Writing My Life

Now and Then


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Confessions of a Born-again Cook

When I retired last June, I listed some goals I wanted to work on. Among those was to take up cooking. And if I was going to do that, I wanted to prepare healthier and lighter meals. This was not a goal I enthusiastically endorsed but felt it necessary in order to improve my golden year’s health and to save money. So it has shocked, surprised, and amazed me that I have fallen in love with cooking. (Yes, this revelation deserves all three of those verbs!)

This discovery comes from years of seeing myself as a possible candidate for the food network series “Worst Cooks in America”. I am a slow, messy, noisy, compromising, and clumsy chef that uses expired ingredients! (If you doubt my poor image of myself as queen of culinary arts, just read all posts listed under “my cooking life”!) Regardless of how I view myself, I have enjoyed cooking as I never have before, and these are half a dozen reasons why:

  1. Cooking cheers me up. One dismal, cold January day earlier this year, I felt SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) raise its dreary head. Not having anything exciting on my retiree’s calendar, I decided to dedicate the entire day to cooking! I created several recipes from my new favorite food site Skinnytaste.com and a grocery store-mini-book Taste of Home: Light Slow Cooker Recipe Cards(The Taste of Home link takes you to my favorite stew recipe, but I use dried mangoes instead of dried apricots – SO delicious!!) Anyway, by the end of the day, I was in THE BEST MOOD!
  2. Cooking feeds my creative juices. Because I am experimenting with scads of different dishes, I feel like a scientist in the lab, an artist in her studio, an engineer on a design team – well, you get the idea. To serve a successful, delicious, unique meal is so rewarding. Of course, not all recipes have been a hit especially with my meat-and- potatoes, plain-palate husband, but those have been the exception. He LOVED the vegetable beef stew that includes chunks of BUTTERNUT squash as well as the mango, but he wasn’t a big fan of the Quinoa stuffed peppers I whipped up for last Sunday’s dinner. (To appease his boring taste buds, I cook one of his favorites about once a week: meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti, or sloppy Joes. And yes, my eyes just rolled.)
  3. Cooking makes my house smell like a home. I adore the aromas that permeate our little place, and no Scentsy or Febreeze can duplicate wonderful cooking odors that feeds “feel-good” hormones.
  4. Cooking inspires service. Because there are only two of us at the dinner table most nights, we have a lot of leftovers, and G.E. is not high on those – but he’s working on it. That’s okay. I put some in the freezer and try not to forget they are there, but I also deliver my “meals on wheels” to Mom or neighbors who aren’t privy to my poor-cook reputation! So that’s a double bonus – cooking plus service makes me happy!
  5. I have time to cook. Not having to hurry is critical for this slow poke. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, if the recipe claims prep time as 10 minutes, that’s 60 minutes in Renae time. Seriously. But I don’t care. I often cook in the morning when I’m feeling rested and eager. If I am missing an important ingredient, I can run to the store and buy it because I HAVE TIME!!! As my daughter-in-law is a Wildtree representative, I have cooked and frozen 20 yummy meals using their organic ingredients! Yes, it takes a bite out of my week, but again, I am fine with that because – yup, I HAVE TIME!! – and it saves precious minutes in the future!
  6. Cooking is healthier than eating out! While I’m one who has ALWAYS loved a trip to eating establishments – be they restaurants or fast food – such fare is losing its appeal. I get excited to eat my own cooking!!! Seriously. And nearly every dish I make is a “from-scratch” recipe. No preservatives or artificial flavors – I get enough of those in my Diet Coke.

So those are just a few of the reasons I know “cooking is true”. And I hope this newfound love lasts because I am feeling dang good about it. While I’m sure I’ll never be a foodie, I am thrilled with my status of “born-again cook”, and G.E. is too – well, most of the time.


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Food Diary – an Unpublished Post from the Past

Dear Readers – I stumbled upon this entry I wrote in April 2010 but did not post. I still think it’s pretty funny and a sad true story – as least as far as I can remember. RBS

I have yet to figure out how to use WordPress pages. I’m not really sure what kinds of things you write on pages rather than posts. Pages are stationary, so I guess it’s like recording in stone – except you can delete them OR choose “private” rather than “public” visibility. At any rate, I thought maybe I should “page” recipes instead of posting them. Along with that, I thought I could record memories associated with food like I have been doing on recipe posts and  dreary diet pages.

Today, I whipped together my quick ‘n easy lasagna and I started wondering about the first time I tried this Italian dish. Mom didn’t serve it when I was growing up, so I kind of think I tasted lasagna when I went to Brigham Young University and roomed with Dalene, Lynelle, Janelle, Marilyn, and Cheryl. The 2 years I lived with those 5 taught me a lot about cooking. All were better chefs than I was – by a long shot.

We all chipped in $5 a week for food/dinners. Two would shop; two would cook; and two had the week off. Considering that $30 fed 6 girls, I’m amazed at how well we ate. Toast, cereal, and/or fruit were the breakfast mainstays, and most of the time we ate lunch on campus, but we all sat down for yummy dinners that included desserts.

Lynelle created my 2 favorite desserts – a frozen lime thingy and a layered, rainbow dessert to die for. I tried to make them a couple of times when I was first married, but they just didn’t taste as good. And the rainbow dish was so dang time-consuming because each layer had to chill before adding the next one.

It sort of looked like this minus the sun and rosette clouds. Really ghastly!

It sort of looked like this minus the sun and rosette clouds. Really ghastly!

I tried to keep up with my friends by cooking up some of Mom’s great dishes – the ones she DIDN’T use recipes for, like her chili. But EVERY attempt ended in disaster. One of the worst experiences is when I baked a cake – probably from a mix, but then I tried to make the frosting from powdered sugar, butter and milk. I didn’t have any directions, so I guessed at amounts. Most cooks know powdered sugar icing needs VERY LITTLE milk, but I DIDN’T know that. After emptying EVERY box of powdered sugar we had into the mixture to thicken it up, the concoction was still quite runny. And it looked and tasted rather blah, too. So what did I do? I decided to add a little flavoring and food coloring; but the only coloring was BLUE and the only flavoring was ROOT BEER – the kind used to make HOMEMADE ROOT BEER. In spite of the BYU blue tint,  it looked HORRIBLE and tasted WORSE! And, of course, it was supposed to be served at a church dinner for college students! I can’t remember if I was courageous enough to take it to the social or not, but if I did, I am sure not one person except the baker tried it. Yeccchhhhhhh!

Signing off for now,

Renae


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My Wildtree Cooking Workshop Adventure

If you know me – or don’t know me but have read past posts – you realize I an NOT a confident cook. As I have also mentioned before, I want to be, but I just don’t like it enough to work at it. Nevertheless, I agreed to host a Wildtree Freezer Meal Workshop as my daughter-in-law Lisa is a Wildtree Representative in California and has convinced me of the ease and value of these products.

Not am I only a nervous Nelly in the kitchen, I am a worse promoter – “You wouldn’t like to come to my Wildtree Party would you?” (Pause for negative response.) “I didn’t think so.” Or, ” I don’t suppose you’d like to drive to my house out in the western desert on a 3-day weekend to put together 10 freezer meals?” (Pause for another negative response.) “I don’t blame you.”

Anyway, after approaching 20 or so friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers off the street, FIVE folks committed to come. I was thrilled. But as I labored through the pre-workshop preparations, I feared my participants would ask for their money and time back. It took me about 4 hours! BUT remember, I am also a freakin’ SLOW chef. Picture Meryl Streep chopping onions in Julie and Julia before she got good! What took me 240+ minutes took my sister 2 hours and my friend 45 minutes – she used one of those fancy food processors that good cooks use.

Because this was a monumental undertaking – one that I am actually very proud of – I decided to document the experience through pictures. My personal shopper, G.E., actually performed the first step – buy the meat and veggies – but these pics feature my contribution and my party!

Step 1

Step 1: Skin, chop, dice, and slice!

 

Step 2

Step 2: Bag, label, bag, label!

 

Step 5

Step 4: Organize the workshop to impress your guests!

 

Connie

Melissa

Step 6: Party Hearty with your sis and your friend –

the only ones who came!

Final note: 

The three of us had a great time, and now we all have 10 GOURMET meals that each serve  4+ people in our freezers. And what’s even better, we can throw them into the crockpot after thawing them overnight and PRESTO-BINGO, dinner is served.

I feel like I channeled Julia! YaY me, and THANK YOU Connie and Melissa!

P.S. I omitted step 3 – placing the bags in the freezer! =) This post sort of sounds like an INFOMERCIAL, doesn’t it? =)


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what I ruined today

Today I slept in until 9:00 A.M. I cannot tell you how blissful that felt. It would have been the most perfect of sleep-ins IF G.E. hadn’t started his day at 7:00 A.M. As I wafted in and out of consciousness, I felt guilty about snuggling under the comforter while he headed for Home Depot.

Once he was out the door, however, all guilt disappeared. But then there were the wack-o morning dreams. I experienced my most frequent re-occurring nightmare – teeth falling out of my mouth! At least this time I was in a dentist’s office.

Once I drug myself out of bed and checked to see that all 32 teeth (counting fake one in the bridge) were still secure, I started my day: washing the clothes, stripping the bed, cleaning up me, etc.

The anxiety set in while I perused my cookbooks for a brownie recipe. My Saturday chores included making brownies for a church social I couldn’t attend. But the dessert was needed, so I volunteered to make some.

After dashing to Walmart for the ingredients for a simple but yummy-sounding recipe, I quickly (for me) whipped up “Grandma’s Caramel Brownies” from one of several church-ladies’ cookbooks that I own. I followed the directions VERY carefully, even catching mistakes BEFORE I made them.

I pulled them from the oven after exactly 23 minutes – as instructed, but I didn’t toothpick test them because that just doesn’t work for brownies, especially when they are warm. The pick will NOT, canNOT come out clean – so why bother?

While they cooled I readied myself for the play G.E. and I were taking Mom to – the reason I wasn’t attending the social. What happened next was one more nightmare in a long list of attempts to cook, bake, or prepare something edible for a church social. The brownies were BEYOND gooey. I tried to dish them up onto the large, clear glass plate I bought just for those confections, but the glops just plopped like chunky mounds of dough or frosting or grosser things that I won’t mention.

Almost time to go, I decided to call the social’s organizer and explain my dilemma – she didn’t answer her phone and she expected me to deliver the goodies within minutes. What to do!?!

I scooped up the messies and threw them back into the 13X9 pan, covered it with plastic wrap, washed the platter and delivered them ANYWAY! As I handed them to her, I suggested she try REbaking them! Then I apologized AGAIN and rushed out the door, feeling some satisfaction that she knew I TRIED to follow through.

Now I can add brownies to the list of failed pot luck dishes, along with the burned chili made with unsoaked, crunchy beans and peach cobbler that was as gooey as the brownies. I know there are more examples, but it’s late and I’m tired.

The play – The 3 Musketeers – was mediocre, but we had a good dinner and lots of laughs at McGraff’s. Mom was tired and happy when we dropped her off at home, and I was thrilled I didn’t have to spend an evening at a church social apologizing for the gloppy brownies!

Nighty night.


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… so you think I can cook …

If you have read any food-related posts of mine, such as Bean Soup for the ????, Yammy YumsT-Giving: The Prep and The Review, or  Christmas 09 – the food,  you know that I don’t consider myself much of a cook at all. I am  all right with that because I’d much rather expend my creative juices writing than trashing  my kitchen and burning fingers, hands, and arms. (I don’t know whether it is  cooking or curling irons that inflict more blisters upon my person.)

Because of the messes I create, G.E. thinks every meal involves the same effort required of a  Thanksgiving-Feast. “Thanks for the Thanksgiving soup/sandwich/oatmeal,” he remarks as he searches the counter top for an empty spot to stack his dirty dishes. Another cooking issue  is that I move at turtle speed in the kitchen! If the recipe lists 10 minutes preparation time, I’ll take 30. That’s two reasons I don’t cook from Julia’s or Martha’s books: We’d never eat and I’d dirty EVERY dish, pot, pan, and utensil in the house.

Traditional Italian New Year’s Day Dinner

In spite of all this, I do want to be a better cook. I am tired of eating out, and I want to eat healthier – remember my New Year’s resolutions.  Because of the aforementioned problems,  I may cook out of cans, but I leave Hamburger Helper on the shelves. I’m sort of a quasi-from-scratch cook, you might say.

Anyway, back on Martin Luther King’s holiday, I cooked up 3 dinners to eat throughout the week. That was my “cooking from Costco” experiment as I tried some of the recipes from the free Costco cookbook I received on Black Friday.  I fixed several recipes from that book, but the Italian Sausage and Lentils was the most interesting. I couldn’t find the Puy lentils that are grown in the volcanic ash soil in France. So I had to settle for plain old lentils found at Smiths. Must say, I’m not a big fan. The texture actually reminded me of black-eyed peas, traditional Southern New Year’s Day side dish, and I don’t care for those either. Maybe it’s an acquired taste.

Last Monday, on Presidents Day, I cooked up a couple of heart-healthy recipes I found in February’s Woman’s Day. I’m often drawn to recipes found in women’s magazines because they are quick and simple, but I wondered if these would be tasty. One ingredient that jazzes up flavor but isn’t heart-friendly is SALT, and these dishes included VERY little of the seasoning.

Roast Rosemary Chicken on a small plate for portion control!!!

The first recipe I “whipped up” was Roast Rosemary Chicken and Vegetables  – DELICIOUS – and I even had to substitute a couple of mediocre ingredients for the preferred choices! I LOVE  roast vegetables, and the rosemary and garlic made me forget about salt! (And yes, I used fresh rosemary, a first for me!) While G.E. isn’t a big fan of garlic, he did enjoy this dish. Although, he was a bit nervous when he smelled the garlic’s pungent odor permeate our entire house.  He did not care for the Kalamata olives, however, but I thought their flavor added a fun zip and combined well with the veggies and the herbs.

Roast Rosemary Chicken and Vegetables

  • 8 small chicken drumsticks(about 1 3/4 lb)
  • 4 large red potatoes, each cut in 8 wedges, wedges halved (I didn’t have any, so I used boring old bakers – not as sweet and not as colorful)
  • 2 large peppers, cut in 3/4-in. wedges (Because orange peppers were in my fridge’s crisper,  they stood in for the lively red ones.)
  • 1 large red onion, cut in 1/2-in.-thick slices (Again, I resorted to slicing the blah yellow onion in the bin, BUT it was a sweet one!)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 tsp dried
  • 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half (I could only find these bottled in an oil and wine marinade, but I toweled them off, threw them in!)
  • Serve with: balsamic vinegar to drizzle over chicken and vegetables – HEY! I didn’t notice this suggestion in the magazine’s version! Double YUM!

PREPARATION

1. Position racks to divide oven in thirds. Heat oven to 500°F. You’ll need 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with nonstick foil.2. Distribute drumsticks, potatoes, peppers and onion evenly between pans. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and toss to turn and coat.3. Roast 30 minutes, stirring mixtures after 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked and vegetables are tender.4. Arrange on platter; add olives.

FINAL REFLECTIONS:

I’ll definitely make this dish again, but I’ll double up the vegtables!


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Day 24 ~ Yammy Yums!

As the channel 2 news wrapped up, I told Hubby I’d hurry to bed as soon as I posted an entry about yams on my blog. His comments about the exciting topic were less that supportive, but hey! It’s day 24, and while one of my blogging friends is writing about monkeys, I’m at least focusing upon something related to Thanksgiving!! (Although I do have a good monkey story.)

A reasonable facsimile of Mom’s famous candied yams!

About those yams – well, today I worked in the office – as opposed to visiting schools – and overheard a discussion about an item on my colleague’s Thanksgiving menu: candied yams. Suddenly, I lost all interest in solving the problems of an online writing program as I listened to Lucy share the directions for candying yams.

While this intriguing topic doesn’t perk the interest of many people, it caught my attention because the description of her mom’s candied yams sounded like OUR Thanksgiving side-dish! This was startling because I have NEVER heard of any family who cooks up these tubers like my mom does.

A Google search will bring up recipes for candied yams, and I imagine that if I looked long and hard enough, I MIGHT find something close. But that hasn’t happened yet. The recipes I’ve found pale in comparison to Mom’s NON-recipe because they suggest that you candy the yams in the oven, or that you use CANNED yams – yucky! Every one also included melting marshmallows on top – no, No, NO!!! (I realize marshmallows and yams are a big part of many traditional turkey dinners, but NOT ours!)

Nevertheless, there was Lucy chattering away about how you precook the yams first, and then you peel them. Next, you melt butter over low heat in a large frying pan and add TONS of brown sugar until it dissolves into a RICH, caramel-like syrup – only REALLY thick. Finally, you place the sliced yams into the mixture and slowly coat each piece.

How could this be? I thought our yams were a deep, dark family secret as safely kept as the Colonel’s recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I couldn’t believe it! For years, I watched Dad carve the turkey while Mom slathered chunks of yams with the gooey substance mere minutes before we sat down to chow down. It was the LAST completed dish and one of, if not THE, favorite part of the entire meal. And now I questioned the originality of Mom’s NONrecipe for FAMOUS candied yams. I just assumed the dish was her creation alone because NO ONE ever served them to me – EVER!!!

But there it was. Evidence that sometime back in the 1940s or 50s a recipe for super sugary candied yams circulated neighborhoods, churches, and the food sections of newspapers. While others moved onto easier recipes – ones you could whip up in advance – our family – okay, AND Lucy’s, too – have hung onto the yummiest yam fixin’s in the world!


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Bean Soup for the ????

I’ve been thinking more upon food – don’t know why it’s been so much on my mind the past couple of days. Last evening when I couldn’t get onto the Internet, I created an entry about making bean soup but other food ideas stood in the way. I still think it’s a fun essay, so here it ’tis. (Well, it will be posted soon. My cute grand-daughter needs her sleep, so I’m kicked out of the computer/bedroom AGAIN! Everyday blogging ain’t easy!)

One Tuesday, I hurried home to fix dinner for hubby for the second night in a row! Feeling just a bit guiltyabout how rarely I prepare meals, I committed to cook more than once or twice a week. Furthermore, I promised myself that I would whip up something a little more nourishing than grated cheese with salsa over tortillas – a staple around our house. In spite of good intentions, however, I stumbled over the same block – I had NO clue what to fix!

I realize this problem is related to my organization-impaired personality. I so rarely plan menus that I can’t remember the last time I pulled out the cook books, listed meal ideas, and then created a grocery list. Instead, my modus operandi is to search the cupboards and fridge for inspiration. Believe me there is little in my kitchen that ignites imagination.

Once in a while, I notice an ingredient here or there that makes me think, “Perhaps . . . .“ Unfortunately, a quick check in the crisper drawer or the pantry destroys the moment. Not enough a major ingredient moves me onto plan B.

Now plan B usually means substituting an item in my cupboard for the one listed in the recipe – IF I’m following a recipe. Substituting ingredients is a dangerous decision that rarely works for me. One of my worst concoctions was root beer frosting – I subbed root beer flavoring, the sort used to make homemade root beer, for vanilla. Because the final color was a yukky brown, I threw in some blue food coloring. The poor cake looked TERRIBLE and TASTED worse! But that was then . . .

That particular Tuesday night, things went a bit better. After toying with the idea of making gourmet potatoes, a real UNfavorite of Hubby’s, I decided upon potato soup. I dusted off a couple of cook books to find a recipe, but all required too many ingredients that I’d have to substitute. But I didn’t give up! I turned to the Internet to Google “quick and easy soups.” A couple of clicks later, just a few more minutes of indecision, and I decided upon Quick and Easy Bean Soup – I’d only have to substitute 3 ingredients. YaY!

As a kid, I always loved my mom’s Navy Bean Soup! As a married woman, I tried to recreate her masterpiece, but the soup was one of her many non-recipe dishes. Mom would throw together this and that, add salt, and YUM, a great meal! To recreate a non-recipe is very hard, especially for a non-cook.

When I looked over the quick and easy bean soup recipe, I didn’t anticipate that it would taste anything like Mom’s. I was just happy that I had 4 of the 7 ingredients! Well, I threw it all together, and it turned out GREAT! But what was even more rewarding is that it tasted like a chunkier versions of Mom’s!

Here is the recipe I found from Cooks.com. My substitutes are in parentheses.

2 cans Campbell’s Bean and Bacon soup (I was afraid this ingredient would rob the soup of its homemade taste, but it did NOT!)
2 cans pinto beans (subbed 1 big, fat can of red kidney beans)
2 cans great Northern beans (subbed 2 cans of small white beans)
1 pound link sausage [beef or pork] sliced (subbed 1 medium slice of left over ham, diced; 1 4 oz. package of Canadian ham, diced; 1/3 pkg. of thin sliced gourmet ham for sandwiches, diced – that’s all that was left.)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (1/2 t. garlic powder)
1 tbsp. olive oil

Sauté onion, garlic and sausage in olive oil. Add soup, beans, and 2 soup cans water. Simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Good with Corn Bread. (I did serve soup with corn bread made from Marie Calendar’s packaged mix, and I didn’t have to sub ANYTHING because all it calls for is WATER!)

I have no idea what the original recipe would taste like, but I am GRATEFUL that MC Woodard submitted it to Cook.com!