This one goes out to all the people who sometimes watched The Food Network instead of MTV or Disney Channel during their pre-teen years! On behalf of Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown and the slough of Iron Chefs, both American and Japanese, I salute you. These guys are giants, but the truth is, anybody can cook — not just those saturated by The Food Network.
Personally, I don’t have a ton of cooking experience, but I still love to experiment in the kitchen. It can be as simple as throwing random ingredients into a steamy stir-fry (a heavily sauce-dependent venture, in my experience). And who knows, one day you may build up your skills to making dishes as complex as glazed oysters with osetra caviar or horseradish crusted salmon medallions (I copied those directly from the Gary Danko website). This week, look out for my favorite tips and tricks to increasing the amount of time you spend in front of your stove. I’ll cover various ways you can improve your cooking and maximize the amount of flame emojis you precariously place in your next food-related Instagram caption.
Learn How to Cook More:
Switch off cooking dinner with your housemates: This may be the single most helpful strategy for learning how to cook. Get into a team of four to five. Everyone gets a day, Monday through Friday. On your day, you pay and cook dinner for the team. When it’s not your day, you get to come home to a home-cooked meal. There will be failures and triumphs, but I guarantee that you will get so much better at cooking, portioning and shopping by the year’s end.
Host and attend cooking competitions: There is absolutely nothing lame about organizing a cooking competition with your friends. Watch an episode of Chopped or Iron Chef (both on Netflix) for a good template on how your own contest should be run. Judging should be very specific and judges should use a lot of fancy-talk to describe food creations. Some great, cheap secret ingredient ideas include jicama, Lucky Charms marshmallows, capers, popsicles and crème fraîche. And if you need someone to help judge, I may just be your guy.
Host and attend BBQs: Spring quarter is coming up. Dust off the old grill or rent out the one in your apartment complex or dormitory. Grilled meats and vegetables taste much better on the open flame. Preferably grill near a pool or body of water. It’s the fastest way to boost your chill-to-grill ratio.
Picking out your ingredients: There are an absurd amount of grocery stores in the Davis area. Let me help you sift through them so you can get only the best for whatever it is you decide to cook:
Health food/quality produce: The Nugget, Whole Foods, Davis Food Co-op, Davis Farmers Market
These places can be immensely overpriced. You’re paying for quality and for ingredients you may not be able to find elsewhere. The Nugget is probably the best overall supermarket in Davis. On top of quality ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere, it’s locally owned and their sandwiches, açaí bowls and salad bar are all better than the same items at Whole Foods (Although Whole Foods has a pretty impressive beer selection). Nugget is essentially a better, local Whole Foods, with a more unique personality. The Davis Food Co-op also has a great selection and has the best nut/grain/dry food dispenser bar of anywhere in Yolo.
The best produce in Davis, however, comes from the Davis Farmers Market (also dubbed FarMar or The Marmer’s Farket). It’s held at 3rd and C every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. You can find delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as free samples and food stands. Try the frozen apple juice and the Bolani bread samples. It’s also a great way to feel connected to the Davis community.
Ingredients on a budget: Grocery Outlet, Bargain Market, Dollar Tree, Safeway
You can find a lot of good deals at Grocery Outlet (GrossOut), just be sure to check expiration dates before you buy if a deal looks too good to be true. My favorite thing to get there is an entire pack of 15 to 20 bacon strips for $2.50. If you’re trying to put together a kitchen from scratch, Dollar Tree has spatulas, rags, egg-beaters, tongs, measuring cups and more for a dollar a pop. No dorm kitchen would be complete without help from the Dollar Tree. Safeway tends to have pretty good prices as well, and they’re open 24 hours (making crème brûlée a real possibility at 2 a.m.). Be warned, though: their beer selection is atrocious.
Best value: Costco, BevMo
You won’t believe how much you can get for how little you pay at Costco. You wield quite a bit of power if you’re a college student with a Costco card. If you’re cooking for yourself, it’s almost impossible to go through their enormous produce packages by yourself. That’s why I like to stick to items with long expiration dates and avoid perishables unless I can split them with somebody. BevMo, like Costco, is a 15-minute drive from campus. But both are well worth it. It has by far the best beer selection in all of Yolo. If you love beer, I suggest getting lost in aisles three to seven at BevMo the next time you’re in Vacaville.
“Now you’ve got a friend in the dinin’ room business”
You can reach JONAH VERSMAN at email@example.com.