• Mon, May 7 2012

I’m Trying To Learn To Cook (Reluctantly): Day 1

Spoons? Forks? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

This week I’m only eating food I prepare myself. This week is going to be rough.

I pretty much never cook. Because I am a French Aristocrat. My fingernails are three feet long, and I cannot touch crockware that peasants have touched. It is an impossibility. Also, I have raging syphilis and mostly drink mercury to treat it.

No, that’s – I don’t know whether to say fortunately or unfortunately – not true. But it is easy not to cook in New York. There’s a take-out place on every single corner. And not bad take-out. Really great gourmet sandwiches and organic salads take-out. Also, restaurants, everywhere. And cocktail parties with food, because in terms of networking, bars are the golf courses of Manhattan.

But for the next week, I’m going to eat nothing that I did not have some hand in preparing. It will be an experiment. In… being a person, I guess.

Because the fact that I don’t cook is different than saying “I can’t cook.” The only people who can’t cook have no limbs, are illiterate or are clinically insane. If you’re reading this article, and in that sweet spot where you don’t believe you’re a lighthouse, you can probably do it. I just never do, because it seems boring, and time consuming, and hard.

I’m pointing this out because someone asked if I was going to do a series of posts on how bad I was at cooking in some sort of funny I Love Lucy riff. No. No, partly because I don’t find female incompetence overly comical, but mostly because I will actually need to eat this food. Instead, I’m going to try to do this as well as I can. Because I still want to be Julia Sugarbaker more than I will ever want to be Lucy Ricardo.

And because I heard that eating the good you cook makes you 1) lose weight and 2) save money. I’m going to see if either of those things prove to be true.

I bought $108 worth of basic foods I like. (If you have any recipes combining one or all of these, please let me know, but especially all.) They are:

cheese

yogurt

strawberries

blueberries

bananas

eggs

sausage

Brussels sprouts

mushrooms

Italian white bread

whole wheat English muffins

assorted vegetables

a yam

marshmallows

One tomato, because I did this shopping trip with my dad, an excellent cook, who said “Jennifer, buy a tomato. Tomatoes are good. You can put one in things.”

I don’t actually like tomatoes, so I’m worried about this little guy. I’ve named him Earl. He’s already got some brown spots.

Earl says "Eat me."

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  • T-Lex

    Ways to use Earl:
    Buy mozzarella (freash) & basil- slice Earl and mozzarella, chop basil, place on your Italian bread. Or you can heat the bread then follow those instructions.

    or

    Roast Earl – Cut him in half sprinkle each half with salt and pepper, throw some olive oil on him. Then place him on a pan and roast him. Then you can use him as a pasta sauce.

  • Sean

    What type of sausage did you buy?

    • Jennifer Wright

      The big kind, stranger I have never met.

      (This kind. Chicken and Apple. http://www.aidells.com/product/27 )

    • Sean

      Chicken and apple sounds awesome. You could cut one lengthwise twice and sauté it with the onions. Combine that with the cheese between two toast slices and that sounds it’d be one killer sandwich.

  • Anne

    Pop that tomato in the microwave for a minute or so, and then squash it with a fork. Spread it on a slice of your Italian bread with some cheese and maybe some Italian herbs to make it look fancy, and put it under the grill. Then you can say you made squashed tomatoes from scratch! And have some more soup with it! Somehow, I foresee a lot of soup in your near future… ;o)

  • Tania

    If you have an oven, broil your bread with the cheese. It ensures meltiness.

    • Jennifer Wright

      God, I wish I’d known this sooner. I’m going to try this again, maybe with tomato.

    • Tania

      What is really good is rice cakes (non-sweet flavours), tomato slices, and cheese under the broiler until the cheese melts.

      I’ve done it with just that, and sometimes I’ve added a few leaves of fresh basil (because tomato and basil is delicious), or slices of onion and tomato, or peppers, or spinach. Whatever I had on hand and felt right. Fast and easy and all tasty.

  • Lauren

    As a general rule I also don’t cook, but I recently tried cooking all my meals too. It lasted 10 days before I caved. It also didn’t save me any money, and actually cost me a lot more money because I was only eating fresh produce and chicken to try this new clean eating diet. I failed.

    The way you’re doing it sounds promising though! Maybe after I detox my system of the ridiculousness that is clean cooking and eating I’ll give it a go. But probably not, because I’m tired just thinking about having to cook.

  • Lindsey

    You could make a giant pot of chili. It’s not that hard, and you can just buy most of the ingredients in cans. I’m pretty sure all the actual cooking is just cooking the meat. Or you could do vegetarian chili, that’s also good. Put as much as you can eat in a week in the fridge, and freeze smaller portions. Microwave, and put some cheese and onion and maybe crackers on top. Then, when you’re drunk or spent too much going out to eat you can grab some from the freezer. And you can make it as spicy as you want or don’t want because it’s YOUR chili and no one else’s, dammit.

    Also, gruyere and honey grilled cheese on challa?

    Tomato: tomato and basil sauteed in olive oil and put on top of spaghetti. Best food I can’t actually make myself but other people could. (I am too incompetent to cut tomatoes…)

    Baked sweet potato! Baked sweet potato! It’s easy, good for you if you don’t put too many marshmallows on it, and you can just microwave it.

    Also, obviously, cheese, a cut up apple, and peanut butter. With booze? While watching guilty pleasure tv?

    • Jennifer Wright

      ON IT WITH THE BAKED SWEET POTATO.

      Though closer inspection reveals it to be a yam. Marshmallows still cool?

  • Ashley Cardiff

    You need to explain how a can of Campbell’s soup counts as food you prepared.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Okay, if I had Alzheimers, I would not be allowed to prepare Cambell’s soup because if you forgot you had it on the stove it could burn the house down. I think the definition of “food that requires preparation” is “something that would potentially wreck havoc if you had Alzheimer’s.”

      Oh, God, Ashley, let’s never get old.

    • Hae

      it’s my rule that canned soups count as cooking if you’re heating it up in the stove. It’s not if you just popped it into a microwave. I’m sure there’s logic in there somehow. Something to do with pots and fire and whatnot.

  • Fabel

    I think imitating the meals you’ve been buying is a good way to go about this. That’s how I taught myself how to make a lot of things. Also, yogurt parfaits are more fun when you make them because you can put them in a pretty glass.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Tomorrow I will do this! I have just the glass!

  • Jamie Peck

    I don’t fuck with Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Find a nice, cheap little produce market near your house and buy all your produce there. Produce should be the bulk of your diet anyway, if you want to be healthy and shit. Go to the regular grocery store for non-perishable staples, and go to the fancy organic store for meat, cheese, and meat-replacements only. Also, holy hell, how have you survived for so long in NYC without cooking? That shit gets expensive.

  • Meghan Keane

    I’m worried about the subliminal effect Zoey Deschanel is having on your psyche. I’m pretty sure that iPhone commercial she’s starring in right now is secretly a commercial for tomato soup. And apparently it is working on you.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EP1YAatv1Mc

  • Sarah!

    The opposite of “chill out” is “get jazzed!” As in, “We’re in line at Trader Joe’s-GET JAZZED!!”

  • Shae

    Also, try buttering the bread and grilling at a lower temperature. That’ll help a lot and also be delicious. Because, well, butter.

    • Sarah!

      This is good advice. Sometimes I also put the lid on my skillet for a minute or two before I flip the sandwich the first time so the cheese melts a little more. But it shoudn’t be any higher than medium heat, or a 6 if you have a numbered dial.

    • Cassie

      Yes, butter the bread, and yes, use a lower temperature. Your problem is that your bread is toasting too fast- before the heat can melt the cheese. Lower heat = problem solved.

      Don’t use shredded cheese. Shredded cheese is an unnecessary expense. Also, they put weird stuff on it so that it doesn’t stick in clumps. If you shred it yourself, it’s 100% cheese!

    • Cate

      It also really helps to let the cheese sit out for a little while before you make the sandwich. Room temperature cheese obviously melts better.

  • Cate

    The fact that there is a person in the world who legitimately dislikes tomatoes is mind-blowing to me. How strong is your dislike of tomatoes? Do you like them in pasta salads? In sauce form? If there is only a small amount of tomato that you can’t really taste?
    You could boil some pasta, cut Earl up into small pieces, melt a little bit of butter in a pan with garlic. When the butter is melted throw in the tiny pieces of Earl until they get sort of squishy. Then add some shredded cheese like mozzarella or something and various types of Italian herbs. The cheese will get all melty and you can pour it over your pasta. Mostly you will taste garlic and cheese, then you will have a heart attack.

    • Lauren

      I also hate tomatoes. I hate them and all tomato based products except for salsa, in which I don’t eat the chunks of tomato in it. This means I hate tomato sauce and ketchup too. It is mind boggling to most people when I say I don’t like ketchup either.

  • Caroline

    Halve all the Brussels sprouts and drizzle olive oil over them, then put them all on a baking sheet and roast them for a bit. Boom. One grocery item down.

    Make an English breakfast for yourself (for dinner? it doesn’t matter, really, it’s always delicious) and fry the egg and sausage and tomato slices. Use as much pepper as possible. Put it all on toast and eat it sloppily. Pair with Heinz beans if you so desire (prep work is as much as for Campbell’s soup).

  • Megan

    If you like tomato soup, I feel confident that you can find a use for a tomato. I like to put slices on pizza or chop them into tiny pieces for chunky tomato sauce or over grilled chicken with cheese and some kind of vinaigrette. Or you can find a great recipe for bruschetta to eat with your bread. You can do it!

  • Sabrina

    Make some organic mac and cheese and dice up that tomato and mix it in along with some green onions and fresh pepper. Voila! It is so fucking delicious and at a restaurant, I recently paid $16 for this exact meal that I now make at home on the daily.

    • N

      Honestly, the “organic” part of this suggestion isn’t even necessary (in my opinion). I do this all the time with mac and cheese, and I’ll even add chicken or ground beef and make my own better-for-you hamburger helper!

  • Natalie

    One delicious way to jazz up canned soups (if you’re feeling the soups) is to buy a base, like tomato or cream of asparagus or etc, and add fresh ingredients.

    I like to add chopped green onions, cracked pepper, creme fraîche, some tomato dices, and fresh basil/oregano to basic canned tomato soup. Let that simmer for a bit and voila!

    • Tania

      This is the best idea ever. I usually only eat canned soups when I’m sick (I keep an emergency stash of canned food for this exact situation. Is that weird?) because no one is around to cook for me, but jazzing them up in this way is a great idea!

  • Melanie the Constant Reader

    One word to help you on your cooking ways: Coolio.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/CookinWithCoolio
    You’re welcome.

    http://melanietheconstantreader.blogspot.com/

  • Molly

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin pan. Chop tomatoes and other assorted veggies you want to eat. Fill each muffin cup 1/3 of the way up with chopped veggies. Crack eggs (about 8 for 12 muffin cups) into a bowl and whisk with salt & pepper. Pour egg mixture over veggies, filling each muffin cup about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 15 minutes. Voila! Egg Cups!

  • Eloiza Besouchet

    A person who cooks is a free person! Try hard! Enjoy!

  • MR

    Do you have a cast iron pot? Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare chicken, onions and potatoes; put them in the pot. Cook for an hour, and see how it looks. Go a little longer if it needs more. Chicken’s really moist and tasty this way, and the potatoes and onions are unique too. You start the meal off with a salad aka put Earl to use here. :) Take Jamie’s advice on where to buy things. Whole Foods up here is lineless.

  • JC

    Puree the tomato (roast it first if you want to get fancy), add some 2% milk or cream, basil, and salt and pepper. Throw mascarpone or shredded cheese on top. Homemade tomato soup – love.

    “Shredded cheese is an unnecessary expense.”

    Unless you… shred it yourself for free?

  • Dani

    This is going to make me sound like a crazy person, but one of my favorite sandwiches is toasted bread with mayo, sliced tomato, and slat and pepper. Give it a shot maybe?

    I also fall into the “what do I do with this tomato?” trap and end up throwing it in scrambled eggs and salads a lot. Or I toss it in with pasta and Parmesan cheese or add it to Mexican dishes! Good luck!

  • Bevy J

    Congrats on the cooking! I, too, ventured into this unknown territory but I did so last year because I was very sick and had no choice. BUT I embraced it, and learned as much about healthy eating as possible. I’ve saved tons of money and dropped more than 20lbs. GOOD TIMES ALL AROUND. But, I’m busy so I only cook meals that take 30 mins or less. I also eat salads for dinner or make extras and bring it in my lunch the next day. Check out my blog (shameless self-promotion). I hope you like some of the recipes. Re: Tomatoes, you slice that bad boy, fry it and make a sandwich with it or add it to your grilled cheese. Thoughts?

  • Bevy J

    Eff! I was so excited about your tomato that I forgot to share my link to the blog: http://holydelicious.wordpress.com/

  • Breezy

    I don’t like tomatoes either! But they’ve been growing on me over the years, and I like them most in bruschetta. Here is an awesome recipe, and an amazing website in general for easy, straightforward, delicious cooking. Seriously, the most impressive things I can do in the kitchen are due to this woman.

    http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/01/bruschetta/

  • Kayla

    Put cream cheese (or goat cheese, if you’re fancy) (or no cheese, whatever) on bread with a fried egg. Put a slice of tomato on top. Also nice with Italian seasoning sprinkled on top, for class.