Confident Cooking

The other day my husband remarked as I was getting dinner started, “It seems like you enjoy cooking more these days.” To which I responded, “Well, I wouldn’t say that I enjoy cooking, but I think I am a little more confident at cooking than I used to be.” I am honestly not a very good cook. I will never be throwing any dinner parties, ever. I won’t be hosting big family Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners like my mom anytime soon, either, especially since most of my family lives in another state.

Of all of the areas of home-making, cooking is my absolute worst. I was never taught how to cook anything other than Hamburger Helper and frozen pizza products. (I discovered the secret to perfect Pizza Rolls on my own–you wait for the first one to pop open.) During the early years of our marriage, I rarely cooked at all. And it’s actually harder to cook for one or two people as opposed to three or four. You just feel like it’s too much work, and you’re going to have too many leftovers.

These days I can make some pretty good zucchini and pumpkin bread. I actually like baking the best because you just mix it up and throw it in the oven. Although, I still can’t make cookies that aren’t burnt on the bottom and raw in the middle to save my life. The kids love my rice pilaf (I add peas and carrots), and it tastes like fried rice when it is reheated as leftovers. And I have figured out that the key to great french fries is to season them with onion and garlic powder near the end of the cooking time.

So I have a small cache of recipes that I can manage. I have slowly been trying to move away from convenience foods. We’re down to only having Hamburger or Tuna Helper twice a month rather than every week, Velveeta Shells about twice a month, and Au Gratin Potatoes in a box once a month. I’ve been trying to cut out MSG as much as possible, so I’ve been coming up with alternatives from scratch, or mostly scratch. I hope to cut down on these things even more as I try out new recipes. I also try to expand to things that I wasn’t necessarily fed at home, like lentils. But I always keep a box or two of convenience food around for those nights when I need to whip up something quick and easy.

But then I have to juggle all of the different pickiness issues. I don’t like beans, onions, peppers, or canned broth (it tastes tinny). My oldest daughter won’t eat anything with tomato sauce except pizza; she also goes into full drama mode at the sight or smell of tomato sauce even if she isn’t being forced to eat it. DD#2 is not a big meat eater; she doesn’t like hamburger at all. She will eat chicken nuggets and popcorn shrimp sometimes. She does like ham. My husband and I both tend to prefer simple and straight-forward foods. We love watching Hell’s Kitchen, but we always joke that we would never touch most of the food they serve with a ten-foot pole.

Cooking stresses me out, too. Trying to manage and time two or three different food items really freaks me out sometimes, especially when you add in three kids. I’m really big on one dish meals, like pasta dishes. I also like things that have to simmer or bake for a long time (like the pilaf), because then I have time to prepare a second dish without the first one burning. And then you get in the rut of eating the same things all of the time. No, I still don’t really enjoy cooking.

I think it is made even harder by the amount of restaurant and convenience foods I have eaten. For one thing, restaurants can afford a wider a array of quality ingredients than I can. Secondly, fast food places and convenience foods have extra chemicals in them to trick your brain into thinking they taste better than they really do. I love the anecdote in Fast Food Nation when the author goes to a factory in New Jersey where they waft a vial under his nose and the smell of a perfectly cooked cheeseburger makes his mouth start watering. That’s what fast food chains often put in and on their foods to make them taste better. And MSG is basically the same thing in packaged foods. I think the more of that stuff you eat, the harder it is to be satisfied with plain old meals at home.

Despite all of this, I do feel a little more confident in my cooking abilities than I did when I first married. For instance, I know how to peel potatoes now. And I just learned to let scrambled eggs cook longer before you stir them to keep them from sticking to the pan so badly. The more I learn and practice the better it is. Maybe someday I’ll be able to take a basic cooking class, so I am not so intimidated by some of the terminology I come a cross in recipes. But for now, I will do the best I can to provide relatively healthy and economical meals for my growing family and continue to push myself outside my comfort zone in doing so.

I’ll tell you one thing. As my kids get older, I definitely plan to teach them how to cook as much as possible. I sometimes let them help me pour and mix ingredients for baking, but I’d like them be able to take over dinner duty at least one day a week each by the time they are teenagers. Not only would this give me a break, but it would make them more confident about a necessary skill they will need when they eventually have their own homes. One of the biggest perks of homeschooling is that it gives you more time to teach such important life skills, if only it automatically gave you the patience, too.

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