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How to Love Cooking

This is a guest post by Forest from Frugal Zeitgeist. Forest writes about frugality, finance, minimalism and lifestyle. In this article, Forest shares his experiences in the kitchen. Cooking great meals is a great way to save money and stay healthy, but it’s a skill that I haven’t developed for myself. Passion can boost motivation, though, and this article might help me find that passion about preparing meals.

When Flexo wrote about alternative financial resolutions he mentioned the idea of cooking more often at home. Cooking at home is often described as a way to save money. It will do that if you replace your dining-out habit, but it does much more than just improve your finances. Cooking can quickly become an enjoyable hobby, and when you get into the groove you can even use it to impress your friends. The health aspects cannot be overlooked, either. Replacing processed foods and restaurant foods with home-cooked versions, where you know the ingredients, will affect you and your family’s diet in a positive way.

But you can’t just expect to fire up the stove and produce an award-winning dish. Learning to cook takes time and patience. You will fail, and you will find that at times cooking isn’t as economical as you originally thought it would be. Investing in a stock of spices and speciality ingredients can quickly blow a shopping budget!

In this post I want to share my journey into the wonderful world of cooking at home and then hopefully convince you to make it a regular activity and a beloved hobby.

How I found my passion in cooking

ToastI never learned to cook anything as a kid. My kitchen wizardry stopped at being able to “cook” a perfect slice of toast and heat an egg in hot oil. Sometimes I would experiment, but I’ll skip the tales of my candy-bar sandwich and curry hot chocolate. When I moved out of my parents’ home at the age of seventeen, I sucked at cooking.

Luckily I had a corner store within twenty seconds of my house. I became a wiz at putting plastic-wrapped steak bakes and hamburgers into the microwave, and later I even progressed to turning on the oven to warm up a frozen pizza. Breakfast cereal was a favorite dinner of mine too. Cheerios for dinner! Yum!

This went on for quite some time. When I turned eighteen and started to throw regular pints of beer into the mix, my belly decided to grow big and round. Through the age of twenty, not much changed apart from my pants size.

Weight is easy to put on and reasonably easy to fix, but the bad habits had been affecting another aspect of my life, something not immediately apparent to most around me. As my belly grew, so did my overdraft. My money situation wasn’t going too well.

In addressing the cash flow problem, I knew I had to make all sorts of cut-backs. It wasn’t exactly a secret to me that my processed food habit was costing me a lot of money and I decided to tackle it by learning how to cook at home. This was also around the same time that I became vegetarian, which seriously reduced the selection of ready-made foods I could purchase at the corner store.

One of my first trips to the supermarket after the decision involved me stocking up on spaghetti, cans of tomatoes, dried basil, salt, pepper and lots of fruit.

I remember throwing myself head first into cooking, just like the way I refused to read instructions when I got a Transformer for Christmas. I didn’t read any cookery books.

For one of my first home cooked meals, I threw a few cans of tomatoes into a large wok with a little oil. I tossed in a load of basil, a little salt and let it simmer for quite a few hours. The result was better than you may think for a first attempt, and although the work was minimal, I enjoyed throwing some stuff in a pot and coming out with an edible meal. I was intrigued enough to learn more.

I continued to develop my “tomatoes and stuff in wok” speciality and would try adding different veggies and herbs. One important thing I did do was learn the basics. This included cooking eggs in their various forms, the basics about herbs, simple stir fry, fried rice, stews and chilis. Occasionally I would follow a recipe.

The big change for me came when I quit my job and moved from England to Canada. I found food to be even more expensive in Canada, and my budget was very thin. I had left behind a high-paying job in London and was now washing dishes in a pub kitchen. Of course being around cooking all day was part of my inspiration, but working out how the hell to feed myself on minimum wage was the real kick in the butt.

I started to buy a lot of raw ingredients and had moved in with my girlfriend. A student and a kitchen boy needed some entertainment and that was where Manjula came in! We enjoyed making dinner together, even though it was stir fry most nights. Cooking with your family and friends can be a lot of fun and a motivation to push yourself forward. We both enjoyed curry so we learned how to cook it properly. I started to search for recipes online, and I discovered Manjula’s Kitchen on Youtube. Manjula cooks a lot of great Indian dishes and her lackluster commentary creates a homey, “I can do this” vibe that I found quite warming. After my first Manjula curry I was hooked.

I was being reeled into this cooking thing.

When you make that great meal, something you never thought you could make, it’s like you finally get it. Cooking can be drudgery, especially when you have to cook for many and you just don’t enjoy it. I look at it like painting. Painting a house is boring as hell, and the outcome is nice, but nothing special. Paint a picture and you enjoy the whole process and the outcome immensely. If you approach cooking like painting a picture you’ll enjoy it very much.

TortillasNext up for me was my other favorite food, bread. I had a drunken conversation with a Mexican lady who convinced me tortillas were just flour and water cooked in a flat pan. I had flour and water at home so a day or so later I mashed them together into a dough, rolled them into tortilla-shaped discs using a Snapple bottle, and fried them in a hot pan. Like my very first tomato experiment, it worked again — not perfect, but within reach of being able to be called bread!

This put me on a bread kick and I turned to the internet for a real loaf. The first recipe I ever used is one I still use today, and variations on the dough are easy to experiment with. There is something calming about kneading dough and something very satisfying about eating it hot out of the oven.

Where I am today?

I cook almost every day. Cooking is a hobby and something I do almost without thinking. I’ll happily tackle any kind of cusine and challenge myself to new recipes on a regular basis. I’m not afraid to pick up something I have never seen before and experiment with it. I still make a lot of mistakes but that is half of the fun.

Along with my confidence, my knowledge of food sourcing and nutrition has increased. I try to buy in-season foods and balance my diet with meals that contain the right amount of carbs, proteins, good fats and all of that stuff.

I absolutely adore cooking. Food is something we all need, but good food is something we all love. The smugness and satisfaction from being able to match meals at your favorite restaurants is unbelievable. Cooking isn’t an art or skill that only a few people have, it can be learned. If you keep at it, you will learn. You’ll want to share your new-found love with friends, and they’ll get the bug too.

Tips to start cooking

Starting off any new endeavor that you hope to grow into a hobby can be tough work. If things don’t work out the first time, it is easy to give up. Often, fear of failure, poor early results and lack of time push people back to TV dinners and prepared meals. Like any feat you want to achieve, you need to go in knowing that you will fail, you will make terrible food, and your journey from a person who reads recipes to a full-fledged cook will not be linear.

Making failure part of the learning process will guard your self-esteem enough to help you get through the rough patches. Set goals and make time for cooking. Instead of going to the pub, stay home and follow a recipe, bake a cake for the family, or go shopping for a cook book.

I would suggest you set goals centered around being able to cook your favorite meal or a favorite meal for your family, learning to cook a few dishes of a certain cuisine, or replacing a regular store-bought item with a homemade alternative. The goal should be something that matters to you and keeps you focused. A solid option is baking bread that is better than the store variety. It’s not easy but a skill that is a lot fun — and messy — to learn.

As your cooking progresses something will happen. Your lack of confidence will subside and you’ll fall into the groove I mentioned earlier. For me, indicators of this were being able to add ingredients without measurement and being able to open anyone’s pantry and put together a meal without a recipe book. At this stage, you won’t be a master chef, but you’ll be competent and confident enough to take on any recipe.

Experimentation is very important and is key to discovering the joy of cooking. If you think chocolate and chili pepper would be good on pork, try it. If you are bored at home, just grab some random ingredients and see what you can cook up.

Make cooking social

Keeping cooking a lonseome pursuit could stop it from progressing into a full-fledged hobby, so it’s important to share. Sharing the cooking and eating experience with friends and family is one of the best parts.

I remember baking cakes as a young kid with my grandma, and I think baking and cooking with kids is a great learning tool. I wish cooking with my parents had been a part of my whole life. Cooking with your partner also brings in a new intimacy to a relationship and shares a responsibility that is often left to one person, most often the woman.

Expanding beyond family, it’s great to host potluck meals or host a dinner party on rotation. Friends of mine set up a little club where four couples set four Saturday nights aside. Each Saturday night, the eight people would all visit one house, and the hosts would cook a three-course meal. The result was that it pushed everyone in that group to try to up their cooking game, and it was somewhat competitive. The dinner parties were successful enough that they have all improved their cooking skills.

Get started

AsparagusI hope I have you convinced to give it a try and I hope you have overcome any apprehension. You may not even enjoy cooking at first, but you’ll enjoy the challenge. Here are some tips to help you get started. Please come back to let us know how it went.

  • Cook a basic flat bread that can be used for lunches, side dishes and more.
  • Bake a real loaf of bread. This is the very first basic bread recipe I ever used, and it’s good.
  • Find an online video recipe for your favorite restaurant meal and try to make it.
  • Use the ingredients in your pantry and create a random meal. It doesn’t matter if it turns out bad, just mess around!
  • Try another favorite dish or two from another part of the world.
  • Invite a friend over for dinner and you cook. They can bring the wine.

Good luck with your new money-saving, healthy hobby.

Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions, or ask for any resources, ideas or anything that comes to mind. If you love cooking, what inspired you to start?

Photos: John McClumpha, jeffreyw, woodleywonderworks

Updated April 13, 2016 and originally published January 6, 2012.

About the author

Forest Parks blogs about frugality, finance, minimalism and lifestyle at Frugal Zeitgeist. View all articles by .

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I love cooking, but when you have kids and a house and activities and a business, it is VERY rare that one cooks for fun. Most of the time it’s more of a matter of “I guess peanut butter sandwiches it is again tonight.”

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avatar 2 Forest

Ha ha, well the mighty sandwich is an art in itself and with an extra 5 mins (I know you may not have that always) you can create a masterpiece. A favorite of mine is baby spinach, cheddar cheese and mustard, simple and the kids may even like it!

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avatar 3 wylerassociate

I only started to learn how to cook when I moved to AZ and started living on my own. I regret not learning how to cook earlier because not just can it be fun, it helps reduce my expenses because now I only eat out 1 maybe 2 times a week. Plus, it’s a learning experience watching shows on the travel channel & food network when you see these brilliant chefs making amazing dishes.

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avatar 4 Forest

Hey Wyle, at least you have learned now and you are continuing your learning. Cooking shows can be on too much at times but if you find some awesome chefs they are a great places to learn.

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avatar 5 lynn

The show on the Cooking channel, David Rocco’s Italy, has great and simple recipes for singles. Easy stuff and good for you.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Italian is a great cuisine to start with. Often reasonably easy and affordable. I loved Jamie’s Italy.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I love to cook. Time can be an issue but it is often just dealing with priorities. My favorite thing is to modifiy a recipe. They are only a guideline.

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avatar 8 Forest

Absolutely, when you have been cooking a while you only need glance at a recipe and your mind does the rest of the work.

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avatar 9 lynn

Janine: That’s called ‘playing with your food’! LOL

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Ha ha, yes playing with food is encouraged in my household!

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I decided to learn how to cook because I didn’t have a boyfriend.

I had recently graduated from college and moved back home. My friends from home had serious boyfriends or were getting married. I was pretty lonely and I figured that I would make the most of my “single” time by doing something productive–learning how to cook. I would find recipes from mainly Martha Stewart magazines. I would write an ingredient list and my mom would buy all the ingredients. (She was thrilled not to have to cook.)

Two recipe boxes full of recipes, I feel that I am an above average cook and Mr. Super Frugalette who couldn’t even make shake and bake chicken when we started dating has turned into a great cook too.

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avatar 12 Forest

That is an awesome story Super Frugalette. Thanks for commenting. What is your favorite thing to cook?

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avatar 13 Anonymous

I think you have to love to cook to be good at it! I am not good at it because I do not like to do it. I think this is true of careers and anything else we attempt. At least, I enjoy the other things I do and get better at it.

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avatar 14 Forest

I think anyone can enjoy cooking. It really is like most things. Hard to start but fun once you get into it. You could try diving in making one of your fave meals.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I agree, krantcents. I’ve got lots more things I enjoy doing which I improve upon because I enjoy doing them. I also wouldn’t want to become so invested in cooking that it did take a lot of time when there’s so many other things in which I’m interested.

This topic has hit something of a nerve for me. I actually think roping people into helping cook some “challenging” dish when those people would be happy with the simple, the easy, and the non-time-consuming, is kind of rude–people like myself who just don’t like to cook would rather spend the time talking and visiting, time which the cook so often doesn’t have because of that dish choice.

My favorite home-cooked dishes are easy and don’t consume a lot of time. I like to save the really complicated stuff for when we go out, and someone else can spend the time cooking while my family and friends can focus on each other.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

Hey Popokigirl, don’t worry it’s just a suggestion, you really don’t HAVE to cook :).

If you really don’t want to do complicated there are a lot of fun quick recipes. Sandwiches and quick breakfast meals can be thrown together in minutes and can still be healthy and creative.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I like cooking and have a lot of fun eating the result. I usually cook on the stove top. I’m not very good with the oven, but I made a great Christmas eve pizza. I’ll post a picture on FB later today. ;)

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avatar 18 Anonymous

Looking forward to the picture. Pizza is a lot of fun to make, especially from scratch.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

My wife’s a Manjula fan. Great to know about your inspiration. I can cook up to an extent that I can survive with my cooking when no one’s around. You gave me enough inspiration to cook at home.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

That is awesome SB, you should blog about your cooking experience. Awesome that other people found Manjula too, she rocks!

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avatar 21 Anonymous

Great post :D I need to get my boyfriend reading this post.

I do like cooking, but I need to find the time and energy to do so. I find that getting organized (like meal planning) helps me like it more.

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avatar 22 Anonymous

Meal planning and a few stock meals are very important. I do a lot of big meals that I freeze in portions and often eat the same meal a few times per week. I eat home-cooked food almost every day but only really do something with special flair 1-2 times per week.

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avatar 23 Cejay

I love to cook. When I got married my first meal was fried chicken, pink in the middle, potatoe salad that was mushy and sugar water that masquraded as sweet tea. Some older ladies at work took me under their wing and started to show me a few things. I love to cook but the only problem is no time. I try to get together with a couple of different people each month and have a meal. A great way to reconnect and relax.

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avatar 24 lynn

LOL My first meal (when we returned from our honeymoon) was pancakes from the box. I wanted to be creative so I added a can of peaches to the mix. Did I mention they were peach halves?? Poor DH tried to eat them and begged off after choking down 2 of them. He was suddenly full. He went to his mom’s to get some good food and our first argument was chronicled. Life sure was easy back then.

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avatar 25 Anonymous

Ha ha ha, I am sure you and hopefully him have improved somewhat?

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avatar 26 Anonymous

Hey Cejay, it does seem time is the one big problem so many face! It’s awesome that you do work hard to make time to still enjoy it though.

When I’m short on time I tend to bulk cook and freeze, works for me and allows me to continue saving money and eating good quality food.

It’s lucky that pink chicken didn’t make you seriously sick, thank goodness for those older ladies!

Thanks for the comment.

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avatar 27 TakeitEZ

Great article! I keep telling myself I don’t have the time to cook at home, but the greater truth is that I can’t afford to keep blowing my budget by eating out always. Thanks for the advice and I plan to start cooking at home this weekend!

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avatar 28 Anonymous

Awesome stuff TakeitEZ, please do come back on Monday and let us know how it went and what you ended up doing.

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avatar 29 Anonymous

Yeah, cooking can be a lot of fun, and it definitely is healthier if you eat at home. I’m not much of a cookbook user myself. I usually just throw ingredients together and hope it turns out!

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avatar 30 Forest

Hey Pam, that is often the most fun way but it is cool to follow a really good recipe and recreate some of your favorite restaurant meals… Then next time you can do it off the top of your head :)

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avatar 31 Anonymous

Great stuff! I’m currently still in the easy pasta and sauce stages, but I’ve added some grilled chicken with seasoning. I’m going to have to try that bread recipe out! I’ll stock up on those ingredients with my next grocery run.

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avatar 32 Forest

That’s awesome Tyler, please come back and let us know how it goes… On basic pasta, I have a simple sauce recipe that is easy and fun:

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avatar 33 Ceecee

Cooking can really save a boatload of money—until you start to get fancy. But you only need a few signature “fancy” dishes, and you can keep the herbs and spices in stock for those. That saves a bit.

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avatar 34 Forest

Very true Ceecee but a fancy home meal still beast the price of a fancy restaurant meal and it tastes all the better knowing you achieved such a level!

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avatar 35 Anonymous

I love to cook, even if it’s just for me. My friends and I do family dinner every week, and we alternate who hosts. It isn’t a competition by any stretch… Just an excuse to get together!

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avatar 36 Anonymous

Kathleen, that sounds great.

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avatar 37 Anonymous

Great tips! I was lucky enough to have parents who taught me how to cook when I was very young – barely out of toddlerhood – and I’ve been grateful for it ever since. I think happy memories of baking with my dad on weekends probably still contributes to my enjoyment of cooking today, and the skills I learned then have certainly had an immeasurable impact on my health, my pocketbook, and my tastebuds over the years!

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avatar 38 Anonymous

Hey 99% Economy. I really wish I had been taught like this but not a lot of us are. The thing is it is never too late to learn so no need for us non-kiddie cooks to get all upset about it :). It’s amazing how much joy food can bring.

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avatar 39 qixx

My biggest secret to being such a good cook is spices. Use them well. My wife will look at me add spice to something and will tell me i’m adding to much. Then she will tell me i’m a better cook than her. Learn that those two items are connected and enjoy. And if there is a food/ingredient you don’t like then find another way to prepare it. Try them all before you decide you don’t like something.

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avatar 40 Anonymous

Hey Qixx, learning the spices is a big step in cooking and enables you to change boring ingredients into many dishes. Stew, Curry and Chili are all more or less the same food differently spiced.

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avatar 41 Anonymous

I recently began cooking much more often than I had ever done before, after I retired. My wife still works so I took over the cooking duies for our household. It can be fun to experiment and try new ideas – and with the internet, there are so many recipes available – all you really need to know is how to read!

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avatar 42 Anonymous

Absolutely Aerdog, it’s great you took over those duties to help out. A lot of men wouldn’t do that.

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avatar 43 Anonymous

I am not bad with cooking, but my girlfriend really enjoys it. She also loves to bake and she is pretty good at it. I am spoiled. ;)

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avatar 44 Anonymous

Hey Kevin, that’s pretty lucky but maybe you should up your game and get some competition going :)

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avatar 45 Anonymous

Nice article. I think I watch too many cooking shows, where the chef or contestant runs around and makes a magical presentation with exotic ingredients and techniques. They make my cooking confidence approach zero. I want hope that I can cook decent meals!

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avatar 46 Anonymous

Hey Jenna, you definitely can. It just takes trying and finding some enjoyment with it.

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