Megan’s Offbeat Home cooking challenge

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THIS is currently my idea of the perfect meal: a ginormous pizza and beer.

I always say, the biggest mistake that Aaron and I made in our marriage was NOT marrying someone who cooks. We both have TERRIBLE eating habits and no skills when it comes to cooking. I happen to love eating food, I just don’t happen to love creating food. Aaron is one of those people who, if he could, he’d just take a pill in order to get all his nutrition — he has no love of food and hardly any time to eat anyway. If either one of us married someone who knew how/loved to make meals, we’d be so happy. So folks, if you’ve got a partner who loves to cook, CHERISH THEM.

I just came back from an Offbeat Empire work retreat at Ariel’s mom’s property on Bainbridge Island. Part of the deal with the trip was that we would all team up and take turns making each of the meals. As I know there’s no Trader Joe’s on the island, my go-to meal of frozen pizza and pre-packaged salad was NOT going to be a possibility. Barring that, I got NOTHING when it comes to feeding the masses. So I offered this up:

Also, reminder to anyone who is partnered with me — I’m more of a hinderance then a help in the kitchen. So, if you don’t want to have to instruct me like you would a toddler when it comes to making food, I’m MORE than happy to pay for everything we (you) need if you’re more than happy to turn it all into food.

Which then got turned into “useless Megan does all the dishes, while the other, competent, Empire workers created the edibles.”

I was more than happy with that arrangement. I washed and cleaned and, in turn, ate wonderful things like grilled cheese-and-pear finger sandwiches, black beens and homemade tzatziki, and pancakes and dutch babies for breakfast. My stomach gurgles just thinking of it all.

Once home from the trip, Ariel contacted me with an idea for an Offbeat Home post…

Ariel: Basically, CAN THIS PACKAGED FOOD NON-COOKING PERSON SURVIVE WITHOUT PACKAGED FOOD FOR ONE WEEK?
Cat provides meal plans/recipes for you.
Megan: HA!
Ariel: You document your experience.
Megan: that would be hilarious.
i would totally try that

And so it’s looking like, starting next week, I will be totally trying that! I’m going from eating like this (and, yes, this is seriously my meal plan EVERY DAY unless I go out to eat)…

  • Breakfast: toast
  • Lunch: pre-packaged salad or turkey sandwich
  • Dinner: frozen pizza or frozen beef and broccoli

…to something like this:

  • Breakfast: Spicy scrambled eggs for two!
  • Lunch: Cheesy crunchy sandwich and a sweet potato!
  • Snack: Cookie break!
  • Dinner: Spinach and parm risotto with an apple nut salad and for dessert ICE CREAM!

Cat’s rules are:

  • Three meals + 1 snack + 1 sweet/dessert each day
  • Prep time must be less than 30min
  • Work within the five-or-fewer ingredient rule for packaged foods

I’m thinking that if Aaron or Coco (or anyone else that knows how to run a camera and possibly edit!?) are around while I’m attempting this experiment, I’ll have them capture video. Because that way, even if I fail at my meal attempts, at least will get some HILARIOUS footage. Possibly including panicked shopping trips? Me no likey shopping.

So stay tuned to see if this will be the best or WORST idea in Offbeat Home history!

Comments on Megan’s Offbeat Home cooking challenge

  1. I didn’t know how to cook at all in college and survived on boxed tuna helper, frozen pizza, and pb&j until my mom got me the “Starving Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook” (the original version has meat recipes). The recipes have a small number of simple ingredients, dirty the fewest number of pots and pans, are 30 minutes or less to make, and has a smaller amount of servings (great for 1-2 people). What’s even better is that it has a sample shopping list of basics you should have, and diagrams teaching you how to cut up things like peppers, garlic, and how to wash and store lettuce. It’s a really basic cookbook for absolute beginners but the recipes are great and I still use it. It’s an awesome non-intimidating first cookbook!

  2. I love making PIZZA FROM SCRATCH, it’s 10x better than frozen. YOU CAN DO IT MEGAN! I believe in you! And if you need help we are all here for you. 🙂

    • Oh man, don’t even get me STARTED on the night we tried to make pizza from scratch. No joke — our relationship barely survived that evening. 😉

      • My husband and I have perfected our stone baked pizza recipes. We have a really good dough and sauce mix which makes any topping extra delicious. Bonus: you can freeze the leftover dough for later. If you ever want the recipe I can give very detailed instructions on what to do (we’ve had many a disaster before we figured our shit out). We’ve even taught our friends how to do it.

  3. I love cooking! I was lucky enough to have a father who liked to cook, and a grandmother who could cook anything, so I grew up watching and learning a lot of basic things, which I took for granted until I met my husband. His mother cooks, and she’s pretty good at it, but he absorbed almost nothing from that. I’ve been slowly teaching him (and seriously, he’s better at this than he thinks he is) but mostly it becomes I cook, he wanders around the kitchen fetching me things, chopping things, or putting things away. Actually it really works out because I don’t have to do prep work I dislike and when I’m done, everything is cleaned up already except what I’m actively using (instead of being a chaotic mess, which is what happens when I cook alone.)
    So excited for this series, looking forward to new recipes!

    Edit: it occurs to me to add that when my husband and I started dating, he was eating hot pockets for dinner most nights. occasionally I’d make a pie or something because I felt like baking, and then he’d eat pie for dinner for 3 days. if he can learn to cook and enjoy it, anyone can.

  4. May I recommend that Megan try some Chinese recipes this week? I think they are a great introduction to cooking, since most of them are essentially- cook 1 meat, cook 1 vegetable, put rice in rice cooker. Super simple.

    • Nooooooooooooo! This is always the problem with healthy, fast meals! Whenever I try to find a week’s worth of recipes that are cheap, easy, and healthy, more than half of them are always stir-fry, or generally “things with soy/some kind of asian sauce”. I get how that can be delicious (I mean, really, you’re just making healthy things taste good!) but I get so sick of that so quickly (I actually blame my college years for making it impossible for me to appreciate Chinese food anymore), and tehre never seem to be NON-Chinese recipes out there for me to try. So I can’t wait to see some VARIETY! 🙂

      • I understand your desire for variety (although you can always just switch up vegetables, pasta for rice, etc) but for Megan in particular, who admits that she is absolutely confounded by cooking, I think starting simple, getting used to cooking times, the taste of individual spices and ingredients, etc and then building up to variety would be a less stressful introduction.

  5. I can’t wait to see how this works out! I was a somewhat competent cook until my husband was laid off a few months ago. We cut way back on food spending and now I get a different cookbook from the library every few weeks to add new recipes to my arsenal. FYI we still do pizza once or twice a week, but now it’s made from scratch and perfect for a compromise on ingredients. We both had tomatoes, mushrooms, and bacon this week. He added spinach and pineapple to his half while I added green peppers.

  6. I feel for you, Megan. My mom doesn’t really cook, and I was raised on fast food and sit-down restaurants. I can’t remember a home cooked meal past 6 years old, and pre-6 years it was frozen chicken in the oven, a can of peas heated in the microwave, that sort of thing.

    So when I moved to the States to live with my 2nd-shift working boyfriend, and had to feed myself every night, I really, REALLY wanted to just go out every night. But I was broke. So I started slowly…first microwaving…then I tried frozen food in the oven…then recipes with a few fresh ingredients…and I took photos of my progress and posted them on Facebook for all my friends and family to see (and make fun of me). And slowly but surely, over the past 4 years, I’ve taught myself enough that I can now make things from scratch with fresh ingredients and relatively few instructions.

    But it totally took me getting harrassed semi-publically to motivate me to do it 🙂 lol, at least I owned my incompetence and didn’t get embarrassed. So this might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!! Good luck!!

  7. High five on the Holy Grail beer though!

    Good luck on this experiment, you’ll do fine. It’ll be exciting for us, anyway.

    Fiance is the cook at our house, & he’s amazing at it. What takes him 10 minutes, would take me 4 hours.

    We’re looking into how to set him up to do cooking lessons for people. (Hello OBH sponsor, lol) How to get the food out of the recipe & into something you’ll actually eat. How to feel confident to leave the paper & create your own.

    I do the dishes (mostly.) But if he’s not home, I’ll eat whatever is around also. A piece of cold chicken & a block of cheese. Check.

  8. Hm. As someone who loves to cook but has to get up at 4am for work, might I suggest things along the lines of oatmeal in the morning? Trust me, oatmeal DOES NOT have to be boring and gross. And scrubbing eggs off of pans is awful!

    • I saw a thing (probably on Pinterest?) where someone suggested making a BIG batch of oatmeal, portioning it out into silicone cups and freezing them (then chucking them into a big freezer bag) so they’re just about as quick as instant oatmeal in the morning but they taste way better.

      • Ooh ooh, Trader Joe’s already has that! Frozen cylinders of oatmeal that you just microwave and boom! oatmeal time. Yes, I even do pre-packaged frozen fucking OATMEAL.

  9. Once you get going with the cooking you might find you like it though! My boyfriend and I both enjoy cooking, but he seems to enjoy it just a TINY bit more so he does most of the cooking around our place, and yes I do treasure it VERY much <3 so much so that I have dedicated part of my blog to our cooking adventures! He does the cooking and I take pictures and do write ups about some of the more interesting meals he has created! You can check it out here if you like:

    http://smcwrites.wordpress.com/

    I also have some book reviews and other things – but maybe you can try some of the recipes out! I will be looking forward to seeing how this experiment goes, it sounds really exciting 🙂

  10. My parents tell me that I learned to cook in self defence. My mum is not the best cook in the world, and my dad is good but worked long hours so was rarely able to organise dinner.

    So from a reasonably young age I would cook fairly regularly, because having edible food is nice.

    Then I taught mum about magical things like jars of pasta sauce so you don’t have to flavour things yourself, and I was off the hook a bit!

    • My husband is on a quest for creating the perfect from-scratch pasta sauce, but I never understand why. I have found a couple pre-made sauces from jars that are astoundingly delicious! And cheap! and make the meal so easy! 🙂

  11. When my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved in together, I said “look, I am prepared to eat frozen pizza and burritos for the rest of my life, take it or leave it” and he was totally cool with that. Occasionally I would bust out some pork chops or something simple but we mostly ate junk for the first year. Then he… just started cooking one day. It was good. He kept doing it. And now, years later, as I type this I am about to eat the best homemade enchiladas (red chili sauce from SCRATCH, ya’ll!). If it weren’t for him, I would still be heating a can of beans and topping it with some cheese and calling it dinner.

  12. Has anyone else read The Kitchen Counter Cooking School? I’m a fairly hopeless cook but the book points out that I may just feel hopeless because I know nothing of the very basics of cooking (knife skills, what the hell to do with a whole chicken, how to make a passable meal out of leftovers, etc). The book was really inspiring but without the classes that the subjects in the book had, I don’t feel any more confident in the kitchen.

    • Yeah, that is pretty much me. I often find myself standing in the kitchen looking around hazily, thinking, “There must be something I could make in here…. but I don’t even know where to start.” I can’t even make eggs properly, because no one ever taught me! And, I was surprised to find, the internet is not a very good resource for learning to make simple things like eggs and rice (rice was the worst!), since everyone says something different, every stovetop/water supply/pot/etc. is different and affects it… And don’t even get me started on meat. WTF am I supposed to do with this chicken!? Red meat can be easier, but how long am I supposed to cook it!? WHAT DO YOU MEAN UNTIL IT’S DONE?! What do I dooooooO???

      Anyway, if you ever come across book that really does show you all the basics (i’m thinking my mom’s ancient Betty Crocker cookbook might have a lot of that stuff in the appendix)< let me know! 🙂

  13. my best advice for you is: a crockpot
    you can find tons of good recipes online and it’s very simple to put stuff in, turn it on, go wherever, and come home to something yummy!

    oh, and avoid sketchy magazine recipes that don’t sound right from the beginning – I’m thinking of one that started with cooking pork chops in orange juice…..
    – if you want to make pizza from “scratch” you can buy dough at most deli counters and put whatever you want on it – bake and savor!
    can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  14. Frozen OATMEAL?!? Noooooo.
    Oatmeal: 1/3c oats, 2/3cup water, pinch of salt (+ a little milk if you like). Put in bowl, two minutes in the microwave, add sugar or syrup or fruit, whatever you like to flavour it with. Cooking the frozen stuff probably takes longer!

    • my sister tried to microwave oatmeal once. the whole thing spilled everywhere (she didn’t use a big enough bowl I think, since things tend to puff and then deflate in the microwave). So she cleans up the microwave, then does it AGAIN, exactly the same except she added salt this time (her reasoning was “well the instructions said salt, I thought that might make the difference?”) she was defeated by 2 consecutive bowls of oatmeal. and she’s a doctor now (she was mid-med school at the time).
      Other gems from my sister include her putting a metal takeout container in the microwave (when asked why she thought we didn’t put utensils in the microwave she said “they get hot?” not thinking it would cause a fire and melt the microwave) and 2 cup of tea ruined by the same “let’s add lemon and milk to it” curdling error. I’ll give her the first time, Acid +milk isn’t an intuitive reaction, but the second time was only a couple days later…

      I think some people aren’t cut out for cooking. That being said, I think Megan will do fine! Whatever the outcome, I think it’s great that you’re being so brave! cooking can be daunting and failure can feel disastrous, even if you’re used to cooking. It gets easier, I promise.

      • Microwaving metal — check. Microwaving milk — check. General microwave explosions — check. I’m SO dumb. But I appreciate the vote of confidence!!!! 😉

  15. I was totally one of those people who would just take nutrients in pill form if they were enough. I didn’t care about food or eating at all. Until I started eating good food. When I started cooking and learning about food I started enjoying it a little. As I learned more about American food culture and economy and began seeking out high-quality ingredients that satisfy my ethical and nutritional standards I fell in LOVE. The pleasure of assembling ingredients and then producing a delicious, nourishing, SO DELICIOUS meal for my husband and I is just the best. Savoring food I made with ingredients from my community is so satisfying to all of my senses. I have become a full on food freak. I hope this is a great experience for you, even if it doesn’t transform you into a food lunatic.

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