I find that there are two camps of women my age right now in the cooking area: those of us who cook damn near everything from scratch and buy quality ingredients, and those of us who don't really cook at all unless it's out of a box or bag (or they eat out all the time). I am of the first camp. I am lucky in that I have no children and can buy things like dry aged local rib eye, grass fed ground chuck, local organic whole fryer breasts, lamb, farmer's market veggies (we have a year round farmer's market here), and other such goodies with which to cook.
I find that the most important thing to have when you're someone who likes to cook, is a properly stocked pantry. I always have plenty of stuff on hand like star anise, saffron, cinnamon, vanilla extract, white truffle oil, no chicken stock (the boyfriend doesn't eat chicken and this is a great substitute for making soups), cumin, cardamom, various flours and honeys, poppyseeds, curry powder, and many more things. This way, you can pretty much make anything, from things you already have in the cupboard.
I tend to shop according to what looks good in the market at the time, and go from there. Sometimes I'll have random things so I'll google "plums, lamb, rosemary" to pull up recipes. I never stick to recipes but I do like to have them as a sort of outline of how to make a dish. I also just started baking because I don't measure. I eyeball everything. Precise measuring causes me anxiety, but I'm working through it. I made a beet poppyseed poundcake last week, and last night I made a delicious strawberry rhubarb pie, shown below. A lot of times I'll just see something in the market that looks fresh and yummy, and decide I need to buy it and make something with it. I had never purchased rhubarb and when I saw some at the market I immediately went, "I'm going to make a strawberry rhubarb pie!" Sometimes I stick to a list, but mostly I just go in and buy whatever strikes my fancy at the time. This way I don't get stuck in the rut of making the same things all of the time.
My favorite things to make involve fresh jams my friends have made, and local honey. Just last night a girlfriend dropped off some lemon marmalade and honey her friend harvested. I get really excited about things like this, and am blessed to know a lot of people in the community who make these sort of things. They make them in such large batches that they don't know what to do with them, so I'm always there with a smile on my face, offering to kindly take any extras off their hands. This year I got cranberry mustard, peach vanilla glaze, strawberry jam, strawberry balsamic jam, blackberry jam, and some freezer jams I'll never use. I use these to marinate meats. You would be surprised how adding some soy, garlic, ginger, and other things to a plum jam turns it in to a magical sauce for lamb and other animal proteins. The peach works great for chicken.
I also am a soup queen. The two best soups I make are my butternut squash soup, and my cream of mushroom soup. I invested in an immersion blender and it's the best thing I ever did. I now don't have to dump stuff in to my ginormous industrial blender to make soups. I refuse to buy a food processor because I don't need one. The only item my kitchen is missing is a Kitchenaid mixer. I would love one so that I could make my own pastas and grind my own meats. Last night I made a batch of butternut squash soup. It has a bit of a kick to it 'cause this batch I included some cayenne pepper. It is so delicious, and so easy to make.
I know a lot of people think cooking is a daunting task, but to me chopping garlic and prepping ingredients is soothing. I clean as I go so the clean up is never very menacing either. And guess how I learned to cook? From googling recipes. If I ate something at a restaurant I liked, I did research to learn to make it myself. Do you think I could cook three years ago when I was half in a bottle all the time? Heck no! This cooking phenom I have become is relatively new. It's nice to eat at restaurants and have Rich say, "I don't know why we're eating here. You could make food just as good or better." But sometimes I don't want to cook or clean. Sometimes I want someone to cook for me.
I also share the wealth as far as my cooking goes. Almost every night I invite someone over to share a meal with me. I find that cooking just for myself, isn't as rewarding as it is to share a meal with others. And maybe there's that small part of me that still thinks I myself am not worth all of the effort of making a lovely, healthy meal from scratch. Tonight I invited a couple over who had to cancel at the last minute, so I am going to find someone else to come join Rich and I. I made soup, and the pie, and I'm making lamb chops in a balsamic reduction, and oven roasted artichokes with saffron mayo. WAY too much food for two people. We'll see. Maybe the artichokes can wait and we'll just do the soup, some salad, and the lamb. Is it 6 yet?
1/8 of this pie did not survive the night. It may not look pretty, but it is honestly the best pie I've ever had.