I love to cook. It’s something I didn’t know about myself until I met my husband. He loves to cook (gets that from his Opa), and he’s really good at it. Over the years, it’s rubbed off on me…at least the “love” part. I still have a long way to go with respect to the “good” part.
The difference between us? I’m a rule-follower, and he’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy. The end result? I can pick out a mean recipe that is usually a crowd-pleaser, and I will follow it. To. The. Letter. (at least the first time). And I usually have a fairly good result with the family.
Except for butternut squash or carrot soup.
Or pastas that don’t involve a red or cream sauce.
I’ve tried countless recipes in these departments to no avail. Between you and me, I don’t think it’s the recipes that are the problem. I think it’s the picky eaters involved. But we have a way of dealing with that in our home, and you can read about that here.
My husband, on the other hand, can’t follow a recipe to save his life, but if all we have on hand is some cream of chicken soup, Italian bread crumbs, a few chicken breasts, and a vegetable, he’ll whip up THE MOST DELICIOUS MEAL. Of course, we’ll never be able to have it again because he won’t be able to re-create it, but that’s OK. He’ll come up with another delicious, but different, version next time.
I’m always looking for new (and easy) recipes that will spice up the food I’m serving to my family because I want to keep mealtime interesting, and I want to continue introducing new foods to our kids in hopes of broadening their palates. I’m certain that someday…they’ll thank me. (They will eventually thank me, won’t they?)
This is an interest that I share with my sister, Lindsay, and my cousin, Amber. Over the years, we have swapped recipes, shared shortcuts, and even spent time cooking together, each of us bringing something new to the table for the other to try.
For a number of years, Amber and I lived minutes from each other, and it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for us (and our hubbies) to destroy one of our kitchens trying to create something new. On one such occassion, we learned that Amber’s husband George is allergic to jalapenos. He was charged with slicing and seeding about 20 of them for something we were grilling and, bless his heart, for the next week, he couldn’t use his fingers due to the burning sensation under his nails! Note taken. Now we all wear gloves or use a spoon!
Recently, though, my family moved across town as a result of my husband’s appointment at a new church. And with Amber and George managing 15 month old quadruplets…
and us having 3 children ranging in age from 2-9…
We just don’t get to see them as much as we used to. So when Amber and I received an invitation from my sister (who lives halfway between us) to attend a cooking class at her house lead by Audrey McGinnis, owner of Every Girl Gourmet, we decided to seize the moment to spend a little time together and sharpen our skills at the same time.
1. A night with the girls;
2. A cooking class lead by a finalist from Season 3 of Master Chef (remember the girl who made the cakes that looked like the Judges? That’s Audrey!)
3. A three-course meal;
4. 3-5 recipes to take home;
5. And some really awesome, but simple, cooking tips to keep in your back pocket.
We had a blast! Audrey is polished, well-spoken, and witty. She’s a great cook. She knows how to make everyone feel comfortable in the kitchen. And she’s lots of fun to be around.
We left with 5 great recipes including a beverage, appetizer, salad dressing, main course, and dessert. And we were stuffed! But Amber and I agreed that the best part of the evening was soaking in some practical cooking tips that transcend the recipes Audrey shared with us.
Here’s a few things we learned:
1. Roasting vine-ripened tomatoes is the secret to delicious homemade salsa (plus adding a can of Fireroasted tomatoes). Audrey taught us to roast the tomatoes at 500 degrees in a round cake tin covered with foil. After removing the tomatoes from the oven, Audrey shared that covering them with the foil for about 15 minutes helps loosen the skins so they will peel right off.
2. Adding a little tobasco to a buttermilk ranch dressing recipe is a nice touch.
3. The pits of an avocado will keep guacamole from turning brown. So after you whip up a batch of delicious guacamole, reunite the flesh of the avocado with its pit. It will thank you by staying green!
4. When baking any recipe that calls for vegetable oil, replace the oil with an equal amount of apple sauce. The end result? A healthier dessert, free of transfats, that will be light and fluffy (if you’re going for a dense cake, do not make this substitution).
5. When baking any chocolate recipe, if it calls for a cup of milk or water, add a teaspoon of instant ground coffee to the milk or water to increase the intensity of the chocolate.
6. If your recipe calls for eggs at room temperature and you forget to take them out of the refrigerator ahead of time, don’t panic. Instead, place them in a bowl of luke warm water for 3-4 minutes. (In exchange for this little tidbit, I shared a secret regarding softening butter — if you take butter right out of the refrigerator and grate it with a cheese grater, you will have softened butter for creaming without the wait time.)
7. And finally, have you every wondered how to eat a cupcake without getting frosting all over your nose? Audrey taught us that a truly moist cupcake can be broken easily in half by tearing the top of the cupcake off the base. Then, take the base and place it on top of the icing (like an oreo), and wala! A mess-free cupcake with icing in every bite!
We learned a ton of other things as well, but most importantly, we got to spend some time with each other and we got to escape, even if just for a few hours, from the demands of work and family. That alone was worth the cost of admission!
How do you love spending time with the girls? And what are some of your favorite practical cooking tips?
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, please come visit me and my family at Confessions Of A Pastor’s Family. I am married to a pastor in the local church and recently launched this blog as a place for us to share stories regarding our Faith, Marriage, Family, and Ministry. It is our hope that, through candid posts, we can touch the lives of families beyond the walls of our own church in a positive way. We’d love to hear from you!
P.S.S. Also, be sure to check out Audrey’s blog, Every Girl Gourmet. It’s filled with great recipes and helpful cooking tips!