Welcome to I Tried It Month, where we'll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article every day in January that features a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including everything from going without a cellphone for 40 days to trying the polarizing low-rise pants trend.
I'm not kidding when I say that dining out at a restaurant (and, lately, ordering takeout) is one of my life’s greatest joys. It's such a big passion of mine that I spent years working in the hospitality industry, helping to build and promote the eateries that I now frequent.
While I try to skimp and save in other areas of my life, I typically have a no-holds-barred approach when it comes to budgeting for ordering takeout. I've especially justified this expense during a pandemic when it's more important than ever before to support local restaurants and establishments. (Editor's Note: If you’re able to, please order straight from the restaurant itself instead of using a third-party delivery app.)
However, in the 10+ months since we’ve been in quarantine, I've begun to rely less on my stovetop and more on the ease and convenience of someone else cooking my meals in 30 minutes or less. With less intentionality, however, I came to realize that I was also enjoying my meals less.
This month, I took it upon myself to cook every meal for 30 days straight, and as someone who doesn’t possess a natural prowess in the kitchen, I already knew this was going to be a daunting task. But throughout this challenge, I had hoped to reignite my relationship with food, learn to be a better and more resourceful home cook, and save some money along the way.
You know that feeling when you’re staring at a closet full of clothes and still feel like you have nothing to wear? That’s how I felt whenever I looked into a fridge full of food—overwhelmed. I'll usually wind up whipping something together that’s palatable but severely lacking in pizzazz.
Prior to the pandemic, my cooking style was typically resorting to throwing together whatever’s the fastest and easiest. However, with being still stuck at home, I wanted to take the time to learn how to re-create some of my favorite takeout dishes—among them a copycat orange chicken recipe using kumquats from my friends' backyard bounty, a hearty Caesar salad that was a staple of my office diet, and several honest attempts at nailing down the perfect pho. (I’m still not there.)
The most challenging part of this entire process was, surprisingly, not the cooking itself. It's true, a month making every meal can, in fact, trick you into feeling like a budding chef. Despite planning my grocery runs and online orders in advance, I found that trying to keep my recipes consistently new and dishes interesting quickly became the most daunting aspect of this experiment.
And since I'm not one to prep a week's worth of food in advance, I ended up reserving a few nights a week to being especially present with cooking dinner and trying new-to-me recipes I've earmarked. For the remaining days, I relied on making double portions of standby favorites like curry, stir-fry, and plenty of roasted vegetables to last me throughout the rest of the week.
And now for the part that you all came here for. What were my personal takeaways after a month of homemade meals? I certainly felt better from cooking healthier dishes in general and from the sense of accomplishment from completing this undertaking. Additionally, I became a more confident and resourceful cook and can now successfully whip up a pretty decent meal with the remnants of ingredients in my fridge. Watch out, Chopped!
But perhaps the best thing to come out of this challenge? As someone who spends around $75 a week on takeout, I was able to save $300 in a single month from just cooking my own meals. While I had an overall positive experience, I realized that eating from and supporting local restaurants still remains such a source of joy for me, and in these times, I want to be able to lean into that feeling more. Next week, I'm planning to resume ordering takeout—this time with more intention and purpose.
If you're looking to try the same challenge, keep scrolling for some of my favorite tips that made my month of home cooking all the more enjoyable.
Find Condiments That Truly Excite You
I've waxed poetic about my love for Fly By Jing's Sichuan Chili Crisp in the past, and it still rings true. When I finished my last jar, however, I decided to pick up this cult-favorite version by Lao Gan Ma. It's so delicious and satiating that I genuinely get so excited to pour this chili crisp over everything from eggs to a bevy of stir-frys to even fried chicken. Try it!
Embrace Shortcuts in the Kitchen
As someone who grew up watching Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee, I've fully embraced the joys of shortcuts when it comes to cooking. After all, the ends justify the means, and sometimes, that means that I just don't want to make sauces and marinades from scratch. And that's okay. Fortunately, when the shortcuts are as foolproof and as tasty as Omsom, a sauce starter kit for a variety of Asian dishes, you won't feel like you'll be missing out on anything.
Great Cookware Is a Game Changer
Whether it's a high-quality chef's knife or a durable all-purpose pan, great cookware and utensils can really elevate your experience in the kitchen. I love this Always Pan for multiple reasons, but mostly for how well it sears on high temperatures for a nonstick pan. Trust me when I say that it is a game changer.
When in Doubt, Frozen Food Can Be Delicious, Too
My go-to meal plan whenever I'm in a pinch or stuck in back-to-back Zoom meetings is heating up frozen falafel in an air fryer and throwing together a makeshift wrap with hummus, pickled onions, and arugula. It's criminally easy, hearty, and done in about three minutes flat. There's no shame in taking advantage of the frozen aisle, especially if it saves you time and money in the process.