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Why Learn to Cook?
The new year brings with it lots of self-benefitting promises you hope you won't break within a month or two (or three). Instead of the usual empty resolution to lose weight, why not vow to learn to cook? It's a skill you'll use the rest of your life. Knowing just a few simple recipes will put you in enough control of your diet to probably lose a little weight, too.
Why it's important to learn to cook has to do with what I like to term the ancillary psychology of liberation. Knowing how to cook is a freeing ability. You unchain yourself from the need to eat out constantly, the financial obligation you have to those on whom you depend for every bite, the lack of control over your nutrition, and the hollow existence that implies that when you're hungry, you have to get in the car.
Replacing these burdens with a sense of self-determination actually makes you feel good. Cooking your own dinner even once or twice a week is the stuff of radical change. You'll spend less, eat better (or at least what you want, and in your pajamas, if you like) and feel in charge of a part of your life previously owned by others.
How to start? The first important motivator is to believe that you can cook as well as many of the folks whose food you've been relying on up to now. Do you eat a lot of hamburgers and frozen dinners? Do you eat lousy pasta at the all-you-can-eat pasta buffet where they practically give you the food free but charge a mortgage payment for your beverage? I promise you, in this time of new promises, that YOUR sauteed chicken breasts, a salad of your own making, and a fresh vegetable will taste better and be better for you than all of the above.
There are two side benefits to a dinner made by buying a package of chicken, some lettuce, and maybe some green beans. The shopping is quick and you won't have to read a single label. It's just food. All you have to do is put some heat on it, and it surely will cook.
Let's get started. You'll need
1) a frying pan that's 8 inches wide
2) a medium-sized pot
3) a serving platter (or extra dinner plate).
Go to the store and buy 4 chicken breasts boned, but with the skin on (they're cheaper, cook better, and you can always take the skin off after cooking); 1/2 pound fresh green beans; a head of your favorite lettuce. Make sure you have in the house olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Make your salad. Open the lettuce and start by picking leaves from the center. Why waste time on those floppy outer leaves? Get the best first. Take just enough for you, plus anyone else. Wash each leaf, then spin dry in a salad spinner, if you have one, or dry on cloth or paper towels. Dressing is thus -- a ratio of one-to-four. Here's how it works: Get out any old soup spoon. Fill it once with red wine vinegar. Sprinkle it on your salad. Fill the same spoon four times with olive oil, and drizzle on the salad, too. That's for approximately one serving. Use the appropriate multiplier to get enough dressing for extra people.
Wash the chicken breasts and pat them very dry with paper towels. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in the frying pan. Over high heat, fry the chicken breasts skin side down for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn down the heat a little if it looks like they're burning. Flip and fry again. They really will cook in 10 to 12 minutes. Put the breasts on a platter or extra dinner plate. They'll keep while you make the beans.
Fill the medium pot with about 1 inch of water, cover and bring to a boil on highest heat. Snap off the tops of the green beans. When the water boils, add 1 teaspoon salt, then add the beans. Boil the beans, uncovered, about 2 minutes. They'll be cooked, but bright and snappy. Drain out the water and serve the beans alongside the chicken and salad.
An honest effort for an honest meal. I told
you cooking would make you feel good.
Elaine Corn is a Sacramento-based freelance writer and cooking teacher as well as the author of two books, Now You're Cooking for Company and Now You're Cooking