Making a meal of it

My Pretty Pennies left me a comment (following yesterdays meme) asking how I managed to go from hating cooking to considering it a hobby (of sorts). I started trying to leave a reply and then realised I couldn’t summarise my answer in a few quick sentences. However, I did think it was a really good question and particularly relevant because it was mostly a change born out of necessity to fit in with trying to live on less. So my post today is inspired by MPP…

I wouldn’t exactly say I love cooking. I actually used to hate trying to make a cooked meal. And I really mean hate it. I’d get stressed out, things would go wrong and then I’d end up feeling I’d wasted food and a lot of time and avoid the whole thing. I should tell you that, in my time, I’ve blown up a casserole dish (it wasn’t the kind you can use on the hob as it turned out) and set fire to the grill with pecan nuts. I tell you this to be clear on where I was starting out from! I’d give myself various challenges, like making a new recipe once a week or even once a month but I’d invariably get bored of the idea and never get past the first recipe. Trying to change has been a gradual process which has come about by:

Sorting out the kitchen

My kitchen is very small and used to be a cluttered nightmare.  About a year ago I tackled it by clearing the cupboards of all equipment I knew I would never actually use or was broken etc, gave everything a good clean, arranged everything so I could find things easily and threw away all of the out of date food. Basically I gave myself a clean slate. I gave the walls a lick of white paint, got Husband to put up some shelves (which makes it easier to get at things, like pasta in storage jars, and also freed up a lot of cupboard space) and bought a digital radio. This all cost well under £100 but it meant that the kitchen was suddenly a much nicer place to hang out and potter around. Obviously you don’t have to spend any money at all – a good clear out would have done the job! Either way, it was important to make it a space I didn’t mind being…

Back to basics

I think I used to come unstuck because I looked for ideas in recipe books. While I still like a good cookery book, for me, they mostly contain recipes that are more for special occasion meals and not every day stuff. I found them complicated and they often called for weird or expensive ingredients that I was never just going to have to hand. So I decided to ignore them and learn how to make simple things like soups, casseroles and a few sauces. I asked friends and family what they were making for dinner and asked them how they were going to prepare it. By doing so, I picked up all sorts of tips, from poaching salmon to wrapping chops in foil parcels and popping them in the oven. Really basic stuff. In terms of sweet stuff I stopped trying to make fancy desserts (or buying them) and instead learned really easy things like flapjacks, fruit crumble and banana loaf. And I kind of built up from there. It became much more satisfying and productive because it is easy to get good results out of simple things. I go through phases of making things, go off them for a bit and then come back to them. A bit of trial and error lead to various discoveries such as realising I was quite good at making basic pastry – cue lots of quiches, tarts and so on. By getting to grips with really, really basic things it all started to get a bit easier and cooking became more instinctive – getting the timing right so everything would be ready at the same time, what extras I might be able to throw in a pot which would work (rather than tasting weird) and so on. Because it got easier I didn’t hate it as much. In fact, it became sort of fun.

Learning to like it!

Because my kitchen has a nicer feel to it and because I’ve slowly built up what I can do and have gained some confidence I enjoy cooking much more. It isn’t stressful and I know I can make something actually worth eating. I still don’t like cooking in the evening, particularly after a days work. It is one of the reasons I like making things at the weekend and then freezing portions (aside from it being the cheaper option). Weekend cooking feels like a leisure activity – evening cooking still feels like hassle. Husband and I share ‘evening’ cooking duties pretty much equally which helps.

It really has been a case of adjusting my mindset. I wanted to be able to cook more because I simply prefer wholesome, home-made food to pre-prepared stuff and also because we had planned for children one day and wanted to be able to feed them well. It also really is cheaper – we’ve saved a small fortune. You might recall my recent estimate that we saved £1300 on food  comparing my budget from 2008 to 2009.

I am still a long, long way off being a good cook but at least I now have a reasonable level of competance. Things don’t get burned/go lumpy/get cold before everything else is ready. Anyway – when it came to cooking I firmly decided that I was just going to learn to like it. I get a great sense of accomplishment from being able to make something from scratch (or almost from scratch – I still prefer white sauce from a jar when I’m making lasagne!) and also from seeing my freezer stocked up with home-made goodies. Perhaps I enjoy this sense of accomplishment more, or as much as, the act of cooking in itself. As for baking, I’ve always found that fun. I mean, who doesn’t like cakes?!

So I suppose I came to like cooking because I stopped being intimidated by it and started finding it a bit more interesting and worthwhile.

How about you folks? Do you like cooking or is it a chore?!

Categories: Frugal food, Frugal ideas, Home Economics | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Making a meal of it

  1. Thank you SO much for sharing! Your second paragraph pretty much describes me right now, but I’m slowly changing. I absolutely love baking because it’s a chemistry and you can easily follow recipes, but the freedom of cooking has always slightly intimidated me. I’m hoping to tackle that this year though. I like the idea about rearranging the kitchen too. I recently cleaned things up and bought some pretty things to hang/display so it’s a nice place to be when I’m cooking. Hopefully this time next year I’ll have learned to love it. 🙂

  2. Frugal Trenches

    Well, I go back and forth. I think I love cooking but struggle more with baking! I do enjoy making meals for people! And, like last night, adding in a bit of this and that and coming up with an amazing dish!

  3. I enjoy cooking, when I have time. That is usually on the weekends when i love to try new recipes or have the time to make some really good slow cooking ribs on the barby.

    But the usual hustle bustle of the week cooking… no, i don’t really enjoy it as its just rapidly put together to get the hungry audience fed. LOL.

    Try A year of slow cooking. I’ve tried 3 of the recipes. Fab! I especially like the Chinese Lemon chicken and the CrockPot Hirino Psito, Slow-Roasted Pork. Delicious! And easy. 😉

  4. thefrenchchick

    I could dive into any cook book and read for hours. I truly enjoy cooking, but not baking. In fact, a couple that my husband did some electrical work for and are members of my church, actually began bringing over Christmas cookies for the kids when I confessed that cookie baking was an extreme chore. That was embarrassing at first but now it has become such a part of Christmas that the kids would probably miss it. (I do bake Christmas cookies now and try to bake a bit more often as well)

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