And then I Decided to Learn to Cook

It was about this time of year in 2004 that I first cooked a meal, by myself, for my future husband. He was working on his final school project and in order to stay out of his hair I volunteered to make dinner so he wouldn’t have to worry about that either. He agreed to work hard so that he could get it all done and we could spend the rest of the evening together. I went back to my apartment and started looking through cookbooks to find the perfect meal. The recipe I decided on was from a Campbell’s cookbook. In fact, I think it was this recipe. Ham & Pasta Skillet. It called for a can of cheese soup. Or something like that. I didn’t have it, but I did have a can of cream of mushroom soup, which I thought would be a fine substitute. It called for chopped ham, which I didn’t have. It didn’t phase me a bit. I just left it out. And it called for broccoli and I didn’t have that either. But I did have celery, which is also green and good for you and was certain to go well with the mushroom soup. I did have milk. And shell pasta. And mustard. Yellow mustard, not the spicy brown it called for, but mustard is mustard, right? Certainly nothing could go wrong with this plan.

Oddly enough, it did go slightly wrong. Micah came over as I was prepping the meal (I think I’d spent most of the afternoon making some sort of dessert, which I do not remember in the slightest) and said nothing as I took out the celery to chop it up. In retrospect, I should have noticed from his face that I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t. I plowed ahead and finished making the dish, then put a plate of it in front of him and a plate of it in front of me. I dug in and was not at all put off by the strange substitutions. But then I noticed that Micah was very carefully eating around the celery. I think he may have finished his pasta, but I’m pretty sure I ate his celery. It turns out he doesn’t like cooked celery. At. All.

I ate the rest of my unusual concoction over the next several days and never mentioned it to him again. Oh, wait. Nevermind. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it all the time. Because I learned a lot from the experience. Namely: 1. Ask the people you are cooking for if there is anything they don’t eat. 2. Follow the recipe. If you don’t have the ingredients, find another recipe. 3. (And I break this one all the time . . . ) Make the recipe at least once before you serve it to guests. 4. Learn to cook. Learn. To. Cook. 5. Don’t use cans of soup for anything other than making, er, heating, soup.

Number 5 is only kind of a joke. I think what I really took away from the experience is that I wanted to learn to make tasty food from the most basic ingredients. And for the past 6 years I’ve been learning how to do that. Perhaps I am still trying to live down the failure that was Pasta Celery Surprise, but I haven’t bought a can of soup for years.

Anyone else care to share their favorite cooking fiasco or success?

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7 Comments

  1. I just was going to say that I ALWAYS change recipes. It’s a running joke with my husband when I claim that I used one. And, for the most part, everything turns out well!

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  2. lizzie

    August 13th, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    You’re right, Katy. I was going to say that once you’ve been cooking for a while and can follow the rules, then you can probably break them. By then you have an idea of acceptable substitutions and how to use them. 🙂

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  3. It’s a familiar joke in my family that I have adopted my mother-in-law’s habit of changing favorite meals just slightly to use what’s on hand. We say, “It’s just how you like it, except…” And then there are times when I follow the same recipe exactly as I did the last time, but my boys will still say it tastes different. The next time that happens with banana bread, I’m going to blame the bananas!

    Bravo for wanting to learn to cook from basic ingredients. (When I announce I made something from scratch, my husband asks me where I got the scratch from, yuk yuk.) I’ve found the versatility of a simple white sauce to be amazing. I use it to make my own alfredo sauce.

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  4. I know you make your own bread and the bakery around the corner just upped the price on a yummy 7 grain bread that they make. Do you have a hearty 7 grain type bread that you make now? If so, do share.

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  5. lizzie

    August 15th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    I also love a simple white sauce, Nancy. I use it whenever anything calls for a “cream of” soup. And it is so odd that things turn out differently even when you always follow the recipe exactly the same way. I wish I could figure it out.

    Hmmm . . . I don’t make a 7-grain bread. But maybe I should look into that a little bit more. I think it sounds like an excellent idea.

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  6. That’s hilarious Lizzie. I don’t remember you writing to me about this experience… though your pasta party was one that you wrote to me about that has stayed with me. I’m definitely still in the learning stages, but have experimented with making dishes with whatever is on hand. It’s a fun challenge. I need to follow your advice to not make food for others before I’ve tried it out on myself. But that will have to wait until tomorrow!

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  7. lizzie

    August 17th, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I should probably revise the suggestion about finding a recipe that fits your ingredients. It’s easier now with ingredient searches on allrecipes.com and such, but really, using what you have on hand is very economical and you learn a lot about cooking by doing so. Substitute on, everyone!

    And Becca, go ahead and test things on people. It’s fun. 🙂

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