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.


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!