One of my 2017 goals was to embark on some kind of cooking challenge. The first one I’ve set myself is a #cook30 initiative, where I’m cooking every dinner for the month of March. Yes, I deliberately chose a 31-day month to do this challenge, and I’ve already used my one pass – a grilled cheese from Cheese Wizards at Geek Bowl XI.
To be clear, Eric & I do cook for ourselves almost every night. We have meal planned since we started living together (going on five years now, y’all!). We’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping together, and we cook together as a team quite a bit. Anyone who knows us knows of our quest to make the best homemade pizza, and we enjoy experimenting with new cooking things all the time.
So basically, this challenge is less about changing the way we operate on a regular basis, and more about being intentional and thoughtful about our cooking. It’s about being better prepared for a week’s worth of meals; trying some new ingredients, recipes, and/or cuisines; and also getting out of the cooking rut I feel I’ve been in for, perhaps, a couple of months.
We started with a list of 30-35 meals we’d like to cook, ranging from simple grilled chicken & salads to homemade pasta with bolognese, and every week we select 5 or so and build our grocery list, and improvise one or two during the week.
Anyway, it’s the 15th, we’re halfway through, and here are some things I’ve learned.
- Not all food is photogenic. Such a silly thought, but as I document my life mainly through Instagram, there’s no getting around the fact that chili just does not photograph particularly well. Also, natural light is key, and though it’s staying lighter later in the day, it’s still often dark when I finish cooking. Photographing every meal also makes me want to eat less brown food – the night I made fake chicken nuggets I also threw together a salad just to liven up the image.
- I like cooking from cookbooks. I get most of my recipe inspiration online, but I have a few cookbooks I’ve made recipes from for this challenge, and I quite like having the book open & visible in the kitchen.
- A large part of my motivation is cooking with and for my partner. The first week of this challenge, Eric was out for dinner three nights (this is really my challenge, not his). All three nights I struggled to muster up the will to cook. Part of this is that we usually cook at a team – the workload is slightly more daunting when I have to do all the prep, the cooking, and the cleanup by myself. But also I just like enjoying meals with Eric, and when he’s not around I’m more inclined to just eat something out of the fridge.
- Which is okay. Sometimes it’s been a long day and you just want to throw a baking sheet in the oven and sit on the couch playing Zelda while your frozen food cooks itself. And that’s totally fine! This is not a challenge designed to make me feel bad about how much effort I do or do not put in.
- Our shopping seems to be more efficient when working off a long list of meals. I’m hoping to do some more in-depth budget analysis at the end of the month, but we spent about $50 the first week and $25 this week. Now, we have a well-stocked pantry, and I’ve been building meals partly around what we already have, but we started with a nearly-empty fridge (practically no fresh dairy or produce). Being able to see a whole month’s meals ahead of me has made it easier to plan, and I think more cost-effective.
I might do some additional reflections at the end of the month, but overall I think it’s going well. It’s been fun to try some new recipes and also some old favorites. Now to work on some of those other 2017 goals.