How I learned to cook

I am a rule follower. I can’t help it. Andy is not. Sometimes I joke that his philosophy on rules is: “I hear you giving me a rule. Now I will find a creative way to break it!” See that smirk in the image above? Yeah, that’s the look.

I’m also Type A, “technically creative” (I’ll explain my theory on creative people later), a list maker, and mentally–if not physically–organized.

When Andy and I were first married I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. We ate sandwiches. And take out. When I did cook, it was primarily some kind of pasta recipe I’d seen on a food blog. I wasn’t adventurous. I wasn’t creative. The food was “filling”, but not overly mind blowing. But, for the most part, Andy didn’t complain.

When I lost my first job, cooking took on a whole new meaning. I dove into food blogs and decided that if I wasn’t working I was going to cook. I started making from-scratch mac ‘n cheese, biscuits ‘n gravy, chicken ‘n dumplings (apparently I had a thing for food with an ‘n) and it was amazing. My trick to the excellent food was following the recipe. To a capital T. Chicken ‘n dumplings, in particular, was a several hours long process where you simmer a whole chicken for over an hour simultaneously creating stock and the chicken needed for the dish. Andy used to ask why I didn’t just get a rotisserie chicken and boxed stock. I told him because that’s not what the recipe called for. I didn’t cut corners.

After Andy’s Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis, and even more so after we went grain-free in 2012, I realized that unless we wanted to eat nothing but salad I needed to let go a little in the kitchen. I needed to cut corners, I needed to swap this ingredient for that. And you know what? It didn’t kill me. It wasn’t easy, but it did make me more confident in the kitchen. I started using recipes as inspiration rather than as gospel. If I didn’t have a certain ingredient–an issue that in years past would have resulted in a kitchen panic, or a speedy trip to the store–I looked in the fridge and used what I did have.

Becoming more confident in the kitchen also made cooking easier. I used to make big fancy meals from celebrity chef recipes because I didn’t think I could make good food without their help. The truth is Andy and I both prefer simpler food, and as good as that chicken ‘n dumplings was (seriously, so good!), we’re much happier with cauli-rice bowls.

Don’t get me wrong, I still troll food blogs and cookbooks for ideas. And I do still cook from recipes. But if I feel like the dish needs more cumin than originally called for, I’m going to add it. If I forgot to buy cilantro from the store this week, I leave it out. And it’s not the end of the world.

Here are a few of my “relax, it’s all cool” tips for chilling in the kitchen:

– Swap out one veggie for another. If you don’t have, or like, zucchini swap it for broccoli, cauliflower, or even bell peppers. Or vice versa. Cook with what you like and you’re more likely to like what you cook.
– Only have garlic powder? Use it!
– Don’t like a particular spice? Don’t use it, and add a little more of the spices you do like!
– Use ground turkey (or chicken) instead of ground beef.
– Like the idea of a potato saffron omelet, but haven’t quite nailed the omelet “flip”? Make potato saffron scrambled eggs.
– 2 words: Crock-Pot. (Okay, one hyphenated brand name, but you get the idea.)
– Make it a salad. BLT salad is amazing. You can turn practically any type of sandwich into a salad. Cheeseburger salad anyone?

Do you have any other tips for relaxing in the kitchen? I’d love to hear them!

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