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Things I wish I knew about food and cooking 7 years ago

7 years ago, I was an undergrad moving into my first apartment with a kitchen. Two of my roommates had a crazy idea. They wanted to not get meal plans and instead just cook all our food. My other roommate and I thought that was ridiculous, but we were at least willing to give it a try. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision for me, as I found that cooking allows me to make healthier, tastier, and cheaper food and it's actually pretty fun.

That being said, I was pretty shitty at cooking back then. Here is a list of some of the key things that I've learned since then, in no particular order:

  1. There is a universal cheat code for making delicious vegetables: roast them. Put the oven at like 450, chop up the vegetables into relatively small pieces, put some oil, salt, and pepper on them, stick them on a baking sheet, and then roast them until the outsides are crispy (maybe flipping them over once or twice as they cook). If you want to spice it up, add some garlic or put on some cheese or lemon juice after they're done. I've done this for broccoli, brussel sprouts, string beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, tomatoes, asparagus, and probably some others I've forgotten. It always works. I cannot overstate how much tastier roast vegetables are than steamed vegetables. It's just completely and utterly different. The only downside is that you have to wash the baking sheet afterwards, which can get kind of messy, but that's a small price to pay.

  2. Speaking of vegetables, sweet potatoes are essential. Cheap, nutritious, great tasting, and they last for a long time without going bad. If you don't want go through the trouble of cutting one up and roasting it, just stick it in the microwave for 5-10 minutes. It's not as good as roasting, but it's pretty damn good and very easy.

  3. There is huge variability in cheese quality, and it's largely independent of price. Sure, the cheapest of the cheap is pretty shitty, but beyond that, there's no telling how good a cheese will be. So I have a shorcut for you: Cabot Cheese. They sell that brand at all the grocery stores here, it's not particularly expensive (it's one of the cheapest beyond the real bottom-of-the-barrel stuff), and it tastes fantastic. Far better than the vast majority of more expensive cheeses. This one is my favorite.

  4. You can get groceries delivered most places. I use Peapod, but there are plenty of other competitors. This is an absolutely ridiculous time saver. The time I spend grocery shopping in an entire year is probably about equal to the time a typical person spends every week. There are obvious downsides, like less flexibility, service fees, less choice when picking out fresh ingredients, etc. But how much is your time worth to you?

  5. Buy meat in bulk and freeze it. It's way cheaper that way, often half the price of a more reasonable sized package. It's easier to work with smaller packages, but you can just buy freezer bags and separate the huge packs of meat into manageable portions.

  6. Cabbage is really cheap and healthy, and it basically soaks up the flavor of whatever you put it with. So you can do stuff like this.

  7. Whole milk is delicious. I used to think that I didn't like milk, so I stopped drinking it for a while. But when I tried some whole milk that was left over from a recipe, I realized that it's awesome. I think the reason I thought I didn't like milk is because my parents would buy skim or 1%.

  8. Everyone knows that you can buy lunchmeat from the deli counter at a grocery store. It's great, but it's usually expensive. What I didn't realize until more recently was that you can also buy prepackaged lunchmeat for much, much cheaper. It's lower quality, but if you put it on some good bread with good cheese (see above) and other toppings, it's perfectly fine.

  9. A very cheap and easy recipe for making incredibly delicious chicken thighs.

  10. The key to making great burgers: there really isn't one, so don't worry about it. I take ground beef straight out of the package, coat it in salt, and fry it. Delicious. No need to add weird ingredients, mix things together, form perfectly shaped patties, etc.

  11. A mixture of kielbasa, beans, tomatoes, and pretty much any other vegetables/leftovers/whatever you have is a decent meal, and it can easily be made in mass quantities. Leftovers are convenient.