Time to learn to cook

Dog-eared recipe books

Twenty years ago, at the age of 50, I decided to learn how to cook.

Before that I was more interested in working and whatever else I did to spend my time.

I was blessed with a husband who ate what I put on the table (spaghetti, canned split pea soup and hotdogs, broiled chicken, hot dogs and baked beans, salads with bottled dressings). Looking back, I’m amazed we didn’t come down with scurvy or beri beri. And while Keith is a saint, he also showed no interest in learning to cook either. He is more enamoured with the “fix it” side of household chores.

When I left my corporate drone job, I bought two cookbooks. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Keith started cutting recipes out of the newspaper and we saved a lot of money eating at home instead of take out while I cooked dinner every night.

For the next 18 years my skills grew. I turned into a more confident cook who could follow recipes. Around year 10, I started learning how to clean dishes while I cooked so it wasn’t such a chore. I also became better at turning out a healthy meal in 30 minutes.

Somewhere along the way I discovered library book sales. Now I’ve run out of room on my cookbook shelves. I used the cookbooks all the time because if I didn’t … everything tasted the same.

Now that I’m retired, I am finally learning how to cook without recipes. It took traveling in an RV to start playing around at throwing a meal together by instinct. I might start with a recipe and then make substitutions based on what I have in the cupboards. Often when I used a recipe it bore little resemblance to the the original version in the book. Instinctive cooking definitely adds to the fun of cooking and results in fewer trips to the grocery store.

All this is a lead up to say that yesterday my book club came over for dinner. I made my go to entertaining dish: Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. It only took four hours and three trips to the grocery store, but I got it done and it was yummy.

Julia Child is challenging because every recipe is made up of multiple smaller recipes. It takes time and butter and wine. Her Boeuf Bourguignon is iconic because of its wonderful layers of flavors and the fact that there is the chance to get a little buzz on with the wine while cooking. A few years ago I tried Anthony Bourdain’s Boeuf Bourguignon. I love him but the recipe was flat in comparison. On the other hand, it could have been the way I made the recipe.

What is your favorite entertainment dish? Do you follow recipes or cook by instinct? Who does the cooking in your house?

13 comments

    • Joanie. My favorite cooking experience with you was making and taste testing apple pies. Remember? Our favorite was the one with vodka in it. That recipe from America’s Test Kitchen was truly creative wasn’t it?

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  1. Dan does most of the cooking, but I do some. Like you, once I retired, I took more of an interest in cooking. I like recipes on the simpler side – not too complicated to make. I usually follow recipes, and I like to find them online. I love the site indianeskitchen.com. I am thinking of donating the vast majority of my cookbooks. I do like a slow cooker and the air fryer.

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    • I am going to check inDianeskitchen.com. I also like Smitten Kitchen but I find it less time consuming to flip through old fashioned paper books. I love the instapot which also does home cooking. I bought an air fryer oven but find I use it mainly as a small oven or toaster oven. Replace my broken microwave with it. No I have to reheat coffee in a saucepan on the stove which is definitely not the end of the world. 😜

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  2. The first time I cook a new recipe I follow the recipe the 2nd time I tweak at the moment I am cooking every day…sigh…my son is away working BUT when he comes back he cooks I am the sous chef and then it leaves me more time to create new recipes…Our fav is also Boeuf Bourguignon the first dish I cooked my husband years ago a man who didn’t like garlic…he does now…lol

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  3. I remember years ago, we tackled Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. After watching the video of her PBS show. 🤣 Fun time in the kitchen.

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    • Of course I remember. I like cooking new things together. We should do it again with another iconic dish like Peking Duck . Or maybe go shopping at Latin, Indian or Asian food store. We could do a recipe with novel ingredients.

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