I’m always amazed when people tell me that they can’t cook. First of all, that is one dangerous assertion to make around people of the opposite sex — the ability to create delicious food, particularly for another person, is extremely attractive, so no points for you, Mr. Easy Mac. Secondly, why not? Unless you grew up living entirely off of street vendors and takeout or live in an apartment where entering the kitchen is a health hazard, you have had a place to cook at your disposal all of your life.
So even though you will attempt exclamations of lack of time in your defense, there is really no excuse for not being able to put together something that didn’t come entirely from a box, can or dining hall.
Fortunately for you, there are a couple of crazily simple things that you can do to make your life easier and your dinner tastier without a whole lot of hassle.
1. Making tomato sauce? Spice it up! Garlic, pepper and basil are all important and, admittedly, famous factors in turning a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes — which goes for about a buck at any grocery store — into a palatable red sauce for your spaghetti.
Want to make it even better? Sautee some onions at the beginning and add in a little bit of sugar (preferably brown) when cooking your sauce to cut its acidity.
2. Out of eggs? No sweat! A lack of eggs does not preclude baked goods. A good alternative that mimics the structural properties of an egg in a batch of cookies or a molasses cake is one tablespoon corn starch, one tablespoon milk or soy milk and two tablespoons cold water.
Be sure that you mix it up thoroughly before stirring in to your batter, though — corn starch clumps are worse than the Green Café buffet table at 2 a.m.
3. Stir fry? Give it some flavor! Combining the simple trio of peanut butter (natural is best), soy sauce and a touch of honey makes for a pretty killer sauce on your stir-fried vegetables. Oh, and while we’re at it, a quick plug — stir fry is insanely easy to make.
Get your hands on some frozen vegetables and rice noodles (they cook in a jiffy) and cook them up until they are done or you are too hungry to care.
4. Starved for protein? Hooray for tofu! All right, I know — you break out in a cold sweat and feel a primal urge to run when confronted with these chewy white blocks of soy.
True, tofu by itself is bland, but that’s why most people don’t eat it plain. Marinate cubes in your favorite sauce and cook it in a frying pan or bread slices as you would chicken and bake them in the oven. When properly prepared, tofu ceases to be scary and instead is your new culinary best friend.
5. Like a particular food? Don’t overdo it! Sure, you may want to eat ketchup on everything you eat, but that doesn’t mean that you should. It could be that there are lots of other flavors out there on which you are missing out.
Particularly when cooking for somebody else, try to be gentle with potent flavors. Garlic strong enough to wilt flowers and chili spicy enough to take an oil stain out of a driveway are not nice things to have to eat.
And the most important thing to do is to get a good cook book! There are a lot of crappy ones out there, and even more sketchy recipes on the Internet, but old standbys like The Joy of Cooking or Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook have been through enough iterations that many of the recipes in them are actually good and have enduring charm.
Once you have gotten practice with cooking from a recipe, it will be much easier to make something without one.
Oh, and one more thing: You’re a wall, Scrivens! Let’s Go Big Red Hockey!