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.
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