Easy Recipes to Help You Get Comfortable in the Kitchen

In the following post, I’ve outlined some simple recipes that aren’t just delicious and healthy, but are also great for people just starting out in the kitchen (or anybody who wants a good meal that doesn’t require a lot of time or effort). I love many different spice palates and a variety of flavors, so I sourced these recipes from friends and family from all over the world, and I’ve spent several years making and perfecting my own versions of them. Since this is a post for beginners, I’ve included detailed instructions, as well as a few pictures, to help you stay on track. However, there are a few more things to keep in mind if you’re not a very experienced cook.

First, you will mess things up. You will burn your baked goods, your sauces will be runny, your meats will be over or undercooked, and a lot of the things you make will taste wonky for no particular reason. This is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re naturally “bad at it.” It means you haven’t practiced enough yet. Cooking isn’t a talent; it is a learned skill, and a skill that anybody can learn at that. The best thing to do while you’re learning that skill is to accept that things aren’t going to come out the way you expect right away and make your peace with it. Don’t take it personally if nobody likes your food immediately or a lot of the things you cook go in the trash the first few weeks. It’s going to happen. The worst thing you can do is quit. Every time you make a dish, it will be a little less bad than the last time. Furthermore, every time you get in the kitchen, you will get a little less bad than the last time. Eventually, you’ll get to the point you can cook just about anything on the first try without thinking about it, though your recipes will always improve the more you make them. As long as you don’t burn yourself, cut off a finger, or accidentally poison anybody, you’re a success.

Second, recipes are like rules: they’re made to be broken. When I’m cooking a recipe, I usually follow it to the letter only once — the first time. During that first time, I’m tasting my food at every step of the cooking process (with the exception of anything dangerous like raw meat) so that I can know what I am going to tweak next time. Your tweaks will be based on your and your family’s personal tastes, and you’ll eventually start to notice you make a lot of the same ones over and over. I usually reduce the sugar in desserts, add a dollop of sour cream for additional moisture in cakes and pastries, and increase the SHU in just about everything (I like heat). These might not be your own habitual tweaks, but if you spend enough time in the kitchen, you’re bound to develop some. The only way you can know for sure if a recipe can be improved is to make experimental changes until you find the ones that work for you.

Another thing to note: all the following recipes are created with two people in mind. If you’re cooking for more than two, you’ll need to increase the amount of all your ingredients proportionately (i.e. if I call for ½ a cup of soy sauce, but you’re cooking for three people, increase to ¾ of a cup). If you increase the amount of food, you may also need to increase your cook time. If I only up the amount by one or two servings, I don’t typically worry about it, but if you add enough, you’ll need to add time correspondingly — usually only by a few minutes. The best thing you can do is just keep checking on your dish until it’s cooked through. There’s no way to be absolutely sure otherwise. I usually cook for the prescribed amount of time no matter how many people I’m serving. Then, I cut open my own piece of whatever meat I’m cooking to see if the cook time was sufficient. If my piece is done, I serve. If it’s not, I usually cook another 2–3 minutes and check again. Just remember, you can always cook it longer, but you can’t un-cook it if its overdone.

As far as the following recipes go, I haven’t included anything other than main courses (appetizers, desserts, and sides can come later). I also haven’t included any recipes in this post that require tougher cooking methods like deep frying or grilling. For now, we’ll stick to roasting, boiling, and sautéing, which are comparatively easy techniques in my opinion. Hopefully, these recipes will not only introduce you to the kitchen in a fun and nonintimidating way, but also help you see just how enjoyable cooking can be!

Baked Citrus Salmon

First, you need to select the right salmon. If you want this (or any) salmon-based recipe to come out right, you need to select a good cut of fish. My preference for this recipe is the center cut because it’s thicker, juicier, and typically pretty symmetrical, so you get an even bake all the way through. I usually get skinless cuts for the sake of convenience, but if you prefer skin-on, that works just fine. I also favor farm-raised salmon over wild-caught salmon, but this is just a taste preference. Farm-raised salmon is typically tenderer than its wild-caught counterpart. It’s also less prone to drying out, so if you do go for the wild salmon over the farmed, you might consider shaving a couple minutes off your bake time to avert over-drying your fish.

Second, bake time will differ depending on how done you like your fish. If you like it on the medium side, bake it around 15–18 minutes. If you want it closer to well-done, go for the full 20, or maybe even a couple minutes over if the cut is on the thick side. Don’t let it go too long. If you overbake it, you’ll dry it right out.

Serve this recipe with pretty much any side you want. I like to serve it with crispy kale and plain brown rice because the rice soaks up the sauce. I also enjoy it with quartered, roasted red potatoes, like in the pic below.

Ingredients

o Two medium-sized skinless salmon center cuts (about a half-pound each)

o ½ cup of low sodium soy sauce

o 2–4 Tbs of lemon juice (depending on how sour you want it)

o Lemon pepper seasoning

o Fresh cracked ground pepper

o Fresh ground salt

o Lemon or orange slices (optional)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Grease the bottom of a shallow glass or ceramic baking dish with a thin layer of olive oil. I use olive oil non-stick spray. Then, sprinkle the pan bottom with lemon pepper seasoning. Don’t make it too thick; you should still be able to see the bottom.

2. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the soy sauce and the lemon juice.

3. Place your salmon cuts in the baking dish. Pour the sauce gently over them, making sure to soak the cuts thoroughly with sauce. Lift them up to ensure it gets underneath them as well.

4. Grind a little salt and fresh pepper over the cuts if you want the extra flavor. If not, it’s optional.

5. Cover the salmon in a layer of lemon pepper seasoning. You want a nice crust on the salmon, so make sure your layer is thick enough that you can’t see much of the fish underneath it.

6. Slice up enough lemon or orange to cover your fish if you want to add some extra zest. Lay the slices on the cuts and sprinkle them with lemon pepper before putting them in the oven. When your dish goes in, it should look something like this:

7. Bake at 350 for 15–20 minutes, depending on your preference.

8. Remove from the oven and serve right away. Your sauce will have thickened and darkened during baking. Pour it back over the fish after you plate it for an extra kick.

Beef Kofta

There are a couple of different ways to shape your koftas. The easiest way is to roll them into balls and use your hands to press the koftas into round patties about an inch thick and the diameter of an Oreo. Not only are these koftas easier to fashion, they’re also easier to deal with in the pan because their flat shape prevents them from rolling around. However, if you want to make koftas that are more conducive to dipping in sauces and/or grilling on a skewer, you’ll want to fashion them into fingers. To do this, roll about ¼ of a cup of meat into a sphere, which should come out a little bigger than a golf ball. Then, take it in one hand and squeeze it until your sphere starts to become oval. Take this oval between both palms and rub your hands up and down in opposite directions until your oval becomes a finger roughly an inch-and-a-half thick and three inches long. It should look like a short, fat hot dog:

Serve the koftas with jasmine rice, pita bread, and the special Sudanese paprika lime dipping sauce I’ve included below.

Ingredients

o 1 pound lean ground beef (I like a 90/10 ratio)

o 2 Tbs olive oil for the meat plus more for frying

o 1 small onion

o 1–2 Tbs minced garlic (from a jar is fine), depending on your taste

o 2 ounces fresh chopped parsley (optional)

o 2 Tbs cumin

o 1 Tbs paprika

o 1 Tbs coriander

o 1 Tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like heat, less if you don’t)

o 1 Tsp chili powder

o 1 Tsp fresh black pepper

o ½ Tsp salt

Instructions

1. Take the beef out of the fridge, put in a large mixing bowl, and allow it to warm up on the counter. It shouldn’t be quite room temperature, but if it’s as cold as it was in the fridge, it will be stiff and hard to mix.

2. Make your spice blend: in a small mixing bowl, take all the spices from the cumin to the salt and mix them together with a fork or hand-whisk until they’re completely blended. Set aside.

3. Dice your onion. Your pieces shouldn’t be quite as small as the minced garlic chunks, but they should be close — no bigger than your pinky fingernail.

4. If you’re using parsley, chop it to similar proportion to the onions and garlic.

5. Mix the parsley, garlic, onion, and two tablespoons of olive oil with the beef. Make sure the meat is thoroughly blended with the veggies and oil before continuing.

6. Form your meat mix into a big ball and press an indention into the center. Pour your spice mix into the indention and fold it into the meat. Continue to pull your meat ball apart and squish it back together until your spices are completely blended into the beef and it is of uniform color. It should look like this once it’s sufficiently mixed:

7. Make your patties or fingers according to the instructions I listed above. I like fingers for both grilling and pan frying because I always dip the koftas in the special sauce. However, if you want to do patties, that’s fine. Just remember they’re not as thick as the fingers, so they’ll need a little less cook time. One pound should make around a dozen fingers or patties.

8. There are two ways to do kofta: grilling and pan-searing. For now, we’ll stick to searing because it’s quicker and easier (and tastier in my opinion). Pour just enough olive oil into a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet to cover the whole bottom in a very thin layer.

9. Heat your olive oil for a few minutes over medium-high. Olive oil has a lower smoking point than vegetable or canola oil, so watch how hot you keep your stove eye. The oil should be wavy and have a thinner consistency than it does at room temperature, but if it starts to smoke, your eye is too hot.

10. Lay your koftas flat in the oil. Don’t crowd your pan. They can be close, but they should not be touching each other. If the pan gets too crowded, just do them in batches. But a large skillet is usually big enough for only one pound of beef:

11. Brown your meat on each side. The point is to heat the surface of your koftas until it makes a dark brown crust on the outside (not black; if it’s black, it’s too done). On medium-high heat, it should only take a minute or two on each side to form that crust.

12. Once you’ve browned both sides of your patties or all sides of your fingers, turn the heat down to one notch below medium (aka 4 out of 10) so that the koftas can cook on the inside. Leave them uncovered because if they steam, they can get too soggy. It should take 10–12 minutes to get them all the way done. Flip the patties once halfway through cooking. For the fingers, you’ll need to pay more attention to keep them from getting too done on one side. Don’t turn them too frequently; once or twice is sufficient.

13. While the koftas are cooking, you can make the special sauce. Pour about four ounces of lime juice into a small mixing bowl. Add two tablespoons of paprika powder (you can use smoked paprika for a more complex flavor) and a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of cayenne, depending on how much heat you like. Blend thoroughly.

14. Once the koftas are done, pull them out of the pan, plate, and serve. There’s no need to rest them. If you’re not sure about their level of doneness, cut one in half and look at it. They should be brown all the way through, but not dried out, like so:

Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos

One tip I will give is to avoid overdoing it with the stove heat when you’re blackening your fish. A lot of recipes say to set your stove on high, but that never did anything for me but overcook the outside and leave the inside undercooked. I like the mahi mahi to cook all the way through and still retain its juices. Medium-high heat is more than sufficient to get that crunchy, black spice crust without sacrificing moisture.

In regard to toppings, I use only my homemade taco sauce, lettuce, and green onion. The fish and the sauce are so flavorful they don’t need anything else. To me, cheese and sour cream just take away from the spicy, acidic taste. If you want to add cheese, I’d suggest a mild one that doesn’t have a lot of its own flavor. I like soft flour tortillas with these tacos for the same reason — they don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, so they don’t compete with their filling.

Serve your tacos with black beans and white rice, which I’ve found is more complimentary to the fish than beef taco sides like Mexican rice and refried beans.

Ingredients

For the Tacos:

o 12 oz of boneless, skinless mahi mahi filets

o Soft taco shells

o Toppings (lettuce, green onion, etc.)

For the Sauce:

o ½ cup tartar sauce (premade is fine. I use Kraft, but any brand will do)

o 2–3 Tbs sriracha sauce

o 2 Tbs lemon juice

o 1 Tbs minced garlic

o 1–2 Tsp chipotle chili pepper

o 1 Tsp lime juice

o 1 Tsp crushed red pepper

o 1 Tsp cayenne pepper

o ½ Tsp dill weed

o ½ Tsp fresh cracked black pepper

For the Blackening:

o 1 Tsp garlic powder

o 1 Tsp onion powder

o 1 Tsp smoked paprika

o 1 Tsp dried thyme

o 1 Tsp dried oregano

o 1 Tsp cayenne pepper (reduce to half for less heat)

o ½ Tsp each of salt and pepper

Instructions

1. To make the sauce, put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir until it is completely blended and looks like the pic below. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. To make the blackening, blend all the spices together in a small bowl until they’re completely mixed.

3. Take the mahi mahi cuts out of the fridge and pat them dry with a paper towel. Don’t absorb 100% of the moisture, but make sure that it doesn’t have any excess water on it. If it’s covered in a layer of water, the blackening mix won’t stick to it.

4. Lay the fish flat on a dry cutting board and shake a layer of blackening mix over it — every inch should be covered. Pick up any fallen mix with the sides of your fish filet, as these tend not to want the blend to stick to them. Use your palms to gently press the spices to the fish to make sure the blend is good and stuck on, like so:

5. Heat a thin layer of veggie oil on the lower end of medium-high (aka 6/7 out of 10). Once the oil is wavy and has close to the consistency of water, lay your filets flat in the pan.

6. Let them cook 3–4 minutes on the first side, then flip to the other and let them cook for another 3–4 minutes. You’re going for a crunchy, dark brown to black crust of seared spices.

Note: I normally flip with tongs, but if you go for it and find your fish is a little stuck, don’t panic. Take a wide metal spatula, dig under the fish, putting the metal between the pan and the crust. Then flip the fish by grasping it on either side with the tongs and gently turning it before laying it in the pan, making sure there’s some oil under it.

7. Once your fish is ready, lay it on a plate or a cutting board and slice it lengthwise into 1” thick strips, like so:

8. Serve immediately. I typically just bring the fish, the sides, and all the fixin’s to the table and let everyone make their own tacos. Save whatever sauce is left — it will keep a long time in the fridge.

Chicken Curry

There are a couple things to look out for in this recipe. First, don’t stuff your pot full, since you’re going to be stirring a lot. Make sure at least a third of your pot is empty space; that will leave you room stir. I like to use my caldero because it’s sufficiently deep but also widens at the top, leaving plenty of room to move things around in there. On a similar note, if you’re going to be making more than the amount of curry outlined in the recipe, I would suggest using two pots rather than increasing the size of one pot. If you’re making a whole lot of the curry, it can get hard to stir adequately in a single pot, resulting in an uneven cook.

Another thing you want to do is try to make sure that your veggie and chicken chunks — especially the chicken — are of similar size. Naturally, they won’t all be the exact same size, but they need to be close enough that they all require roughly the same amount of cook time. If you have chunks that are significantly bigger or significantly smaller, it can result in some of them being overdone and some of them being half raw.

Remember, this is supposed to be an intensely flavorful recipe with a moderate kick. It isn’t supposed to knock the proverbial socks off your tongue with an overpowering amount of heat. I typically do 1–2 teaspoons of cayenne or red pepper. If you want more, go for it, but the curry mix is supposed to be the main event with this dish, not the heat itself.

Serve with white basmati rice and naan (I love garlic naan with this recipe).

Ingredients

o 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

o 2 bell peppers of any color

o 1 yellow or white onion

o 1–2 tomatoes (depending on the size — you want roughly equal amounts of all veggies)

o 1 Tbs olive oil

o ½ cup water

o 4 Tbs hot madras curry powder

o 1 Tbs ginger powder

o 1 Tbs garlic powder

o 2 Tsp cumin

o 2 Tsp coriander

o 1 Tsp cayenne pepper or ground red pepper (1/2 if you want less heat)

o 1 Tsp garam masala

o 1 Tsp salt

o ½ Tsp black pepper

o ½ Tsp chili powder

o A pinch of turmeric for color (optional)

Instructions

1. Make your curry blend by putting all the spices into a bowl and mixing until fully blended and uniform color. You should have between ¼ and ½ a cup of spice mix.

2. Gut the bell peppers and slice them into strips about an inch thick and 2–3” long.

3. Chop the onions to similar size as the peppers.

4. Chop the tomatoes into 1” cubes

5. Chop the chicken into cubes roughly two by two inches, as shown below:

6. Place all your veggies and your chicken in a large pot or caldero and pour the water and olive oil over it. Stir to coat.

7. Pour your spice mix evenly over the chicken and veggies. Stir again until all the veggies and chicken have an even coating of the spice mix.

8. Place over high heat, leave uncovered, and bring to a boil. Let boil for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

9. Cover and reduce heat to medium/medium-low and simmer for another 15–20 minutes, depending on how tender you want your veggies. Stir often (every 3–5 minutes).

10. If you like your sauce more consistent with a stew, serve as soon as the chicken is thoroughly cooked (white all the way through). If you want a thicker sauce consistency, take the lid off and simmer uncovered during the last 5–6 minutes of cooking. Remember, you’ll need to stir your chicken more often if you do this to ensure it is cooking evenly.

11. When everything is done, the onions and peppers should be tender but not flimsy (i.e. still slightly crunchy, retain their shape, but can be easily pierced through with a fork), the tomatoes should have come close to disintegrating, the sauce should be thicker than water, and the chicken should be yellowish on the outside (because of the spices) and white on the inside, like so:

Note: if you want tomatoes that maintain their shape throughout the stewing process, swap regular tomatoes for grape tomatoes — sliced in half, peel on.

Foil Roasted Sea Bass

There are a couple of tricks to remember with this recipe. First, when you’re making the foil packets, you need to make sure that there’s enough room for everything inside the packet to expand during the cooking process. This means there should be some empty space above and around your fish and veggies. Second, you have to ensure there are no air leaks inside your packets. When they go in the oven, you want the steam from the veggie/fruit juices to cook them — not the ambient heat of the oven itself. Third, if you want to taste more herbs, slice your leaves into a few pieces before putting them into the packet — this helps release their juices. If you want the flavor of your sea bass to be a little more prominent, leave the leaves whole — this will keep their juices mostly inside but will still flavor the steam and liquid cooking the fish.

A note about veggies: everything in the packet will change the flavor of the fish. I like to keep it simple with only onions, cherry tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. But if you want to experiment around, there are tons of other delicious veggies you can try, like summer squash, baby carrots, or even bell peppers. Just remember to cut them small enough that they’ll tenderize within 15ish minutes. None of your fruit/veggie slices should be bigger than your cherry tomatoes (with the exception of your lemon).

Serve with roasted or mashed potatoes. I sometimes add crispy kale if I want an additional serving of veggies in my meal, but if you don’t feel like doing an extra side, the veggies inside the packet will do just fine on their own.

Ingredients

o Two skin-on sea bass filets

o A dozen cherry tomatoes

o 1 small onion, sliced into bite-sized strips

o 1 lemon, cut into six slices

o 1–2 sliced jalapeños

o 4 small sprigs of fresh thyme

o 4 large fresh basil leaves

o 4 fresh parsley sprigs, about two inches long

o 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, about an inch long

o ¼ cup olive oil

o ½ Tsp paprika

o ½ Tsp garlic powder OR 1 Tsp minced garlic (depends on which you prefer)

o ½ Tsp salt

o ¼ Tsp black pepper

o ¼ Tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

o ¼ Tsp dried lemon zest (optional)

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 400℉.

2. In a small mixing bowl, sprinkle the paprika, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, dried lemon zest, and garlic powder (wait til later if you’re using minced garlic). Make sure that the dried spices are mixed evenly and cover the bottom of your bowl in a thin layer.

3. Pour the olive oil over the spices and then mix thoroughly. If you’re using minced garlic, this is the time to stir it in. Note that the spices will sink to the bottom and you will need to continue to stir them up until you’ve covered your fish.

4. Dry your fish filets with a paper towel, dabbing off all excess moisture.

5. Cut two foil squares large enough to completely enclose the fish and veggies. Lay each filet skin-down on top of its own foil square.

6. With a meat brush, stir your spice mixture and paint a thick coating over the fish. Your fish should be covered, but there shouldn’t be so much oil that it’s overflowing the foil packet, as shown below. Save any excess oil mixture for later.

7. Lay your herbs on top of the fish first, then your peppers, then your lemon slices. Sprinkle your onion slices over the top of the lemons and in between them. Lay three tomatoes on either side of the fish. Pour any excess olive oil mix over the whole thing.

8. Close up your packets by folding the foil lengthwise over the fish and then rolling one side over the other until you have a tight seal over the top. This will leave two open holes on either end of the filet. Fold them up until you close the holes completely, making a sealed tin foil tent around your fish.

9. Place the packets on a cookie sheet (in case of oil leaks — never put them on the rack itself). Bake at 400 for 15–18 minutes. Fish should be white and flake easily off the skin when done. Serve in the packet.

Shrimp Stir Fry

There’s only one real trick to this recipe, and that’s to cook your ingredients in phases. It’s going to take your fresh broccoli florets longer to cook than your peppers/onions, and it’s going to take all your veggies longer to cook than your shrimp. So start off with your broccoli and let it go for about five minutes with the lid on (you’ll need to stir it often and make sure the pan doesn’t run out of water). Then toss in the peppers and onions and let them go for another five minutes or until they’re tender but not flimsy. Only then is the stir fry ready for the shrimp.

Serve with brown rice. With this recipe, I sometimes like to cook the rice in veggie broth with a couple of tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce stirred in. That way, the rice will absorb and contain flavors complimentary to the stir fry.

Ingredients

o 24 medium to large raw shrimp — peeled, deveined, tail off

o 3 fresh broccoli heads

o 1 medium yellow or white onion

o 1 green bell pepper

o 4 green onions, sliced (optional)

o 4–6 Tbs vegetable or canola oil

o ½–¾ cup of water

o ½ cup low sodium soy sauce

o 1 Tbs lemon juice

o 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar

o 1 Tbs prepared ginger paste

o 1 Tbs sriracha sauce

o 1 Tbs honey

o 1 Tsp crushed red pepper

o 1 Tsp sesame seeds (plus more to sprinkle on top if desired)

o ½ Tsp sesame oil

Instructions

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients from the soy sauce to the sesame oil to make your stir fry sauce. Stir until it looks like the pic below. Dry your shrimp in a paper towel and then pour a couple tablespoons of sauce over them. Mix them around to marinade, put them back in the fridge, and set aside the rest of the sauce.

Note: you may notice in this picture instead of crushed red pepper, I’ve used dried, ground Thai chilies. These are generally hotter than plain, old red pepper flakes. They also have a tangier taste that I think better compliments the stir fry. However, it’s a whole lot easier to get ahold of crushed red pepper than dried, ground Thai chilies. I bought fresh chilies, dried them, and then ground them myself. If you’re not up for that or scouring the internet for them, red pepper flakes are perfectly fine.

2. On medium-high, heat the veggie oil in a large skillet or wok (the oil should cover the bottom of your pan in a thin layer). While the oil is heating, chop the stalks off your broccoli heads and cut the crowns into individual florets. Chop the onion and bell pepper to bite-sized chunks (about an inch thick by 2–3 inches long).

3. Toss the broccoli florets into your hot oil and pour half a cup of water over them. Cover to steam, stirring frequently. Make sure that your broccoli is cooking without burning. If the little green buds on the florets start turning black on the side in contact with the hot surface, you’re not stirring often enough. Also, if the water completely evaporates at any point during this stage, add another ¼ cup of hot water to the pan.

4. After about five minutes, toss your peppers and onions into the pan. Pour the rest of the stir fry sauce over them and stir to coat.

5. Once your veggies have become tender, it’s time to add the shrimp (and green onions if you’re using them). I like my shrimp to have a firm, crispy outer layer that comes from direct contact with the pan. To get this, I push my cooked veggies to the side and lay each shrimp directly on the pan bottom in the middle. Make sure there’s enough oil to keep them from sticking, like so:

6. Let them cook for one minute on one side and then flip them with tongs and let them cook another minute on the other side. Then, stir them into the veggies and close the lid. Let them cook another couple minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re completely done. They should be pink and curled when fully cooked.

7. If you’ve stirred the stir fry enough, most of the sauce should be coating your veggies and shrimp. Pour whatever sauce is left in the pan back over your stir fry once you plate it. If you want, sprinkle sesame seeds on top for added crunch.

Ellen Ireland is a freelance & technical writer, aspiring novelist, singer, amateur chef, & professional homebody who lives in Texas with her spouse & dogs.

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