The only rule is veggies

And other guidelines for cooking like a grown up

Even if you grew up in a household that loved to cook, by the time you end up with a tiny closet kitchen of your own, chances are your parents do what my mother does:

“Hey mom, I loved that soup you made last time I was home. How’d you make it?”

“Oh, I just threw what was in the refrigerator in the pot. A little of this. A little of that. I don’t know, I don’t measure anything out.”

Cue internal screaming.

Shit, I never learned how to cook meals that don’t come out of a box

A staple in my kitchen is a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio. Instead of a series of standard recipes, Ruhlman outlines the ingredient ratios for doughs, batters, breads, cakes, stocks, dressings, marinades. If you can eat it, it’s in the book. Food is cheapest when made from scratch, and this is the perfect introduction. Know the basics of a kitchen and want to learn more? This book is a great guide.

Food blog has seriously saved my wallet. They crunch the numbers for you, showing you how to create affordable, filling, healthy meals and providing readers with some seriously tasty recipes. The best part? They provide plenty of dietary restricted recipes: gluten-free, vegan, you name it. You’ll find everything from appetizers to entrees to desserts. My personal favorites include the breakfast quesadillas and the scallion pancakes.

Another good website is, great for when you have random ingredients and no idea what to make. Their search engine allows you to plug in the food you have, exclude the food you don’t, and get hundreds of different recipes. I recommend reading the reviews. The recipes as written often need work; reviewers who have tried the recipes provide feedback on which you can base your own meal.

Finally, check out YouTube. Don’t know what creaming butter and sugar means? Never sautéed veggies before? Unclear about al dente? Never diced an onion before? Look up some tutorials and filter your search by rating. You won’t learn how food cooks if you don’t see the whole process, and you may even fall in love with a specialty channel like Vegan Black Metal Chef, Nerdy Nummies, or My Virgin Kitchen.

Shit, my parents are coming over with little to no notice. How do I convince them that I am, in fact, an adult capable of feeding myself?

If your parents are coming to visit, you’re probably going out to eat. Right?

But let’s say you’re not. Let’s say you accidentally opened up your big mouth and mentioned something like, “No, mom, you’ve already done so much, let me cook you a meal for once.” Now the damage is done.

The only rule is veggies.

In fact, rule number one is not a bad idea even if your family is not coming over. Put down the Kraft. Step away from the grilled cheese. Leave the ramen in the back where it belongs until finals week. Give your body green things. Buy some veggies. Buy your favorite grain and go to town. It’s that easy!

Here are five easy options for a quick meal with your folks:

Option 1: Bake some bread.

There is nothing more delicious than homemade bread. Combine three cups all-purpose flour, one tablespoon sugar, one teaspoon each salt and baking powder, and one 12 oz. can PBR. Mix it all together until mostly smooth (small lumps are fine) and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Drizzle melted butter on the loaf during the last 20 minutes to create a nice crust.

Option 2: Put veggies in a pie.

Buy a pair of premade pie crusts and veggies (fresh or frozen). Cook the veggies in a skillet with a bit of oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Combine with sauce and let cool for 10 minutes. Place one crust into the bottom of a pan. Add the veggies and sauce. Place the second crust on top. Cut a few small holes to let steam escape. Cook in oven following instructions on the pie crust box.

Option 3: Put veggies in a tortilla.

Tortilla in lightly greased skillet. Cheese. Veggies. Bam. Bonus points for using whole wheat or spinach tortillas. Gluten-free options easily made with corn tortillas.

Option 4: Put veggies in a soup.

Sauté onions and garlic in a pan with a little butter or oil until the onions are translucent. Add all those veggies you’ve been promising your mom you’ve been eating. Throw in some potatoes and kale and enough broth to cover everything. Salt. Bay leaf. Set on low heat and leave covered for an hour or two. Go write that paper you’ve been putting off.

Option 5: Stuff some peppers.

The beauty of stuffed bell peppers is that you can tailor them to your specific tastes. All you need is bell peppers, any grain, and as many veggies as your heart desires. Cook the grain as directed by the box, combine with veggies, stuff ‘em into a hollowed-out pepper. Add a little salsa and some cheese on top. Stick in oven at 350 for 20 minutes until the peppers are tender. That ought to convince your parents you can cook like a grown-up.