March 29, 2013

Cooking for Relaxation...Really?


This is a post I wrote about 18 months ago all about my first attempt to see if cooking was an interest I wanted to explore. Because most readers today were not part of the satisfying retirement family then, I thought you might enjoy my story. What did I decide? Was my kitchen transformed into a place where Betty and I whip up meals to die for? What do you think?


Almost two two months ago I wrote about a growing trend among folks who cook for relaxation and as a hobby. If you missed it, click here. As I noted, I find cooking a necessary evil. Food is fuel and the less time spent in a kitchen preparing it the better. Part of a satisfying retirement for me is a fancy meal now and then. But I prefer to have a professional cook it and another professional serve it to me at a restaurant.

Many of the comments left on that post suggested I might be missing something with this attitude. I promised to take a stab at preparing a more involved meal and seeing if I was destined to be a foodie. Here is the result.

My meal was nothing terribly fancy. I picked things that didn't require all sorts of ingredients I'd only use for this project. Also, I wanted something that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. These two recipes fit the fill: a corn burger with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes as the main course and Italian roasted snap peas with tomatoes as a salad. Dessert was a scoop of ice cream with toppings. The recipes were found on the Internet and loaded on my laptop so I could consult them as I went.



I began the great cook-off just after 4:30 one afternoon. I don't know if this is the proper technique, but I found all the ingredients for both recipes and lined them up on the kitchen counter. Before going any further I poured myself a glass of white wine, took a few gulps, and plunged ahead.

I had assumed that anything that began with the same word could be a substituted for anything else with that same word. I quickly learned the errors of my ways. My wife informed me that baking soda and baking powder are, in fact, two different things and both will be required. With a little detective work, I found containers of both. So far, so good.

I'm not sure what leeks are supposed to look and feel like, but the ones we bought about a week ago for this project had turned somewhat brown and felt a little slimy to my touch. Not willing to get sick while slaving over a hot skillet, I made an executive decision and decided chopped up sweet onions would work just fine.


After finding a food processor, a few mixing bowls, a baking sheet, and a skillet the meal began to take shape. The corn burgers were the consistency of lumpy pancakes when I finally dropped them in the medium-hot pan. But, after giving them about 8 minutes per side, not the 4 suggested in the recipe, they were appealingly brown and ready for the crumbled goat cheese on top.

Since I bought creamy goat cheese and not crumbles, the ingredient was smeared on instead, but I think the end result was about the same. Oh, and I had missed the step about dicing up the sun-dried tomatoes, so they were a bit harder to bite through. After 15 minutes the corn burgers went on the buns, smeared with the goat cheese, and looking, well, nothing like my image of something called a burger.

The Italian snap peas with onions (instead of leaks!) and cherry tomatoes had been baking for about 15 minutes and looked about right. With a final dash of oregano they went on the plate next to the corn burger. Oven off? Check. Stove off? Check. Wine glasses refilled? Check. It was about 5:30 and time for dinner.

You'd probably like to know how it all tasted. The corn burgers were bland. A bit more salt and maybe some other spices would have helped with the overall flavor. But, they were cooked properly and quite filling. The Italian snap pea and tomato mix was excellent. I did add a dash of Italian seasoning to the final product...not in the recipe but by then I was bold and daring and ready to break the rules.



As you can tell from this picture, I left myself a mess to clean up. I have been told that it is best to clean as you go, but that would have been too advanced for my first attempt at something like this. So, 30 minutes after dessert I had the kitchen back in shape and ready for breakfast...which was going to be a bowl of cereal. I was tired of "creating."

Have I changed my opinion of cooking as an interesting pastime and hobby for me? In a word, No. Am I glad I did it? Sure. It gave me something interesting to write about and kept me out of trouble for an hour or so. But, I am quite content to go back to chili, grilled chicken, spaghetti, and (ham)burgers on the grill.

Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay have nothing to fear. What to do in retirement will not include cooking school.


Update: Nothing has changed in 18 months since I wrote this. Food is still fuel for me most of the time.

20 comments:

  1. Bob, you are too funny. This just made me laugh all the way through!

    I would say you might have bit off a bit more than you could chew your first time out of the gate. I'm no chef, rather I think of myself as an accomplished home cook, but even I won't tackle two new recipes in one meal. Much too hard!

    My advice is to keep it simple. One nice component, possibly your main course, and the side items kept simple.

    I spend time meal planning and cooking not so much for recreational purposes, but rather because doing so allows me to move the money I save over to our Travel line, while still eating well in the process. A win-win all around.

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    1. You are probably right...one life threatening choice at a time!

      Honestly, Betty and I are more likely to pick a simple meal that is both cost efficient and easy to prepare but for the same purpose: to keep our food budget under control.

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  2. This post is too cute! Totally understand the not having all the fancy ingredients and all the mess to clean up. Therefore, at our house we are almost always doing the good ole homecooking thing. I do the majority of cooking and always have. With that said, my husband cooks when he feels creative and that varies with frequency...and is always very appreciated and very tasty. However, he never makes something the same twice as he is always experimenting...but almost always tastes amazing. I so appreciate his effort. We grow a large garden and have our own herbs..so that helps. I enjoy cooking but tend to just "put things together" (except for baked goods which are a more exact science)...and make larger batches with the intentions of "planned overs". I like to convert the first thing into something else. Unless on vacation, we out very little. Therefore, when the husband cooks...it is indeed a treat. But there came a point where I asserted that if it were to be a treat for me, it did not include cleaning up after his cooking....at that point it seemed he got a little neater:). He is now making bread and pies and I am so pleased and impressed. I make sure we are fed daily and try to keep it healthy. He makes sure we have something more unique and is a treat when he does. Isn't it amazing when you retire how in a couple you kind of just fall into a routine of one doing what they like and the other filling in the gaps. Sure is nice. (And Bob, I am sure Betty thinks any effort you make is amazing.) I have a friend who complained to her husband that mine cooked frequently. So, one night she came home and he announced he had made dinner. On the table, there were two paper plates and each contained one Oreo. She got her coat, they went out to eat, and she never asked him to cook again.:)

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    1. In reality, I cook half the dinners and plan most of the menus. Those meals I don't cook I clean up after dinner. Betty and I have always split this task during retirement. I figure she did it all for all the years I was on the road so it is my turn.

      Just as long as it isn't like the story above, I'm OK.

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  3. Like you, Bob, I eat to live rather than live to eat. My own experiences as a "chef" hail back to the days when, as a fifth-grade teacher, I would take my class on an overnight camp experience and would "whip up" a big vat of vegetarian, gluten-free chili (due to the range of food restrictions that parents were so quick to inform me of). The kids LOVED it - mainly due to how I nearly had them starving before I would feed them. :)

    In retirement, my wife and I enjoy teaming up in making wonderful soups/stews and/or salads. Nothing especially fancy (unless my wife feels inspired and only needs sous-chef duties from me), usually frugal, and always healthy. And it's fun (usually) to work together.

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    1. Once of us takes the lead each evening, but the other will help with the prep, getting the table set, and the clean up. We lean toward spaghetti, salads, and one meal of meat a week.

      We bought a mini slow cooker for the RV. It is an easy way to prepare something for dinner and makes great smells inside the RV all day.

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    2. I highly recommend making chili a regular part of your RV menu planning. Chili with cheese one night, over baked potatoes the next, in a tortilla with eggs for breakfast after that. Chili is one highly versatile dish!

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    3. Actually, I think Betty has suggested preparing chili ahead of the trip, freezing it, and using it for a second meal. But, I hadn't though of it over baked potatoes or as part of breakfast. Nice!

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  4. A noble effort. But as for me, I prefer eating for relaxation ... really, every cook needs an appreciative and enthusiastic audience!

    P.S. I think we have the exact same countertop in our kitchen.

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    1. Usually, a meal for me is simply fuel. I know that view would be a mortal sin to some folks, and most of Italy and France, but it comes from years on the road with little time to eat and few choices outside the hotel coffee shop. Also, my mom was a casserole type cook and that is what I am used to.

      BTW, that countertop was installed in 2004 when that green granite-type look was all the rage. When we sell this house it will probably have to be replaced by whatever is the current popular look!

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  5. I eat to live, not the other way around, but I love to cook. I know from experience, if you don't love it you will never be good at it. Keep it simple and carry on!
    b

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    1. That's me...keeping it simple. Do you know how many meals you can make from Spam?

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  6. Despite my obvious culinary talents, my beautiful wife won't let me near the kitchen where serious meal prep is going on.

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    1. Even though I am a bit messy, my wife has no problem letting me make a meal even though she knows that if I cook it she has to clean up.

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  7. I wonder if people for whom food is more sensual pleasure are more likely to enjoy cooking than those for whom food is fuel. I don't actually enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy eating; cooking is just a means to get to eat exactly what I want cooked exactly the way I want it!

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    1. I would guess you are correct: for many the preparation can be sensual. There is a real mix of sights and smells and touch. I've just never viewed it that way.

      One of the best cooking schools in the country is nearby. Maybe if I had a spare $35,000 I could go to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and gain a new outlook on food preparation!

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  8. I think the missing item is the glass of wine while you are cooking. Everything goes better with a nice glass of wine. Some meal preparations more require more than one glass. Besides, with enough wine no one notices the missing ingredients or the charred layer on the bottom. Just a thought to keep in mind...

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    1. The first picture shows me holding a glass of white wine. How do you think I got through this experiment?

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  9. Each to his own, I guess. I'm your exact opposite. I love to cook, as well as eat: it is indeed a sensual experience to prepare, combine and cook a series of colors, textures, scents and flavors; to discover if what went together well in your mind will turn out well on the plate and the palate; to explore new flavors and cuisines.

    Cooking classes are an excellent idea, but I'd start with some cuisine that you already love, for considerably less than $35,000. Community center classes in Chinese cooking long ago mean that my husband makes the best sweet-and-sour pork/chicken/shrimp on the planet! I love to eat it, but hate to clean up after he's through in the kitchen--it's a messy process, and we share your "if one of us cooks, the other cleans the kitchen" plan. Now if someone would offer a course in sushi. . .

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    1. Sushi.....we'll go to one of several good restaurants nearby.

      The Scottsdale Institute is for serious, want-to-be-top-chef people who want to land a job at a resort or leading restaurants around the world. As a nice benefit of having the school in the area, they do offer lunches every day prepared by their students...usually a very good meal.

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