Better Cook, Better Eater

Better Cook, Better Eater

Cooking stuffed sweet peppers

You know how I told you about cooks that can’t be trusted? Well, I’m one of them. I somehow find a way to mess up the simplest of recipes (such as boxed mashed potatoes) and stress out. It leads to me swearing off cooking forever, and I never get better. But that’s the thing – I want to be better! I wish I could cook up meals that people want to eat because they like it, not because I made the nice gesture of cooking for them. I also want to be a good cook because I think it will allow me to try new foods.  

When I found out about Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), it made me realize that the food I was trying wasn’t the issue – my fear of the food was. That fact slightly boosted my courage in trying new foods; however, I am not going all Andrew Zimmern and trying anything and everything. One of my tips for encouraging children and other picky eaters to try new foods is to get them in the kitchen while you’re cooking. Teach them about the foods they’re trying and, hopefully, this understanding will help build their courage to try the food. But by saying this, I feel like I’m being slightly hypocritical because: 

  1. I am not a good cook, so I don’t like cooking. 
  2. I don’t know a lot about food. 
  3. I am not brave when it comes to trying new foods, and I don’t like trying to cook new foods.

So, I am setting out to change that. I have been collecting new recipes and researching different cooking apps (Buzzfeed’s Tasty, Food Network’s Kitchen app, and, of course, Pinterest recipes). I have also started watching every Food Network show available on Hulu and reading books about food. I need as much inspiration and advice I can get! 

Drew has been very supportive and excited for me to do this. I’m not sure if he’s more excited for me to keep growing as a cook and eater or at the prospect of cooking less. But one thing’s for sure – he needs to be careful about what he eats because when I cook, you can’t be too confident of what you’re going to get!  

Back to the Basics 

To become a better cook, my first task will involve practicing the basics of cooking. From learning how to cut as consistently as possible, to studying how different types of salt affects your cooking, I am trying to learn it all. I recently purchased the book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat where she took an approach similar to mine: She went to restaurants and culinary school, consulted with professional chefs, and traveled across the globe to learn all she could about food and cooking. Because I do not have the time or connections to do what she did, I will read her book and hope I can live vicariously through her studies. Since she is now a James Beard Award-winning chef, I think I can trust her to guide me through the finer points of cooking.

Try, Fail, Try Again 

One reason I believe I don’t cook as well as I could is the fact that I rush. I rush through reading the recipe, somehow thinking I can memorize every step after one quick skim. This has led to embarrassing mistakes, like when I somehow messed up boxed mashed potatoes during a college thanksgiving meal. I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I think I added the potatoes to the boiling water too soon, so they didn’t solidify correctly. It was rough. I think two people tried the mushy results, but then were left untouched for the rest of the meal. To make matters worse, my roommate Morgan made perfect boxed mashed potatoes. So there were two bowls sitting side by side on the counter. One filled with nice, fluffy mashed potatoes and the other looking like tan flour soaked with water. 

I also tend to bite off more than I can chew, figuratively of course. I try my hand at cooking a meal before performing some of its easier steps and it all falls apart. I recently tried to make a bacon-wrapped, feta cheese and spinach-stuffed chicken for Drew and me. Here’s how that disaster went. 

First, I wanted to try a healthier recipe from Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan. I’ve made several recipes from this book and they’ve turned out well! However, I should have adjusted certain steps in this recipe, but I was too afraid. The main one was not cooking down the feta with the spinach. The cheese was going to be in the chicken while that cooked, so that would have been enough heat for that type of cheese. 

The second mistake I made was not double checking if we had toothpicks to hold the chicken together while it cooked (spoiler alert, we had zero). According to the recipe, I had to butterfly-cut the chicken so it was barely connected on one side. Then the toothpicks would hold it all together while it cooked. Because I didn’t have toothpicks, I wrapped it all in tin foil. This led to a slower cooking time which meant the cheese was overcooked and the chicken essentially cooked in its juices as well as the bacon grease. The latter I can live with (it’s one of my favorite cooking tools), but the chicken juice was just too much for me to handle. Also, the bacon didn’t crisp at all, and I am not a fan of soggy bacon. 

Once it was finally done, I didn’t even touch it. The chicken juice and lack of cheese scared me from wanting to try it at all. Because it took so long to cook, Drew was hungry enough that he devoured it, but we threw the rest out. He claims the chicken was cooked perfectly (thankfully), but that was all that went well with the meal. 

Small Successes 

As I mentioned earlier, I have been digging into websites, apps, cookbooks, you name it to find recipes I think I can make now. The first test for me was Super Bowl Sunday. I wanted to create a spread of classic game food, with some fun new foods thrown in.  

Chicken Wings 

Ah, chicken wings, the classic football food that appeases almost everyone. Almost. I struggle with bone-in chicken wings. I’ve tried them many times in my life, but I rarely find myself liking, if not craving, them. I thought that I might appreciate them more if I made them myself so I focused on the recipe and put in some work. I found Chef Chris Santos’ Smoky Rubbed Chicken Wings with Honey, Bourbon, and Molasses Sauce on the Food Network Kitchen App that sounded awesome. Just enough heat, sweetness, and stickiness to be the kind of wings I’d like.  

Photo by Omar Mahmood on Pexels.com

Ah, chicken wings, the classic football food that appeases almost everyone. Almost. I struggle with bone-in chicken wings. I’ve tried them many times in my life, but I rarely find myself liking, if not craving, them. I thought that I might appreciate them more if I made them myself so I focused on the recipe and put in some work. I found Chef Chris Santos’ Smoky Rubbed Chicken Wings with Honey, Bourbon, and Molasses Sauce on the Food Network Kitchen App that sounded awesome. Just enough heat, sweetness, and stickiness to be the kind of wings I’d like.  

These wings required a marinade, 14 spices (yep, 14!) just for the rub, a homemade BBQ sauce (my first BBQ sauce I’ve ever made), and baking as well as broiling. It took me quite a while to make these wings, and by the time I finished them, I couldn’t wait to dig into them. I took one bite and immediately regretted it. The main thing I don’t like about bone-in wings is the meat’s texture. It’s almost slippery and reminds me of what I’m eating. On top of that texture was the fact that I was holding a bone. I can’t handle that either – again, it reminds me of what I’m eating (poor chicken).  

Even though I didn’t like these wings, everyone else LOVED them. There were no leftovers and my stepdaughters kept going back to them (big win for me!). I wish I liked them, but I couldn’t get my mind away from the texture and bones. 

Bacon is My Jam 

I love bacon. It makes almost every meal better and I look for every opportunity to add it to my diet. I recently tried bacon jam crostini at Lolo in Stillwater and could have eaten them all night. I immediately searched Pinterest for a bacon jam recipe and stumbled across The Seaside Baker’s Bacon Jam Crostinis. I knew these would be a great side to go with the chicken wings.  

To make this recipe, I needed a food processor and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one! We decided to go big on this purchase, seeing it as something that we’ll use for years to come. Drew bought the beautiful Cuisinart Elemental 8-Cup Food Processor that day with Target gift cards we received from my bridal shower just a month before. However, this excitement proved to be my downfall. I was so excited to use it and document that in my Instagram story that I over-processed the jam and it was almost a sauce instead. Thankfully the flavor was there and people liked it, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when I planned out this meal. 

The Recipe That Made Me Like Eggs (kind of) 

“Why don’t we always have this?”

– Bella, my 13-year-old Bonus Daughter

As I note in my recent post, Overcoming the Fear of Trying New Foods, I’m trying like eggs, but I don’t like them on their own. Their texture, smell, and look is not appealing to me. But throw in some bacon, cheese, and spices? That I can do! As I mentioned in one of My Favorite Things posts, one of my go-to cookbooks is Joanna Gaines’ The Magnolia Table. Her bacon and cheese quiche is one reason why I love this book. With creamy gruyere cheese, a pound and a half of bacon, and crispy pie crust, what’s not to love?

When I lived on my own, I would make this quiche on the weekend and freeze the leftovers to have for breakfast throughout the week. I recently made it for Drew and the girls and Bella asked, “Why don’t we always have this?” Another win for me! Anytime I can get the girls to eat my food, I celebrate a bit on the inside.

More importantly for me, this dish made me branch out a bit with trying eggs. Since first making this quiche, I have tried more egg dishes (like scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese – essentially the same thing but no one needs to know that 😉 ) and I’ve looked at more recipes to try in the future. I now eat my mom’s egg dish every Christmas (a staple in our home) and it was served at my bridal shower. By adding two of my favorite things (bacon and cheese) to a food I’m tentative about – even afraid of at times – I was able to push my nerves aside to recognize that at least I’ll like something in the dish. This is enough to give it a try and eat a little bite.  

Also, by giving myself some liberties with this recipe, I was able to adjust it to be something I’d like more. I put less chives in, increase the bacon by a slice or two, and add more of the gruyere cheese than it calls for because it’s just that good. 

Join Me in My Cooking Journey! 

It’s now a priority for me to learn how to cook and cook well. I have a list of recipes I want to try and am constantly looking for tips and tricks to make it an easy and fun process. I will also be putting my theory to the test to see if by cooking more, I’m able to try (and hopefully like!) more foods. I hope you bring your picky eater into the kitchen as well to educate them on the food they’re eating. I believe understanding the food put in front of me and knowing what to expect once I bite into it has helped me on my journey.

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook to get live updates of my cooking and tasting journey! Also, sign up for my emails to receive my favorite quiche recipe for free! It might just change your picky eater’s mind about eggs too. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s