Eating a nutritionally balanced diet is almost impossible if you rely on takeout or fast food. Anyone can cook adequately with a little interest, knowledge, and minimum of equipment.
The first and most important requirement is the will to cook, followed by good co-ordination and timing skills, and understanding what cooking is all about.
Briefly, cooking means application of heat to food. Marinating or pickling relies on chemically altering (denaturing) food.
When proteins are heated, they become easier to masticate and digest, but overcooking causes them to become tough. Be careful not to overcook your vegetables, pasta and grains to mush as some people do. Make it al dente, i.e crunchy to the teeth.
For a balanced diet, you can refer to Canada’s Food Guide, or for that matter, any well-researched food guide. Get a basic cookbook (How to Cook Everything by Mark Bitman is a good start or even better is Cooking, and 1011 Recipes by H. Berberoglu e-mail address on this web page), a 25 or 30 cm blade good-quality chef’s knife, 10 cm. Paring knife, heavy-bottomed pan (large enough for one to two or four portions pending on your needs), 25 cm. Diameter heavy-bottomed pot, digital scale, measuring spoon set, one measuring cup, roasting pan with insert, stainless steel bowl for tossing salad. You can expand this list as you go along.
Before you start, make sure all the ingredients are assembled, as fresh as possible, i.e buy, if possible twice a week, but never once fortnightly. Buy fresh food only, nothing value added i.e pre-washed salads, salad dressings, peeled carrots, peeled garlic, ground pepper, dips, chips etc.
Cut everything as required before starting to cook and have all ingredients on the counter.
Heat the pot or pan well before pouring oil or putting butter, sauté onions until they are translucent and then proceed.
If sautéing (cooking in a frying pan with little fat) make sure to stir the food or it will burn.
If you want to roast, make sure the oven is at the right temperature, and place the meat or fish or chicken on a rack, then in the roasting pan to allow hot air to circulate around the food and in the centre of the oven.
Here is a simple and quick recipe you can whip up in a few minutes providing you have all the ingredients ready and move at an adequate pace.
2 chicken breasts (boned and skinned) diced 2 cm cubes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
¼ red pepper, diced
¼ green pepper diced
½ carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
2 peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (if possible fresh, otherwise a good brand of canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzano from Italy)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp tarragon (dry), if using fresh 2 tsps finely minced
Heat the pan, add oil. Sauté chicken for two to three minutes, remove and keep hot.
Add onions, sauté for three minutes add all vegetables and toss frequently for three to four minutes. Add a little salt and pepper. Put the chicken back in the pan, add tarragon and tomatoes. Heat through, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve with baguette, and romaine salad with a vinaigrette dressing.
The best dessert is fresh fruit, or you can cook compote on the weekend and use it for two to three days.