Although I come from a large Italian family full of people who like to both eat and cook, I’ve really only ever taken part in the eating. My husband and I generally find nourishment by going out to dinner, ordering in, or eating frozen meals. I decided it was time to see if I might have inherited the love-of-cooking gene, so I spent the month of February making some meals.
Throughout the month, I cooked six dinners for my husband and me. Each meal involved the use of recipes with multiple steps, fresh produce and proteins, and a heating element other than a microwave. I wanted the meals to be both delicious and somewhat healthy, so I finally opened up the Cooking Light cookbook that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for two years, and selected my first meal: sautéed chicken with sage browned butter and a side of garlic and thyme roasted butternut squash.
The chicken recipe seemed simple enough. It said that preparing the meal would take only 25 minutes from start to finish. It took me a total of 3 hours. I learned very quickly that the time estimates don’t take into account the time you spend chopping up ingredients, frantically searching your kitchen cabinets to locate peppercorns that you think you have, but you actually don’t, and running to your living room to watch YouTube videos about how to mince shallots. Despite my feeling a bit crazed throughout the cooking process, the food turned out pretty well.
After the first meal, I decided to get some professional help, so I headed to Sur La Table for a “Winter Soups and Stews” class. At the class, I learned a number of very important things; such as, how to properly hold a knife, how to dice an onion, and what the differences are between searing, braising, and poaching. I also learned that maple syrup is a great addition to pretty much anything. Along with two other young women (one of whom also happened to be named Cheryl), I made butternut squash soup, beef and red wine stew, chicken and dumpling soup, and green chile stew. The food was great and the class was a lot of fun, so I left feeling kind of excited about my new cooking adventure.
Over the next few weeks, I made bacon and butternut squash pasta, beef daube provençal, curry-spiced udon noodles, shredded chicken tacos with mango salsa, and beer-marinated grilled skirt steak. Along the way, there were many missteps, many YouTube videos watched, and many awkward conversations with Whole Foods employees, one of which involved me asking a guy in produce what fruit I had bagged and put into my grocery cart and then me stealthily putting it back after he said it was a papaya and not a mango. I also found cooking, itself, to be kind of stressful. It was not the fun and serene experience I had hoped it would be.
It wasn’t all bad, though. The food tasted great, I learned a lot, I managed not to cut myself with a knife (although I did have a small cheese grater injury), and cooking with wine and beer allowed me to drink whenever I started feeling too frazzled. While I don’t think cooking will be my new favorite pastime by any means, my husband and I agreed that we really liked having the homemade meals. We’re planning on cooking more often and have resolved to make a nice homemade (or at least semi-homemade) dinner for ourselves at least once a week.
Cheryl Espinoza is an attorney and aspiring puppy-owner. She is a lover of coffee, Christmas, and all things Disney, and is in constant search of the best food and fancy cocktails in Manhattan. You can generally find her struggling to figure out how to decorate her apartment, watching bad reality TV, or playing board games far too competitively. She was born and raised in the Bronx, and currently lives with her husband in midtown Manhattan.