Cooking for Beginners: 10 Recipes for Kitchen Newbies


I enjoy cooking — and I’m not bad at it — but those skills didn’t necessarily come naturally.

There was a lot of trial and error (I nearly burnt down my house by putting a frozen chicken breast in a searing-hot pan of oil once), a lot of wasted ingredients (you can’t eat chicken that’s burnt on the outside but frozen solid in the middle), and a lot of hours spent watching cooking shows to pick up invaluable tips and tricks.

Over the years, this self-imposed practice has turned me into a competent, capable cook. I understand, however, that you may not have the time or interest to cook like I do. That’s OK. It’s not for everyone. But you should know how to make yourself at least a few meals that don’t come out of the microwave or magically appear on your doorstep. (See also: Teach Yourself to Cook)

1. Pot Roast With Root Vegetables

There are many ways you can make a hearty, delicious, rib-sticking pot roast, but one of the easiest is to put a 4 lb. chuck roast in a slow cooker (also called a Crock Pot) and let it cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

Before you set it and forget it, however, you’ll need to season the roast with salt and pepper and sear (just a fancy word for make brown) each side of the roast in a skillet over high heat. Once the roast is seared, put it in the slow cooker with chopped carrots, potatoes, celery, and onion, a cup of water, and a packet of dry onion soup mix; for the soup mix, Lipton’s is probably the easiest to find.

You can put all of these ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, and your meal will be ready by dinnertime. Easy as that. You can make a nice gravy to go along with your pot roast, too — either homemade using the drippings (you’ll need cornstarch or flour) or using a packet (which will only require water).

2. Spaghetti and Garlic Bread

Spaghetti is a quick and simple dish for kitchen newbies to throw together, but cooking the pasta perfectly requires a little TLC.

To start this dish, bring a large pot of water, with a tablespoon of salt added, to a boil. Add in your spaghetti noodles based on how many people you’re feeding. A standard 1 lb. box feeds eight people, so divide the noodles accordingly. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box; you want the noodles to be “al dente” — tender but with a little bite.

As the noodles cook, heat up a prepared pasta sauce on the stove. From the jar will never be as good as homemade, but perhaps you’ll be comfortable enough to accept that challenge in time.

To make the garlic bread, mix a couple dashes of garlic powder, dried Italian herbs, and half a stick of room-temperature butter together and spread it on both sides a loaf of fresh French or Italian bread that’s been cut in half. Put the two halves back together, wrap in foil, and toss it into a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes.

When the pasta has cooked to al dente, drain it, return it to the pot, and add in the sauce and toss. Plate the pasta and serve with piping hot pieces of the crusty garlic bread.

3. Chicken Noodle Soup

Like a soul-soothing pot roast, there are a million and one recipes for chicken noodle soup, most of which are just variations on a very simple starter method.

This recipe for chicken noodle soup is ready in 30 minutes, so you can whip it up in no time on a brisk fall night. The ingredients you’ll need are all ordinary items you have in your fridge or pantry or that can pick up during a quick trip to the supermarket after work.

Here’s a rapid rundown of what to do:

  • Melt butter in a large pot and cook onion and celery in it for about five minutes.
  • Add chicken and vegetable broths, cooked chicken breast, noodles, carrots, basil, oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Eat.

4. Pita Pizzas With Side Salad

I started making pita pizzas a few years ago because I got tired of ordering pizzas that were too large for me to eat by myself. My solution was to make personal-sized pies that, believe it or not, are every bit as good as my favorite delivery joint but much healthier.

I use whole-wheat pitas topped with pizza sauce (Ragu has decent small jars, or you can save the pizza sauce dippers that come with your delivery pizza and use that; spaghetti sauce will work too in a pinch), cheese, a sprinkle of garlic powder, pepper, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Place the pizza directly on the middle rack of a 400-degree oven with a baking sheet on a lower rack to catch any drippings. Bake for about five or six minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve the pizzas with a simple side salad. The bagged kind is just fine; don’t forget the dressing.

5. Pulled Pork Sandwiches With Coleslaw

If you’re put off by the thought of making pulled pork because it requires a lot of work, you shouldn’t be — it hardly requires any work at all.

There are less than five ingredients in this slow-cooker pulled-pork recipe — pork tenderloin, root beer (do I have your attention now?), barbecue sauce, and hamburger buns. Place the pork loin in the slow cooker follow by the root beer. Cover and cook on low for six to seven hours. When the time is up, drain the slow cooker to get rid of all the liquid fat. The pork will fall apart and shred with ease, at which time you can stir in the barbecue sauce. Serve on hamburger buns alongside coleslaw you picked up at the store or that you can make with a prepackaged shredded cabbage mix, a few other ingredients, and this recipe for homemade coleslaw.

6. Steamed Shrimp and Corn on the Cob

Shrimp is a great ingredient for new cooks because it cooks up very fast, no matter the method.

You’ll need to start with the corn on the cob since it takes a while to cook. You can either wrap it in foil and toss it in the 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or let the ears boil on the stove for 30 minutes.

To make steamed shrimp the way I do (the best way!), pour a can of beer in the bottom of a steam pot, bring it to a boil.

Put the shrimp in a freezer bag with a tablespoon or two of Old Bay seasoning and shake to coat all the shrimp. Add the shrimp to the steamer tray, place it on the pot with the beer, and cover. Stir the shrimp every minute or so until they’re pink on both sides.

Butter the corn and squirt the shrimp with lemon before digging in.

7. Chicken Soft Tacos

Save some money and skip your favorite Mexican eatery in favor of making your own chicken soft tacos at home.

I like to grill my chicken in a broiler for this recipe by seasoning the breasts with salt, pepper, and lime, and cooking on each side for about five minutes. When the chicken is cooked through, I let it sit for at least five minutes while I prepare the other ingredients.

Chop a couple of tomatoes, some lettuce, and cilantro; grate your favorite cheese; and grab the salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.  

Next, wrap your flour tortillas in a paper towel that you’ve soaked and rung out, and place them in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Be careful removing them; they’ll be hot.

Build your chicken soft tacos by adding the chicken first, followed by the vegetables then adding the wet toppings like salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

8. Autumn Chopped Salad

A salad is very easy to make, especially when you buy it in a bag — but you don’t have to limit yourself to only what’s in that bag. You can spruce up the salad by adding additional ingredients that you enjoy like dried fruits, fresh veggies, and nuts.

This autumn chopped salad recipe is great any time of the year, but especially in fall because of the seasonal apples and pears. On a bed of romaine lettuce (bought in a bag) add chopped apples, pears, roasted peanuts, dried cranberries, and bacon. Chop the salad with a knife to incorporate all the ingredients evenly, and toss with sweet(ish) dressing like poppy-seed or raspberry-walnut.

Crumble a tangy cheese, like Gorgonzola or feta, on top to finish.

9. Steak and Baked Potatoes

If you’re a meat-and-potatoes person, there’s nothing purer or simpler than a juicy steak.

You have to start with the baked potato first, because it requires a generous amount of cooking time if you’d like to have the best baked potato you’ve ever eaten.

First, poke holes all around the potato — about eight pokes — with a fork. Rub a small amount of olive oil on the potato then sprinkle salt (kosher salt works best) and pepper all around the spud. Place it directly on the rack in a 350-degree oven (with a baking sheet underneath to catch the drippings) for about an hour.

As for the steak, I start with a good cut of beef (a rib eye most of the time) that I season with a brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper on both sides. I plop it onto my broiler pan and let it cook for a few minutes on each side, depending on the size of the steak and my desired doneness. I like my steak medium so about four minutes on each side for a 1-inch-thick steak should do.

When the steak is cooked to your liking, it’s important that you let it sit for a few minutes so the juices can redistribute throughout the steak to keep it tender and juicy.

After five minutes, plate the steak, push open the baked potato with your fingers, and top it with your favorite toppings, like butter and sour cream.

10. Breakfast for Dinner

Even if you don’t know much about cooking, at the very least you should know how to make breakfast. This one is simple: eggs, bacon, toast, and fruit.

In a skillet on medium heat, add a few strips of bacon. Let the bacon cook for five minutes, then turn it over to cook for another three minutes. If the bacon is too loose for your taste, cook it a bit longer to make it crispier. When the bacon is cooked, transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel to soak up the grease.

You can either dump the bacon grease down the sink with the hot water running (if you’re watching your weight) or cook the eggs in the bacon grease (like my grandmother used to do). The latter tastes better, but I usually choose to rinse out the skillet and add butter instead of the bacon grease to cook my eggs. On medium heat again, crack two eggs into the skillet, being careful not to break the yolks. When the whites have barely set, gently flip the eggs over to the other side until the whites are just cooked. Sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper and slide onto a plate.

Meanwhile, make a couple slices of toast to sop up the yolky goodness and garnish the dish with a side of fruit for good measure.

The breakfast of champions at dinnertime is always a winner.

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Guest's picture

This article immediately grabbed me by the headline. As I was reading, it brought back memories to the times when I would have food on the stove and completely get side tracked and forget that I had something on the stove. Thankfully a little light bulb in my head would come on and I would immediately tend to what I was making. One of the meals you listed was spaghetti with garlic bread. That was definitely one of the first meals I learned how to cook.

Guest's picture

30 minutes for the corn is WAY too long. Put the corn in a pot of boiling water, once it has come back to a boil, take it out--it is ready.

Pouring grease down the sink with hot water works for a short distance but it WILL created a clog somewhere down the pipe. Let it cool and put it in an old zipper top bag and put it in the trash. Or, put it in a container that is to be thrown away, leave it in the refrigerator until it has congealed and then into the trash. Much easier on the pipes.

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

What DH50 said! I was going to make EXACTLY the same comments, so I'll just agree. :-)

Guest's picture

Great ideas! But please don't advocate rinsing fat down the drain ... it can cause serious problems within your city's sewer system

Guest's picture

Great ideas for non-chefs! The easiest one I think is breakfast for dinner, but crock pot recipes are not only incredibly simple, but absolutely delicious. I have made quite a few recently since cooler weather is coming, my favorite so far was a pot roast. It only required a few ingredients so it was inexpensive, and it made my apartment smell heavenly!

Guest's picture

Great ideas! I'll definitely give some of these a try! thanks

Guest's picture

I am a real cook and these recipes are downright frightening. It is possible to cook well and produce tasty meals. Using processed ingredients is unnecessary, expensive and unhealthy. Example: why use prepackaged onion soup mix when you can simply use onions and spices to create the same result minus the artificial ingredients and excessive sodium. As for the use of prepackaged salads, I broke my husband of this habit with a simple experiment that I suggest you try. Fill a large bowl with clean water. Empty the contents of a packaged salad bag inside the bowl. Wait ten minutes, remove the salad and look at the water. Then decide if you are ever going to trust the pre-washed label again. You have inspired me to write a cookbook.

Guest's picture

This article was written for people that aren't 'real cooks'. It's simple, encouraging and less intimidating than your onion & spices suggestion. Everyone has to start somewhere and a bagged salad is better than a Big Mac.
I can't cook, I don't know where to start and it's overwhelming. This article, for me, is 10/10

Guest's picture

You might not want to put bacon grease down the sink, even if you run hot water.