A Year of (Learning) Cooking

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Last September, I set myself a series of goals. Though I had a few setbacks, the actual math of those goals didn’t really matter. What mattered was the progress I made along the way.

I changed my plan to leanness instead of bulking up and I’m now 15 pounds lighter, mostly thanks to making weight loss a project back in January. That was a victory for me! I also cut alcohol consumption by a LOT, and a future post will lay out my numbers. Stay tuned. I maintained four Unconbentional posts per month too, but fell short on my investing goals. Finally, I succeeded in keeping track of an entire year’s finances, down to the penny. It’s been a great year!

But wait! The most success I had with a goal was learning how to cook! Though I didn’t cook every week, I averaged one new meal a week over the past 52. Not every meal turned out the way I wanted, but check it out! We made all these, and learned lots along the way!

WEEK 1 – Miso chicken udon with Brussels sprouts
WEEK 2 – “Company” meatloaf and spinach salad
WEEK 3 – Cider-brined pork chops with perogies, peas and corn
WEEK 4 – Pan-seared cod puttanesca, buttered orzo and spinach
WEEK 5 – Dongpo-style braised pork belly, bok choy and rice
WEEK 6 – Roast rack of lamb persillade, garlic asparagus and buttered orzo
WEEK 7 – Ratatouille, lemon basil orzo and bok choy
WEEK 8 – Rotisserie-style roast chicken and quinoa tabbouleh
WEEK 9 – Cantonese lobster, Dongpo pork, bok choy and rice
WEEK 10 – Lobster linguine and arugula salad
WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini
WEEK 19 – Spinach and leek soup, mushroom risotto
WEEK 20 – Mixed mushrooms with chives, zucchini noodles with mint pesto, and roasted onions
WEEK 21 – Bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed chicken, and lemon garlic green beans
WEEK 22 – Lamb shank, quinoa, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 23 – Pork roast with celery and carrots
WEEK 24 – Charcuterie board, roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, and rare steak with chimichurri
WEEK 25 – Slow-cooked pork loin with a brandy au jus, and steamed broccoli
WEEK 26 – Slow-cooked pork tenderloin with a brandy au jus, simple Moroccan couscous, and mixed vegetables
WEEK 27 – Ostrich steak, apricot couscous, and garlic asparagus
WEEK 28 – Pulled pork on buns, mac and cheese
WEEK 29 – Sweet potato and mushroom cannelloni with endive and butter beans
WEEK 30 – Beef shakshouka, garlic yogurt and toasted bread
WEEK 31 – Dongpo pork, ginger shallot mussels, Chinese vegetables, and rice
WEEK 32 – Beef and broccoli, rice
WEEK 33 – Simple chicken drumsticks with peppers, rice
WEEK 34 – Pulled pork tacos
WEEK 35 – Baked caramelized chicken drumsticks, broccoli, rice
WEEK 36 – Spaghetti carbonara
WEEK 37 – Lobster thermidor
WEEK 38 – Chinese-style steamed whole fish
WEEK 39 – Baked Atlantic salmon with citrus and fennel bulb
WEEK 40 – Baked sockeye salmon with dill, parsley and shallot herb paste
WEEK 41 – Roasted chicken drumsticks in cranberry juice
WEEK 42 – Lemon chicken drumsticks with asparagus and roasted potatoes
WEEK 43 – Pakistani kima
WEEK 44 – Kangkung belacan and white rice
WEEK 45 – Fiesta scrambled eggs
WEEK 46 – Baked salmon with brown sugar glaze
WEEK 47 – Roast beef
WEEK 48 – “15-Minute” roasted chicken and veggies
WEEK 49 – Sausage and shrimp gumbo
WEEK 50 – Vegan mapo tofu
WEEK 51 – Garlic sesame gai lan
WEEK 52 – Garlic snow pea leaves and rice

A year ago, I was still screwing up rice. Now, I sometimes go to restaurants and end up thinking, “Wow, I could’ve done better.” I NEVER CONSIDERED THAT WOULD BE A POSSIBILITY SOMEDAY. I JUST ALWAYS ASSUMED RESTAURANT-LEVEL COOKING WAS SOMETHING I’D NEVER ACHIEVE.

I gained a deeper appreciation for food, and picked up a life skill that’ll benefit me for the rest of my life! I think I’ll try this again, but starting in January. I’m gonna take a few months off and pump the brakes. It’s my reward for a job well done.

How are your goals going?

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Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad

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Mr. Money Mustache said it best: Look at me, I am renting this huge venue and paying an army of servants to prepare food for me!

Yep, that’s how I feel now. When I enter a restaurant, it all feels like the worst kind of transaction. From the moment I open the door, I’m spending money on literally every encounter. It really skeeves me out. You know that feeling you get at strip clubs? Kinda like that.

“Welcome to W____ S­____! Table for two?”

Welp, someone’s paying that hostess, I think to myself. It’s me. I’m paying her wages just by dining out like an idiot.

“How’s your day going?” she says.

“Fine, thanks.”

Ugh. All that trouble for a canned response.

I’m led to my table and handed a menu of oversalted pasta and old meat in white bread. Yum.

*****

There was a time when I loved eating out. Lost in the idea I deserved luxury at every turn, I had no problem spending hundreds on a Michelin-star meal. Now that I’ve had that experience – ugh. – I decided to learn how to cook so I wouldn’t fall into that trap again. Now, I see making meals at home as an immense privilege! You mean I get to use FRESH ingredients, LEARN an art form with a huge potential to save me more MONEY, AND I get the added benefits of INCREASED HEALTH and SEX APPEAL? (Okay, maybe that last one’s just me, but everyone loves a good cook, so…) Then, there’s the benefit of making things EXACTLY how I like them without having to explain to some 16-year-old I’m indirectly paying that, no, I don’t want your pancakes because your pancakes are shit. There’s really zero loss to cooking at home. My roommates and I eat like kings. I mean, look. This is from our last two months.

WEEK 11 – Tuna tataki, spicy eggplant and “takeout” noodles
WEEK 12 – Scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, Atlantic razor clams
WEEK 13 – Sticky chicken, asparagus, and rice
WEEK 14 – Century egg congee
WEEK 15 – Rosemary steak and bacon lentil salad
WEEK 16 – Butter clams and crusty bread
WEEK 17 – Spinach omelette
WEEK 18 – Coriander-rubbed duck breast, bacon lentil salad, and smoked salmon crostini

Cooking, for us, is now a cakewalk as we perfect our recipes and learn new skills. Not only that, but it’s HUGELY enjoyable. Sipping brandy as the aromas of duck fat and orange zest fill the kitchen? Easily a peak experience. Nailing the perfect crust on a lamb persillade and then sinking your teeth into the most decadent rare meat you’ve ever had? Goddamn orgasmic. Mastering the comfort foods of your childhood and knowing you can have a soul-warming congee whenever you want? Bliss.

Resolving to cook one ambitious meal a week has done wonders for me, and I highly recommend you make that a goal for yourself as well. You get to find out where your food comes from, and you develop a healthy respect for the nutrients you’re putting in your body. Ever wonder why people who adult well have so many dinner parties? You get to make an entire evening out of simple ingredients that – if you’re doing it right – only cost $8-$10 a person! I used to get absolutely fucking obliterated at bars for $150/night, only to go home sad and alone. Dinner parties are the obvious win! AND: Instead of hiring a culinary slave horde for two hours every time I’m feeling peckish, I’m using all that money ON MYSELF. I’m investing in my health, my life skills, and my enjoyment. What an easy freakin’ choice.

Just cook. You’ll love it, I promise.

*****

“Hi, can I take your order?”

Oh, fuck you. I’m cooking at home.