Thursday, April 5, 2012

Confessions of a Reluctant Chef

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.

Goal #14: Make dinner two nights a week for one month - COMPLETE
Goal #15: Try a new recipe once a week for one month - COMPLETE

I am not a cook. Or rather, I've never understood the allure of cooking for enjoyment. Cooking to me serves a functional purpose only - it is a means to an end. The end being placing some form of nutrition (decent tasting if all goes well) on the table. Hopefully said cooking will also result in a bounty of leftovers so that I don't have to cook again for a few days. 

Cooking is not my forte, which is unfortunate because I like eating and serving good food. My lack of cooking skills is also a little embarrassing because I come from a long line of great cooks - my Grandma was an amazing cook and never used recipes (a gene I did not inherit), my mom is a fantastic cook (I seriously engorged myself on her cooking when I visit), my mom-in-law and sister-in-laws are excessively gifted in the kitchen (we're talking pretty-to-look-at, yummy-to-eat appetizers, side dishes, main dish, salads and deserts all one meal. You'll be lucky if you get bread with your casserole when I'm cooking.) Even my husband is a better cook than I am. Sheesh.

So you can imagine that tackling these goals was a little intimidating to me. Honestly - a lot of it came down to pride. I like to excel and since so many people I know do this whole cooking thing so much better than me, I had a "why even bother" attitude. This is what I do when I foresee myself not being excellent at something - I just don't try it. Yep. Firstborn Failure Anxiety Syndrome (so not a real disease but a condition that has definitely burrowed itself deep in my psyche for most of my life). 

But daggoneit if I wasn't a stay-at-home wife and mom now and daggonit it if I wasn't going to learn to cook and enjoy it! (Whoa - I just had a flashback to the "Say sorry and mean it" days of childhood discipline.)

Being mildly handicapped in the culinary arts, I started out slow - two meals a week. (The other meals were filled with simple stuff like sandwiches, canned soup, eggs and cereal - you know, the stuff we normally eat when I don't feel like cooking.) I also forced myself to 1) Try at least one new recipe each week and 2) Base the recipes on items we already had in the fridge/freezer/pantry mixed with foods that were on sale at the grocery store.

Meal: Crockpot Applesauce Chicken over brown rice (new recipe)
Verdict: FAILURE. This recipe was bland, dry and beyond saving. We still ate it though and I finished the two meals-worth of leftovers (I didn't want to force Devin to join me in that task). Nothing like starting out your cooking attempts with a colossal failure, eh? But at least I didn't burn it and that's something right? Right???

Meal: Spaghetti with ground beef and red pasta sauce
Verdict: Yep -  I pretty much cheated on this one because honestly, does browning ground beef, boiling pasta and pouring over it frozen pasta sauce that your husband made from scratch really count as cooking? Probably not, but I totally didn't care - I made dinner. So there.

Meal: Cambodian Lemongrass Chicken Curry over brown rice (new recipe)
Verdict: Devin and I love curry dishes so this one was a huge hit for both of us. Just the right amount of that make-you-sweat spiciness that curries are famous for. I used a pack of fancy pre-mixed curry powder my in-laws gave us forever ago, so I probably won't repeat this particular recipe simply for cost reason, but it was G.O.O.D. 

Meal: Asarargus Soup (new recipe)
Verdict: This was a good soup, or would have been if I had left out the pepper. The recipe called for 1 tbs and I halved that and it was still way too much. Next time, no pepper. I also added about a tablespoon of butter and little tabasco sauce. I would make this again with my adjusted recipe. 

Meal: Chicken Taco Cornbread Pie (new recipe)
Verdict: Loved this. Super easy and really, really tasty. When I make it again, I'll try added a layer of black beans to give it a little more heartiness.  

Meal: Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken over brown rice (new recipe)
Verdict: Super good. I varied the recipe to make it cheaper and simpler and just cooked the chicken in the sauce, then added one bag of frozen peppers to the pot for the last half hour. If you make this - don't cook it for more that 4-5 hours on low. Very yummy with lots of leftovers.

Meal: Baked Potato Soup (I didn't really used a recipe on this one - high five to me. Basically I threw some chicken broth, potatoes, carrots and crushed red pepper into the crockpot for six hours, mashed it up and then added a cup of milk and six ounces of sour cream right before I served it.)
Verdict: Good, hearty and plenty of leftovers to put in the fridge and the freezer. Plus, the hubs liked it. Winner. 

Meal: Uganda-style Curry and Sugar Beans served over brown rice with Chapati (new recipe). I got this one from a lady named Annet who cooked at the orphanage we stayed at last year during our trip to Uganda. Seriously the best beans I'd ever tasted, so I begged her for the recipe. 
Verdict: The beans were a hit! They didn't taste quite like Annet's, but they were goooood and I loved the curry and sugar that the beans are mixed with. YUM. I was pretty proud of this one because Annet's recipe was a little vague, so I had to guess on a lot of stuff (like how much curry and how many/what type of beans to use). Looks like I may have gotten a little of my Grandma's cook-without-a-recipe gene after all!

So it turns out that cooking can be kinda fun. Especially the challenge of cooking cheap and healthy with what is on sale or with what we already have. That part of this process felt a little creative to me, so I actually liked it. (In fact, I spent yesterday morning flagging recipes to try in this cookbook. Just who do I think I am?) Throughout this Month O' Cooking, we had a lot of yummy food to eat (turns out I'm not an awful cook after all, I just lacked motivation) and I now have six new recipes that I can make and that I know my husband will like. Success! 


  1. Kudos to you, especially the crockpot cooking. I can't tell you how important it is to be able to get dinner on the table WHILE taking care of your kids. That gets harder and harder as they get older, so its a great idea to get into the groove now.

  2. I made the chicken taco cornbread pie tonight! Thanks for the suggestion! We all loved it! And I took your advice and added a can of black beans (rinsed and drained) and I also added 3/4 cup of salsa--but the pie plate was so full that it almost spilled over. I also drizzled butter on top of the corn bread when it was done. Yum! This is going into our monthly rotation for sure!

    1. I love it. I think next time I make it I'll use the same amount of chicken and cornbread but add the extra beans and such and then cook it in a 9x13 pan. YUM. So glad you liked it!

  3. LOVE THIS! Although, I am really hungry right now and have already had dinner, so I also hate this post. Im going to try to make some of these. They sound yummy! Good for you!!


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