Scratch Made: A New Series

I’m not sure if I’ve ever really described how I started cooking, but it was a bit rocky in the beginning.

I grew up in a family that cooked all the time (and still does). My grandparents know their way around the kitchen, and my family always had a home cooked meal for dinner. But besides things like boxed brownies, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Velveeta shells and cheese, I didn’t have much personal experience making food.

Fast forward to college – I’d buy “healthy” frozen meals, whole wheat pasta, jarred sauces, and my own sandwich stuff to keep in my dorm room. My junior year of college I found this tv channel dedicated to food…I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I quickly became addicted to watching the Food Network and slowly began to learn random tidbits about cooking, but I still hadn’t tried to actually cook a full meal by myself.

I remember calling my mom to get her chicken casserole recipe (one of my favorite comfort meals) and an easy salsa chicken recipe to try and proudly took my grocery list to the store to get started.

The salsa chicken sounded easy enough: sear chicken breast in a pan, add salsa, and let it cook together until the chicken is done.

After watching all those cooking shows, I think I got a bit overconfident. I mean, it looks so easy on television – how hard could it be?

In my tiny dorm room kitchen, I took the only pan we had and put it over medium heat. I had already seasoned the chicken with some salt and pepper and was just waiting to throw them in and get started.

I think I was doomed from the start.

Of course, I put them in a bit too early so they never really browned on the first side.

I pressed on.

I flipped the chicken and tried to get them a bit brown on the outside before adding the salsa. Not realizing that keeping the chicken cooking for so long in that pan would result in a dry and rubbery dinner, I pressed on.

Once I thought they were browned enough, I finally added the jar of salsa and turned the heat to low to simmer.

How long do I let it simmer?

How do I know when the chicken is cooked if it’s now cooking in red salsa?

How will I be able to see that it’s cooked all the way through? I can’t tell if the juice runs clear if the salsa is tainting everything.

Why was I freaking out and having a tiny panic attack about cooking chicken – one of the easiest things to cook?

Terrified of having undercooked chicken, I let it cook…and cook and cook.

But I was so proud of myself when I plated that chicken for dinner.

I was not so proud when I tasted it.

Thank goodness I didn’t cook for anyone other than myself that first night. The chicken, despite simmering away in the salsa, was the toughest and driest piece of chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life.

I pressed on and ate it anyways.

After that night, I didn’t have much faith in my cooking abilities. I was so happy that I actually tried cooking for myself, but I wasn’t sure I would ever make anything that other people would want to eat.

But I kept watching Food Network. I started taking cookbooks out of the school library. And I slowly started cooking new things in that tiny kitchen.

Chocolate cake (from a box) with my mom’s homemade chocolate icing.

Mom’s chicken casserole.

Poppyseed Chicken casserole.


No bake cookies.

And something clicked.

I still messed up, all the time. There were many meals that didn’t taste or look good, but I loved the process. I got hooked on cooking and, eventually, my abilities caught up with my passion.

My cooking has changed tremendously since Nick and I got married. I still hadn’t cooked much at that point, so I had to learn as I went as a newlywed. Nick knew much more than I did about cooking, actually! He’s been a great teacher and helper in the kitchen and it’s definitely helped me step out on my own and take more risks.

And now, I feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen.

I still get flustered sometimes and lose concentration and drop things and make messes and bang pots and pans around if I’m really angry.

But most of the time, I feel at home. I know how to make basics, and I’m teaching myself how to do more.

I feel like I’m a scratch made cook. I’ve never had formal training or taken a cooking class. I don’t have the best utensils, a real pantry, or a stand mixer. I’m making mistakes and learning as I go, but I like it that way.

So my new goal is to cook more things at home, period. To make things in our kitchen that I haven’t tried before and maybe even try things that still terrify me. Maybe just to make things at home that I would normally buy from the store, just to see if I can do it and to save a little money in the process.

Operation Scratch Made is on.

Recipes coming soon – I hope you’ll join in! Try something I’ve made or make your own and post about it! Send some recipes my way, and I’ll take a stab at them.

I’m excited to get in the kitchen and see what happens.


*Vote here to get me into the Barnstorming Tour! You can vote once a day (per email address) until May 25th! Thank you, thank you for all your votes and support :)


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  1. This is exciting! I have no formal training either and make most of my stuff from scratch, ending with some horrible mistakes and some delicious food! I can’t wait to see what you come up with. :)

  2. I love your story. We all have has to learn the wonderful process called cooking and your story is yet another example of try and try again. Can’t wait to read more…

    P.S I voted yesterday and will be voting again today!!

  3. I loved this. I like to learn new things to cook and love to take a cook book recipe and make it my own. Some of my favorite recipes turn out that way. I’ll definitely send some (vegetarian) recipes on for you to try.

  4. This is great! I’m definitely in the beginning stages of learning to cook, but I feel a lot more comfortable and confident than I did a year ago. I want to challenge myself to experiment more by my own design; right now I still stick to recipes pretty closely.

  5. Great story and totally inspiring for me! I am trying so hard to learn about cooking and really feel comfortable in a kitchen despite how limited it is… and I realize often that I make excuses that are not really all that valid. If I want to cook a good dinner every night for a week, darn it, then I just need to stop whining and commit to it and see what happens!

  6. What a great story Brandi! I can’t remember exactly how my interest started so it is so wonderful to read yours!

  7. A great story :) My family is the same way- everyone cooks every day! Rarely did we get takeout or eat something that came from a box. It inspired me to start my cooking and food network helped too! I love cooking. Does everything always turn out right? HECK no. But that is part of the fun. You learn more when you mess up vs. make the perfect meal. Good luck with the Stonyfield contest! What a trip

  8. awesome challenge. i agree – the best part of cooking is messing up, trying again determined to make it better and regaling in the fabulous results the 2nd time around. can’t wait to see what you come up with :)

  9. Love the idea of this! Can’t wait to read more!

  10. I like the sounds of this operation! And I think a lot of cooks have stories similar to yours. We never know until we try and you gave it your best!

    I often wish I had grown up in one of those Italian families where cooking was just something you had to learn right along with your academics. It’d be so much easier now. :)

  11. The best way to learn is just by getting in the kitchen and trying! I think it’s great you’ve taught yourself, I’m excited for the series!
    I voted for you!

  12. You got my vote! Good Luck!

  13. I am totally with you on this Scratch made plan!! Sometimes, I feel like that most creative cooks are the ones who haven’t had any formal training…although fear for a certain technique or recipe may actually be a pitfall. :) I can’t wait to see what recipes you tackle. I think some of the scariest things for me to cook are seafood related. hehehe

  14. This is basically me! It mirrors my experiences very closely and I’m currently in the same boat and have been for the past year or so. I don’t ‘know’ how to cook but I’m teaching myself, a recipe and a day at a time. I’m with you!

  15. Oh boy, I can’t wait for all the recipes!

  16. excited for this one!

  17. too cute. i just posted today on making your own salad dressing.

    keep cookin’, girl!

  18. Great story. That kitchen was so tiny; I can attest to that. And I definitely do remember you bringing some baked snacks to Spanish. I absolutely credit Alton Brown and Rachel Ray for giving me the confidence to try and cook things from scratch.

  19. haha I love this story. I was SUCH a horrible cook earlier in the year. I hated eating my own food that I tried making so I just stuck to boxed dinners which never turned out too horribly. Good thing I’ve learned a thing or 5 since then.

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