A Beginner is Cooking: E is for Easy

Yesterday was not my favourite work day so today when I woke up I decided I needed comfort food. Typically that means soup and sandwiches, or perogies, one of my easy fix meals, but today I had to adapt it to involve cooking. I found a recipe for Chicken Caesar Pasta salad and chicken caesar salad is basically one of my favourite foods so adding in pasta just seemed destined to make it better!

Now I realize there’s minimal cooking involve in this recipe, I cook up some pasta which I then don’t even have to try to keep warm while I time the rest of the recipe, cook the chicken, which again doesn’t have to be cooked in time with the rest of the food as it too can cool, and make a salad. Now I may be speaking too soon but this seems like it should be a cake walk.

(This leads me to wonder where the phrase “cake walk” comes from? A google search has informed me that, “the American English term “cakewalk” was used as early as 1863 to indicate something that is very easy or effortless, although this metaphor may refer to the carnival game of the same name in referring to the fact that the latter’s winners obtain their prize by doing no more than walking around in a circle.” x)

This time when making a recipe involving parmesan cheese I checked to make sure we had it first, which we did, phew! In fact we had all the ingredients except baby tomatoes and I don’t even like tomatoes (I’m a picky eater about strange things, okay) so it worked out perfectly!

Once more I bravely strayed from the recipe (this is becoming a habit, my goodness!) I remembered that one of the commenters on the original recipe of last weeks Lemon Herb Chicken said that they liked to use leftovers on salad, a good idea! So I threw in some lemon juice while cooking the chicken like the recipe called for last time. Caesar salad is often served with a lemon slice on the side, it must be a thing!

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They say pride cometh before a fall (“they” originally being the Bible) and due to the clear simplicity of this recipe, I was bound to make a mistake. I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough and began sautéing the chicken, like was needed last week. Now I’m sure in the long run this wouldn’t have been a big deal, cooked is cooked, doesn’t really matter how, but the recipe said to grill and grilled chicken is definitely better looking on a salad! So I saved the chicken from the pan and threw together a grilling set up for it in the oven. This, however, meant I hadn’t preheated the oven, so it was a good thing that timing is all higgledy-piggledy for this recipe!

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In the meantime, I couldn’t screw up cutting lettuce and getting salad stuff ready so I did that, yo, at last, a task I can handle!

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The chicken survived, I discovered that I don’t know how to make grill/char lines using an oven and was too hungry to bother figuring it out, and made mah salad. Comfort food to the max. I love this salad. This, this is a good salad.

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A Beginner is Cooking: D is for Definitely mostly Defrosted…

Today I decided to be bold. I am not making a one serve meal, there will be leftovers (intentional ones that is, as opposed to last time when I just got too full!). There could be waste. THERE IS MORE PRESSURE! No one but me has to eat these leftovers though so at least theres that. I don’t have to disappoint people!

No cooking happened last week, apologies, situation at work, had to pick up a shift on my day off, ran out of time etc, we move on!

There was meat in the house today, a good start! And I planned ahead enough to defrost said meat, so far things are going very well! I even found a recipe with the word simple in the name which bodes quite well for me overall. Today the mission is Simple Lemon Herb Chicken with couscous and some kind of frozen vegetable that I will choose at a later time… There! I’m incorporating vegetables even if I’m not reaaaaaaaally cooking them!

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So cooking! Mostly this involved putting herbs and lemon juice on the chicken (based on a similar, yet different recipe, I also put minced garlic in the pan with the oil at the beginning and added in rosemary along with the oregano. I am adding things in that are not on the recipe?! Whaaaaat? Getting bold…)

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At this point the amount of sizzling happening was starting to freak me out a little. I mean I know that means its actually cooking but in my mind it sets off sirens screaming BURNING! SPLATTERING OIL! NEAR EXPLOSIONS! etc, so it’s really a thrilling process allowing myself to nibble nervously on my nails and not interfere long enough for things to actually cook through! I flipped the chicken and we hit the time when ideally they should have been cooked through…

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Some of you seasoned chefs (bumdumtss) may have noticed I used the words “ideally” and “should have been” there… That’s right. I do thankfully know enough to cut the chicken through at its thickest point to see if its cooked through before serving up so when I did that this time round I was a little bummed to find that they were noooooooooooot cooked through. Thus I was faced with a conundrum. I didn’t know how long they’d take to cook through or if the outside would burn if I just continued to cook them as they were, so I took the other idea that presented itself and cut ’em in half (and then mauled ’em a bit more to make sure as much pink as possible was touching the pan).

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I had forgotten that in a review of the meal the cook mentioned pounding the meat to even the width or something, which is something I love doing! and I forgot it! So sad… I also maaay not have been patient enough to let it all fuuuuuully defrost (but I think it was definitely mostly defrosted). Anyway, at this point I had made couscous and green beans so they were ready to go and after being fully confident that the chicken was thoroughly cooked (don’t worry, it may have ultimately been overcooked but I was taking no chances!) I plated up a full meal for mahself.

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It looked good, it smelt good, and dang it, it tasted good! It was quite lemony but the couscous balanced it out nicely or something and I was one happy camper! What with this and tuna casserole I can now provide meals for two days in succession, I’m basically building up a repertoire! (Warning: high levels of sarcasm have been found in this use of the word “repertoire”)

So there we go, I am no longer a useless college-aged student living for free in my parents’ basement. Now, I can cook two decent tasting meals.

A Beginner is Cooking: C is for Casserole

I may have to start buying my own meat. Relying on what is in the house is proving to be a severe handicap in learning to cook unless I want to go vegetarian in which case we need some tofu or squashes or avocado (I greatly dislike avocado by the way, why is it in every recipe these days?) The issue this provides is that I’m not really sure that I’m willing to invest money into this hobby that I’m not particularly enjoying. I mean I understand that eating isn’t a hobby, but cooking my own menu of things is when I could just eat soup of sandwiches. Once living away from home I do the shopping and choose the ingredients, I don’t really have that freedom at home for the most part unless I want to super clearly label all my stuff and hide it in the fridge.

After struggling to find a recipe that we had ingredients for I managed to dig up a recipe for a tuna casserole for one. Now I rather like “for one” recipes because it means less math for me! Some things are surprisingly difficult to half or quarter! Ingredients present, I cook. Today we shall use both the stove top and the oven, I venture further into the world of the kitchen…

They say the third time is the charm. Now maybe it was getting more comfortable in the kitchen, maybe it’s because at last I found a beginner recipe that actually even had seasonings as a part of the recipe, or maybe it was sheer dumb luck, but folks, this tasted good. My only critique is that it was actually quite large for a single serving but that’s part of what this cooking experience is about, learning to eat proper amounts, still wasn’t able to finish it though, but eh! Leftovers are also a part of cooking right?

When they say "lightly golden" I take it very seriously. Browning is not golden...

When they say “lightly golden” I take it very seriously. Browning is not golden…

This was surprisingly easy to make, I even chopped and cooked onions without crying! (thank you to who ever taught me the mint gum trick!) It had multiple parts to be combined at the end but unlike the last recipe they weren’t all being made at the same time, they happened one at a time and sat and waited once they were finished until the others were done, it was just the way a recipe should be. Next time (and there will be a next time for this one) I would mix up more bread crumbs, in my opinion there weren’t enough but that’s probably more of a personal thing that a recipe critique 😛

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I have discovered however that most of the food I’ve made has been rather monochrome, perhaps its time to venture to multi part dishes, to sides, to, dare I say it? Vegetables…

A Beginner is Cooking: B is for Blandness

Well today my issue was not lack of pre-cook prep, it was lack of resources once more. Thankfully this time discovered before choosing a recipe! There is a lack of meat in the house presently (apparently a shop is due) so the only available chicken (my preferred meat!) was frozen in a three pack. I attempted to pry apart one without defrosting the others but they were frozen together and insist upon being defrosted together, thus, I have gone meatless for today. I chose to make mac and cheese from scratch, because really, who doesn’t like mac and cheese? Crazy people, that’s who.
(Sorry if that’s you. Reality can be hard sometimes ya know? ;P)

I used this recipe which promised me mac and cheese within 15 minutes. I am hungry. I am ready. Let’s cook.

Did step one correctly this time round and checked for all the ingredients before starting, even did full prep and shredded the cheese before starting, my goodness, who am I? I did realize once the water for the pasta had boil however that cooking the pasta was going to take as long as one step of the sauce, so if they were to be done around the same time, the pasta shouldn’t have been started first so I held back on starting it a little.

I almost missed the fact that the milk had to be heated (even the best laid plans try and go awry…) but all seemed to go smoothly though it was a tad tricky balancing two pots at the same time with one needing constant stirring and the other fairly regular stirring but we got there. The cheese which was added into the sauce last actually melted a lot faster than I expected it to – nearly instantly! So sauce added to noodles, stuck it in a dish and give it a taste.

Boringgggggggg. This is the first meal I’ve ever had that I have added salt and pepper to. I don’t really know what other seasonings can go in things without getting gross so I added a tad of salt and a bit of pepper which made it okay, but still, boring! You could barely taste the cheese, it was just creamy pasta. Guess that’s not really my fault, more just a recipe that I’m not fond of and I suppose I could always try again sometime with more cheese. At least it looked like proper mac and cheese! Nice and creamy!

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Dece.

If you like fast, easy, and tasteless, this is the recipe for you! I read in the post comments after the fact that one person made it and then baked it with a panko crumbs crust and that sounded like it could be really nice! I feel like the texture would kinda add something to counter the tastlessness… haha

Meal for week two down. I am slowly getting slightly more comfortable in the kitchen but baking is still proving to be much more rewarding.

Throwing our own Paint Nite!

Paint Nite has been becoming quite the thing in my sphere of friends lately. I hadn’t really heard of the concept before a few months ago but it seems to be basically a group art class. Materials (canvas, paint, brushes, etc) are all provided and the event is hosted at a local bar or pub or cafe and a host/instructor walks everybody through a painting step by step so everyone leaves with their own variation of the specific piece being taught that night. It’s quite a fun idea really! Problem is, when you’re a poor not-quite-but-close-enough-to-being broke student it can get a tad pricey.

Now I’ve always said I wasn’t artsy, never have I claimed artistic talent or much creativity. My area is video filming and editing and I enjoy that and like to think I’m decent at it, anything that involves drawing or paint however I tend to avoid. As soon as art classes were an optional course in junior high I took French or choir instead, I was out of the art room as fast as possible!

My friends wanted to do a paint nite though. We handily discovered there are a bunch of paint nite style tutorials on youtube and Karen, who is pretty dang artistic, had a bunch of canvases and paint lying around she said we could use so really I lost all excuses. There was a minimal fee, it was at a friends house, there was a tea party involved, how can one say no?

We decided to go for one titled, City Walk, Girl in the Rain which was quite pretty looking and when we arrived at Karen’s place she had the kitchen all set up as a little art studio! Canvases propped up beside paper plates for paint palates, cups of water and new packs of paintbrushes that Bekka had picked up for each of us.

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So we made us some tea and were ready to go!

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I learn by mimicing. I like to hear instructions and walk along them step by step. This seemed to be the perfect learning environment for that, especially as we could pause the video while we all finished a step before moving on.

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Mixing the colours was probably my favourite part. From learning to edit photos a bit I’m beginning to get the hang of balancing around the colour wheel and it was fun adding bit to make new shades and see things like that there was a significant difference in the colour results between, say, adding yellow to red, from red to yellow.

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We worked with a lot of orange. Like a lot. At one point I was pretty sure that there was no way it was going to finish off with the desired yellow dress and bright red umbrella. Everything was orange!

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But suddenly we were painting over the orange and, low and behold, the colours popped like crazy!

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To finish it all off we got to make drips and splatters, to extenuate the raininess I guess, and thaaaaat was pretty fun! First making water paint and then just splattering stuff everywhere!

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I got a little carried away while splattering a couple times, a few became more like splots!IMG_1156

And then it was done, we had created art! I found I actually was quite pleased with the end result of mine, especially for the first time painting anything since required art classes in grade six! Karen and Veera went with more muted backdrops for theirs, in fact Karen’s almost looks like its in a thunderstorm! Bekka and I stuck with the original colour scheme, not adventuring away from the steps quite yet!

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Our final products! (Clockwise from top right, Bekka, Karen, me, Veera)

I was surprised to discover I actually really enjoyed the evening, painting is a lot more fun then I remember! Hopefully we do it again soon!

If you want to give it a shot, it’s super easy! theartsherpa on youtube has a ton of beginner’s tutorials and all you’ll really need is a canvas, some acrylic paint, and some brushes! She even lists the paint colours and all the supplies that she uses in the descriptions of her videos to help you prep! Go forth friends, make art!

-B

A Beginner is Cooking: A is for Alfredo

Meat is the bane of my existence.

Okay that may be a slight exaggeration, I should clarify. What I mean to say is, I dislike cooking meat.

I have no issues eating it, definitely not a vegetarian! Not a super fan of fish and refuse to eat veal and lamb because cute baby animals but everything else is usually pretty safe! It’s the cooking… the raw slimy floppy I’ll move on, I’m grossing myself out.

So not a fan of raw meat, yet I’ve made the decision to cook. Huzzah. This should go well.

I tried to cop out today, I really did. I looked through a bunch of vegetarian meals but they all had weird ingredients that I didn’t recognize. I think the health-fanatic vegetarians and vegans have scared me off. Also a lot of the things I don’t just have lying around – is goat cheese substitutable with just, like, normal cheese…? I don’t know these things!

I kind of a fan of those thirty second “Tasty” videos on Facebook that make cooking look so fun and easy with their cheery music and fastness and I had saved one of a one-pot chicken alfredo thing. Now I quite like chicken alfredo so this seemed like it could be a nice lunch.

First speed bump. I discovered the recipe calls for heavy cream. (Again, do people normally have these things lying around or are they actually smart enough to plan ahead? People I admire you.) My good friend Google told me that I could make a heavy cream substitute with milk and butter though so here we go, we’re gonna start straying from the recipe before we even start. Rebel. Yes. That’s right.

But it got worse. Oh friends, the gong show has yet to begin.

So I made the mistake of assuming we would have something as common as say, parmesan cheese. Apparently not. Thankfully before starting to cook the chicken (which I discovered it much easier and less gross to cook with gloves on, very glad mum bought those!) Our parmesan seemed had been forgotten at a relative’s house after Easter and no one had yet noticed. I was the one who got to discover the glaring lack. Alfredo is simply not alfredo without parmesan cheese thus I grabbed my ever-suffering sister to chauffeur me to the grocery store. (Mental note, get driver’s license faster.) Actually having to pay money for this learning experiment was unexpected and cooking is stressful and I was starting to get cranky. It was at this point that I dramatically texted my boyfriend, “It’s official, I hate cooking.”

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Having obtained the rogue cheese (and a chocolate bar) I began cooking. It was after adding the chicken broth and “cream”, as I was stirring that suddenly the smell wafted up to me. It smelt good. People, at this moment it came to me, this could actually work.

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After painstakingly waiting for it to simmer 15-20 minutes, (you know the plus side to sandwiches is you get hungry and within two minutes you’re eating) it was time. I stirred in the parmesan cheese and tasted it.

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Folks it was pretty decent. The cheese didn’t fully melt and not as much of the brothy stuff had evaporated as I thought but it doesn’t have to look pretty to taste decent right? The next few hours will finalize if I live or not… It wasn’t super flavourful, kinda salty from the broth I think. But it was food and I made it and I have officially cooked a meal on my own, no help, huzzah!

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I’m gonna go eat my chocolate bar now.

Overall time from start to eating: hour and a half.

Should have taken: maybe 30 minutes? (quite possibly less)

Stress level: One med-large chocolate bar

In the end: Might make again, but almost too cheesy and salty. Maybe with less broth and less cheese?

 

(Feel free to follow me on snapchat @rlpdean for real-time annoying updates when I’m “cooking”!)

The ABCs: A Beginner is Cooking

I am twenty-two years old, five foot six inches and weigh 110lbs.

Now why did I tell you that? Because I should not weigh 110lbs. For my height I shouldn’t be less than 120lbs and I am clearly quite a bit smaller than that.

So do I choose to eat as little as I can manage to get away with? Do I exercise too much and too hard? Do I make myself throw up after I eat? No, no, none of the above. I eat as much as I can get away with (often junk), exercise as little as I can, and throwing up reminds me of panic attacks and really bad flus so in no universe would I do it on purpose. Then why am I ten pounds underweight? Well, I have a high metabolism (genetics were a blessing, thanks mum), am a bit lazy while being able to get overly one-track minded, and greatly dislike, to the point of being afraid of, cooking.

High metabolism, I can’t fix, just gotta eat more, however, therein lies my issue. I’ve gotten used to not eating a lot and, in a way that is sort of comparable to people recovering from serious eating disorders, now find that I am not able to eat as much as I should. I’ve allowed my stomach to shrink and my body to learn to function on too little and it hurts to reverse that, it now hurts to eat the right amount of food.

I am also a bit lazy when it comes to food. I can make a small number of dishes to perfection, quick dishes with minimal ingredients such as toast of many varieties, for example, peanut butter toast, baked beans on toast, poached egg on toast, or cheese on toast, garlic toast (some might argue having achieved perfection here…), etc, etc. I can boil and scramble eggs. I can make grilled cheese wonderfully (yes, that is different than cheese on toast), as well as make various sandwiches and salads and frozen pizzas. Oh, and soup from a can. I am very good at making soup from a can. So yes, I’m sure you see the patterns – ready-made, minimal ingredients, and little to no cooking. Also, few of these things are very healthy. They’re food, yes, but they can’t really sustain you if they’re all you’re eating.

I also forget to eat sometimes. It’s not that I chose not to eat, I actually forget to. I just look up and realize that I haven’t eaten in six hours or so and didn’t notice. I don’t know quite how I manage this because as soon as I see the time I’m suddenly very hungry, but before that I wasn’t. It’s weird. Bodies are weird. Maybe I need to set alarms for certain times each day to make sure I remember to eat.

However, I don’t like cooking. I do like baking! Baking is very precise with exact measurements and times and sweet treats as a reward for efforts. Cooking is a lot of “brown”, or cook “until done”, and add “to taste” etc and I do not appreciate that. My bad habit of being a control freak perfectionist kicks in and rather than risk failing I chose not to try. This has unfortunately been a pattern in other areas of my life too but I’m working at facing it in some of those areas and now it’s time to face eating habits and health. I may fail, I may burn things, but I am going to attempt to learn to cook edible food.

How I fear this may go…

That’s right. I’m going to try to learn how to cook. In an effort to get into better eating habits I’m going to try cooking a new dish at least once a week, either a single serving dish pour moi, or (if I’m feeling over-confident) perhaps even a meal for the fam! We’ll see. Getting to that point may take a while… But I’m going to blog my attempts because I have a feeling that will help me get over the failures (I’m sure there will be some failures) because then at least you and I can laugh over them together instead of me moping around a kitchen faintly filled with black smoke and smelling of burnt *insert your choice of food name here* all alone.

I want to stress, this is not going to become a foodie blog. I am not a foodie. This is going to be a let’s-laugh-at-how-bad-Becky-is-at-cooking blog. It’s going to be stories, not recipes or reviews; it may not even be interesting, but if it gets me attempting to cook then so be it!

I have ten pounds to gain healthily and cooking to learn. Let’s do this. You are cordially invited to join me in experiencing ABCs, A Beginner is Cooking.

 

Do you have any good beginner recipes that you like to make? Please comment them below and give me some ideas!