If you feel like you'd be more inclined to cook if you didn't have to be a slave recipes, then this post is for you.
Learning to cooking is more like learning various techniques, the exact ingredients often don't really matter. You know this already: a recipe calls for kale but all you have is spinach. No biggie, right? Now imagine everything in a recipe being optional or able to be substituted with like ingredients. So much freedom!
Now, don't get me wrong, I love cookbooks. I read them in bed while relaxing, and they inspire me to try new combinations or remind me of something I love to eat but haven't cooked in awhile. Once in the kitchen, however, I usually ditch them. Most people do. I may pull one out for special company, but for daily routines, way too much work.
Cooking will feel more doable if you can get some basic "templates" (a soup, a braise, a roast, a salad, etc) memorized and experiment from there.
Take 5 minutes now and understand how a basic broth soup is made and you have endless healthy dinners all Fall and Winter ahead using what you already have on hand, or can stock up on next time you are out. You can keep it seasonal, too, which is cheaper and greener than let's say trying to find asparagus this time of year that actually tastes good (I dare you).
Take whatever oil you have on hand and use enough to lightly coat the bottom of a pan and add a chopped up onion, leek, shallot, fennel, etc. Any or a combination of these will do. Soften over medium heat, don't burn your first ingredient! I like to add a pinch of salt here to concentrate the flavor of the foundation of my soup.
Add hard vegetables like chopped carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, cabbage, winter squash, cauliflower, turnips, etc. Cook until slightly softened.
Add some hardy fresh herbs like thyme, chopped sage, oregano, rosemary. Add some salt, start with a teaspoon (I like kosher for soups). Add some pepper or garlic or ginger.
Add whatever stock you have, fresh, or canned, begin with 4 cups and adjust dependig on how many veggies you added- you decide if you want it more like a stew or soup.
Add any dry grain you have, up to a cup. I like barley or brown rice. Cook for at least 20 minutes, simmering. You could also add pasta or canned beans here too. Check for doneness, this isn't an exact science, use your senses.
Add any delicate veggies like fresh spinach or frozen peas (more like 2 minutes), edamame, zucchini, asparagus (more like 5 minutes).
The Finishing Touch
Please, taste your soup before serving it. It should taste good, or even amazing. If it needs something, start with salt and pepper. Add a bit at a time. If it still needs something, try a squeeze of lemon (always have a lemon lying around!) or a splash of white wine.
You'll find that the quality of each ingredient affects the final product. If you are using freezer burned veggies, or a stock or white wine that you don't really like, you won't be as please with the final product as much than if you'd added ingredients along the way that tasted good by themselves.
Try it and tell me about it!