As the years go on, fewer and fewer people are eating their meals at home. With the time crunch that we all experience, it’s tempting to grab something quick to eat for our meals. These days, only around 36 percent of people cook at home each day, though the COVID-19 pandemic boosted the numbers. Now, more people are starting to get back into the kitchen, and they’re seeing the benefits. Here’s why you should join those that have fallen in love with cooking all over again:
5. Save Money
Let’s say that you want to feed a family of four but you want to get out of the house for dinner. When you do this, you have some options. You probably don’t want to pay a ton for fine dining, but casual dining (like Applebee’s) costs about $14 per person, while fast casual clocks in at $12 per person and fast food at $6. When you’re dining at home, however, you can knock that cost down tremendously. At stores such as Aldi, you can make a balanced meal for everyone that checks in at about $1.50 per person.
4. Weight Management
When we think of fast food or other forms of dining out, we tend to think of massive portions that lead to weight gain. This has been talked about in reports and studies ad nauseum, but you can fight off the extra pounds by eating at home. You’re able to control your portions much easier, while also avoiding some of the hidden calories that the menus may not tell you about. Those that cook at home regularly consume an average of 1,050 fewer calories per week. That alone would cause you to avoid 15.6 pounds of weight gain in a year.
3. Easier to Control Allergens
Are you one of the many, many people that has to deal with a food allergy on a daily basis? Take lactose intolerance for example. If you can’t have any sort of dairy, you may as well skip places like Taco Bell where it seems everything is smothered in cheese. When you’re cooking at home, though, you’re able to control every bite. Walking quietly through the grocery store is much easier than asking the waiter what all comes on the 32 ingredient salad.
2. Better for Mental Health
One of the many reasons why people tend to eat out so often is due to depression. At times, you feel like you may not be able to muster up the energy to cook for yourself. Studies have shown that cooking meals can be therapeutic and improve mental health, though. “If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says professor Jacqueline Gollan of Northwestern University.
1. Quality Time
Another one of the main reasons why people eat out so frequently is due to a lack of time. Studies have shown that people who prepare meals at home, however, are actually saving themselves time. There are no lines at home, you’re not counting on someone else doing the prep work and, most importantly, you’re getting to spend time with your family that you can’t put a price on.
Whether you eat at home every day or not, you’re likely to spend a lot of your time each day in the kitchen. You may be cooking, cleaning, warming up leftovers or anything in between, but it is a lot of time. For those that want to reduce their time spent in the kitchen and get more time elsewhere, there are some gadgets that can save you plenty, and here are five of the best for doing just that.
While you might think of the Roomba (or any device that automatically cleans your floor) as something that’s more suited for the living room, these are also super handy in the kitchen. When you’re chopping up a ton of different vegetables, there are going to be some that get on the floor. It’s not just veggies, either, as you’re likely to make the floor messy in a million different ways. For that reason, the Roomba is a great tool to help take your mind off of the cleaning aspect of the kitchen and focus on cooking.
4. Good Knives
If you want to make the chef in your family or group of friends cry tears of joy, get them a set of really good knives for their birthday or a holiday. That’s because it’s the most valuable tool that you can have in your kitchen, and it will save you a lot of time when cutting up your ingredients. It’s not just a good set of knives that you’ll be needing, either. You want to make sure you pick up a knife sharpener, and the technology has made these into fun gadgets for your kitchen while also being affordable.
3. Food Scale
Have you ever tried to guesstimate how much you’ll need of a certain ingredient only to have it where you cooked something for too long or not long enough? Instead of using annoying measuring cups for solids like meat, try using a food scale instead. This will allow you to know precisely how much you’re putting into your meals and takes away a lot of the time spent trying to figure out if it’s too much or too little. It’s also a great tool for calorie counting.
2. All-in-One Air Fryer/Instant Pot
When the air fryer trend started to take off, there were many people that brushed it aside saying that it was nothing more than a convection oven. In the years since, though, the air fryer has become one of the most versatile tools that you can use. These days, air fryers are capable of more than just heating up your food. They now can broil, bake, reheat, dehydrate and more. Along with the air fryer is the instant pot, and no matter which way you go (or both), you’ll be getting a lot of use out of both.
1. Food Processor
Not to be confused with the similar blender, a food processor is capable of so many things. On top of making smoothies, you can also grate cheese, knead dough and so much more. These aren’t very expensive, either, costing around $100 these days for a really good one. If you don’t feel much like using a knife to prepare meals, this might be the way to go.
Rice is one of the most popular foods in the entire world for a lot of reasons. Rice tastes great, it’s filling and it’s very affordable. The average American will eat over 25 pounds of rice per year. That may sound like a lot, but that’s nothing compared to Asia where the average person eats 300 pounds of rice. You’ve probably had rice in a lot of different ways, but when you’re cooking it yourself, there are some tips that you should follow. Here’s how you can make sure that your rice is top notch.
5. Always Rinse
The first thing that we should always do when making rice is to rinse it out. Why is this? When we rinse rice, it gets rid of the starch that builds up. Starch is what causes grains of rice to stick together, and we all know how much of a pain clumpy rice can be for your meal. If you think that you aren’t rinsing enough, you may be right. There’s no such thing as over rinsing, so don’t be afraid to get liberal with the rice.
4. Water Ends There
Water is great for rinsing your rice, but you don’t have to use water when you’re actually cooking your rice. For a better flavor that gets the job done in the same amount of time, try something such as chicken or beef broth. There is going to be a much higher sodium count when doing so, but the taste is second to none. Try to play around with the ratio of stock and rice so that you can get it right since it seems that no golden ratio always works. In fact, try using a little less water/stock than recipes call for.
3. Don’t Touch the Lid
When we’re cooking anything, we’re tempted to check on it every few seconds and see the progress. Rice is no exception, but it’s one of those foods that you shouldn’t be checking. Instead, leave the lid on and trust the process. If you follow the recipe to the letter, you won’t have to lift the lid. Lifting the lid messes up the cooking process and will not only add a lot of time to your preparation, but will also negatively affect the quality of the finished product.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of the Oven
For rice, a lot of people think that it can only be prepared correctly by using a rice cooker. The oven isn’t something that many think of, but it can be just as effective if you don’t have a rice cooker. If you preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and then boil your rice, you can place the pot into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes (for white rice). This will make things cook evenly and give you a nice fluff that tastes great.
1. Don’t Eat Right Away
As it is with any meal, we want to eat right away. The smells and the growing hunger tend to get to us and we dig in as soon as the cooking is finished. However, for rice, you should be leaving it off the heat for 15 minutes after it has cooked. You’ll get better consistency from your rice as the moisture settles and you’ll be happy that you were just a bit patient.
Who doesn’t love soup? The answer is not many people. In one major survey, 95 percent of Americans said that they at least like soup, with that same batch of people having a “love” opinion or are eating it on a regular basis. How do you eat your soup, though? Most tend to stick to the cans of premade soup, while others opt to make their own. If you want to join the ranks of soup makers, here are five essential tips that you need to know beforehand.
5. Stock Up
If you really want your soup to stand out so that it tastes like your own, try making your own stock. This is going to be the cornerstone of your soup, so make sure to load up on what you’ll need. You can stick to the basic vegetable stock or you can go big with chicken or beef stock. Consider what kind of soup you want to make first and then gather the ingredients, place them in a pot of water and cover it up, allowing it to simmer after boiling.
4. Skip the Cream
Cream tends to be a favorite for those that are making soup since it helps with the consistency, but it’s not going to be good for you. That’s because cream is heavy in calories and saturated fat, and you don’t want to make an otherwise healthy food option into an unhealthy one. Think of it as a salad with too much ranch dressing. As an alternative, try to use almond milk or Greek yogurt, which will keep the same consistency.
3. Spice Things Up
When you’re making your stock/soup, don’t be afraid to try out some new spices. Each recipe that you find is going to have its own take, but try out some things that you may not have considered before. If it’s a spice that you like, but is rarely found in most soups, why not try it for yourself? After all, the stakes are pretty low when you’re making soup since it’s not an expensive undertaking. Experiment a little bit and you may be passing down a family recipe of your own.
2. Eyes on the Clock
To make your soup perfect, you’ll want to keep a keen eye on how long you’re cooking. It will all depend on the ingredients that you’re using for your soup. If you plan on using chicken or beef instead of vegetables, soup will naturally need to be cooked for longer. Also, smaller vegetables will cook very quickly compared to more dense ones, so you have to take that into consideration as well. It could take several hours when all is said and done, but it will be worth it.
1. Make Too Much
The best way to ensure that you’ll have enough soup for everybody is to make more than you think you need. Not only that, but it should be easier to get the correct cooking time compared to a much smaller portion that can be finished before you know it. Soup is also great for leftovers, so having too much is always going to be a good thing. Soup can last for a few days in the refrigerator and even longer if placed in the freezer.
It seems to happen every year where a massive amount of people are cooking for a big family event for the first time. Typically, we tend to think of Thanksgiving as being that time. You’ve just moved into a house for the first time, everyone’s coming over and your uncle is parked in front of the television asking when dinner is being served. Don’t panic if this is your first time cooking for the entire family as we have some advice. We can’t guarantee that everything will go perfectly (on the contrary, really), but here’s what you can do to make things a bit easier on yourself.
5. Slow Cookers Save Lives
Throwing a big turkey in the oven sounds festive and traditional, but it’s also an anxiety inducing part of cooking when you have to check on it every few minutes over the course of several hours to make sure things are going well. Instead, try to use slow cookers (yes, plural) as they don’t require your constant attention. It’s not just for cooking, either. Leave these gadgets on a setting to keep food warm so that people can graze whenever they want throughout the day.
4. Cook Too Much
Not many things feel as bad as not having enough food for a big event, especially for those that may not have been able to make it to the part where food was first served. While you might get a headcount and base your cooking around that, always expect there to be more people than you thought. Your uncle is going to have a new girlfriend and your cousin is somehow going to bring three of their friends…it just happens. If you cook too much, you can start doling out leftovers when it’s time to wrap up.
3. Snacks on Snacks
People are going to be grazing all day at a big event, so don’t focus too much on trying to get a million different entrees. Instead, make sure much of the menu is snack based and doesn’t call for too much cooking. Veggie trays and other finger foods will save your life when people fill up on those early and aren’t taking second or third helpings on that big culinary productions. They’ll also save you a lot of time on cleanup.
2. Buffet All Day
Remember those times when the person coordinating the family dinner would ask you to hand them your plate and you might not see it come back for a few minutes since there were so many other people? You can avoid this logistical nightmare by setting things up in a buffet style. It may be easier said than done, and if you’re crunched for space, you might want to set things up outside.
1. Visit the Deli
When you’re very focused on the entree you’re serving, some of the side dishes can require a lot of your time and energy. You don’t have to go over the top and use a bunch of different dishes just to make some baked beans that a handful of people will eat. Instead, opt for getting things such as potato salad, baked beans or buffalo chicken dip from the grocery store deli.
Ingredients are the foundation of any meal. With the right combination of ingredients, you can take a meal from boring, bland, or repetitive to a special, unique, and memorable dish. By finding the right secret ingredients for each meal you plan, it is possible to make your cooking stand out.
For meals that incorporate mushrooms, truffle oil is a great addition to enhance the taste. Truffle oil provides an earthy flavor that pairs well with a variety of meals and food options. For example, you can add oil to the top of pasta or drizzle truffle oil over a bowl of soup before serving it. You can also add truffle oil to butter and salt when making popcorn for an interesting and fun snack.
Many dishes and recipes call for cilantro to garnish the meal. While cilantro is a common ingredient, you may not realize that coriander powder is made from the same plant. The powder is made from the seeds of the plant, while cilantro refers to the stem and leaves of the plant. Coriander powder offers a mild flavor that enhances the taste of other spices and is often a secret ingredient in different recipes. Add the coriander powder to curries or spiced dishes to enhance the other spices. You can also add the spice to baked sweets or meals for an unexpected flavor. It pairs well with casseroles and savory baked goods.
Kashmiri Red Chili Powder
Kashmiri red chili powder is often used in Indian dishes to provide a medium-hot taste to the food. While it is ideal for mild to medium-hot dishes, it offers an additional benefit in cooking. The chili has a naturally vibrant red color that makes the food look appealing due to the color. It provides a bright red shade for Indian dishes without using food coloring. Since it is not too hot, the spice is ideal for tandoori chicken or other dishes with a vibrant color.
Cinnamon is a sweet bark that adds to many dishes and foods. Since it has a naturally sweet flavor, it helps you reduce the amount of sugar you need in many sweets and meals. It also enhances the taste of other spices. Use cinnamon in baked bread, cookies, pies, or other sweet treats. You can also add cinnamon to curry dishes when tempering your oil.
Cardamom is similar to cinnamon in the way it offers a warming and sweet flavor. The flavor makes it ideal for cooking spicy meals, sweet dishes, and even chai. It is a good option to add a touch of sweet flavor without adding sugar to a meal. Use cardamom with any sweet that calls for milk. It pairs well with rice pudding, ras malai, and black tea. You can also use cardamom in any dish that calls for cloves.
Make your meals memorable and interesting by trying out unique and fun ingredients. Use new spices and oils to change the flavor of your favorite sweet treats, savory snacks, or dinner dishes.
Most people are too busy to spend hours in the kitchen every evening preparing elaborate meals. Fortunately, it’s possible to create nutritious and delicious restaurant-style meals with a minimal investment of time. Following are just five of the many meals you can make in a hurry in your home kitchen without sacrificing quality.
All you need for this is a can of salmon, fettuccine noodles, a light Alfredo sauce, and you’ll feel like you’re dining in an upscale restaurant. Finish the dish off with a sprinkling of cracked black pepper and a garnish of fresh lemon. For added flavor and visual appeal, serve it over a bed of fresh bright greens. You can also substitute the Alfredo sauce for pesto sauce. chicken or tuna can be substituted for the salmon. This dish takes less than 30 minutes.
Tuna/Vegetable/Rice Mini Casserole for Two
Most people already have the ingredients for this in their cupboard or freezer. All you need is two cans of tuna, a jar of pre-made Alfredo sauce, some balsamic rice, and some cheddar cheese. After mixing all the ingredients but the cheese together, bake in a small casserole dish for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese and serve. This recipe can be doubled or tripled to feed more people. It also makes great leftovers and can be frozen in individual servings for microwaving later.
Baked Salmon and Asparagus
Besides the two main ingredients, all you need for this is a piece of foil and your choice of sauce or dressing. Honey mustard dressing and lemon butter sauce both work well for this dish. Simply place the salmon and asparagus on the foil, drizzle with sauce or dressing, and wrap it up securely in the foil. This should be ready to remove from the oven and serve in half an hour. You can also substitute steelhead trout or halibut for the salmon in this recipe.
Steak and Salad
Although many people associate a steak dinner with a night on the town, it’s actually quite easy to prepare in your own home. Start with buying the best quality of steak you can afford. Find a good recipe and follow it closely, especially if you’ve never grilled a steak before. Purchase pre-made salad to minimize chopping, dicing, and slicing. Serve with a roll or piece of garlic bread.
Lemon Chicken One-Skillet Dinner
Besides the way it tastes, the best thing about this dinner is the easy cleanup afterward. You’ll need chicken breasts, mushrooms, green beans, chicken stock, flour, cracked black pepper, parsley, and thyme. This dish is finished in less than 30 minutes, and the only thing you’ll have to clean afterward is the skillet, a couple of cooking utensils, the plates, and the silverware.
Sometimes ingredients from scratch are just that much better than store-bought. Here are 5 ingredients it’s worth it to make yourself.
1. Garlic Infused Oil
Garlic infused oil is available at most grocery stores and specialty food outlets. It’s delicious drizzled over bread alone or added to soups, salads and pastas. You can use it anywhere you would traditionally use a savory oil. This ingredient is actually very inexpensive and easy to make fresh at home. Simply chop several cloves of fresh garlic and simmer them in oil on low heat until golden brown. Strain the garlic pieces from the oil and cool. Store the oil in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Using fresh garlic really adds an extra punch that makes it better than store-bought infused oil.
2. Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is another ingredient readily available at the supermarket but is usually easier and cheaper to make yourself. To make simple syrup, you only need to have water and sugar. Heat the amount of water you want in a pan to simmering or boiling. Then, dissolve the same amount of sugar in the water. Allow the mixture to cool. Store in a bottle in your refrigerator.
3. Chicken Stock
Chicken stock sounds hard to make but it’s really not once you get the hang of it. You don’t need to chop any vegetables or cut any chicken to make delicious chicken stock at home. Fill a large pot with water and salt. Then, place bone-in chicken, carrots, celery, and onions to the pot. You can also add leeks, bay leaves, and fresh parsley. Feel free to throw these all in the pot whole, including the stems. Boil until the chicken falls off the bone and the vegetables are soft. Use a fine-mesh sieve to strain the broth from the ingredients. Store the strained broth in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to seven days.
4. Pasta Sauce
Forget buying a jar of pasta sauce when making your own is almost just as easy. Making your own pasta sauce is definitely the healthier option. Add tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder to a medium saucepan. Add a pinch of sugar to taste. Simmer and adjust your seasonings as needed after the flavors have started to meld with the heat. Then all you need to do is serve it!
5. Cocktail Sauce
You can also make cocktail sauce at home with just a few ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Simply mix together a few tablespoons of ketchup with your desired amount of lemon juice and horseradish. Serve with fresh chilled shrimp or your choice of seafood. The great thing about this simple recipe is that you can easily adjust the amount of horseradish you use. Some people like a lot of horseradish while others prefer a more tomato-based flavor. You can also make the sauce more or less acidic and tart depending on how much lemon juice you use.
Many people think of cooking as a mysterious gift that only some people have. However, there are easy ways for those who’ve never had much success in the kitchen to raise their cooking game. Following are five of them.
Use Seasonal Ingredients
Seasonal ingredients make everything taste better. Because they are fresh, they are more nutritious than food produced out of season. Cooking with locally grown, seasonal ingredients is also better for the environment. As an added bonus, you will be supporting your local economy by buying from farmers in your community. Visit a nearby farmers market to purchase seasonal ingredients and to find inspiration on how to prepare them in the home kitchen.
Buy the Best Cookware You Can Afford
It’s difficult to produce a good meal using poor-quality cookware. Good cookware manages heat better. It’s also important to use the right pan for the right job. Don’t use a sauce pan when you should be using a sauté pan. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get good, solid cookware. Buy a few basic pieces such as a saucepan, a stock pot, and a sauté pan and build from there. Avoid buying cookware collections unless you’re sure you’ll use every piece. Consider buying restaurant-grade cookware for best results.
Plan Your Meals
Busy people sometimes neglect to plan their meals in advance. However, making dining decisions on the spur-of-the-moment is a recipe for disaster. Only extremely experienced cooks can consistently wing it with good results. Planning your meals lets you carve out enough time in your schedule for the dishes you have in mind and shop for the proper ingredients. Don’t forget to plan to set an attractive table and choose an appropriate beverage. Even the best tasting food is better when paired with the right wine and served on a well-set table.
Use Fresh Spices and Herbs
Many home cooks have spices in their cupboards that are several years old. However, this may cause some herbs and spices to lose their distinct flavor. Dried herbs and spices that have been allowed to sit for years may also take on a dusty flavor. The exception is when you’re making a soup or stew that will simmer on the stove for hours. After 15 or 20 minutes, the volatile oils in fresh herbs will be thoroughly dissolved by the heat of the cooking process.
One of the best things any cook can do is to organize their ingredients prior to starting the cooking process. Make sure that all the ingredients are minced, sliced, and diced before you even turn on the stove and that the cooking utensils you plan to use are close at hand. This way, you won’t risk burning the steak while scrambling for salad ingredients. This approach also eliminates the possibility of suddenly discovering during the middle of making a meal that you don’t have all the necessary ingredients.
A decade ago, organic ingredients were available only in a few high-end supermarkets. Today even discounted grocery stores carry them. Despite the higher prices, people still rush to buy organic ingredients believing they are more nutritious and less likely to contain dangerous chemicals. But is cooking with all organic ingredients worth the extra cost?
Find out what organic really means, when you should buy organic, and when you should probably save your money.
What Does Organic Mean?
"Organic" does not describe the food itself but how farmers produce and process it. The USDA determines what is and is not organic food in the US. Farmers can not grow organic fruit and vegetables using synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, and organic food must not undergo irradiation or genetic engineering. There are additional restrictions for meat producers, including not using hormones or antibiotics.
Is Organic Really Organic?
Food producers can get tricky regarding how they label their food. Do you think foods labeled "Organic" or "Made With Organic Ingredients" are entirely organic? If you do, you are wrong.
According to the USDA guidelines, food using the "Organic" label must only contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients by weight. And it only gets worse.
Foods can claim they are "Made With Organic Ingredients" when they have just 70 percent organic ingredients by weight!
Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Non-Organic Food?
The jury is still out when it comes to whether organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. There is little evidence that organic products contain more protein or fiber. But some studies should organic food may have more antioxidants and micronutrients.
Based on nutrition alone, organic ingredients may not be such a great deal. However, when you look at what is not in organic food, things start to look better. Organic products contain no pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms.
So Which Organic Foods Should You Buy For Cooking?
If you have a limited budget and want to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to organic foods, buy these foods:
- Milk, cream, and butter. There aren’t any recipes that call for antibiotics or bovine growth hormones. So, why would you want them in your dairy products?
- Meat. The same reasons that make drinking organic milk better apply to meat as well. In the US, livestock is subjected to a wide range of chemicals and medications. It’s not good for them and not good for you either.
- Eggs. Since you should already be buying organic chicken, you might as well make sure the eggs are organic as well.
- Corn and corn products. The majority of the corn in the US is genetically modified. Many people have concerns about the health risks that genetically engineered foods pose.
- Fruit without a peel. Soft fruit like peaches, nectarines, and berries are particularly susceptible to pesticides. However, it is also worth buying organic apples, cherries, and pears.
Knowing more about organic products leads to better choices when shopping and cooking.