Why should young people cook at home? Let me count the reasons.
Can I just say that when I first moved back to New York after college, I inherited a yellow linoleum metaphorical shack for a kitchen with an oven I used for storage. And yet, there was still no excuse for not cooking. Going out to eat is a favorite thing of mine, and I would never discourage it. But you’ve still got to cook for yourself, and here’s why.
(1) Satisfaction: It’s 9:00 p.m., you’ve just gotten off the subway, and you’re starving and exhausted. You can either get takeout, or cook. As a working girl, I definitely understand the appeal of letting someone else do what falls into the ‘domestic’ category. But more often than not, you’re stuck with the same choices that just happen to be located in between your office and your apartment, and frankly, that’s probably not what you really feel like eating. Disregarding the expense or health issues surrounding takeout, maybe what you really want is a nice piece of fish, or an amazing grilled cheese, or some seriously juicy steak. Please, promise me, you will never settle! Knowing how to cook means knowing how to cook well and quickly. I could show you how to make all three of those dinners in fewer than ten minutes. Stock up your freezer on the weekends or via Fresh Direct. You’ll never have to compromise again.
(2) Accounting: Cash and calories. Very few of us have any of either to spare. Let’s start with calories. I’ve been to cooking school, so I know what goes into those amazing restaurant dishes. It’s butter. You may not know it’s in there, but I promise you, it is. In terms of money, I guarantee you that for the same $6 you spend on a burrito, you can have a three-course meal at home. And it’s rarely just $6 when you’re out — there are delivery minimums, tips, and the temptation to order egg rolls. Also, you’re paying rent on your apartment. Your kitchen is worth at least one fifth of that real estate. Don’t let it go to waste! Save all that money, and all those calories, and splurge on some seriously delicious nights out.
(3) Nostalgia: Now that I live in London, far from my family, I am so thankful that I know how to make my mom’s signature rainy-day vermicelle. Comfort served up on a plate. And I’ve learned how to make my grandmother’s Moroccan tagines and my uncle’s matzoh brittle. It just means that some horrible day in the future, if they’re not here, I can remember them, and taste what it was like to be with them, and I can pass that on. That’s precious.
(4) Independence: This is going to sound really mean. But I mean it with love. If you still need your mom to boil water for you, you may seriously need to start thinking about growing up. Your mom agrees with me.
(5) It’s cool: Cooking is such a part of the zeitgeist, that you have every excuse to learn how to whip up something amazing, share it, regale yourself in the oohs and ahhs, and feel appropriately proud and accomplished.
So get that oven fixed, wipe down that yellow linoleum, and get cooking. If you just don’t know where to start, here’s where to begin:
(1) Think about your favorite foods. Now stock up on whichever of those can live in your pantry or freezer, and keep them there, so they’re always where they should be: waiting for you.
(2) Invest in a good chef’s knife and a good stainless steel pot. They don’t have to be expensive. If you go to a cookware shop, and tell them you want something basic, long-lasting, and inexpensive, they will point you in the right direction.
(3) Find some good, easy, simple recipes that don’t take too long or use too many ingredients or tricky methods. I think, hopefully, that my Dinner for Two and Working Girl Dinners columns can help you here. Once you’ve learned by following instructions, you can learn to create almost anything.
(4) Appoint yourself a cooking mentor. Your mom, your best friend — even Bobby Flay. There is a lot to be learned from watching the Food Network. Just watch what they do — that’s how they learned, and there’s no better way.