There was a time I did not like to cook. I felt like I didn’t have the ingredients. Or I didn’t have the time. It wasn’t that I felt like I couldn’t follow a recipe, it’s just…why spend thirty minutes in the kitchen when I can either make a PB&J or go to one of the many delightful restaurants within walking distance?
But then I started Weight Watchers last spring. Eating out became a pain in the ass. I had to figure out points and add things and do math, and seriously, who wants to do math while eating dinner? I ended up cooking more, using lots of veggies and fruit because those are 0 points in Weight Watchers land.
And then I started cooking more because…well, I had the ingredients. I’d acquired the spices and oils and had a freezer full of frozen meats. Why not try a new recipe?
And THEN I started paying attention to cooking magazines. Little things here and there, what herbs blend well together, what flavors to try. I wouldn’t say I studied anything— it was just little stuff I picked up here and there, tips I honed in on while Food Network was on in the background and the like.
And now? I can totally cook. I can cook well. And I really, really enjoy it.
See, not only do I find it fun, but cooking for myself is empowering. I get to decide what to make, how to make it, when to make it, what quality ingredients to use. I get to try new things and experiment with my own tastes and preferences. I get to discover that no, I do not like eggplant, no matter what way it’s cooked (and I’ve tried seven ways), and to discover that I can make a badass steak and even more badass pizza dough. I feel in charge, instead of stuck putting on pants* and running to a restaurant every time I’m hungry.
SO, do you think you hate cooking? Think you can’t do it? Are you sure? Because I advise you give it another try. Here are my helpful hints:
-Start with something basic. Spaghetti. Maybe spaghetti with meatballs. Maybe spaghetti with meatballs and a homemade sauce.
-If you screw it up, it’s fine. Eat the PB&J. It is not the end of the world. No one dies if you burn the frittata. And if you’re new to cooking, I’m going to guess you didn’t buy the most expensive cut of fish at the store, so it’s not like you’re out boatloads of money. RELAX, man.
-Yes, there are some up front costs to cooking at home if you don’t have ingredients or the correct equipment. But you can get pretty nice quality pots/pans for DIRT CHEAP at places like Home Goods. And a lot of those ingredients will be a one time expense— I’ve been working off the same bottle of vanilla extract for ages.
-Don’t start off with something that’s crazy out of your comfort zone. Start with things you enjoy, then build up. I say this as someone who once tried a complicated Jamaican meal three days after purchasing a frying pan. Things did not go well.
-Even if you think you hate it, TRY IT. SERIOUSLY. NO REALLY. Would I lead you astray? Never.
-Need recipes? Stay off the giant recipe aggregate sites like Recipes.com. They have SO many recipes it’s impossible to find anything. I recommend The Pioneer Woman (lots of pictures to make life easier!), Smitten Kitchen (a little advanced), Vittles and Bits, andSkinny Taste (a Weight Watchers geared site that has great recipes for everyone).
*One of my big goals in life is to wear pants as seldom as possible.
Every so often, I get it in my head that I MUST LEARN HOW to make something. A while back it was macarons. Then the perfect steak. And most recently, cinnamon rolls. I kept using a recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks because, well, usually her recipes are awesome. Yet…I failed at her cinnamon rolls time and time again. Not only was her recipe a HUGE pain in the ass to make, but the cinnamon rolls always tasted kinda bland.
I complained about this to a close friend who laughed and told me that instead, I must use her recipe— or rather, AllRecipes.com’s recipe entitled “Clone of a Cinnabon.” I had my doubts, given my other cinnamon roll failures, but I decided to give them a shot since I had a free afternoon.
Here’s a few user submitted pictures of these rolls from the AllRecipes.com website:
They look good, don’t they? You know why?
Because they are the best cinnamon rolls on the face of the earth.
So, for starters: I do not own a bread machine, and that recipe calls for bread machine things. So for what it’s worth, I used regular active dry yeast (one full packet) instead of bread machine yeast. Then I replaced step one with:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large bowl. Mix in the sugar, margarine, salt, and eggs. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough like hell until it gets all smooth and pretty (at least 7 minutes) and forms a large ball— if it’s the tiniest bit crumbly you haven’t kneaded it enough. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled in size (I turned my oven on, heated it to 100 degrees, then turned it off and put the dough inside).
It took two attempts to get these right— the first time around I was afraid of over kneading and ended up UNDER kneading. The secret is that the dough should look like bread dough. Like a perfectly round ball. So perfect it looks like fake bread dough, the sort they’d stick in a movie star’s hands in a movie so she can pretend to be a baker. I’m looking at you, Julia Roberts.
I also used light butter, since I don’t like margarine, and neufchâtel cheese instead of cream cheese. I used extra cinnamon an a little less brown sugar for the filling. Whatever you do though, don’t substitute the bread flour. Not all purpose, not self rising, not pastry— BREAD FLOUR. That’s totally the secret to these being incredible. I also turned the dough out onto parchment paper (you could use wax paper), which made the dough MUCH easier to roll up and MUCH easier to clean up.
And in the end? These were INCREDIBLE. INCREDIBLE. I can’t say it enough. Wait, maybe I can. INCREDIBLE. Nope, still not enough. These were every bit as good as Cinnabon, if you ask me. This will forever be my cinnamon roll recipe. I have big plans to make several tins, freeze them, and have them ready to go for Christmas morning or special occasions here and there.
Would I make it again? If I could justify making them right now, I totally would.
Are they easy to make? Hm. If you’ve baked anything involving yeast, you can probably handle these. Even if you haven’t, you can probably handle these. They’re really not that tricky— thought I wouldn’t try these for the first time on a special occasion or anything. For what it’s worth, this recipe is much, much easier than most of the other cinnamon roll recipes I’ve seen.
Are they healthy? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no. No, no they are not. One cinnamon roll, iced, is about 430 calories (that’s with my small substitutions). They are pretty big though. Still, definitely a special-treat-food.
On a scale of one to chocolate cake, how delicious is it? 10. Legit.
Yams are the same thing as sweet potatoes.
I know, you probably already knew that, but just in case— yams are sweet potatoes. And sweet potatoes are good for you, right?
Of course they are. And apparently the creator of this recipe just couldn’t stand that.
I got this recipe from FoodieCrush.com, along with the image below.
I should go ahead and admit that I’ve never made a souffle of any sort, so I figured this was basically a sweet potato casserole. I was wrong— a souffle, apparently, involves eggs. Eggs and butter. Eggs and butter and sugar and cream. See what I mean, about turning something healthy into something unhealthy?
I used agave syrup instead of sugar in an attempt to make this baby slightly less sinful, but really, there’s only so much you can do when a recipe involves an entire stick of butter. All that said, it was really, really good. REALLY good. I totally undermined that agave syrup by putting some mini marshmallows on top, which made it even better. Who doesn’t like toasted marshmallows?
Would I make it again? Yes, but not regularly. There’s no denying that despite containing a vegetable, this is a dessert disguised as a side dish.
Are they easy to make? Super easy. You put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender or whatever you have and puree them. Then bake. The end. Super easy.
Is it healthy? There’s pretty much no way I can convince myself that this is healthy. It is DELICIOUS though— seriously, it was so good. But yeah, this time around there’s no denying that it’s an unhealthy treat.
On a scale of one to chocolate cake, how delicious is it? 7— very, very good, but honestly, I think I could make a healthier sweet potato dish that would quell the same cravings.
As I’ve mentioned before, I live in the South. Therefore, I eat grits. It’s pretty much a rule here, honestly. If you don’t eat them, the people at Waffle House give you dirty looks and your grandmother loudly talks about how she’ll have to make a special breakfast because ONE OF THE GRANDKIDS refuses to eat THE DELICIOUS GRITS that EVERYONE ELSE LOVES.
Of course, it helps that I, unlike my cousin— who is THAT GRANDKID WHO WON’T EAT GRITS— love grits. If you hate them, I promise it’s because you haven’t had them made right. A lot of people complain that they’re too watery or grainy— people, whoever is making you watery or grainy grits is doing it wrong, wrong, wrong. Give them another chance.
And, once you’ve accepted that grits can, indeed, be delicious, you should totally make this recipe. I got this from LifeInRecipes.com. Look at the picture below. Shrimp (one of the most protein dense foods on the planet) AND grits (as discussed, DELICIOUS)? Yes, please.
I was so, so excited to make this recipe, but was a little concerned— it seemed somewhat complex, and like it involved a lot of chopping. Truthfully, it didn’t. Basically, I diced up a tomato, cut some green onions, used frozen corn from a bag and pre-minced garlic. It took all of like…ten minutes. I even used frozen shrimp from the bag, making life even easier.
I used white cheddar and parmesan reggiano cheese because I didn’t have any asiago— if you hate shredding cheese or are lazy or just like white cheddar, you can buy it pre-shredded and bagged and it’d work just fine. Basically, you just need a slightly sharp cheese— so basic cheddar, mozzarella, or good ol’ Mexican Four Cheese Blend aren’t going to cut it. White cheddar, asagio, and the parmesan family can do the trick though.
I also used my recipe for grits, but you can use your own. I’d advise against microwave grits, and suggest that you use half milk, half water to cook them to get a creamier texture (it’s worth it). I actually use a recipe that involves using one cup of half and half to two cups of water, which makes them ultra rich— but also means I eat less of them.
Anyhow, this was delicious. DELICIOUS. Stupidly delicious. Honestly, it was better than I expected— I actually got up and used my fork to scrape the tiny bit of remaining tasso sauce out of the pan when I was through. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly— I had just gotten back from working out and was in no mood for measuring— and it turned out fine. I think this baby would be impossible to mess up, honestly.
Would I make it again? Oh yeah, without doubt. I would actually make this again both for myself and for company— it’s different enough to be interesting to house guests, but not so crazy that they might hate it. It was super filling, too— I made asparagus as a side, but barely touched it. Fewer side dish needs is always a plus in my book.
Are they easy to make? It is way, way easier than it looks. If you can make a stir fry, you can make this. Hell, if you can’t make a stirfry…well. Stick to sandwiches, maybe. Or go learn. Either one.
Is it healthy? That sort of depends on your personal definition of “health.” Because I used half and half in the grits AND the tasso sauce, it was a fairly high fat meal. That said, it also involved whole grains*, lots of protein, and a good serving of vegetables. If you’re watching fat, it would be totally reasonable to make the grits without the half and half, but the tasso sauce really needs it.
On a scale of one to chocolate cake, how delicious is it? 8— really loved this! Seriously, MAKE IT. You won’t regret it.
*Not all grits are whole grain— look for “stone ground” grits, which usually are. I highly recommend a brand called Logan Turnpike Mill, which I buy at Whole Foods— though they’re a GA company, so I don’t know if they’re carried nationwide or just at my Whole Foods since they’re local. Stone ground grits take a little longer to cook, so I started the grits, THEN started dicing tomatos/onions/preparing the shrimp and sauce.