Yesterday cubstatik posted an interesting question on his LJ. For us furs that like to cook, how did we get started? I basically said to start slow with some simple recipes and learn various flavor profiles. My Bible has been the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook which I picked up at Costco about 15 years ago. It's been a great place to start. I have also lucked out with recipes in the Food section of newspapers, and now the Internet is an invaluable resource.
It got me thinking about what I was cooking 20 years ago when I was in grad school. My aunt had bought me a wok and a Chinese cookbook. I found quite a few really tasty recipes that were relatively easy as long as I could find the ingredients. That's a key in my book. I hate fancy-schmancy recipes that call for a lot of exotic ingredients. Don't tell me to buy heirloom tomatoes or Russian blue radishes or Portuguese goat cheese. Keep it simple!
But back then I was just as likely to cut up a hot dog and throw it in a pot along with a can of baked beans and call it dinner. I had a few staples like meatloaf. Back then it was "mix together meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, and spice packet, bake, eat." I then found a recipe which called for adding a whole bunch of sauteed vegetables as well as a mixture of really tasty spices. The result was a meatloaf that is probably served in heaven. There is nothing difficult about the recipe, but it does take quite a bit of prep time to cut up all of the veggies.
Another staple was chili con carne. I started off simple with ground beef, a can of tomatoes, a can of beans, and a spice packet. I then replaced the spice packet with my own mixture of chili powder, cayenne, and cumin. I also started adding as many types of peppers as I could find in the store. The batch I made a few days ago included green chiles and Serranos from the garden along with a green pepper and poblano from the store. I also try to use my own tomatoes from the garden or ones that I have frozen from a previous harvest.
There's also a lot of trial and error involved as new recipes are discovered. I recently made an eggplant and sausage casserole from a recipe by Emeril I found online. It ended up overly salted because the recipe called for waaaay too much salt. Add the salt from the sausage and it was a recipe for disaster. Outside of that, however, it was incredibly tasty. You can bet that I'll make it again, but I will tweak the recipe to suit my own taste with a hell of a lot less salt.
Another great way to learn to cook is to get a slow-cooker and a good recipe book. We picked this idea up from echoweaver a couple of years ago as she described tasty recipes she experimented with. I think anjel_kitty can attest to the tastiness of a vegetarian African stew I had made a couple of weeks ago. It was very easy to make and had a very unique blend of spices which gave it an exotic taste. Once again it was made from simple ingredients that you could find in any grocery store.
So don't be afraid to cook and expand your horizons. It's a lot healthier than eating prepared foods all of the time, and there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of eating and savoring your own creation. Start slow and constantly expand your repertoire. When I serve up my chorizo breakfast skillet to guests on Saturday or Sunday mornings, I didn't come up with the recipe overnight. It was an improvisation that evolved over time as I kept combining various tasty ingredients that went well with each other.