Day 1 Cooking Challenge report: the terror of slicing an apple

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Today is Day 2 of Offbeat Home’s Cooking Challenge, wherein we see if Offbeat Bride’s Managing Editor Megan, a complete non-cook who lives off of cereal and frozen meals, can go an entire week preparing her own meals.

Each day, Megan will recount how yesterday’s cooking went, and we’ll share the next day’s recipes prepared by Cat Rocketship (who SWEARS you can afford better food!). Feel free to cook along with Megan, if you’d like!

Report from Day 1 (Sunday)

(Click here for Megan’s meal plan)

Where I hit the wall

See those apple slices on the right? That sight alone was enough to completely freak me out, just MINUTES into my first Offbeat Home food challenge. That cut in half apple was far as I got on this challenge before running into a problem.

Cat wants me to cut those pieces into flat thin slices. HOW THE FUCK DO I DO THAT!? Googling “how to cut an apple into thin slices” is seriously not helping me. I’m running into the same thing that stumps me every time I try to cook: reading directions that are making my eyes blur over and giving me Derp face by step number three.

See, THIS is why the Offbeat Home food challenge was invented: to help me and all of us that are cooking inept. SOLIDARITY!

Thankfully, I have a great team behind me — Cat, who is making up all the recipes and then running them by her user experience-writer husband to dumb it way down. Ariel who is cheerleading all the way and giving advice on how to ignore the “backseat cookers.” My mom who came in clutch this morning with apple cutting instructions. And a good group of friends, who are doing things like helping me shop, teaching me how to not chop my fingers off, and my neighbors, who are professional chefs, hooking me up with fresh farm eggs.

Join me on the beginning of my cooking journey and together we can learn how to cut a fucking apple.

The preparation

The grocery list
Yes, that is three pages worth of food and items I’d need for this week. A lot of it was things like milk, butter, spices, bread, eggs, etc. All of the things that most people buy and/or just always have on hand. But since this is Megan-the-anti-cook, and my fridge looks like this, I had to BUY ALL THE THINGS!

Along with being unable to make food, I also experience anxiety when I go grocery shopping. I have actually got my shopping for the week down to what I’d compare to a finely choreographed dance routine — hitting the same spots of the same aisles in the same order at a fast pace — in order to get in and get out ASAP. So THIS was going to be more than a challenge, it was going to be a learning experience. Of course, the essential for ANY learning experience is someone to help teach you. I asked my buddy Alex (who’s in town from traveling around the world getting married over and over again) to come with me on my shopping trip.

I believe this is Alex's "are you fucking kidding me?" face.

If it weren’t for Alex, I’d probably STILL be at the grocery store looking for hoisin sauce (turns out it’s a sweet Asian sauce), and looking for chick peas when they’re apparently also called garbanzo beans. Then after all that I would have brought home broken eggs — turns out, you have to check the carton before putting it in your cart! We’re learning here folks.

The food prep
Two hours and $200 worth of groceries, a strainer, and a mini crock pot later I was prepared.

Breakfast Day 1: Bagels with goat cheese, apples, and honey

The first #OBHfood challenge: bagels with goat cheese, apples & honey -- success!

Like I said, I hit a wall TWO steps into making breakfast. Cat told me to “thinly chop apple slices,” and I just froze. (I know, that’s pretty lame, but remember: SOLIDARITY here, Homies.) How-what-which-what angle from which to attack this half an apple?

Thankfully my mother hit me up on video chat right as I was almost 15 minutes into a freak out and she walked me through the steps. I didn’t record it, unfortunately but I took some screen shots. If anyone out there hits this same roadblock just let me know and I’ll help you out.

But in the end, after learning how to thinly slice an apple, I had four gorgeous goat cheese, apple and honey bagels. And they were DELICIOUS!


Now lunch was a different story…

Lunch Day 2: Curried egg salad sandwich aka. the sandwich that took me two hours to make

The curried egg salad sandwich that took me two hours to make. #obhfood  (photo taken before remembering to add the lettuce)Here. Here is a stupid shitty picture of the fucking sandwich that took me two hours to make. Fuck you sandwich. You were tasty, but by the time I was ready to eat you I was shaking and exhausted. I was bested by a damn egg salad sandwich.

Why does anyone ever make egg salad sandwiches? It took FOREVER to boil the eggs, than let them cool, then peel them, then learn how to chop them, then realize oh crap, four eggs won’t be enough, boil more eggs, chop all the other ingredients, realize I don’t have table or teaspoon measuring thingies, chop the second batch of hard boiled eggs, then mix all the ingredients, then put the egg salad between two things of bread, remember about the lettuce, add lettuce, then eat.

The best part of making this lunch was that my neighbor, Ari Kolender, who is a professional chef de cuisine gave me colorful farm fresh eggs with which to make my sandwich. Look at how cute they are!:

Got some colored eggs for my next #OBHfood meal! It's nice having chefs as neighbors.

Also, if weren’t for Ari, I would have had to run out and buy more measuring spoons. Fortunately Ari, getting hungry enough, just eye-balled a tablespoon of curry pepper for me. (Ssh, don’t tell Cat!)

When it was all said and done, after two hours, I served myself and a professional chef my curried egg salad sandwich. I wolfed it down hungrily, Ari ate half, then wrapped the second half up in a napkin and told me that he was going to take it with him to his apartment and “save it for later.” Mmm hmm.

I’m telling you, if this is what cooking is like, I know now why Cat takes so many baths. This shit is STRESSFUL. And I still have to make dinner tonight. Sigh.

So tell me: is anyone else doing this along with me? If so, how was YOUR experience? I encourage all my other non-cooks to play along and feel my pain and my joys and tomorrow we’ll talk about how today’s meals went! I only just got done with Day 1 lunch and I’ve already learned so much.

The recipes for Day 2

If you want to cook along with Megan, here are the recipes she’ll be working from on Day 2. They’ve got loads of cheese, strawberries, and dark chocolate!

While Megan will do full posts each day, you can see photos and follow her Offbeat Home cooking challenge adventures real-time, too: @meganfinley #obhfood

Comments on Day 1 Cooking Challenge report: the terror of slicing an apple

  1. It can be REALLY frustrating to cook for just one or two people. It’s so much work and such small results! My solution? Batch cooking. It’s practically the same amount of work, but you get tons more food, and then you can freeze it for later. Instant frozen dinners, but healthy. It’s how my husband and I manage to eat decently most of the time despite both of us working full time. We cook big on the weekends and then freeze. Our next goal is “once a month cooking”. It would be so nice not to have to think about what we were going to cook for most of the month.

    (One annoying grammar nazi note… it’s peel, not peal.)

  2. Just a helpful FYI about making hard boiled eggs. Put your eggs in the pan, fill with enough water to cover the tops of the eggs(they might float a little, but it’s ok>. Heat on medium flame until they boil. Time them for 3 minutes. Turn off flame and put the lid on the pan. Let them sit for 8 minutes covered. Then, dump water, shake in the pan until the shells start breaking (not too hard) and fill pan with cold water. Peel after 2-3 minutes. They will be evenly cooked and the peels will come off easier. Nice egg salad sammich BTW. Congrats on your cooking experience!

    • Got through day one and now I’m just at the beginning of day 2 and it’s all gone to shit. Can’t wait to write this next update! πŸ˜‰

  3. though if the eggs are super fresh, no cooking method will make them easy to peel! I really enjoyed this. I cook everyday and have for ever so I am enjoying the new perspective. thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Also, if you plan ahead, you can use some of the eggs when they’re fresh, for like a fried egg sandwich, and then the others can sit in your fridge for a few days until they’re not so fresh and can be boiled and peeled easily!

    • Try steaming them! Works beautifully on fresh eggs! I generally set the timer for 10-15 minutes once steam starts collecting on the lid (before it actually boils).

      Also, since you’re breaking out the steamer basket anyway, make extra eggs for the following days (and plan meals or snacks around them).

  4. Megan, I am a stellar cook (no really, everyone says so…not just my future husband!) and I don’t EVER make egg salad sandwiches because it’s such a pain in the ass! So Cat really threw you under the bus with this one, imo. It should get better from here…not much more annoying than anything with hard boiled eggs!

  5. This is the most hilariously awesome thing ever. Good luck on the cooking! I love to cook and even I’m hard pressed to make every.single.meal.evaaar. at home.

    The good thing about cooking is it’s like a muscle. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get and the better you get. You fail, you take stock and try not to make the same mistake again.

    Then, suddenly, you’re in the land of master chef, having no idea how you got there, just that so many of your meals and recipes become, “I dunno how I made it. I just dumped stuff in until it tasted good. Like.a.boss.”

      • I would absolutely agree that this is boot camp and you cooking like a boss at the end of it is one possibility. The other is that you decide cooking is evil and you never want to do it again. Please don’t let this completely burn you out. If you decide this is way too much, try baby steps next time. Keep the things from this that were not bad and and not too time consuming and then try cooking on good meal from scratch a week, bonus if you make enough to have leftovers to eat later in the week.

        I am a good cook and my husband and I eat mostly home-cooked meals, but I don’t cook half as much as what your challenge entails. Bear in mind as you go forward that you can eat very well with significantly less effort than this.

  6. Oh Megan!
    You sound just like my husband before we started dating…I taught him to cook a weekend at a time, though, not an in a week! You’ve got a great team behind you, and you’re going to do great. And I always feel so much healthier and more nourished when I make my own food – hope the same goes for you!

  7. Good job Megan! As you cook more you’ll learn tricks and shortcuts but for right now you’re doing great! Plus you and Cat are giving me some great meal ideas!

  8. WORD. Chopping things is the #1 most annoying, tedious, & stressful part about cooking. I won’t even tell you about how many different ways there are to chop, bec. that’d stess you out even more. It makes my environmentalist heart weep due to the extra packaging, but yeah, I buy stuff pre-sliced when I can.

    Also, Cat must not like you very much to force you to make hard-boiled eggs on day one! That’s like a masterclass-level skill! Holy crap. It’s so easy to mess up & over or under cook hard-boiled eggs. I love eating them, but I rarely make them bec. of these risks.

    From one anti-cook to another, you have my greatest sympathies, Megan.

    • When/if I’m going to be doing anything with hardboiled eggs, I usually just boil up eight or a dozen (with salt in the water! This really does make them easier to peel – even the farm fresh ones) and then put them back in the carton. That way they’re already there if I need them, and any extra are premade snacks.

  9. Go Megs! As the daughter of a woman who loves to cook and cooks WELL (and the granddaughter of a woman who cooks well and is the master of baked goods), seriously, you can do this. I have had to call my mum for all kinds of questions because you’re right, recipes assume you know what you’re doing most of the time. Even ones from a friend. I have had to ask about baking potatoes.

    As for eggs, there are lovely things to make that easier. I have a set of cups that go in the microwave. I also have an egg slicer (which I thought was a mini harp as a kid). Those two things made egg salad sandwiches way easier for me.

    Like others, I’d say just use this as a base. These are pretty adventurous things to start with. And sometimes, buying something is okay. Like pie crusts. Fuck making pie crusts.

    • I love my egg slicer! The other thing I own that makes egg salad easy is one of those one-use appliances just for making hard boiled eggs. I had one-use appliances, but I actually use this at least once a week.

      I’m a big fan of having a hard boiled egg for lunch or a snack or whatever. Just take a peeled egg, and dip it in some sriracha sauce and I’m in heaven. Add some pepper if you’re fancy. πŸ™‚

  10. Yeah, don’t MAKE pie crusts! Although I CAN, I just never DO. Why? Pilsbury makes a great pie crust! Unroll it and drape it in the pie plate. BAM! DONE! And I always make my man boil the eggs. He doesn’t mind and I can have egg salad when I want it!

    • Heh. I come from a big Italian family, and I remember asking my aunt how she made such wonderful pie crusts. She told me she uses the Pillsbury recipe – buy a Pillsbury crust and drop it in! And she makes most food from scratch, and even she thinks it’s worth buying thos ebecause they’re SO. TIME CONSUIMING.

  11. Congrats on making hard boiled eggs! Truly, they’re not as easy as they sound! The first time I made them, I had to call my mom to ask how. Times 2-5 that I made them I had to look up a recipe on the Internet. This past weekend I made hard boiled eggs for the first time unassisted (no recipe, even!) and they came out ok. I forgot to add a pinch of salt to the water (supposedly that helps to keep the shells from cracking while they boil and/or makes them easier to peel??) so the peeling got a little ugly, but they tasted fine!

    Pro tip my mom gave me: super-fresh eggs may actually be harder to peel once boiled (no idea why), so using eggs that have been in the fridge a couple days might help ease that step. It seems to be true, because the ones I kinda mangled the other day were purchased the day before I made them.

    Keep it up! And try not to stress too hard – not everyone in the world needs to truly *enjoy* cooking or even be very good at it. Hopefully this week will help you learn some basics around the kitchen, but don’t try to force yourself to be Julia Child right away! πŸ™‚

  12. Aw, poor baby! Timing is the toughest part about learning to cook. When I first started everything took 2 hours. Or it seemed that way. It does get smoother!

    I think hard-boiled eggs are easy-peasy, but not quick at all. When I make them it takes at least an hour–though not much of that is active time. I cover the eggs with water, add a half-teaspoon of salt, then cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and immediately remove it from the burner and place it on a cool burner. Then I add a tablespoon of vinegar (supposedly aids peeling), replace the lid, and leave it to sit for 30 minutes or so.

    When the eggs are cooked, I pop them into a bowl of ice water and let them sit for 20 minutes. This is where I either stick ’em in the fridge for future use, or crack and peel them. I used to just straight peel them, but now I follow the advice from a deviled egg website, that works like a charm:
    Last time I used eggs purchased the day before, and they still peeled like a dream (except 2 of the 14, and that’s good enough for me).

  13. The deal with egg salad is you make a decent-sized batch when you’re not hungry, then you make sandwiches with it for a couple of days as you get hungry. (Well, I don’t, as I dislike hardboiled eggs and can’t eat mayonnaise… but other people do.)

    This is also going to be true of chili and most soups. (Some soups need only about 20 minutes on the stove, but they still require a lot of chopping.)

    Main courses that cook fast — outside of the chopping part — are those in which the meat is cut into small bits, as are all the veg, and then it’s cooked stove-top and maybe braised or sauced at the end. That’s your 30-minute meal. The larger the chunk of food, the longer it will take to cook. The more things you have to do with it (rise, knead, peel, chop, cool), the longer you’re on the hook. For the busy person cooking for one, SMALL BITS is the buzzword for getting dinner on the table in under an hour.

    In this vein, when you take the plunge into baking, you might consider going for muffins over quick bread loaves and cupcakes over cake. Same recipe, but the smaller portions cook in roughly half the time and are easier to parcel out for freezing extras. SMALL BITS = speed. If you don’t like eating the same thing for multiple days (I don’t), SMALL BITS = a shorter leftover cycle.

    Obviously, sometimes I cook a big something and WANT leftovers — but not when I’m hungry or in a hurry.

    SMALL BITS. Live it, learn it, braise it. But don’t burn it.

  14. I think you’re awesome for taking this on! It does get easier. But if you never love it, that’s okay too. I LOVE to cook and do it all the time, but there are parts I don’t think I’ll ever like. My husband is the one with all the knife skills, so if I have to chop an onion (or anything, really), I just throw it in the mini-chopper and spare myself the aggravation. However it works for you is perfect. Good luck!

  15. Okay, you need to hop on Hulu and Youtube and check out Alton Brown (or his show Good Eats or his book “I’m Just Here for the Food”). Not only have I only encountered 2 recipes (out of 16 seasons) that I didn’t like, but he is absolutely tops when it comes to explaining how to do this or why you should do that and what is going on in the cooking process.

    • Alton Brown is the only reason I passed my baking class with just enough points to graduate. And only because I was able to WOW my chef with tidbits of theoreticals and understanding how the chemical process works, even if I can’t replicate it. Let me put it this way: I’m such a bad baker that she told me mid-semester, “Please don’t touch anything we need to serve to customers.”

      I’m a great cook though, it’s just baking that throws me.

  16. Deep breathes, DEEP breathes. It’s annoying, frustrating, and damn near stroke-inducing to learn something that everyone else seems to know instinctively (me trying to learn how to drive. At age 16. At age 20. And again at age 30. And let’s not even discuss stick shift [shudder]).

    It’ll be ok. Really. And you won’t be perfect in a week, or even a month. But at the end of this week you’ll look back and say, Damn, I did GOOD!

  17. Bless you, cooking warrior.
    Someday… I mean, not today, probably not tomorrow… SOMEDAY you’ll appreciate how awesome it is to be familiar with boiling eggs and stuff. Because boiled eggs can make other stuff. Stuff that doesn’t involve sandwiches. (For me, that’s boiled eggs covered in hot sauce or pico de gallo. But that’s me.)
    Also, these recipes are making me realize just how picky I am. I don’t like a lot of foods. Or I think I don’t like a lot of foods, especially in theoretical pairings with one another.

  18. Hard boiled eggs can by tricky. When I want hard boiled eggs that week I make a big batch of them on Sunday night and put them in the fridge so when I’m hungry they’re all cool and ready to go. Live and learn. Some things are best made in advance. For lunch I usually eat a big salad but I make the whole thing on Sunday night (while listening to audio books or pod casts) divide it up into 5 Tupperware tubs, and eat it throughout the week (it lasts if I don’t put dressing on it). I used to try and make a salad every day but all the chopping took too long, so I learned what worked for me.

  19. I hope this doesn’t count as backseat cooking, but regarding your terror/hatred of grocery shopping: once you’ve got the basic ingredients (oil, salt, etc) in your cupboard, future shopping trips can be sped up by just going around the outer rim of the grocery store. This is where the produce, dairy, meats and breads are almost always located, so you can grab the healthy stuff and jet (while avoiding the temptation of frozen and packaged dinners).

  20. Megan, don’t fret over measuring amounts. If you don’t have measuring spoons / cups handy (or if they’re dirty) just use regular spoons (coffee spoon for tbsp and soup spoon for Tbsp) and coffe cups (the small 8 oz-ish ones). Eyeball it and don’t think twice about it. Also, to get the correct amount of salt or other seasonings, taste it once you think it (whatever it is you’re cooking) is done, before taking it off the heat. Play and experiment – not sure if more salt (or whatever) will help or hurt? Try mixing some of it in a spoon or small plate and give it a taste to decide. Remember, bland = boring and discouraging.

    Good luck!

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