Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Five Ways I Learned to Enjoy Cooking

I've made it no secret that one of the best things about my DH is that he loves to cook.  Before Lillian was born, we shared the cooking responsibilities, and I loved that he would walk right into the kitchen and make delicious dinners for us.

After Lillian was born and I was home all day, I at first thought that meant I was expected to make dinner every day.  So I tried, even though I hated it.  We owned our first house at this time and I started to notice that whenever it was time to weed the garden, mow the lawn, or do any heavy yard work, DH found other urgent chores to do instead.  So finally, we sat down and talked.  I asked him about his reluctance to do yard work.  He said he hated it.  I pointed out that I hated cooking too.  So we happily agreed to a deal:  I would do all the yard work (which I love), and he would most of the cooking.  We were both happy with it, each of us secretly thinking the other got the worse end of the deal.

Were we ever that young?

That served us well through the next few years of life and graduate school.  I cooked a few times a week, but if things got crazy or if it was my first trimester of pregnancy, DH would come home and take over the kitchen happily.  During the first year of graduate school, DH fell into a schedule of going in to study at 6 a.m., then coming home at 4 or 4:30.  It worked perfectly for our family.

But the next year, DH took on a job in addition to school, which greatly helped our finances but put a strain on his time.  And from that point on, I started to do more and more of the cooking, and DH took on the job just on weekends.

But up until the last few years, I've not really enjoyed it.  It's been simply a chore that had to be done and I tackled it by trying to find the easiest recipes or making a rotating menu plan.  I also worked hard to get Lillian and then Joey involved in cooking and Lillian proved to have her Dad's talent for it, for which I have always been grateful (we even gave her subscriptions to Cooks and Food Network Magazines for her birthday last yer).

But things have changed for me over the last few years and I can honestly say that I don't hate cooking anymore.  I don't even dislike it.  In fact, if I dare say it, I enjoy it a lot of the time.  I feel like I'm good at it; I've developed a lot of family-pleasing recipes; and I don't panic at the "oh, no, it's 4:00 and I have nothing planned for dinner!" moments.  I have some good, easy back-up meals for those crazy days, I've got good crockpot meals, and I usually even have a meal or two in my freezer.

So what changed?

1.  I made a goal a few years ago to "Learn to Enjoy Cooking."  I knew I had a poor attitude about it and I was determined to change it.  I've always enjoyed baking cookies and desserts, but I've disliked main dishes and the like.

2.  I started following cooking blogs.  I asked friends for recommendations for good cooking blogs and I added them to my blog roll.  This small choice has made a big difference over time.  By being constantly reminded of food and recipes, it has helped me see meal preparation as a bit more fun and has exposed me to new ways of doing and making meals.  I bookmark a lot of recipes and then never do anything about them, but I've also tried a few here and there and I have found many new family favorites through these blogs.

My top favorite cooking blog, hands down is Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  The recipes are very detailed and I love that she tells you why she does things one way versus another, and while some of the recipes I've tried of hers have not become family favorites, I've never had a flop from that site.  She uses normal ingredients and makes a range of easy to more complicated dishes.

Two of my other favorites include Our Best Bites, and Darn Delicious.  I used to follow others but found some of them used way too much processed food or had weird ingredients and too-complicated recipes for my taste.

3.  I took more time with meals rather than less.   I started trying recipes that took more time but tasted much better than my regular "throw it all in a casserole dish" standbys and I found along the way that when it took more time, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in the way it tasted.  And the fact that I found recipes I liked better than what we'd been making before was awesome.

4.  I focused on one or two categories at a time.  With my goal to enjoy cooking two years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make great soups.  Up until that point, I made taco soup and tortilla soup and that was about it.  So I checked out a couple of soup recipe books from the library and began collecting various recipes from blogs.  I also decided that a great soup is nothing without a good bread or roll beside it, so I also tackled breads on my soup days.  I tried several roll recipes, a couple of french bread recipes, bread bowls, cornbread or navajo tacos on chili days, and our new family favorite, Pretzel Rolls.  A friend posted a recipe for Garlic Naan, and that quickly became another family favorite.

The soups were hit and miss.  Some were really good, others just okay.  And I have some kids that still don't like soup and fill up more on the bread those days.  But it was fun to try three different recipes for the same kind of soup and then choose the one that will make it into our family favorites.  We tried several dumpling soups, and this Chicken Dumpling Soup is now on the menu at least once a month, with my kids begging to have it.

5.  I gave it time.  It took some time, but as I found more and more success with delicious recipes, I resented less and less the time it took to make them.  And I can honestly say I now enjoy cooking.

And since I can't end a post on cooking without posting a recipe, here is one of our absolute crowd-pleasing, artery-clogging, favorite desserts.  I am always asked for the recipe when I make it. Interestingly enough, a couple of weeks ago, I searched for this recipe online with no luck.  There were a couple of similar ones and I even tried to make one to see if it was better, but it didn't even start to taste as wonderful as these do.  My mom got them from an elementary-school cookbook years ago and it's been a family favorite in my family growing up as well as my current family.

Chocolate Crumb Bars

Melt in microwave:
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 12 oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips 
3 Tbsp. margarine
Then add 2 t. vanilla and 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Set aside and allow to cool slightly.  Meanwhile, mix:
1 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
2 c. brown sugar 
1 t. soda
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 ½ cups flour
3 c. quick cooking oats.

Grease 11 x 17” pan.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into the pan.  Spread chocolate mixture over the crust, then drop remaining 1/3 of crumb mixture over the top of the chocolate layer.  Bake at 350 for 17-20 minutes.


Cheryl said...

Yes, yes, yes! I applied the "I'm gonna love this no matter how long it takes" to cooking a while ago, too, and it works. I also recently did this to laundry and wow-- it works there, too! I think a shift in attitude can make all the difference, for sure.

swedemom said...


Your dessert recipe is a favorite at our house too. My mom called them Fudge Jumbles. Whatever you call them, they are yummy!

KB said...

I am wondering if you could tell me where your families favorite place to go on a trip is? We are looking at places to go for spring break and summer break and your family seems like they enjoy the same things that ours does. You might be experts in this area! We have 6 kids ranging in age from 14 to 2. We haven't traveled much, so we haven't been to most of the places that you have been. Tell me your top picks. Thank you!


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