavioral therapy approach to the big picture, but one small thing you could do would be to look for recipes that allow a lot of hands-off time (e.g., casseroles, stews, roasts). You prep the dish and then let it bake/simmer for a good long time, so you can get away from the cooking and do something else for a while. Kind of breaks up the tiresome chore into smaller pieces with a little reward in between, GTD-style.

Also, I've found that cooking gets more rewarding as your skills and recipe collection increase, which is sort of obvious but I think most of the time people assume that their meals will always be the same old same old. Try lots of different recipes, keep a notebook of your favorites, return to them often, and reinforce the idea that you can cook tasty dinners to look forward to.

On preview: it's getting too late now but if you haven't gotten more details by morning I'll jump back in with some recipes and cookbook suggestions. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:15 PM on October 20, 2007

I'm really not sure how to parse the "try changing the meals you're buying to higher-end, fresh-ingredient, 'oh my god I can now die happy' types of experiences" into something specific I should go do.

Go out to really good restaurants. Try a lot of different food. Figure out what you like to eat that's not fast food, junk food, or frozen food.
posted by occhiblu at 10:15 PM on October 20, 2007

It's easy to shove a meal into the microwave.

Get rid of the microwave. A friend of mine made a conscious choice not to have one...while he struggles a bit with some of the same issues as you, and is still working on varying his diet, he does acknowledge that the microwave makes it too easy to eat junk.
posted by cabingirl at 10:17 PM on October 20, 2007

Well, could you look at it as a science experiment? I'm actually watching America's Test Kitchen that I tivoed off of PBS right now, and I think they do a good job of explaining why they do each step of the recipe. It's a pretty geeky way of looking at food, which I enjoy. Alton Brown is also in this vein.

I know a lot of people hate Rachael Ray, but she gives a lot of good tips in her 30 Minute Meals shows, as far as quick prep work. I think cooking any of her meals would probably take a little longer than half an hour, but they're a good start.

You could also look at the time impact a different way: what if you cooked a week's worth of meals on the weekend, then didn't have to think about them again? Yes, it might take an afternoon, but then your evenings are free for another week.

Though I don't think this is a permanent, long-term solution, you might also look for things like pre-sliced onions and peppers. (I think that they are expensive and use too much wasteful packaging, but I also think if you used them to get started on cooking for yourself it might be a good thing.)

Another thing that helps me cook is that I like knowing exactly what is going into my meals. When I think about some of the stuff I used to eat, based on convenience, it grosses me out. I think if you get into a habit of cooking good food for yourself it will be hard to go back to eating like you do now. That might help your enjoyment of the process, too.

What about listening to music while you cook? Or interesting podcasts, audiobooks, college lectures? Something to keep you a little distracted instead of cursing yourself every time you have to pull out another knife.

Oh, and also -- dinner every night definitely doesn't have to be a production. You'll probably find that you have several core recipes that you keep coming back to. It's not for nothing that families often have Taco Tuesdays, etc -- because it's a meal that you don't have to keep thinking about.

Good luck!
posted by sugarfish at 10:17 PM on October 20, 2007

Cooking is a chore.

Cooking *well*, on the other hand, is a joy: a pleasure that offers its own, direct, rewards and indirect rewards, too (e.g. chicks dig it.) ;)

Getting from A to B takes a measure of curiosity (just how does this alchemy occur?), a dash of persistence, and a surprisingly small number of specialized tools.

While other folks will no doubt have lots of specific advice -- recipes, techniques, books (like A. Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food") -- I'll suggest only this: don't try to learn everything at once. Focus on one technique at a time. Note that I don't say one *recipe* at a time... but on *technique*. For example: learn to braise well. Once you've learned to braise, there isn't a cut of meat on the planet that is too tough, or too gristly, to make an amazing meal of.

Oh, and learn to make a killer breakfast for two. ;)
posted by deCadmus at 10:18 PM on October 20, 2007

Response by poster: > Get rid of the microwave.

Not bad advice (treat the situation radically), but not do-able in my case; it's landlord-supplied and built into the cabinetry.
posted by WCityMike at 10:20 PM on October 20, 2007

CSA = community sponsored agriculture. Basically, it's a box of fresh vegetables every week during the summer/fall growing months. I wouldn't recommend that for you just yet because I think you'd get quickly overwhelmed. Hell, I had my first CSA this summer and I got overwhelmed.

Let's do this. What's one meal that you really enjoy? Not necessarily something that you've cooked, but that you simply like to eat.
posted by sugarfish at 10:20 PM on October 20, 2007

Oh, and CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a "share" in a local farm and then you receive a box of produce on a weekly basis during the growing season.
posted by cabingirl at 10:21 PM on October 20, 2007

Response by poster: Great suggestions thus far — and sugarfish, really good idea re: the distraction stuff to listen to. Thanks! [Keep 'em coming! ;-)]
posted by WCityMike at 10:22 PM on October 20, 2007

I prefer to cook while listening to Radio National. Makes the whole thing just flow.
posted by flabdablet at 10:26 PM on October 20, 2007

Oh, forgot to mention that you probably don't have to cook every night. (I love to cook and even I would hate to do it every single day!) Lots of recipes keep very well in the fridge or freezer so you can just reheat a portion for dinner. I only cook on the weekends and enjoy leftovers the rest of the time. (My leftovers are damn good because I make an effort to collect recipes for dishes that improve with age.)

Generally, dishes that keep well are soups, stews, chili, curries, pasta sauces, and "wet" things like that. Fried foods like hamburgers are just sad when reheated. Stir-fries are iffy - some keep well, some don't. Fish overcooks when reheated, so don't go there.

Start out with some stews: they're easy to cook, good in cold weather, most actually improve over a few days in the fridge, and they usually make quite a few servings. Enjoy the leftovers until you get tired of 'em, then freeze the rest in portion-sized containers.
posted by Quietgal at 10:26 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > Let's do this. What's one meal that you really enjoy? Not necessarily something that you've cooked, but that you simply like to eat.

It's cliched, but pizza. :) Also, gravy-drenched stuffing, and French toast.
posted by WCityMike at 10:29 PM on October 20, 2007

Response by poster: (Guys, it's a bit late where I am, and I'm turning into a pumpkin — I'm going to hit the sack, so after I post this comment, I won't be able to immediately respond as I've been doing.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:31 PM on October 20, 2007

I second the Alton Brown / Cooking for Engineers / America's Test Kitchen sentiments expressed here already. Knowing *why* I was doing certain steps in a recipe made a world of difference for me. And Alton Brown is just awesome.

Check out a few food blogs for inspiration. Elise at Simply Recipes (www.elise.com/recipes/) has a whole selection of "Quick" recipes that might suit you, as well as links to many other food blogs.
posted by stargazer360 at 10:32 PM on October 20, 2007

I find cooking really boring and I usually can't manage to take the time to set up something to listen to while I'm cooking. But I manage to make it interesting for myself all the same -- by massively multi-tasking. Generally I'll stick some rice in the rice cooker and chop veg while it's cooking. Then I'll put 6 eggs on to boil (for future breakfasts) on one burner, and use two others for two different stir-frys. (One stir-fry will be meat, rice and veg done in an Asian style using soy sauce and mirin for seasoning; the other will be meat, rice and veg in an Indian style using garlic powder and chili powder for seasoning.) On the fourth burner I'll make a kettle of water for a giant pitcher of tea or iced coffee. With all this going on, I'm not bored for a second, and if I am, there's always something I can clean up. I do this once a week and end up with 6 or 8 meal-sized tupperware containers of food that can be microwaved on all of the other nights.

Also, I basically force myself to do this once a week because there isn't any prepared food in the house. If I don't make it, I have to starve.
posted by xo at 10:37 PM on October 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

To follow-up on Quietgal's note: some pretty simple meal planning can get you lots of meals for little effort.

For example, tomorrow I'm making a pot roast which will slowly braise, unattended, for hours while I'm doing more important things like watching a football game.

Later in the week that same pot roast (and the roasted potatoes, carrots, leeks and gravy) will become, with the addition of some stock and barley, a very spiffy beef stew.

If any potatoes remain they'll probably be fried up with onions and garlic and bacon and become part of a skillet egg scramble.

Gee, for some reason I'm getting hungry...
posted by deCadmus at 10:40 PM on October 20, 2007

There's nothing saying you have to cook every night. There's companies in Chicago like Dinner by Design where you can go in, prepare a bunch of meals and bring them home to heat up.

If that's not helpful, I also like to cook large portions of a meal on Sunday and eat the leftovers throughout the week. There's also a lot of shortcut meals you can make that taste better than microwave food that don't take a huge amount of kitchen time like Kraft Mac and Cheese + frozen broccoli + pre cooked chicken strips. Soup + 9x9 Pan + Pillsbury biscuits on top = quick pot pie. Cheese + Bread + butter = grilled cheese. Hummous + baby carrots + pita chips or tomato + basil + fresh mozzerella + baguette = nice grazing meal Also: Bertolli frozen dinner bags.
posted by FreezBoy at 10:44 PM on October 20, 2007

Okay, I'm going to nix pizza, since that's fiddly. And to have gravy with the stuffing you kind of need a turkey or chicken, so let's leave that one off for now, too.

Here's a pretty basic recipe for french toast. I would cut this recipe in half or quarters, depending on if I was cooking for one or two. Don't worry about higher end ingredients or the one true french toast bread or anything -- that stuff can come later. If you're like, man, this french toast could really use... I don't know, nutmeg or cinnamon, or whatever, well, that's an excuse to make it again.

This recipe would probably take you ten minutes, start to finish. That's hardly enough time for me to get a good head of steam on being irritated. By the time you're surly, it's time for breakfast!

Anyway, cooking, like anything else, can look overwhelming from the outside. If you try something simple like this, it might be a confidence booster. Don't think you have to make the equivalent of a four course meal six nights a week. Start small, and see where you want to go next.
posted by sugarfish at 10:44 PM on October 20, 2007

Oh! And take some time to plan ahead! Don't decide you want to cook when you're so hungry you're gnawing on your arm.

Okay, that's enough from me. Hope this has been helpful to you.
posted by sugarfish at 10:46 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hate cooking, but mostly for my tiny-ass New York apartment kitchen (which is just a stove, fridge and sink in the corner of the living room) but I recently started cooking more to save money and eat better.

Try roasts. Easy as hell. Get a two pound roast from the butcher. Rub it with salt and pepper. Brown it with a little oil in a pan, then turn the heat down low and pour in half a can of beef broth. Let it simmer with the lid on for am hour or so. Toss in a chopped onion and whatever veggies you want. When it's fork-tender, eat it.

Easy, smells awesome while cooking and plenty of leftovers. Trust me.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:47 PM on October 20, 2007

There are a lot of simple recipes featured at the World's Healthiest Food website. But to enjoy simple cooking I would choose a single ingredient and run with it. For instance, look up apples or asperagus or whatever and find the recipe with the least ingredients/involved method, and then try it. I know this sounds dull, but after growing up in a canned foods sort of household, tasting simply prepared fresh dishes was a complete shock to me. You'll be suprised at the flavors that exist outside of, well, saltiness.
If you want to get all sciencey, try making bread. There are some great websites (this site on starters was a great resource for me) and hell, if you want something that smells and tastes great, you can't go wrong with homemade bread. It's addicting stuff. Try it and you'll understand.
posted by maryh at 10:48 PM on October 20, 2007

It sounds like you might be able to use, in addition to Cooking For Engineers, Start Cooking (recipes here are arranged by degree of difficulty - handy. Plus there are video instructions for many), and The Minimalist (Mark Bittman)'s 101 10-minute or less recipes feature in the New York Times.

Essentially, you need to figure out what gets your moouth watering. Particular combinations of foods? Certain spices? A certain texture of food? You say you like pizza, so transfer the essentials over to, say, a pasta casserole like a baked ziti, for instance. It's a bit about associations too.

I've been cooking since I was a kid and it's such a part of me now. When delicious food comes out of the oven I get giddy.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:50 PM on October 20, 2007

Oh and don't get rid of the microwave. You'll have a devil of a time reheating things. I lived without a microwave when I studied abroad and it annoyed me that I had no way to quickly reheat anything.

Plus, the microwave can come in handy for prep work. For example, some chopped veggies in a covered microwave safe container and a couple of tablespoons of water steams nicely while you attend to something else.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:53 PM on October 20, 2007

This recipe only requires about 5 minutes of real work.

Take one turkey breast strip, one head of broccoli, one medium sized sauce pan, a bottle of olive oil, and some pre-minced garlic.

Put the saucepan on medium-high heat and completely cover the bottom with olive oil. Add the turkey breast strip and sear on both side while washing the head of broccoli. When you're done washing the broccoli don't shake the water off, leave it nice and wet. Cut the florets off into the pan, add in the pre-minced garlic, turn down the heat and cover to steam.

Go and sit down at the computer for 5 minutes and then get up and turn the turkey breast. Repeat twice more and then enjoy the best broccoli I know how to make, along with some okay turkey. To save on cleanup time later, just eat it right out of the pan.
posted by 517 at 10:57 PM on October 20, 2007

I like cooking but don't do it often enough because it can be a chore, except when I'm cooking for other people and making something out of the ordinary, so from that my humble suggestion is to try cooking for friends and family, positive feedback loop, if they like it and compliment you on it it might make you feel better about it.
posted by edgeways at 10:59 PM on October 20, 2007

If you don't want to spend the time cooking, this might not seem like a good idea, but I'd suggest taking some cooking classes. There are plenty of places to do so in Chicago (though none I can recommend from experiences) -- a lot of them are held by kitchen shops or stores (like Whole Foods).

Not only will this be a good for learning, but since part of your reasoning for wanting to learn to cook seems to be the cachet of doing so, it might be a good way of meeting those who would find it attractive. (My assumption here is that guys who want to learn to cook will be just as attractive as guys who cook.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:02 PM on October 20, 2007

First you need really good knives and a real butcher block chopping board. The chef's knife I prefer 10", it will cut and slice just about anything. That link also shows a paring knife. Along with a serrated blade knife and a good sharpening steel you are ready to go.

Go to a store that carries the higher end knives. It is important to hold the knife in your hand and to get a feel for its balance. You really only need the 3 knives, don't waste your money on the block that comes with 8 knives or more for $XXX.

Slicing or chopping vegetables becomes a pleasure. Hacking at them with a dull knife would make anybody cringe. Ever notice on the shows where there is a guest Chef? They always bring their own knives.

Start out with an easy recipe book, I just bought the cookbook Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. It is great for beginners. Make an event out of the evening. Some nice music, glass of wine, maybe someone keeping you company and to share the food after. Just keep the tv turned off!

The old adage of having the right tools for the job is right on the mark.

Cooking for me is as good as therapy.
posted by JujuB at 11:07 PM on October 20, 2007

Food, itself, is one focus, for many guys who want to start cooking, but for others, frankly, it's like wood working: It's The Tools, Silly.

No shame in learning to cook, because it's fun to work with great tools, and be proficient in producing, reliably, a great result. I recommend knives, as a starting point, and shortly thereafter, sharpening mechanisms, and cutting boards. Pots, immediately thereafter. As a renter, you're probably stuck with some underpowered, crappy stove and oven combo, but you might get a lot better results if you clean it throughly, and replace some parts.

As for Alton Brown, meh. I find I disagree with 50% of his claims/opinions in any given program, and frankly, he's as irritating (to me) as "Miss EEVO" Rachel Ray. Instead of watching the Food Channel, or any TV program, for "learn to cook" possibilities, I recommend, highly, going to class. OK, maybe not at the joint I've linked; actually, you need to shop around, and find someone you like, to teach you cooking, if you're going to stay amateur.

This is entirely different from most pros, who are really taught to cook by people they come to hate, eventually.

But I think that, if you look around, and ignore the dozens of outfits that want you to think they're Cordon Bleu, or sell you stuff at inflated prices, that you can find one or more places in your (great!) area, that do classes and demonstrations, that draw a crowd of beginners, and let them make some mistakes, and figure out what works for them. You can be guided in this, by what your nose and taste likes, but don't be constrained entirely by what you immediately, at this point in your life, like and don't like to eat.

Learning to cook, for many, is learning to eat. Keep hope alive, if you're no more adventurous than you sound, at this point. In 2 or 5 years, you'll look back, and chuckle, over a good sauce, a decent wine, and the smell of good meat and bread that you made, as to where you started.

In some ways, I envy you your naivete, and the wonderful journey you can launch, for yourself, if you're willing...
posted by paulsc at 11:12 PM on October 20, 2007

Approach cooking from an angle that interests you. Chemistry. Physics. History. Literature. Sociology. Anthropology. Start with the X of cooking and work yourself into the cooking of cooking.

A Shakespeare devotee might try to learn all about, for example, food and drink in Shakespeare's day, to come up with meals very like what Sh. and contemporaries gobbled, or recreate meals mentioned in plays.

An approach something like that, though from your own angle, may also get you the prestige you want, and you'd be able to talk about it (at the risk of becoming a bore, however), so your meals would have a built-in conversation starter.

Also, write your own cook book as you learn. Keep notes on what worked and what didn't, actual cooking times and ingredient measurements, sources of recipes and how you modified them.
posted by pracowity at 11:26 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Crockpots are great for the easily bored. You throw in a bunch of cold food, some water, and spices... it takes like five minutes to get everything assembled. You put it on low, cover, and forget about it for eight or ten hours.... or, possibly, less, because it'll be smelling really, really good. :)

Almost no stirring, very healthy, tastes great. And cheap. If you're not already living out of your crockpot, time to start. :)
posted by Malor at 11:28 PM on October 20, 2007

Buy a packet of bamboo skewers and learn how to turn your broiler on.

Nothing beats (X) on a stick.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:32 PM on October 20, 2007

It's very possible to eat quickly and well. This assumes you're good with a pretty traditional American setup (three meals a day, dinner is the biggest and includes starch, meat, and veg., etc.). I enjoy cooking, but this assumes that you're looking to minimize your time in the kitchen, not to develop an interest in cooking.

Breakfast: Crack an egg or two in a frying pan sprayed with Pam; stir over medium-low heat until it reaches the consistency you like. Get fancy: try making an omelet, try leaving out some or all yolks. Simpler: make hard-boiled eggs in advance and eat them from the fridge. For complex carbs, microwave some precooked brown rice. I'm in and out of the kitchen in under 5 minutes.

Lunch: Pre-pack a sandwich with deli meat, or a salad, or leftovers from yesterday's dinner. A piece of fruit makes a fine side. Takes me 5-10 minutes, and that's mostly packing so it won't get too beat-up in my bag.

Snack: Throw into your bag a piece of fruit, or a 100-calorie pack of anything if you don't care where your calories come from, or a small pack of nuts if you need good fats. 30 seconds. If you're at home, have good-for-you (not "death by butter" flavor) popcorn in under 4 minutes.

Dinner can get a little more complex, but still far from challenging or time-consuming. Don't worry if the dishes don't all finish at the same time -- it probably saves time to eat one thing while another's cooking, and it'll keep you from getting bored.

On Sunday nights, make a starch -- brown rice, whole-wheat or omega-3 pasta, whatever you like. Usually, one box makes eight servings, which will last all week if you keep it in Tupperware in the fridge. The weekly process may take half an hour but requires minimal involvement from you (put water in pot on stove, check back and add pasta, check back and drain pasta). The rest of the week, microwave one serving of pasta (1 minute).

Every night, steam, either on the stove or in the microwave in a steamer bag, a pack of frozen vegetables (5-10 minutes, but you just have to put it on and come back).

For a main dish, I bake a lot (fish, chicken thighs), but if that bores you, the answer is a George Foreman grill. Crock pots don't require work at night, but for a stew, you have to prep (chop vegetables, etc.) in the morning. I think stews are worthwhile, but you may not, whereas the George requires pretty much no work ever. It's so convenient that I use it 4 or 5 nights a week. The procedure is not terribly complicated: plug grill in while spraying it with nonstick spray, put food (steak, pork chop, chicken breast, salmon filet, pretty much whatever) onto grill, close grill, check back periodically. Maybe 15 minutes. Get fancy: marinades and rubs. Simpler: make a bunch of extra chicken breasts on Sunday night, refrigerate them, and eat them cold (or reheated) all week, either for dinner or on salads for lunch. And get the grill with removable plates so you won't care about scrubbing.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:08 AM on October 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm going to have to quote director Robert Rodriguez here: "Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to f*ck. You gotta eat the rest of your life. You might as well know how."

P.S. His Puerco Pibil recipe in the video I link to is ok, but not as great as he wants you to believe.
posted by IvyMike at 12:37 AM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you like the Cooking for Engineers angle, check out the Discovery Channel show Kitchen Chemistry. Unlike you, I do like cooking, but I even found that it made cooking that much more interesting to know what's happening when you're doing things, and you can look at it as an experiment, or a way to gather information/expand knowledge, instead of slaving/wasting time in the kitchen. (It's also helpful as applied knowledge; your meals are more likely to come out "right" if you know what's happening, so you avoid the discouragement that comes from a botched meal.)
Also nthing audio input; I love a good podcast/audiobook while I'm cooking.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:01 AM on October 21, 2007

Try a crock pot: you chop up a ton of ingredients at night, store them in the refrigerator, first thing in the morning dump everything into the crock pot, turn it on low, and go to work. You come home to a yummy-smelling home and food ready and waiting. Usually with enough for leftovers.
posted by rhapsodie at 1:02 AM on October 21, 2007

I used to love to cook, and then I got a full time job that is often more than full time, and now I too am starting to find cooking tedious. I know exactly what you mean when you say that you don't want to be cooking, you want to be decompressing at the end of the day. One solution I've found is to make meals that are going to be done when I get home, or meals that involve a minimal amount of prep time.

1. Get a crock pot. Other people have said this but I'm echoing it. Here's a couple easy recipes to get started:

Crockpot roast: You need potatoes, carrots, onions. If you get small onions and potatoes, just wash them and throw them in whole (peel onions, not potatoes), otherwise cut up into medium sized chunks. Chop carrots in 2-4 inch lengths. Fill crockpot halfway with veggies, then put in a 2-3 pound roast (that should be enough to fill the crockpot the rest of the way with roast.) Add 1 cup water. Put it on low, and it can go for 10-12 hours. Should take 10 minutes in the morning, tops, to prepare, and will be hot and ready for you when you get home. I prefer to add salt when the roast is done, but you will probably need to add some salt and/or pepper to this.

Crockpot chili: Get a can or two of beans, 1 can of diced tomatoes, a few cans of tomato sauce, 1 can of corn, about 1 to 2 lbs stew meat (already chopped by the grocer so you don't have to), and some combination of green peppers, carrots, mushrooms, and onions. Also you'll need some chili powder, maybe red pepper powder. The night before, chop vegetables until you're sick of it, then throw those in the fridge. In the morning, dump the vegetables in the crock pot, add the can of corn, add the can of beans, add the meat, a few tablespoons of chili powder (more if needed), and add a couple of cans of sauce and the can of tomatoes, and put it on low for 10-12 hours. If you didn't chop enough vegetables, add an extra can of beans and/or sauce.

(Yeah, I said stew meat which is more expensive than hamburger. But you have to brown the hamburger, right? And when you're just getting started you should trade money for time and less frustration. When you're more comfortable cooking you can graduate to browning hamburger, which is easy once you get the hang of it but can be a hassle if you don't know what you're doing.)

2. If you were in a hurry in the morning and didn't prepare anything before you got home, and you have some potatoes, then you can have easy baked potatoes. These potatoes need to be bigger ones. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees, rub the outside of the potato in butter, poke the potato with a fork a couple times, and throw it in the oven. No pan needed, don't bother with the tinfoil, just throw them on the rack. They'll be done in an hour. For extra credit: just before the time is up, put a bowl full of broccoli (just chop it up however) with 1/2 cup of water at the bottom in the microwave, cover with a paper towel, and cook for about 5 minutes. The broccoli should be done about the time the potatoes are finishing up.
posted by the_W at 2:13 AM on October 21, 2007 [5 favorites]

Eggs in any shape - one of the quickest and nicest meals you can make is an omelette and salad..endless variations in terms of fillings and salad, cheap and very quick. Have with slice of nice bread if you like or as it comes.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:48 AM on October 21, 2007

I never disliked cooking but I had no idea what I was doing when, 15 years ago, I found a copy of James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking in a used book store. Beard's food tends to be terribly unhealthy, butter and salt-laden stuff, but it struck me as unquestionably authentic (like some people's reaction to heavy metal) and I became infatuated with the idea that I might learn to cook that way. The book is organized, in accord with deCadmus's suggestion, by technique, simplest first. I just started cooking my way through it, and learned a lot very quickly. I also gained some weight.

I wanted to add to JujuB's thoughts about knives. Even the best ones are easy to ruin with mistreatment. Don't think that they'll tolerate rough handling because they seem sturdily built. As a hunk of steel, yes, they're tough, but the cutting edge is as fine and vulnerable as an expensive sportscar. NEVER cut on hard or abrasive surfaces (like a plate or countertop), never dump them into the sink or shove them into a drawer of other metal implements. When you're done cutting, quickly clean them off and put them away nicely.
posted by jon1270 at 4:29 AM on October 21, 2007

When you get home, take a couple minutes to unwind and munch on an apple or string cheese or carrot sticks. Then you can start dinner with the edge taken off your hunger and work-related stress.
posted by Jeanne at 5:03 AM on October 21, 2007

something like cooking with a crock pot.. i have a tagine (moroccan cooking pot), it has a flat base + funnel-shaped lid. basically you just buy a pack of meat/fish, doesn't have to be in that small of pieces - chicken quarters will do. or lamb or beef stew meat (this will have to cook longer). rinse. put oil in the bottom of the pot, add chicken, saute for a few min.

turn down heat (way down, it's a slow cooker), add garlic (from a jar, prechopped) and a bunch of spices (cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, hot chilis, whatever you like, doesn't have to be moroccan) and veggies that are very coarsely chopped (i guess if you want to be real lazy they can be precut though it costs more) - carrots, onion, tomato, eggplant (don't bother to peel eggplant, just wash and chop), peppers, potato (sweet or regular, just wash, don't bother to peel). this goes fast because you're just chopping in big chunks, no need to be picky. put lid on pot.

that's it. let it cook for about 45 min - hour, however long it takes for meat to be done. i have a meat thermometer to tell that. and again, it's basically a slow cooker so you can use any combo of meat/veggie/spice you want so long as the ingredients are not going to turn to total mush when slow cooking.

oh, and get a pretty good sharp knife, just one. makes chopping anything much less of a pain.
posted by citron at 5:27 AM on October 21, 2007

I'm going to second the ideas that worked for me:

Cooking for someone else. I hate cooking for myself or my husband, but love cooking for my in-laws because they fawn over everything. Find some friends that like to eat and make a double batch of a recipe...some for you all to eat together, some for your leftovers for the rest of the week.

Crock pots. You can buy packets of spices at the store that are made just for crock pots. Just dump the spices, chicken, carrots, potatoes, onion, and some water into a crock pot and simmer for a day. It's easy.

Count on leftovers. I used to cook a bunch of food on Sunday afternoon and then eat it for the rest of the week.

My favorite cooking shortcut from college was to take a box of side dish (like Lipton Sides or Rice-a-Roni) and add some already-cooked chicken and maybe some chopped veggies. The meat and veggies made it seem more like a casserole but it was still easy. Not the healthiest thing, but it might get you in the habit of reaching for a pan instead of the number for pizza delivery when you get hungry.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:27 AM on October 21, 2007

Practical: Echoing jon1270's echo of JujuB's endorsement of getting a couple of really good knives. It's essential to have the proper tools to do a job correctly, and it starts with knives. Obviously, there are other tools, both cookware and utensils, that will augment your ability to be efficient and successful in the kitchen, but realistically all you need is a good knife, a cutting board, a frying pan, a cookie sheet, and a pot in which to make noodles. Basically, you need the tools to do the job.

Philosophical: The "so few guys cook" comment above may be true, but it's still crap. So few guys choose to cook, that's the real problem. Maybe that attitude is coming from some perceived notion of what's easy and what's not, maybe it's a leftover sexist stereotype, or maybe it's the fact that the parents of most young people today reared their kids on frozen fish sticks and Kraft dinner. Doesn't matter, these are only excuses.

How, then, do you change your mindset? If you want cooking to become a skill, something you can do successfully and efficiently, you need to take cooking on (mentally) as a hobby or project. Here, really, is the leap most men don't want to make. Cooking is an act of construction, and is fundamentally no different than learning how to change your own oil, maintain a two-stroke engine on your lawnmower, or build a set of shelves at your workbench. All these things are learned skills, and you need to invest the time and energy to develop even a rudimentary expertise. Whether changing your oil or learning what the hell to do with chicken breasts, you need the following:

1) To see a problem ("my oil needs changing," or "these Stouffer's dinners are killing me slowly")
2) To know what you need to fix the problem (the tools and ingredients)
3) A basic understanding of what to do with that knowledge (chicken goes in baking dish - now what?)
4) The ability to value being personally satisfied over being slightly inconvenienced

Point #4 is the one that's going to take the most time to overcome, in my opinion. You could learn to put edible food on your plate with a minimum of hassle, but how is that reinforcing a sustainable behavioral change? You need to get good at more than just throwing chicken in a frying pan or browning beef for nachos, and that's going to take time and energy before efficiency comes.

Last week I turned these six ingredients into these sandwiches in fifteen minutes on a Tuesday. Eventually, being able to throw yourself curve balls (in this case, wondering how well the soft pretzels from a gas station would work as the bun for a sandwich) without turning dinner into an eight-course two-hour production is what's going to change your behavior. You're just going to have to work out your basics and know what you're doing before you can successfully start "getting cute."

Good luck.
posted by peacecorn at 5:45 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is a version of the "How do I [lose weight/stop being lazy/become more responsible]?" question.

Basically, you want to change your habit. Your current habit is to throw something in the microwave, and inertia makes it hard to change that habit.

Of course, you can always just do the desired behavior until it becomes a habit, but "will power" doesn't have a very good success rate. The only way you're going to change the habit is when you have a reason (incentive) to.

So, you basically need to devise a way for you to be punished when you don't cook, or rewarded when you do, or both.

Example: Guy's at a bar with friends. He wants to meet girls, but he's afraid to approach them. So, he gives his friend 5 $20 bills, and tells him he has to earn back each $20 bill by talking to a girl. He's created an artificial incentive (or punishment, depending on how you look at it) to change his behavior. Of course, this assumes the friend can be trusted to keep the money if the guy doesn't talk to the girls.
posted by mpls2 at 6:54 AM on October 21, 2007

I just skimmed the comments, but I was surprised that no one seemed to mention cooking with other people. I dated a woman who could cook and she would put me to work. I'd watch, learn, we'd talk, listen to music, and have a great meal. When people really cook, especially people who learned to cook young from parents who cooked, they will talk while cooking and tell you your secrets. Before her, I hated cooking. But then cooking became less associated with the nuisance of finding sustenance and rather the hour or two each night where we'd drink some beer, talk about our day, and unwind, flirt, and, before I knew it, have a great meal.

Years later, I had a friendship largely based around cooking. We'd do the same thing, except I did the talking. See if you can find someone around you who likes to cook (and if you're both single, to date), and then offer to buy the ingredients and necessary stuff, if they'll pick out a recipe they like and cook with you once a week. In a month or two, you will begin to know the ways.
posted by history is a weapon at 7:08 AM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine liking cooking without liking the whole sensory process. For me, that's intimately tied with the whole sensory process of eating.

It's interesting you think that occhiblu. I have to say that I don't really enjoy eating. I do it because I feel hungry and light-headed if I don't. I do find certain foods tasty, but generally I feel it slows me down, and if I could be permanently hooked up to an IV or take a chewable vitamin once a day and be done with it, I would.

That being said, I love to cook. It's fun and completely absorbing. I especially like cooking for other people; I feel immensely satisfied when they like my food. Maybe the OP could organize some sort of potluck with a roommate or neighbor once-a-week to get started with the cooking. Cooking for one can be a drag; all that work for just one person. And then there are usually leftovers you have to work through.
posted by bluefly at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2007

simplicity is key. good food doesnt have to be complicated.
posted by browolf at 7:36 AM on October 21, 2007

i think you're never going to like it until you're properly motivated, and that means finding something that makes it worthwhile doing for you. you may never love the process, but it will be worth it if you love the end result.

think of a dish you salivate over but can't easily otherwise obtain (maybe one of your favourite childhood dishes from your mom, or an ethnic dish that you love). get a recipe and force yourself through it.

savour the deliciousness of pride and accomplishment when devouring the finished product.
posted by wayward vagabond at 7:43 AM on October 21, 2007

I know at least one person has suggested taking a class or two, and I cannot recommend that enough. There really is something wonderful about looking in your pantry and fridge and putting something together sans recipe. You won't be able to do that with one or two classes, but with experience and failure you will. Don't be afraid to fail, either. Always have a back-up, go-to meal that you can prepare in 20 minutes or less (mine is pasta with some sort of sauce).

On the other hand, personal chefs (full disclosure: I am one) exist for a reason. People are too busy to cook, or they don't like it, and they want healthy food. If, in the end, you take all the actions we're all suggesting and you find you simply still hate cooking, look into a personal chef service.
posted by cooker girl at 7:44 AM on October 21, 2007

A crock pot is great, as others have noted, but you can achieve the same thing by leaving the ingredients in the oven on low all day. Just in case you don't want to buy another appliance.

Another easy, healthy, satisfying meal:

In a bowl, combine a jar of salsa of your choice with 2 cans of refried beans (I like Bearitos brand, esp black beans). Apply to whole wheat tortilla and heat in the microwave. Things to add: cooked vegies, any leftover meat, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, spinach, &/or grated cheese. Or throw enchilada sauce on top and put in the oven for 30 minutes.

If you don't have tortillas you can always warm the beans etc in the microwave and have them over rice. With quick brown rice and you can have a meal in no time. Lots of variations on this.
posted by pammo at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2007

Learn to cook desserts. They're fun to make, you'll enjoy the results (and you can share said results with others), they smell so damn good while you're cooking them, and they're largely fool-proof. And you can try them out on the weekends when you're not rushed and continue to eat the product all week.

Once you're comfortable with those, go on to dinner foods... maybe it'll seem easier. And definitely look at making things on the weekend that you can freeze and heat up during the week -- I do that with chili and soups all the time, and it's great.
posted by olinerd at 8:02 AM on October 21, 2007

well, one of the reasons it feels like a chore is probably because you don't really know what you are doing, so you don't really have a sense of what success is beyond how it tastes. people who love to cook generally do because the process itself is rewarding.

so: learn some knife skills. improving them will become a goal, or learn how to tell the doneness of meat by touch using the palm method. and develop your senses. part of the joy is in the sound of the sizzle, the smell of the fresh herbs, the texture of something on your tongue, the high and low notes of flavor on the tongue. if you're indifferent to these things, then cooking probably won't ever become something you love to do (although you might grow to not mind it).

alternatively, find a cute girl to teach you. her approval, i suspect, will change your attitude immensely. :)
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:02 AM on October 21, 2007

I second cooker girl. I absolutely love to cook, probably because I hate poorly prepared food and, being completely honest, because I enjoy the attention I get for being good at it. My mom taught me throughout my childhood, soit was never hard. It was just learning one skill after another. It still doesn't feel like work. (Note: IANAP-- i am not a parent who has to cook daily; that's a whole other kettle of fish).

If you take a fun class or two, attract some attention from the women around you, your attitude might change. More importantly you'll begin to compare your own food to prepared crap, and realize you can do a whole lot better.

I think cooking becomes fun as soon as it seems easy, and as soon as you have faith that you can make exactly what you feel like eating. You're not going to enjoy making toast if you really want an omlette or a simple souffle.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:07 AM on October 21, 2007

The best tip I can give you for at least starting to get into the habit of cooking your own meals is: USE THE CROCKPOT

You can make all sorts of things in it with little-to-no preparation. There are plenty of crockpot recipes, though I haven't used any. I've seen crockpot cookbooks, and there are probably crock-pot specific recipes online.

All that is required for crockpot cooking is dumping things into the crockpot. The formula is pretty much: protein, liquid, extras. If you want tacos or burritos, put a roast into the crockpot, dump some salsa over it, turn on. By the time you get home, all you'll need to do is shred with two forks and you've got taco meat. If you use bbq sauce instead of salsa, you've got shredded sandwich meat, etc.

The other morning, I put some frozen chicken breasts (both boneless and bone-in, I was cleaning out the freezer) into the crockpot (still frozen), covered with wine, couple cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, a can of artichoke hearts and a can of cream of mushroom soup (don't bother stirring, just open and scoop out, it'll get incorporated eventually), set it to high and dinner was ready in the evening. stored extras in the fridge still in the pot part of the crockpot, and stuck it back into the warming part of the crockpot in the morning, set it to low and it was perfect by evening.

If you are extra lazy and watching carbs, crockpot cooking cuts down on eating extra carbs because - for me - I'm always too lazy to make rice or something else to go along with the meal.

the cachet of it (so few guys cook)

I have not found that to be true.
posted by birdlady at 8:48 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'll find plenty of crockpot recipes here, you'll even find some recipes for crockpot stuffing.
posted by birdlady at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make it social -- I have a friend that is a healthy eater and knows how to cook and have him over for dinner a lot. We usually grab a couple of beers or some wine out of the fridge and drink while we're cooking (and it's usually something simple -- last night we fried up ground turkey and vegetables, threw it in pasta sauce and over some spaghetti - and we had a bottle of wine while doing it).

I actually started getting a box of fruits and vegetables every few weeks, too (similar to a CSA). I don't always use all of them b/c I have no idea what to do with things like kale or turnips, but it's saved me money and I'm definitely eating healthier lately.
posted by echo0720 at 9:16 AM on October 21, 2007

Seconding History Is A Weapon - cooking with/for friends can be a lot of fun and highly motivational, especially if you don't care to look incompetent in front of some of 'em. Know any good cooks? Ask them if they'd be willing to demonstrate a recipe or technique at a "cooking school" party at your apartment.

After you get a few good recipes under your belt, invite some friends over for a dinner party in which they earn their supper by helping you cook. (I once had a roommate from Taiwan who organized wonton-folding parties, which she said were pretty traditional among Taiwanese college students since it takes all afternoon to fold a batch of the little buggers, but it's a lot of fun when you're talking and laughing with friends.)

If wontons aren't your thing, there are plenty of other labor-intensive tasks you can foist off on your friends: peeling and slicing vegetables, mixing dough, stirring risotto, washing salad greens, etc. Be sure to beta-test all recipes before inviting your friends, but contemplating who you're gonna stick with each job should make the whole process more palatable for you. (Hint: the guy who spilled his beer on your couch? He gets to stir the risotto.)
posted by Quietgal at 9:39 AM on October 21, 2007

Final suggestions: invest in a vacuum sealer/food saver-type appliance. If you make a big batch of whatever you are cooking, chili, stews, chicken, whatever, take 15 minutes out when you're done eating, or the next day, and portion and package up leftovers to freeze and eat at another time. If you get into the habit of cooking a big batch of [whatever] once a week, and packaging/freezing the rest, you'll have a freezer stocked with a variety of interesting, homemade meals for you to microwave when you get home from work and/or take to work for lunch.

Another option is to buy the individual portion disposable casserole tins (in the disposable baking product section). Instead of making one big casserole, shepherds pie, etc., portion it out into 3 or so disposable tins. Wrap well and freeze each one individually. Stick one in the fridge in the a.m. and then pop into the oven once you get home from work.

Finally, to get into the swing of things, why not visit one of those meal preparation places, like dream dinners, let's dish, or whichever one is nearest to you. You'll learn how to assemble easy recipes and come home with tons of meals to stock in your freezer. This might be a good toe-in-the-water cooking experience without having to deal with chopping and cleaning up. At the very least, you'll have a bunch of homemade meals to defrost and cook and it'll get you out of your unhealthy take-out and micro-meal habit.
posted by birdlady at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2007

I find cooking relaxing and enthralling, the exact opposite of you. But then I wanted to be a Frankenstein-type chemist when I was a kid and even built a lab in a closet, but mixing sauces on the stovetop and adding an experimental dash of this or that to a stew is the closest I ever got in the real world.
That said, I always recommend this in newbie cooking threads and I'll do it again: get yourself a George Foreman grill. It's fifteen bucks. It sits on the counter. When you want to use it, you plug it in and it heats up in just a couple of minutes. You can put a burger patty on it, or a chicken breast, or a salmon steak, or big old mushrooms. All will cook in no time at all and taste really good even without sauces or rubs or marinades. (They taste better with those things, but that's something you can play with later.) Add a bagged salad, or some roasted potatoes, and you have dinner in about 10 mins.
It's so easy it isn't really cooking at all - which seems to be what you are after.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2007

Start with Tomato Sauce.
posted by farishta at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2007

Cooking a healthy meal for yourself is self-nurturing. Like exercise, start out with baby steps and slowly increase your activity. You will start to feel better about it the more you do it.

I used to cook for a living and lost much of the passion for it myself. But if I look at like it's a self nurturing thing I feel better about doing it and it motivates me.

Another thing I do when I need to get motivated is watch some good movies about cooking:

Big Night
Like Water For Chocolate
Eat Drink Man Woman

or read a good gastronomy essay like:
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
posted by culberjo at 11:37 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

This question has so many angles that I'm not sure where to begin but I will say that if you're looking for people to sell you on the idea of cooking for yourself and/or eating at home, you're setting yourself up for a problem. There are a few related "selling points' and depending on what motivates you, the best solution will be different. I both love to cook and do not love to cook depending on what my environment is like. Here are a few stabs.

1. cooking at home with raw ingredients saves money, a shitload of money over eating out, a good amount of money over preprocessed food. An appropriate angle to take here is to start by stocking a pantry which will be one solid shopping trip. Include spices and herbs. After that, go search out askme questions on how to stock a pantry and get a few good cookbooks like How to Cook Everything or The Kitchen Detectives and muddle through some of the receipes until you get what you like out of them.

2. cooking at home is healthier, or can be. If you're in love with gravy, I don't know what to tell you because then this bullet point is not for you. You haveindicated in the past that you have been struggling with healthy eating and I have to say that cooking most of your own food is THE BEST way to get healthy eating habits that last, as opposed to ones that lock you into a particular brand of foods or a specific diet. maybe you wan tot turn into a nutrition geek. If so you can look at a site like fitday and start doing the math on what you're eating, whatever you're eating and then start cooking at home and wtch the helath value of your meals become more and more under your control.

3. cooking at home is a great way to entertain and be social. It's sort of an easy invite to say "hey I'm making some soup would you like to come over" and if you're me, this motivates you to actually work on some soup recipes. This is all wrapped in with other issues like being a good host and other etiquette, but it's a good set of rules to understand even if you don't live them. And, it's a nice way to get people over, particularly if you do something potluck so, as you're learning, all the burden isn't on you to do all the food magic.

4. cooking at home is a good way to eat exactly what you want to eat. If you're picky about food, as I am, you may find that you like eating but you can be finicky about it. While I'm trying to expand my palate with some reasonable success, sometimes I want things just the way I want them and cooking at home lets me do that. This point can be combined with other points. Unless you're really picky, you can cook food just the way you want it AND share it with other people. That's cool.

5. cooking at home is a good way to get out of multitasking land and into a good food groove. I generally turn off the computer when I'm really cooking, or sometimes just turn off the notification sounds and play music in the kitchen. I like being in my kitchen and it makes me happy but sometimes I feel that there's too much else to do. So, I carve out time for cooking, shut down all the other things I'm supposed to be doing, figure that MetaFilter can get along without me for a few hours and Just Do Food. I think it's good for your head to do this, it's good for mine anyhow. So, no computer, no phone, no TV, just you and your food and maybe some nice music and even a glass of wine.

Put another way, if you like you and want you to be a happy healthy person, giving a shit about the building blocks that you put into making you is an important part of that. If you don't, for whatever reason, it's going to be hard to movtivate you at that basic level. Developing a palate if you haven't really had one takes some time and effort and the biggest question to ask yourself is what's going to make you make that effort?

While you're figuring that out, you can also set up guidelines for youself that may make cooking at home a more appealing Genuine Option for you like

- delivered food once a week/month MAX
- have someone over to eat once a week/month MIN
- microwave preprocessed meals [not leftovers] once a week MAX
- go to supermarket once a week, always buy fruit/veg
- one big meal cooked at home per week
- try one new food taste per week
- ask friends for recipe suggestions
- keep a food blog about what you like/don't like

the less you order out, the more you will try to learn to make things for yourself that are also savory and delicious. The less you buy microwaveable foods the more you will notice you have money to spend on other things. The more you make meals out of all ingredients you picked yourself the more you will be able to eat healthier and the way you want to. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 11:52 AM on October 21, 2007 [5 favorites]

I had this huge thing typed up about how to transition what you're doing now to actually cooking, but basically:

- Start by throwing out the original packaging. Take your frozen dinner out of the tray and arrange it on a plate before you eat. The idea is to create the idea that you're not just heating stuff up, you're using the microwave to cook.

- Get cheap canned soup, and heat it in a pot on the stove. Do not use the microwave here. Watching stuff boil is the most boring thing in the world, which makes it the perfect time to cut up mushrooms and herbs and chicken bits and everything else that the can promises is in the soup but (in accordance with the laws of food manufacturing) fails to actually deliver. Similarly, if you buy frozen pizza get a block of mozzarella as well to grate on top, if you buy canned spaghetti sauce get some tomatoes and garlic, etc. Get used to the idea that food you have a hand in making is better than food that doesn't.
posted by casarkos at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

For me, cooking is a lot easier if all the prep work is already done. We bought a bunch of nice glass storage containers from Ikea so that we can wash and prep all our vegetables right when we get them (with the exception of a few things that shouldn't be stored in the fridge), and it makes a huge difference in how much effort is needed right after work. It also makes it easier to just munch on things right out of the fridge. You can also freeze things in individual portions, put them in the fridge to thaw in the morning before work, and then heat up when you get home. You can also freeze components of recipes such as stock and roux for gravy.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:31 PM on October 21, 2007

I'm a biologist who has always enjoyed bench work but hated cooking until I started approaching meals like experiments. I bought a good kitchen scale, thermometer and some really sharp knives. I look at recipes like they're protocols and take notes on what works and what doesn't. I actually really like cooking now. Braising is definitely a good way to start; some prep work at the beginning, but then the low temperature and long cooking time do the work for you. Short ribs braised in Guiness, yum.
posted by violette at 1:11 PM on October 21, 2007

I feel about cooking the way that you do.

My suggestions are to look for recipes (google around- Betty Crocker and AllRecipes are pretty good) that have a minimum of ingredients and a minimum amount of preparation time. It's not as bad if you're only doing the work for 5-10-15 minutes at a stretch, and you aren't having to go out and buying fifty different kinds of spices and other complicated crap that you'll only use once.

Also, doing the bulk of your cooking on a Sunday night and having stuff around that you could reheat M-F would probably help the post-work-fatigue-don't-wanna thing.

Dare I say it, but, I've seen a few quickie cooking books at Costco that weren't too bad- one book had recipes for four items or less. Hidden Valley Ranch had a book that had pretty easy recipes (albeit with a Certain Theme) as well. Don't know if they are still there, but it's something you could look for.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:38 PM on October 21, 2007

well, one of the reasons it feels like a chore is probably because you don't really know what you are doing, so you don't really have a sense of what success is beyond how it tastes. people who love to cook generally do because the process itself is rewarding.

I also find cooking something of a chore, although I like doing it sometimes, and know a few recipes, and can cook a few things well etc just from years of experience. But what makes it a chore to me is the sense that I could be doing something else much more useful. I just tend to feel like it takes up time and is not seriously important or intellectual or whatever. But I also feel like I need to get more focused on cooking at home because I eat too much take out, which is expensive and maybe not always the most healthy, etc.

ANyway, for me, it is useful to try to reorganize things around the meals as opposed to other things. I often organize my day around classes, but if I stay home, basically around my computer, so then getting up to go the kitchen seems like a distraction. But rationally, I am doing just as much bullshit and distracting nonsense (probably more) on the computer, so there's a need to recognize that and rethink the whole plan.

If I plan when "breakfast" is, and what I am going to do between breakfast and lunch, and am not allowed to just get up and snack randomly but have to cook complete meals at the proposed times, and do my work in the interim, then cooking can be a nice break after solid work, when I can listen to the radio or some music, and enjoy making something tasty and good for me. But if I'm just hungry and in the middle of something then cooking seems like an annoying task, and websurfing or whatever is the break time, and the whole structure is lost.

I haven't been doing this recently, because my current kitchen is small & I don't have good equipment (a blender or food processor makes a lot of fancy-ish stuff way easier than you'd expect), so I recommend those kinds of investments to motivate, but really the most important thing is to find some recipes you like, and decide to do it. If you can figure out what you think cooking is taking time away from, and how to rethink the schedule so that the (hour) for dinner is set aside specifically for you to cook, eat, & clean up, maybe while listening to the radio / podcasts, or maybe just while thinking about your day or your work or your novel, or whatever, then cooking can be productive time rather than an irritant.

It's both useful for your physical health in terms of what you'll eat as a result, useful for your pocketbook, and also useful for mental health as a chance to relax and slow down for a moment. So try to think of its feeling of uselessness as a benefit - same way monks do chores to meditate, etc? But it's really one of the best sorts of chores, and gives you a chance to create something nice at the same time, not just clean away ugliness.
posted by mdn at 2:04 PM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cooking's more enjoyable when you're good at it. So if you like, think of it like you're investing now by learning to cook even though you're not enjoying it, so that you can be good at it (and hopefully enjoy it) later. Once cooking's not stressful any more, pottering around the kitchen at the end of the day making something really nice for yourself can be an uplifting way to unwind.

You could try buying a recipe book with fairly basic recipes in (it will probably have "Family" in the title, and it should contain recipes for things like fish pie, shepherd's pie, chilli con carne, a roast dinner). Pick a weekend day when you've time on your hands and work your way through a recipe that serves four or six. Freeze the leftovers and eat them through the week.

Alternatively, you could try buying some simple but GOOD ingredients and making the simplest possible recipes to start with. Really good ingredients taste so much better than cheap ones. Try buying some decent packaged salad, some extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Maybe also some olives (fresh ones from a deli counter, not from a jar). Measure out two spoons of oil and one of vinegar into a cup. Whisk with a fork until it looks homogenous. Slosh onto your salad. Eat the salad with your microwave dinner.

You can turn that salad into a complete meal by adding some tomatoes (GOOD tomatoes) and some crumbled feta cheese.

Buy some fresh ciabatta, splosh some of the above oil and vinegar on a plate and mop it up with the ciabatta as you eat it.

Hopefully these are so easy and tasty that you have more of an incentive to try some more adventurous recipes!
posted by emilyw at 2:04 PM on October 21, 2007

One of the ways I learned how to cook was by tinkering with the prepared food that I'd bought.

Adding a few spices to a jar of spaghetti sauce doesn't take much skill at all. Peeling a clove of garlic and putting it through a garlic press, that's pretty foolproof too. Adding vegetables or ground meat is a bit trickier, but more rewarding. And then once you've got the hang of that, you can bake the noodles and the sauce with some cheese on top, and... well, somewhere in there it stopped being canned sauce and started being a real recipe with tomato sauce as one of the ingredients.

That's just an example, but you can go through the same process with ramen, canned soup, salad-in-a-bag, frozen ravioli, or any other convenience food you happen to like. Just keep asking yourself "what would make this even better?" and experiment with adding it in yourself.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2007

I have been thinking more about this today and there is another set of things that I think will help with this. Mainly, you need to really enjoy being in your kitchen. For a lot of people the kitchen is the place they dump their bills and outerwear, a place that smells funny and requires maintenance [dishes! clean fridge!] that they don't enjoy. If you have a kitchen you eat in, it may have a table covered with other crap that is on its way somewhere else and it may be hard to clear a place without feeling that there is other stuff to do. The kitchen is most likely to have crappy flourescent lights that make you and your food look awful.

So, before you embark on this trip, learn to prettify your kitchen somewhat (double important if you're going to have people over). Take the trash out and give the fridge one good cleaning. Buy containers that you can store leftovers in that you can see into so that you can tell when they have to go. Arrange the fridge somewhat so that you have sections for different types of food so that you can find things. Make ice.. Clear off the eating space and maybe invest in a nice placemat and some dishes that you enjoy. Put a radio or something in there so that you can listen to music while you work. Open the curtains and try to get some natural light in there. Get an area light or two if the flurescents are terrible. Take out the recycling. make sure you have nice places for trash/recycling in the future. Mop the floor or at least give it a good sweep. Invest in some good dish and counter cleaning supplies (whatever your setup is, dish soap and some nice sponges or some good detergent for the dishwasher) and give the place a once over.

Some of this goes in line with what other people are saying about having the right tools but part of it is just about making the kitchen a place you'd like to be generally and a place you'd like to work with food in. I took some of my own advice and spent some time cutting flowers and putting them in jars in my kitchen and taking out all the recycling that had been piling up and I feel more upbeat about cooking dinner this evening.
posted by jessamyn at 4:10 PM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

You can also buy some convenience food that isn't junk - embrace fresh fruit and sandwich fixings. Get a pound of sliced roast beef (or whatever deli meat you like) and a half pound of sliced provolone (or whatever cheese you like) from the deli area of your supermarket, and a loaf of multigrain bread, a head of lettuce, and a bottle of mayo or mustard or whatever you like, and you have the fixings for an easy meal that's pretty decent for you healthwise that you can eat when you don't feel like cooking.

I never got into crockpots, but I love me some casseroles. Bake some pasta - this doesn't require any skill or much attention, and I often read while I'm cooking pasta - just dump the pasta into the boiling water along with a pinch of salt, and reduce the heat to medium, and then stir periodically until it seems limp enough. Test its doneness by eating a piece. Drain it, and throw it into a casserole dish with some prepared sauce from a jar (this is not the best way to make a casserole, but you can graduate to making your own sauces later) and some frozen vegetables of your choice from a bag or some chopped fresh vegetables. Top liberally with cheese. Stick in the oven at 350 F and set a timer for a half hour and go watch tv. Several meals, and microwave well to reheat.

Make two casseroles at the same time - it's only slightly more work - and freeze one (covered!) uncooked.

Thirding the suggestion to cook with a friend. Cooking can be sexy sexy fun time with the right girl, or it can be just a hoot with the right friend. Get a bottle of decent wine and play some Frank Sinatra in the background.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:18 PM on October 21, 2007

oooh. Jessamyn beat me to my #1 bit of advice... Absolutely make your kitchen a really pleasant place to spend time. One vital aspect is the lighting - kitchen lighting tends to be depressing, and you want it to feel warm and friendly. I'm sitting in my kitchen right now, with a cup of tea and the laptop, even though it's 5 in the morning (big storm woke me up), because it feels so cozy in here. I have a nice small lamp on my kitchen table, a Japanese paper lantern sort of lamp on one of my countertops, and my stove hood light on right now, and the ceiling light off. I adjust the lighting as needed for time of day, etc. so that it always feels cheerful.

I also have always art and plants and flowers in my kitchen, as well as a nice tablecloth (you definitely want a table, even if it's small, and at least two chairs) and nice dishes. If you don't have the decorating touch, recruit a friend to help you make it WCityMike's happy place. :)

We also have speakers in here, so we can listen to music, and actually probably end up spending more time in the kitchen than in the living room. Our kitchen also has a big window, plus a glass door to the outside, so a view, lots of sunshine, and fresh air. If it was a bit bigger and had a fireplace, I'd never leave the room. This helps me tremendously doing the thing I hate, which is washing dishes. When the kitchen is some small, uninspiring place I never go into except to cook, washing up is a depressing chore - under the current circumstances, I wash them as they get dirty without any bother, because I'm in here all the time anyway.
posted by taz at 7:03 PM on October 21, 2007

I read your post early in the day and just now I came across this at 101 cookbooks. Hope it helps.

(I just skimmed through the many responses you've received -- I hope I am not duplicating someone's comment)
posted by nnk at 7:20 PM on October 21, 2007

I'm a vegetarian but this advice should still be good. Add a little meat if you like. First a few principles.. the 100% perfect goal is a way to make a quick but healthy meal. The reason it's a perfect goal is that if you're hungry you want to eat right away, you can't wait an hour; if you cook the meal beforehand and find that you're still not very hungry when it's done that's obviously not good either.
There is only one little problem. You can't cook a good meal quickly. That sucks, but that's how it is, it's just an inherent property of a good meal that it takes at least about an hour, more like 1:15-1:30. The rule of thumb is slow = tasty and healthy, the slower, the tastier. In this time all ingredients saturate each other with juices through and through and once you get to making this type of meals, you just don't go back.
Principle #2 is that equipment, unfortunately, matters. I say unfortunately because it costs more and I'm never happy to spend more money than can be helped; also this means more stuff in the kitchen because naturally you keep the old pan as a backup. The most important thing is the pan, knife is #2.
The pan has to be very solid and heavy, that way the food is heated slowly, evenly. A really heavy cast iron pan (actually called dutch oven) is in fact more comfortable to deal with because it has its own natural non-stick oil coating (not teflon), so that if you forget it on heat it won't get ruined. Also heated teflon fumes will kill birds very easily and are likely bad for our lungs, too. But the most important reasons why cast iron pans are great are: 1. lid is super heavy and will prevent runoff that makes a mess & cook contents under pressure and 2. easy to clean because it stays put under its own weight so you concentrate on clearning rather than having to hold it tightly with one hand and scrub with the other.

I just remembered that you asked about making food-making fun. Let me do a little aside about this.. Like others said it is a chore and it's not like playing a computer game or reading a book or somesuch. However it will get more interesting as you get better because you will anticipate the great food that's coming (which btw will be much better than order food eventually.. *MUCH* better). Also consider than as you get better at it, it's becomes easier and easier. It's not fun because you don't know what you're doing and you fear that you will screw up and you will often do at first. So just stomack it. There's no trick, you'll have to weather it until you're good at it, your meals are coming out good and it's easy for you, then you won't mind the hassle.

Anyway, back to the pan... I actually don't use the cast iron pan anymore because I found that rotisserie pan is even better, the one made by le creuset with a lid. It's made out of glazed ceramic, it's also non-stick, you just have to oil it first. I think something stone or ceramical or clay makes the best food because it stores hit better and transfer it slower and more evenly than metal. What I do is this.. I preheat the oven while preparing ingredients..
1. I put some brown rice or lentils in the ceramic pot.
2. I add some veggies like broccoli or cabbage, tomatoes,
swiss chard, mushrooms, squash, etc etc. Pretty much anything works except that celery is much too strong when
cooked like that; it's better to add only few tiny pieces if you want to use celery. You can add only one type of veggies or mix and match as needed.
3. add water to cover rice and have about 3/4 cm over the
4. add a little soy sauce and a little more oil then swish
it all around.
5. I usually don't add any spices, but you can add something if you like. It's perfect even without spices, in
fact spices often make it worse. I don't add salt either so
that it's healther, there's a bit of salt in soy sauce.
6. put the lid on and slide it in.
7. I set temp at ~350F and it's done in 1:15-1:25. By done
I mean that all water boiled out. You may want to leave some in depending on your tastes. Also this particular rotersserie has a lid that isn't perfectly tight on, so with a tighter & heavier lid you may use less water.
8. Some types of lentils require pre-soaking or alternatively more water and longer time. Other lentils are ok without presoaking. It seems that smaller ones need to be soaked, and organic ones.
9. You can then add sour cream on the side.
10. olive oil works best. Good mid-priced italian or spanish olive oil, doesn't have to be virgin pressed, just a standard one. Beware of unknown brands some of those are crap. Do taste the oil that you get before using...

Now on to knives.. I think I payed a bit too much, I payed about $100 for a Global vegetable knife and about $25 for a small Global paring knife. And also about $40 for sharpening block for them. So.. kind of pricy. But I got them around 7 years ago and they look 100% new because the handle is metallic and it's forged as the part of knife. They will look brand new probably in another hundred years. But you can get decent Wusthof (?) knives for about half that. You can do with two knives, one large chef's knife and another small paring one, I don't really feel like I need another one.

A good cutting block is actually kind of tricky to get; I had many, many, MANY that got bent quickly even though I wiped them every time. Must be the type of wood. I chanced on a good one (although small) for a cheap price of around $20, and it's still good after four years. The only guaranteed way to get a good cutting block is to pay up and get one for around $60 or $80. It's annoying when the cheap ones start bending because you can't cut well anymore.

You can in fact cook the sweets yourself, too. You can get a breadmaker for $100 and make sweet cakes with raisins and nuts, incredibly tasty. Put a bit of butter on a slice and it's insanely good. Without nuts and raisins, still ok but not that great. But when it's fresh and warm it's better than anything you can buy, and healthier.

Cookies are ok but not as good, I think, because you need to use more ingredients to make them good and there's more work involved in mixing, but you don't have to get a breadmaker on the other hand.

This is a bit offtopic but another things I'd recommend is real looseleaf teas you can get at uptontea.com or specialteas.com and also home roasting coffee that you can get at sweetmarias.com. Everything you can get in stores is unfortunately crap. DIY or you have to consume truly horrible things, there's no way to sugarcoat it, although they sure try!
posted by rainy at 8:56 PM on October 21, 2007

Good *grief* that's a lot of responses. I'll admit upfront that I haven't read them all, but I still can't resist putting in my own two cents.

First, start paying attention when you're eating. Don't just wolf stuff down to fuel yourself. Pay attention to the tastes and smells and the quality of what you're eating.

Don't learn to cook by cooking on weekday evenings (or whatever) when you're exhausted. Learn when you can take your time.

Taste while you cook. You cannot cook without tasting.

If you like the engineering angle, get cookbooks from Cook's Illlustrated (the main one being "The Best Recipe" and get "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee. Maybe watch "America's Test Kitchen" (a bit corny, but they know their stuff).

Do you enjoy doing things for other people? Cook for someone you like/love/trust. Or with them, for that matter.

Pick some particular *simple* dish/food that you really like and learn to make it wonderfully perfectly well. Could just be cooking an egg, could be anything. Once you get it really nailed, you can have it whenever you want *and fast*, and it will be wonderful. I have a good friend who loves omelettes and can now make a perfect omelette every time in like two minutes start to finish without even thinking about it. Mmm...wonderful omelette every morning if you like.

Do you like cocktails? Another way to learn to play with "recipes" and really think about the tastes/smells. Like margaritas? Make one with good tequila vs. cheap tequila, make one with fresh lime juice versus bottled crap, cold ingredients and good ice cubes vs not, etc, etc, *and taste them side by side*. Learn why good ingredients and correct preparation matter.

Like bourbon? (or insert whatever other treat you like here). Try a moderately priced one (say, Maker's Mark) and a nicer one (say, Knob Creek) side by side in a blind test. Smell, taste, compare.

Once you get going, get good equipment. Not a lot, just a couple of things. Good stainless steel saute pan. Good chef's knife, good paring knife. Cook's Illustrated has good equipment reviews.

I will warn you -- if you do this all correctly you will spoil yourself for crappy food forever :).

posted by madmethods at 11:18 PM on October 21, 2007

To enjoy cooking, you are going to need to do forced, learning-to-cook evenings that are going to suck. Start with easy, familiar foods that don't have long grocery lists or cooking times. Speaking from experience, teaching yourself on something that has a long prep/cooking time will end up in you pulling your food out of the oven around midnight.

I would suggest learning to cook the way I did. Buy a copy of the basic Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, the one with the red checked cover. Pick a few recipes to do every week. Look for those labeled as fast or easy.

I recommend this cookbook for two reasons.
1. The food is designed to be easy for beginner cooks, and has photo instructions.
2. The food is designed to be American comfort food appealing.

Make sure you read every recipe completely the night before you plan to attempt it. Nothing will put you off of learning to cook like not having a key ingredient or not realizing you needed to start part of the recipe a half hour ago. Reading the recipe will prevent this.

You will find that, if you systematically go through the cookbook I have recommended, you will soon get some basic techniques down, even though this is not a technique book. You will also find several recipes that you enjoy making and eating.

Some don'ts:
1. Don't try making bread from scratch for a while.
2. Don't try to cook a huge hunk of meat for a while either.
3. Don't cook with a dull knife. It's tedious and dangerous.

I forced myself to learn to cook out of this very book when I was in high school and now it's my favorite activity. It's possible.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:04 AM on October 22, 2007

Some things that have resulted in increasing my joy in cooking:

- Good tools. Find the best knife that you can afford. But don't buy that one, save for a bit and get the one that's just a bit nicer. Same for one non-stick pan, one large pot (for stews and pasta), and chopping board. I find that these things help make the whole process easier and you can concentrate on the food rather than struggling with the tools. (Plus, getting a new toy always gets me excited to cook so I can play with it)

- Don't feel like you have to make EVERYTHING from scratch and don't feel like you have to follow a recipe to the letter of the law (although you might want to stick pretty close to it in the beginning).

- You say that the microwave is impossible to remove but just take a week off. Duct tape it shut, don't allow yourself to buy any microwaveable foods for the next couple of trips to the grocery store.
posted by like_neon at 2:26 AM on October 22, 2007

one thing that made cooking a joy for me was an electrical kitchen timer. it meant i could give myself 5 minutes doing whatever else, knowing that my pasta won't overboil or my meat won't burn.

plus, most fresh foods come with rather specific cooking times anyway. (i.e. for steak, depending on how rare you like it, its a specific # of minutes per side).

on which note: steak is a very easy thing to make. buy montreal steak spice, throw it on the steak with some oil, throw all that onto the pan. anything works as a side - we prefer garlic mashed potatoes, but rice, salad, fresh veggies, anything works. and its really tasty!
posted by olya at 3:31 AM on October 22, 2007

Seconding jenfullmoon's suggestion to find a cookbook of (or website with) "5 ingredients or fewer" recipes -- Recipezaar is a favorite website of mine for this. Plastic binder + printed-from-website recipes + my notes scribbled in + manila folders used as section dividers = my very own cookbook! I even indexed it!

And I learned that I don't mind cooking so much but that I HATE HATE HATE washing dishes. If you can find out what about the cooking process you used to hate so much, then work in the direction of avoiding the discomfort. My life improved (unreasonably so) after printing a page of cooking measurement equivalents (so I didn't have to stop to wash the 1/4 cup measuring cup in mid-recipe -- I could use 2 of the 1/8 cup or 4 tablespoons or 8 half-tablespoons, and then keep going). Buying a dishwasher also helped boost my enthusiasm for cooking!

One more point, because I don't think anybody mentioned this one yet: remind yourself it's OK if you make mistakes while you're learning to cook. And if you finish preparing something and try it and you don't like it for some reason . . . figure out why you don't like it and what might be wrong. Then give yourself permission to throw it out. Don't save your big pot of stew and keep eating from it each night and remembering "this tastes gross and wrong, and I made it myself." No no no. Toss it and try something else.
posted by oldtimey at 9:26 AM on October 22, 2007

I have certainly had that same response to cooking in the past. I started cooking when I moved out of my parents' house, when I would have loved to have been spending that time doing any of the many things I had the freedom to do that I didn't before. I had to cook then because a restaurant tab would have meant giving up something important from my budget, but my attitude changed over time. These things helped:

1) I love eating. When I was younger, I considered eating to be nothing more than a necessity. Later, I learned that that was because I don't like the food I was eating back then, and that it really makes a difference to pay attention to the experience of eating.

2) When I have put the time and effort into making something delicious, and stood there at the stove and deliberately made it more and more to my liking, it's gonna be ten times more delicious than something that cost me nothing but cash.

3) Sure, when I come home from work, I'd rather delicious food just appeared in front of me. But it's also become a very enjoyable tradition for me to come home from work, have a drink, and cook. Focusing on the process of cooking is a fine way to decompress.

4) Those favorite dinners that cost a lot at restaurants can all be cooked at home. It's empowering and demystifying to learn how to recreate restaurant food.

5) Seriously, the more I read about mass-produced food, the less it seems like food. Read about the manufacturing processes that make TV dinners and restaurant food. Look up the health inspection scores for your local restaurants. Watch Fast Food Nation.

6) Investing in the tools I needed to be a better cook. Those are going to vary greatly depending on what kind of cooking you want to do. But I messed up a lot of things in the beginning because I figured that you could substitute anything, from the herbs to the hardware. Not necessarily.

My first attempts at cooking were pretty weak. That's okay. I didn't put much effort into making it good back then, but I learned a lot of basic technique during that time. Sucking at cooking made me learn to take pride in my creations later. That is, I'm a pretty cynical person sometimes, and there aren't many parts of my life I can't besmirch somehow when I'm in a bad mood. But I started cooking ten years ago and when I wasn't setting off the fire alarm, I was making ramen. Nobody helped me to learn this stuff--I did it myself. Tonight I'm making hasenpfeffer, and that makes me feel pretty good about myself.

Cooking is still not a party and it never will be. To me, it's more like the kind of peace and satisfaction that comes from raking a lawn. I have had great and highly memorable experiences cooking with and for other people, but cooking is what it is. No one is going to be able to tell you something about it that's going to make it suddenly be fun to you when it isn't right now. You may never learn to enjoy it; my mother has always cooked for my family, and by her own words, she doesn't enjoy cooking or eating.

I think it's really cool to crave something that you know how to cook, and to do that. One of my favorite things to do now is to look up and print out a new recipe during my work day, then go buy everything I don't have for it after work and make it for dinner. I always try to pick something that uses an ingredient I've never cooked with before, or maybe never even eaten before. It may sound lame--and you won't feel this at first--but there's a whole world of experience in cooking. Good luck with all of it!
posted by zebra3 at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2007

Maybe you could give yourself something to do that's interesting while you're cooking? I love cooking, but I *loathe* washing dishes. So I listen to radio programs while I'm doing it. BBC7 has some great crime, drama, and comedy programs that you can listen to on RealAudio. They last around 30 minutes, which is about the time it takes to make a decent meal or wash a huge stack of dishes. You get engrossed, and you can focus your mind on the program while you do the boring thing.

If you hate making toast, you really hate cooking. I think baby steps are in your direction. Start by combining things. Fortunately, you are living in the best time to cook with ease. You can buy pre-cut fresh and frozen vegetables for cooking. Start by throwing frozen vegetables you like in a pan with oil that's been heated up. Stir for one minute and add a bouillon cube. Add a lot of water, then a nice proportional amount of rice or pasta (say, around 1/4 the volume of the water in the pot). Wait for a period of time more-or-less equal to the number of minutes on the package of rice or pasta. You have now made vegetable soup.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:15 PM on October 23, 2007

I recommend not following recipes! They can suck the fun out of everything. If you can stand it, sit down and skim through the good parts of a few entertaining cookbooks (Happy in the Kitchen has really fun pictures of some out-there food, Starting with the Ingredients is a great reference, Julia Child does terrific step-by-step stuff, and Mark Bittman is an awesome simple-cooking genius). Get them at the library so you can return them and get new ones to read. Then leave the cookbooks behind and follow your food instincts, which you may claim not to have. Go to the grocery store, find a couple of ingredients that look and smell appealing to you, and mess around with them for an hour or so in your kitchen. Think about keeping it somewhat simple, but if you want to get weird and complicated, that's all right too. I figure if you do that a few times, no matter how inedible the results, you'll find a couple of ways to have a good old time in the kitchen. And don't forget good music and a beer.

Grilled-cheese sandwiches are pretty easy and obviously delicious, and they involve learning some good kitchen basics: heating butter and the pan properly, getting golden-brown crust and melting cheese. good stuff.
posted by pieliza at 11:47 AM on November 20, 2007

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