Not everyone is a perfect chef. Some people thrive on takeout, clamshell-packaged salads from the grocery store, and delivery. But there will come a time in your life where you’re ripped away from these conveniences, and forced to fend for yourself. This is when it pays to have a few recipes in your back pocket that you can whip out to make sure that you don’t starve to death. These recipes can be as basic or as fancy as you wish, but by having a cache of solid recipes you know off by heart, you can ensure you get a hearty meal whenever you need it. Here are a few things that everyone should know how to cook.
1. Balsamic Vinaigrette
Let’s start simple. A basic vinaigrette only requires two ingredients — oil and vinegar. You can change it up by swapping in different oils and types of vinegar. Just pick these two base ingredients carefully. Because it’s such a simple recipe, it pays to start with excellent ingredients. Don’t use plain white vinegar because the taste is too harsh and overpowering, but any other vinegar should do. Once you’ve mastered the proportions, there are plenty of variations you can dream up to make things interesting — whisk in ingredients like mustard, spices, yogurt, or even jam to change the overall flavor.
2. A salad you don’t hate
There are some people that thrive on big, hearty salads while others struggle to choke down even the most basic Caesar. As we grow into adults and realize that we have to consume vegetables in order to survive, one great thing to have in your back pocket is a recipe for a salad that you don’t hate. Take some time to experiment and see what you like. Maybe spinach isn’t your thing, so swap it out for some arugula or Bibb lettuce. Top your salad with fruit, chopped veggies, lightly dressed pasta, seeds, nuts, cheese, or anything in between.
3. A dip to feed a crowd
Everyone should have at least one recipe that they can bring to a party, and a dip is the quintessential party food. Pick up a loaf of bread or a bag of chips at the grocery store and you have the perfect potluck fare. Dips can vary hugely by region, from the pimiento cheese of the South to the crab dip of the Northeast, so take some time to do your research and find one you like. Then, figure out how to make enough to take to a party, while still leaving some in the fridge for yourself the next day.
4. The Perfect Grilled Cheese
Grilled cheese is arguably the most perfect comfort food ever invented. Alone, it’s satisfying, but pair it with a bowl of soup or a side salad, and you’ve got a great meal. Everyone should know how to make a perfectly melted, browned-but-not-burned grilled cheese sandwich. There are so many options, so find one that works for you. Some amazing combinations are gruyere with challah bread, cheddar on rye, or mozzarella with pumpernickel. You can add tomatoes, bacon, mustard, or stick with the classic combination of just cheese and bread.
5. Tomato Sauce
As with most things on this list, there are tons of different ways to make tomato sauce. Some like their tomato sauce simple with just a hint of basil, onion, and butter, while others gravitate towards thicker sauces complete with chunks of veggies and maybe even some sausage if they’re feeling decadent. Whatever your preference, find a good recipe that you like and learn how to make it well. Figure out where in the process to put your pasta in to cook, and get it down pat so you can whip it up whenever you need a quick weeknight dinner.
6. Roast Chicken
Roasting a chicken may seem daunting, but once you figure out how to do it, you’ll never need to bring home a grocery store rotisserie chicken ever again. There are several different methods of butchering the chicken, each of which has its own benefits. If you have nothing else in the house, you can season the chicken with just salt and pepper, but some lemon, thyme, and garlic will take it to the next level.
7. Chicken Noodle Soup
Once you’ve roasted your chicken and eaten all the delicious meat off the bones, save those bones to make chicken noodle soup the next day. Bring a giant pot of water to a boil with the chicken carcass, plus some of the aromatics that you used to season your chicken. Add in some celery, onions, parsley, and carrots. Making the stock might take a while, but once its finished, add in some shredded chicken and noodles for the perfect sick day pick-me-up.
8. Roasted Veggies
While not everyone starts out life loving roasted veggies, a large part of growing up is cooking for yourself and figuring out what flavors you like. Many people hate things like brussels sprouts until they figure out how to prepare them themselves. Do some experimenting, and figure out what veggies you like. Toss them with oil, salt, cheese, and some spices, until you have a side dish that you can make with any main course.
Steak is something that has recently been reappropriated by home chefs. Previously, many people believed that you could only get a good steak in a restaurant. This school of thought is being turned on its head, with many chefs insisting that all it takes to cook a great steak is good meat and some patience. There are many different methods for cooking steak — sous vide, broiling, frying — but many people believe now that the reverse sear gives the tastiest, most evenly cooked meat. Figure out your favorite side dish, and you’ve got the perfect “treat yourself” meal.
10. A Basic Bread Recipe
There are so many different recipes for bread out there that you could make a different one every single day of the year for 10 years and still have recipes yet to try. Homemade bread is comforting — the smell alone can cheer up even the gloomiest day. Start with a basic, no-rise, no-knead recipe, then build on your skills from there. You’ll be whipping up brioche, croissants, or pumpernickel in no time.
11. Perfect eggs
Everyone should know how to make eggs for breakfast. It’ll give you a healthy serving of protein in the morning, which will keep you full for longer than sugary cereal or fruit. Again, there are so many options for making eggs that you may have to experiment to find out which you prefer. Scrambled eggs are easiest, but even those you can jazz up with milk, cheese, or chopped veggies. If scrambled isn’t your thing, perfect your method for frying eggs, or make eggs benedict with topped with a flawlessly poached egg.
12. Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are the stuff of school lunch fantasies — they’re what you always wanted to find buried under your sandwich at the bottom of your elementary school lunch bag. Jazz up your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with M&Ms, butterscotch chips, or sprinkles — or you can keep it classic by using plain old milk chocolate. Hot tip: you can freeze the dough once you’ve divided it into balls, which will allow you to have freshly baked chocolate chip cookies whenever you like.