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How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

Thorin Klosowski, Gawker Media

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

For years, I've hated cooking. I've hated the time it took to make something worth eating. The research it took to find a recipe I wanted. I hated the hours of laboring over a stove that ended with a poorly salted, awful meal. Recently, I figured out how to outsource my least favorite parts, and now, cooking is a breeze.

I've mentioned before that I really despise cooking, and for the longest time I left it at that. I didn't like cooking, and nothing about that was going to change. It wasn't just cooking either. From coming up with meals and making a grocery list to actually going to a store, I couldn't stand any of it. But then, slowly but surely, I outsourced each smaller part of the process-from meal planning to shopping-and eventually learned to enjoy myself. Here's what I did.

Let Someone Else Pick Your Meals

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

We've talked before about the importance of planning weekly meals, but my problem has always been the fact that I'm not creative enough to come up with more than a couple ideas for meals. Left to my own devices, I'll eat pizza and burritos all day long. To keep myself interested, I had to hunt for an unconventional meal plan.

It's not difficult to find apps that will generate a meal plan based on recipes you enter, but for someone like me, that wasn't enough. I needed someone to just tell me what to eat. After checking out a few services (including the previously mentioned Eat This Much), I settled on eMeals.

eMeals is simple: you pick a meal plan from options like, "classic meals," "low calorie," "simple gourmet," or "vegetarian," and for $58 a year eMeals sends you a meal plan every week. I do not pick the meals, the ingredients, or anything else. eMeals generates plans based on sales at grocery stores and what's in season, so I'm never stuck hunting down off-season ingredients. As you'd expect, you use pretty much everything you buy at the grocery store since meals use ingredients from each other. You also get a smartphone app that includes the recipes as well as your weekly shopping list.

This is essentially roulette with your meal planning because there's really no guarantee that you'll actually enjoy the meals you're given each week. While you can skip any meals you don't want, the purpose of something like eMeals is to take away your choices so you try new foods and learn how to cook all kinds of different ingredients. This isn't for everyone, but for someone like me, it's perfect. Recipes usually only have around five or six simple steps, nothing is more complicated than boiling, frying, or baking, and every meal is different than the last.

Where I once was sticking to meal staples that I knew how to make, I'm now trying something new every single day. Just this past week I've made meals like "bulgur pilaf with roasted beets and pine nuts," and "thai coconut-curry stir-fry." That's a decent step up from burritos or three can chili.

For me, the biggest hurdle with cooking at home was the process of knowing what to cook. Automating that process made the idea of cooking less terrifying and more interesting.

Automate Your Grocery Shopping

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

With the meal planning taken care of and a grocery list in hand, the next facet of cooking I needed to tackle was grocery shopping. I've long held that the grocery store is hell on earth, but it's surprisingly easy to streamline trips to store to make them a little less terrible. The main trick? Don't go to the actual grocery store unless you have to.

I've talked about this before, and my system is pretty straightforward:

  1. Automate everything you can: I use Amazon's Subscribe and Save so I don't have to worry about buying hygiene products, dry goods, and oils. During the summer, I also hit up the farmer's market on my street to buy produce, so my trip to the grocery store is usually pretty short. For produce, AmazonFresh is also an option if it's available in your city.
  2. Go to the same grocery store whenever possible, and try organize your list like you walk through the store: I tend to just memorize the bulk of my list, but eMeals does a good job of organizing the shopping list by aisles in the store for you. This way, you can get in and get out quickly. Pretty much every grocery list app will do this for you.
  3. Pick your shopping day: Pick a shopping day that you can go at the same time every week. I go Sunday mornings, and it's usually pretty empty in the store. You'll have the best chance of getting empty stores early in the morning or late in the evening.

It's a pretty simple idea, but when you already dislike cooking, going to the grocery store is just the icing on the cake of awful. If you do it right, it doesn't have to be, and you can get to cooking without the memories of a terrible trip to the store keeping you down.

Take the Time to Study the Cooking Basics

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

Obviously you can't outsource your cooking, but considering you've barely done any work up to this point, you're already in the home stretch. Still, I needed to buff out my skill set so I could cook the meals eMeals was dealing me.

We talk a lot about kitchen shortcuts here at Lifehacker but many of those techniques are difficult to really master. Before getting to the point where I would ever even need to deseed a pomegranate in seconds, I needed to master the basics.

For me, this mostly had to do with prep and vocabulary. The differences between chopped and diced didn't matter to me because I always thought it was just an aesthetic thing. Once I thought about it and realized it affects cooking time, I started actually doing it correctly. The same goes for all kinds of kitchen lingo-the more I understood why I was prepping them in a certain way, the more likely I was to do it properly. Luckily, you can learn most of this just by reading or watching YouTube videos.

Likewise, as I cooked more, I also learned smaller little tricks to make things easier on myself. Simple basics like cleaning as you go along, using the right tools, reading the entirety of a recipe, and skipping peeling produce made things easier on me. Finally, once I had an understanding of the basics, I could actually implement some of those shortcuts.

Always Have a Disaster Recovery Plan

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

The problem with the sort of roulette-style meal planning of eMeals is that meals don't always end up tasting that great to me. I'm willing to try everything, but sometimes a beet is just a beet and there's nothing that'll make it taste awesome (sorry beet fans).

Early on I realized I needed a disaster recovery plan. This basically means two things: have meals on tap that are easy and fast to cook in case things go wrong, and have an attitude where's it's okay to fail. If you need some easy meal ideas, we've covered a handful of easy-to-make recipes that are easy to keep ingredients on hand for.

More importantly, I had to teach myself to fail gracefully. If a meal didn't work out, instead of apologizing for it, I had to just deal with it and eat it, or make another one if things went truly terribly. It's okay to fail, and I often found that if I didn't apologize for it before setting in on the table with priming statements like, "sorry this is burnt," or "this might be terrible because I over salted it," my dinner guests just ate away happily.

Relax and Make Yourself Comfortable in the Kitchen

How I Learned to Like Cooking by Outsourcing the Worst Parts

Finally, the last real problem I needed to tackle was the fact I was always a bit uncomfortable in the kitchen. I never had much confidence in the kitchen and I never had the patience to hang out and cook for 30 minutes or an hour.

The confidence came from cooking more and just taking my time with even the simpler meals like breakfast. At some point I also realized that one of my problems with cooking was that I'd just get bored staring at food, so I bought a cheap Bluetooth speaker so I could listen to podcasts while cooking. It's an obvious solution, but it made it so that even if I didn't look forward to cooking, I looked forward to getting caught up on all my podcasts.

Obviously what makes you comfortable in the kitchen is different, but don't be afraid to try a few things out. Growing up, I never really understood why people had tiny TVs in their kitchen, but it makes a lot more sense to me now. When you cook every day, you spend a surprising amount of time just waiting around.

Nowadays, I cook nearly every meal at home-including lunch and dinner. Every one of those meals is different, healthy, and well-rounded. I save money by not eating out, I'm constantly learning about new foods, and I rarely spend more than 30 minutes on a meal. Somehow, with all that, I'm also just enjoying myself in the kitchen.

Photos by Aaron Amat, William Ross, Cory Doctorow, and Dave Ware.

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