Home Cooking Challenge: the results are in!

Making pancakes
Photo from the last time I made something in my kitchen: Christmas morning 2011, using a grill spatula to flip pancakes, in my Star Wars apron
It's been three nights since the Home Cooking Challenge came to an end. WHEW what a freaking week! Between making food, eating food, writing about said food, cleaning up after food, AND working for The Empire, I really only had time to sleep and then start it all over again. I don't think I've EVER been that busy… OR WELL FED!

I have to say that I actually miss having someone tell me what to make for every meal, especially at dinner time (my favorite time of all the times).

Well, not the first night. The first night I broke out my large frozen Trader Joe's pizza and ate the whole thing and revelled in every bite. But I definitely got sad the next night. I even brought my laptop into the kitchen with me, as if just doing that would make a Cat recipe appear. But nope, it just sat there while I re-heated my risotto and thought of all the things I could try to make with my fridge full of leftovers and never-used ingredients.

I do know that a lot of you got inspired and sent in "Megan-simple" recipes. And I hope to try them all with you every now and then! But in the meantime, let me answer your questions:

Did I fail you as a mother in the cooking department?

I'd say it was well in to Day 2, when it had become apparent to pretty much EVERYONE that I was a WAY worse cook than most imagined, that I got this comment from my mom on my blog. I totally reassured her that she totally didn't fail me as I had absolutely ZERO interest in making food. For the record, my mom's a great cook, she can whip up gourmet meals from a practically empty fridge. And she would, from time to time, try and show me how to make something-or-other. I'd always brush it off, because — what? — like I was REALLY going to make that at home? Hint: I was not.

No, mom, you did not "fail me," I just never really cared to learn… until my boss forced me to for entertainment value.

Do you feel better/more energised from eating better this week?

Yes! Part of the reason Ariel thought up this challenge was because I mentioned how I feel the change in my body when I eat better. (Which, until recently, was when I did things like go on vacation, stay with family or friends, or force the Empire staff to make all my meals.)

This week was no different: aside from being BEYOND tired, my innards felt amazing. I also noticed something strange. I was actually getting full. I'm well known for eating more than most of the men in my family. You all know now that I eat large frozen pizzas like they're appetizers. But sometimes I was feeling too full to eat all three meals! That was weird for me, until a reader pointed out that "if Megan isn't used to eating good quality food, she's probably feeling pretty full most of the time about now, because quality food KEEPS you full."

I've noticed that now that I'm back to eating pre-packaged foods and toast, my "Girl Scout Cookie binge" is coming back on the menu at snack time.

Do you think you will keep this up?

You know, a LOT of people were getting upset with Cat for giving me such hard recipes. And while I love that I had a lot people defending me (as I clearly am a baby bird) I actually think it was a really good thing. The trial by fire, as it were, had the effect of stripping down a lot of the fears I have of cooking. The fear of not knowing what to do, the fear of not doing it right, the fear of completely messing up the meal — all that just HAD to be swept away as I was forced to go forth and cook. I mean, if I can face my fears three times a day every day for a week, I can ultimately feel more confident to do a few meals a few times a week.

Plus, it made for some really funny videos. ;)

In the end, I think that's where I stand right now. I'm simply not the type to make yummy, good-for-you meals every day — I just don't have that in me. But I do now feel a bit more confident to maybe buy some of the same ingredients every week and attempt a couple dinners, or make those delicious breakfast tacos every now and then.

Which means that I'll be consuming a few less pizzas and frozen meals a week. And that, my friends, is progress for people-like-Megan.

  1. I can honestly say this series was the best thing to come out of the offbeat retreat. I've empathised, learned and lolled countless times.

    Now, how about us OBBs think of a similar challenge for Cat? ;~)

    4 agree
    • Aw man, that's awesome! So glad you enjoyed it. Now, how about I force Cat to eat pizza every night for a week? ;)

      2 agree
  2. You know what? I'm pretty sure thats what most people do – cook a few nights a week and give in and get something easy other times.

    Like me. Yesterday I made risotto out of leftovers and stuff I thought would go with risotto (plus too much mascarpone, yes folks there is such a thing as too much cheese). Today I chopped up some chicken and combined it with a jar of insta-sauce to make curry.

    4 agree
    • I do the chicken and instasauce curry too! I oftentimes add whatever veggies I happen to have in the fridge. As a matter of fact I consider that to be cooking dinner just like any other thing I might make. Most of my best recipes include some prepared foods. Short cuts don't negate the benefits!

      1 agrees
    • Yeah, I feel like a major success if I cook dinner 3x a week. Not only do I despise cooking, I'm freakin' busy! I have a life, & cooking (with the attendant meal planning, recipe-looking-for, grocery shopping, & cleaning before/after) takes a ton more time than frozen food or takeout.

      Same thing with taking shortcuts. Canned tomatoes, pre-sliced veg or shredded cheese, sliced chicken instead of whole, it may cost a bit more, but it's still fresh food & better for you in the long run.

      0 agree
  3. Megan, this has been a great series to read. I'm an avid cook, but I've been really inspired by your journey (not to mention entertained!). I wanted to share an easy meal with you, to keep you motivated!

    Breakfast: Refrigerator porridge
    Find an empty jam jar, or similarly sized container with a lid. Fill 1/2 full with rolled oats (old-fashioned oatmeal). Add a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt and about 1/4 cup milk. Put a lid on it and shake. Add chopped fruit of your choice, and any nuts or spices that sound tasty, and shake again. Put in the fridge overnight, and enjoy with a side of toast the next morning. You can make these 2-3 days in advance, if you want, and they're great for warmer weather. Plus, super customizable!

    Good luck with your future cooking adventures!

    1 agrees
      • Yes, ma'am! There's another post I've been meaning to submit for awhile, too… I'll get writing!

        0 agree
    • AKA – bircher muesli, yeh? It's ACE with grated apple or pear. NOMS! and if you want it hot just bung it in the microwave in the morning for a minute. :)

      0 agree
  4. I signed up for a meal planning service called emealz. Its $15.00 for a three month subscription.

    I'm ready to leave the service now. (I've done it for about a year). Its great because it plans all your meals PLUS gives you a grocery list. The meals aren't too complicated. Sometimes they'd give you a curve ball. You expect it to take a half hour but it takes longer.

    0 agree
    • THIS! I just got a Groupon for it a few weeks ago! I chose the Natural and Organic for 2 plan and I love it! I just wanted to cook real, whole foods more but did NOT have time to sit down and plan out recipes every damn week.

      emealz has been a great addition to my food routine and is even saving me money. Instead of picking up McDonalds on the way home I know all my ingredients are already in my fridge and I can cook something tasty quick.

      I will have to say that it is NOT like cooking out of a cookbook or Cats recipes. That means, the entire recipe is maybe 5 sentences. BUT! They are basic cooking skills, so as a fairly decent cook I can figure them all out, but I think a beginner would be ok too.

      0 agree
  5. These Home Cooking Challenge articles have been the highlight of my shitty finals week, I'm really glad that as much positive came to you as we all got from reading about your endeavors :) Way to go making it through, we're all so proud of you!!

    If you're getting a little interested in cooking but still find grocery shopping and arranging a meal plan difficult, check out the "Meal Board" app. You input your recipes on your device or on the computer, then you can make a shopping list by selecting what recipes you want. The shopping list sorts itself out by telling you how many of each ingredient you need (it condenses everything that's spelled the same into a single grouping, like mushrooms or tins of beans), and everything's organized by grocery store department, too. Putting all your recipes in is time consuming, but since you're starting with a few recipes and will build them up over time, you won't have to do too much. Before I nabbed this app I'd easily spend 3 hours planning our meals and the list, but now I can go to the store, see what's on sale, select recipes that use those things, and save a shit ton of money and time.

    0 agree
  6. So were most of the dinners purposely vegetarian? Are you vegetarian? Are most of the OffBeat readers vegetarian?
    As a vegetarian, I appreciated it, and found the recipes relateable to my everyday life.

    0 agree
    • Oh good question. I addressed it in the comments of some other post but I shall answer it here as well (because I can't find which post it was!) ;)

      The meals were mostly vegetarian because I have such a WEIRD list of foods I'll eat and meat phobias:
      * WILL NOT EAT pig, chicken, and fish
      * WILL EAT cow and turkey
      * WILL NOT BUY raw meats of any kind, it freaks me out.

      So instead of driving Cat crazy with my pickiness and phobias, we decided to make it veggie-based.

      0 agree
    • If you have any recipes you'd like to share, too — always feel free. I am partial to vegetarian recipe posts, myself.

      1 agrees
      • Crazy feature request(?): Offbeat Recipe Box.
        I can imagine us all submitting TONS OF BILLIONS OF recipes, and thus too many to post as regular posts. It'd be nice to have a cool collection of, say, non-tofu vegetarian recipes, gluten-free baking or face-melting cocktails.
        Could also just be a Pinterest board, too, of course–just get people to @ you when they post their own recipes.

        5 agree
        • I second wanting this feature!
          And yeah, I've got tons of vegetarian non-tofu foods. Mushroom stroganoff, cilantro-lime rice, lentil tacos, pasta e fagiole, split pea curry…
          I'll submit some.

          0 agree
        • THIS!!! THISTHISTHISTHISTHISTHIS!!!
          Give me your Tofu Spinach Fricassee, your dairy-free cheesecake, your humble stew bones yearning to be made into broth…

          And I'll give you my bacon-wrapped asparagus, 5 minute gluten-free microwave cupcake, and Cheesy pasta-y turkey kielbasa goodness. =)

          OffBeat Food Pintrest, FTW.

          1 agrees
  7. I was on the team that thought Cat's recipes were way too hard, even for a semi-seasoned cook (I'm awful at flipping pans, or anything except off!), but your response is so freaking inspiring. It was brave of you to take the challenge, you did it hilariously well, and I'm so proud of the results. YOU ARE AWESOME. Now, let's go hike.

    0 agree
  8. I want to know if there were any recipes or types of food that you discovered you enjoyed making. Not just eating, but the process of actually putting together the food.

    I ask because I've always hated cooking, but lately discovered that I LOVE baking (preferably complex baking that involves double-boilers and makes me feel like a scientist!), Mexican food, and homemade stuff that isn't usually homemade (e.g. handmade corn tortillas, and next up: ricotta cheese and sourdough bread). I still hate making pasta, stir-fries casseroles etc.

    0 agree
    • How about making the pasta itself? Then you can just toss it with a little olive oil and parmesan and have the best dinner in town.

      0 agree
      • I really wish I enjoyed it, but a big part is that I don't like pasta very much at all – I do not get what the fuss is all about. I do love gnocchi, which I made from scratch once just to prove I could.

        I should mention that I am super lucky and my husband is a borderline gourmet cook, so I eat really fresh wonderful food a;; the time. He enjoys making the food I don't like to make, so it balances out super well.

        0 agree
        • have you ever had fresh pasta? the pasta you buy in the store is dry pasta, fresh pasta would be what most people would make at their house… they are so different! you might like it, especially if you said you like gnocchi

          0 agree
    • Hmm, sadly, no. I didn't ever enjoy making anything. I enjoyed eating most of the things. But the making part was always super stressful.

      Maybe once I get one or two recipes down, I might start to enjoy making something?

      0 agree
      • I'm sure you will. Making something for the first time is by far the hardest. Doing it repeatedly means you get MUCH more efficient, and you learn how to fudge it and make variations. Which is not to say there won't be some recipes (or classes of recipes, like Woodlandia said) that you'll never enjoy making. But I bet there'll be some that you won't mind.

        0 agree
  9. This challenge got me on the site EVERY FREAKIN DAY. I normally only come to the Offbeat Empire once or twice a week. I hope there might be more week-long challenges in the future. (Hint, hint.)

    0 agree
  10. I am totally missing "cooking challenge" this week :( I looked forward to both the challenge post and Megan's response. It had me checking the site several times a day waiting for them to pop up.

    0 agree
  11. Megan, you did fantastic!

    As far as cooking at home — I write a friggin' cooking blog (well, it's mostly a hook to talk about indie music) and I still positively will not cook-cook for-serious every dinner, much less every meal.

    Aside from revels in the fleshpots of dive Mexican and takeaway pizza, I rely for easy life on a handful of meals that I don't have to think about when I don't want to do serious cooking. There's sandwiches. There's pasta with some form of salami or shrimp or such thrown in, usually with pesto because I like pesto better than tomato sauce. There's the thing with the canned beans, the corn, and the cheese (put in bowl — nuke). There's Accidental Souffle, which is basically a couple eggs whipped with half a cup of milk, cheesed thoroughly, and put in a 350 oven for 25 minutes. There's "aw, screw it, I'm eating sliced apples, pecans, and salami or something with a glass of white wine and a novel." (Read the novel: don't eat it.)

    Over time, develop your own easy go-tos — it's just less hassle than takeaway and way lower sodium than frozen foods. One of your go-tos should definitely be the risotto, since you did especially well with that. Risotto likes you. That Mexican potato-bean dish you cooked also has a variant that's one of my lazy day dishes, so I heartily recommend rehashes of that one.

    0 agree
    • You totally read my mind! I was thinking about re-attempting both the risotto and the mexican potato-bean dish. What's YOUR variant on that last one?

      0 agree
      • Oh, my Mexican bean-potato-thing variant is all about being lazy: I fry the potatoes and add the rinsed beans, as per Cat's recipe, but use then stir in jarred green salsa with the cheese instead of dealing directly with peppers. Out here in Arizona, salsa without preservatives and crap is fairly easy to find, and I'm a coward about peppers.

        That said, I am going to be brave about working with peppers for my New Mexico recipe — watching your valiant struggles has renewed my culinary gutsiness.

        0 agree
  12. So I am totally sure that someone else suggested this elsewhere, but you DO realize that "freezer food" does not have to be mutually exclusive with "homemade and healthy," right? I don't have much time to cook, so I'm often on the lookout for freezer-friendly recipes. I make a single batch the first time, just to make sure I know how to do it and that I like it. Assuming it's a good recipe, the next time I'll make two or three batches, and seal most of it up to put in the freezer! Just make sure you have big enough pots to handle whatever size you decide to make your recipe. You just have to use it within maybe six months, and make sure to use a good freezer bag and write the date on it. You don't have to do this very often, and pretty soon you'll find yourself with a choice between three or four homemade, healthy foods that you like whenever you don't have time to cook.

    My current favorite recipe to do this with is the red lentils recipe from here:

    http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/02/confessions-of-a-cumin-junkie/

    Smitten Kitchen is a generally great recipe site anyway, but this particular recipe is great for freezing. (Smitten kitchen has a "freezer friendly" tag, you can look there for some of her other recipes that freeze well). I use quart-sized freezer bags (a full quart is a little more than two servings, and once you defrost it you can use the leftovers the next day). To freeze liquidy things like this, you need to make sure to get as much air out of the bag as possible, and then cram everything else in your freezer into the top corner or shelf to give you some room to lay the bags relatively flat. Once they're frozen, as long as you didn't let them get all bunched up, they stack really well and you can make your freezer reasonable again.

    Turkey vegetable bean soup is another great thing to freeze – soups and stews in general often freeze well. If you eat tuna fish, this recipe freezes really nicely:

    http://orangette.blogspot.com/2005/03/on-heresy-and-bouchons-au-thon.html

    They are tasty little tuna-cheese things. I like to call them tuna cupcakes, because they're shaped like cupcakes and whenever you tell people you are eating tuna cupcakes for lunch they look at you really funny.

    Anyway – long story short, freezing stuff is awesome. I highly recommend it.

    1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.