Going from having all your meals pre-made by parents and dining hall staff to having to cook for yourself definitely isn’t easy, but it’s not quite as hard as it seems at first. Plus, cooking actual meals for yourself rather than ordering take-out of buying frozen dinners has quite a few benefits–it’s often much healthier, it’s definitely cheaper, and knowing your way around the kitchen is a great way to impress people (plus, its a super attractive quality). Here are few easy tips and suggestions to help you get familiar with your kitchen and start your journey toward becoming an honest-to-goodness adult.
Make your own vegetable stock.
When I started doing this, it was one part because I felt wasteful throwing out vegetable scraps, and one part because I’m really cheap, and didn’t want to have to keep buying stock from the store. As it turns out, Making your own veggie stock is both super easy, and really impressive whenever someone learns that you’re doing it.
Whenever you chop any vegetables, take the odds and ends you would have thrown out, and toss them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.
This includes things like: onion and garlic peels, ends from celery or squash, mushroom stems, carrot peels, sweet potato skins, corn cobs and husks, etc. I even like to add ginger peels, stems from any fresh herbs I use, and dried red peppers after I’ve used them to spice up a dish.
This does not include: anything moldy, rotten, or gross in any other way. As many stock websites will tell you, there’s a huge difference between things that you probably would not want to eat (see above), and things that you straight-up should not eat. Also, note that most websites will tell you not to put anything cruciferous in because they make your stock bitter, but I haven’t had that problem, so use at your own discretion.
Once your bag is full, dump it out into a stock pot (or a slow cooker if you have one!), fill with water until the veggies are all covered, and then let it simmer at a real low heat for an hour or two. When it’s finished (which is pretty much whenever you decide it is), strain your stock over a fine strainer or cheesecloth, and then freeze it until you’re ready to use it. I use my stock to make rice, beans, and soup, and it’s quite tasty!
Pro Tip: When you buy a rotisserie chicken, save the scraps and bones and simmer with some carrots, onions, celery, parsnip, whatever you find in the fridge, and then strain for a home-made chicken stock.
Get the big cutting board.
When I was preparing to move to my first apartment, my mom grabbed me a little plastic cutting board from Walmart and said, “Is this size okay?” Sure, I thought, that looks good to me.
Six months later, I couldn’t stand the tiny little thing any more, and I bought myself a great big cutting board from IKEA. (If you don’t have IKEA nearby, check out this 18″*14″ bamboo beauty from Amazon for $22.)
It’s not like I even use my cutting board all that much, but when I do, trust me, this is a situation where size matters. When your cutting board is tiny, there’s just so much higher of a chance that things will end up all over the floor and the counter. It’s wasteful, it’s messy, it’s a pain in the butt, and it ensures that you’re a lot less likely to be excited about using your kitchen. Sure, a big cutting board takes up more space and it costs a couple dollars extra, but the convenience more than makes up for any downsides. If you get it from IKEA, you won’t spend nearly as much as you would somewhere else (I think mine was about $10), and it’s totally possible to get a satisfyingly big cutting board without getting into unwieldy and enormous territory. (Before I bought it, I made sure mine fit in my dishwasher, haha).
Pro Tip: If your cutting board is wood, do not put in the dishwasher! Also, store your board on its side, so it takes little room.
Learn to love your freezer.
When it comes to cooking actual meals for myself that have some kind of health benefit (Kraft mac-n-cheese, I’m looking at you…), my freezer has become my best friend. Sure, I keep a couple frozen pizzas in there, but the majority of my freezer space in taken up by Tupperware containers filled to the brim with chopped veggies. I’m horrendously lazy, so when it comes to meal prep, I’ll do anything I can to speed along the process, and one of the best tricks I’ve found is to chop a huge amount of fresh veggies every week or too, and then keep them frozen. I suppose you could technically keep all the different types of veggies in their own containers, but honestly, I find it works to just toss them all in a great big tub and mix them up. This way I don’t have to worry about deciding which veggies I want with each meal; what I get is what I get, and there’s variety in every meal.
Want to make a quesadilla? Hack out a handful of pre-chopped veggies and toss them in the pan. Making rice? Chuck some veggies in a pan and you’ve got a stir-fry. Having ramen and feeling guilty about being unhealthy? Boil some veggies with the noodles, and ta-da! a healthy pasta dish.
Seriously, keeping things frozen and ready for use is the best tip I can give to any lazy chef. Two minutes in the microwave to thaw it out, and then you’re ready to create a real meal with little-to-no effort.
Pro Tip: Buy a bunch of glass storage containers in various sizes for your veges. They are healthier to use both for storing and microwaving.