How I Learned the Truth About Cooking
Updated: Jan 15
If you've seen any of my social media, you know that I LOVE the recipes at ForksOverKnives.com. I use their Weekly Meal Planner and their app and I just ordered the latest issue of their magazine. Yup, I LOVE them and I encourage you to check them out and start experimenting, too.
I've always thought of cooking as an art form, and I am no artist. Cooking was something that "they" did. One "just knew" how to put spices together or could smell a soup cooking and know exactly what was missing.
I, on the other hand, failed Home Economics in High School (ok, it was really the sewing portion of the class that I failed, kind of on purpose because being a housewife wasn't something I aspired to). The kitchen remained a mystery to me beyond cooking pasta.
My mom wasn't a great cook and she hated pretty much everything that had anything to do with the kitchen. She loathed food shopping, didn't like following recipes and my dad was tough to cook for. He liked food cooked the way his mom made it (whatever that meant) and eschewed spices of all kinds. Creativity in the kitchen was vociferously frowned upon. Even when mom was making something she liked to make, it always seemed like a chore she was forced to carry out.
I ate out a lot. My first apartment was a New York City studio with the world's smallest kitchen. The refrigerator fit under the counter and the stove/oven was tiny. That was fine with me. I was 20-ish years old, vegetarian and I planned to eat out...a lot. There was a bagel shop on my corner and pizza was only a block away. Even coffee was an on-the-way-to-work event.
Over the years I learned enough about cooking to do pretty well on my own. I could make basic meals and a pretty killer stir-fry, but I was a firm believer that I was not good enough and it was generally tastier and easier to go out to eat.
Fast forward to two years ago. I am happily married to a man who knows his way around a kitchen. He is a former commercial fisherman who made masterpieces out of minimal ingredients on boats for years. I was happy to take a back seat to his deliciousness. At 40+ years old, I still had no idea how he put meals together or how he came up with some of the magnificent flavors he created. I happily chowed down. Our deal was (and still is) one of us cooks, the other one cleans up the kitchen.
Why was cooking such a mystery? I had dabbled in checking out recipes online, but they always seemed complicated with ingredients I didn't recognize or techniques that left me stupefied (why do I need to ever blanch anything?). I still felt intimidated in the kitchen and if I was invited to a potluck, I purchased something and brought it. It just all seemed so hard.
In 2017 things changed...drastically. As I mentioned, back in my 20s, I was eating a vegetarian diet. In my 30s and early 40s, I dabbled in just about everything, including high-protein and keto (I only lasted about 10 days on keto...my body hated it). I was considering returning to my vegetarian roots when I got an opportunity to meet T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, one of my all-time favorite nutrition books. To make a long story short, meeting him sealed the deal. I was returning to a plant-based lifestyle and this time it would be without any animal products at all if I could help it.
I knew I'd be spending more time in the kitchen, I was scared. I could make a great stir-fry, but that was all I had. What if I made something that didn't taste good? Could I throw away something I had just spent time cooking? Would it really taste as good as it sounded? Will it look like the picture on the internet? Will it be worth the effort? Do I really have to follow the recipe exactly as it says?
The internet makes it so easy to find exactly what you want. I've googled items I have in my pantry or fridge, added "recipe" to the search and have never had a search come back with "no results found." More often I find thousands of recipes that could work.
But that's just as intimidating...how do I choose? Which honey-mustard vinaigrette will taste the best? I can't try them all.
Was I over-thinking it? Probably.
I'm not the only one with this problem. I spend my time speaking with people about how to live a healthier lifestyle. Step one is learning how to prepare food in your own kitchen in your own home. It's how you take control of your health and well-being.
The overwhelm issue is real. When faced with too many choices, we humans can shut-down, making no choices at all. We then fall back into old habits like eating out, hitting a drive-thru or having microwave popcorn and a glass of wine for dinner. "It's too hard," becomes our mantra.
If only someone could tell me if a recipe would work and would be worth the effort.
When I made the switch to an entirely plant-based lifestyle, things changed in the kitchen. Previously, my husband and I split cooking duties...he cooked the meat and I cooked the veg. To be completely transparent, on my lazy nights, the veg was steamed broccoli. With the switch, Marq (that's my husband) was completely out of his depth. I had spent my 20s eating a vegetarian diet, so I had at least the basics under control, but there's only so many stir-fries a girl can cook.
I started googling, got overwhelmed, went back to stir-fry. Then I found Forks Over Knives and was intrigued. I chose a recipe that had ingredients that I knew I liked individually and that required no more than 15 minutes of prep time. I was on my way.
Each recipe I chose built my confidence. Fortunately, the recipes were yummy enough that it wasn't long until Marq stopped eating my creations as a side dish to eating what I make for the full meal.
Yes, this could have been a plot to free him from the kitchen after a day at work, but I'm ok with that. I've had more fun in the kitchen cooking plant-based recipes than I ever had when we cooked together. There's something about cooking a meal that is not only delicious, but is also benefiting my body that just makes the whole experience more fun. We also have a deal...one of us cooks, the other cleans...don't tell him how much fun I'm having NOT having to do the clean-up.
I love making healthy eating as easy for you as I can. I understand why people don't like to cook for themselves. We've been brain-washed into believing that we are all inept in the kitchen, only chefs can cook and no matter what we do, eating out is always better. It's not. I've made many a meal that is much tastier than food I've eaten out. I eat out much less frequently now because I make better-tasting, better-for-me food at home.
You can, too.
I'd like to help you.
I use internet recipes all the time. I sometimes create my own recipes. I'm happy to help you choose recipes that are easy, healthy, plant-based and delicious. There's no science behind my rating system...it's just what I find easy to prep and what I like.
If you're a member of my community, you'll receive a recipe and a review most every week.
Below is an example. If you like it, join my community...just tell me below where you'd like me to send the email.
Flavor: 9 out of 10. I loved the flavor and it only required one spice.
Ease of prep: 7 out of 10. Requires a decent amount of chopping and I had to peel a pumpkin. It wasn't difficult but if you're making this for a hungry family, it'll take a few minutes. Most of the ingredients were in my home, so I could also make this without having to do a special shopping for ingredients. The exception to this was the pumpkin, of course. If you keep frozen, pre-cut pumpkin or butternut squash in the fridge, prep time will be tremendously reduced.
Ease of cooking: 8 of 10. Put everything into the pot and cook. Easy, but the pumpkin took longer than the recipe indicates to cook (an extra 15 minutes for me). Could I have cut the pieces a little smaller? Probably. Would that have helped? Probably. Fortunately, it's just Marq (my husband) and me, so if dinner is a bit delayed, no big deal. If you have a hungry family, leave yourself some extra time.
Leftovers: 10 of 10. I have plenty of leftovers that I'll use for at least one more dinner and probably a lunch or two.
Overall: 9. Delicious, easy recipe. The combination of chunks of pumpkin and pinto beans makes this a chewy, satisfying meal that is a total-body warmer on a cold winter's night. Rating system is arbitrary and represents my opinion. I hope you find it useful. Let me know how I can improve it to make it more useful for you.
Now it's your turn. Make a batch of it and let me know what you think of the recipe. :)
P.S. If you have questions or recipes that you'd like me to try, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).