couple cooking couple cooking Cooking should be fun. And with the right tools and ingredients, it can also yield some amazing homemade meals. (Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)

Not a foodie? Here's how to inspire yourself to cook

Break through the block and fight fears of failure with these tips for cooking that anyone can use.

I get it – not everyone is born with a whisk in one hand, rolling pin in the other. So what do you do when cooking is just not your thing, but eating totally is – and takeout is getting really old, really fast?

Enter your best friend in the food world: Moi. In just a few short paragraphs, I’m going to teach you how to launch your kitchen, get your feet wet in the culinary world, and whip up some easy, basic foods that will feed your stomach and your soul. You don’t have to be a foodie to make good food, but once you start, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy the creative process.

Kitchen staples

chefs knife with sliced veggies You'd be surprised how much you'll like your kitchen when you have the right tools. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

Take a good hard look at your kitchen. Do you have the tools it takes to whip up a decent meal? Basics include a solid cutting board, chef’s knife and paring knife, peeler, a couple mixing bowls in different sizes, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a baking pan or two. Parchment paper is excellent for avoiding messy cleanup situations, and great for wrapping food to keep it fresh, or for cooking to lock in moisture. Some of the best small appliances to invest in are an immersion blender and a countertop grill, like a George Foreman. And for heaven’s sake – keep those counters clear! Anything that absolutely doesn’t need to be on your counter should go into a drawer, cabinet, or to charity if it doesn’t have serious form or function (you love how it looks, or use it all the time).


Food must-haves

olive oil Once you start cooking more often, you'll find out how useful olive oil is. (Photo: DUSAN ZIDAR / Shutterstock)

Food basics include olive oil, a few seasoning blends, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Dried parsley, dill and chives should serve you well when you don’t have fresh herbs. Pantry must-haves include a few jars of marinara (think lasagna, meatballs, hearty tomato veg soup), soup consomme, canned beans, canned milk such as coconut (for soups and sauces), and a variety of nuts and seeds – including sesame, chia, flax, or hemp. After that point, your pantry is going to get personal, and should be filled with the basics of the foods you eat most.


Mise en Place

spices stored in pantry in jars Take pride in your kitchen by keeping spaces clean and organized. (Photo: bitt24/Shutterstock)

This French phrase means "everything in its place." If you’ve watched Marie Kondo's Netflix series, you get the concept. If you haven’t, it’s about having a place for everything, and making your space work for you visually, spatially and even spiritually. Take pride in your kitchen space, and keep it clean and organized so it will feel more welcoming and you’ll want to spend more time there. Some cooks find it helpful to lay out everything needed for a recipe before diving in – one benefit of that method is you’ll realize before it’s too late if you’re out of an ingredient. Others like to reach for each ingredient as it comes – do what works for you. And be sure to enjoy the process, think about how nourishing it is to prepare food for others (or yourself), and have gratitude for the ability to cook and share.


The magic of sautéed onions

onions sauteing in a pan If you've got onions on the stove, you'll love the aroma. (Photo: Prarinya/Shutterstock)

If there’s one thing you must learn to make, it’s sautéed onions. Sautéed onions smell like heaven on a plate, and even if that’s all your kitchen produces, you’ll have people following their nose into the kitchen and expecting something truly wonderful. These strips of savory sweetness add oomph to almost any dish, and can be frozen into small ziploc bags and added to soups, souffles and pasta dishes for a fabulous flavor boost. They’re also a savory start to many soups, casseroles, and quiches.

You have two options for preparing sautéed onions:

  1. Toss and go: Dice 5 onions and toss with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, and then bake at 350 in a 9x13 pan for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  2. Stand at the stove: Spray a pan with non-stick spray, let it get hot, and then add chopped or sliced onions and sauté for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant.

Time-saving tricks

vegetable bean soup Dress up canned soup with veggies and beans for a pleasant cold-weather meal. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

Not all homemade food has to be completely from scratch. If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, or looking for time savers, combine store-bought with homemade for delicious, customized dishes. Examples: Adding chopped veggies to canned soups, grilled chicken or salmon strips to bagged salad blends, or baby peas and dill to a mac ‘n’ cheese mix. Same goes for dessert – a simple store bought fruit salad turns gourmet when you add pureed fresh raspberries and a few mint leaves for garnish, or add a bunch of fun chips (butterscotch, Heath bits, or white chocolate) to a brownie or cake mix.


Fast and furious veggies

store-bought spice blends These store-bought spice blends make all kinds of cooking faster and more delicious. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

There are endless varieties of vegetables that taste delicious with just a dash of olive oil, a few shakes of seasoning, and a good hot roast in the oven. Eggplant, green and yellow squash, bell peppers, onions and baby bella mushrooms are the most common for roasting. Slice any or all of these vegetables into roughly the same size pieces, toss with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with your favorite seasoning blend. My favorite multi-purpose blends are from Trader Joe’s: Chili Lime, Mushroom & Company Umami, and Onion Salt.


Recreate Grandma's pie

raspberry lemon cream pie Meyer lemons make a delightful accent to this raspberry cream pie. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

Make a list of some of the best homemade dishes you’ve ever eaten. Contact the person who makes them, get the recipe, and make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to recreate the dish. Invite that special person into your kitchen, and have them watch and guide you as you recreate the dish. You should be the one doing each step; if you just watch while they do all the work, the how-to aspect will fly out of your mind faster than yesterday’s news.


Gourmetize your dish

guacamole-stuffed mushrooms with tahini drizzle Guacamole gets a Mediterranean makeover with a drizzle of tahini. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

Once you’ve taken the plunge and created a home-cooked meal, take it to the next level with some gourmet garnishes. Drizzle some tahini over a salad, grilled veggies or chicken dish. Take a spoonful of barbecue sauce and brush it across the plate with sweeping motion before laying down your chicken or meat. Snip a few chives or fresh herbs to sprinkle on almost any dish for extra brownie points. Peel strips of carrot over your salad, or cut your veggies at an angle for a more chic look. Be proud of your food, and let it represent your love for the person you are sharing it with.

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Not a foodie? Here's how to inspire yourself to cook
Break through the block and fight fears of failure with these tips for cooking that anyone can use.