It Takes Courage to Cook: 3 Tips to Ignite Your Cooking Confidence
This blog post provides readers with strategies and tips to help them ignite their inner chef and create delicious meals in the kitchen. Learn how to follow directions, create a signature recipe, ask questions from experts, and stay curious for new ideas. Plus get bonus points by trying out some of the recipes mentioned! Find all this and more here.
cooking, recipes, inner chef, nourish yourself, courage to cook, follow directions, signature recipe, variations, spices, proteins, cooking technique, spice rubs and marinades, farmers market ingredients, asking questions
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It Takes Courage to Cook: 3 Tips to Ignite Your Cooking Confidence

By Mary Sheila Gonnella NC, BCHN

Cooking: An Invitation to Grow

We weren’t all born chefs, though I know a few people who seem like they were. But cooking is something you can learn and grow into. For some of us, it’s a love of food, flavor, texture, and a desire to feed those around us.

It may also be something we’ve grown up with and therefore comes naturally. And for others, it’s just something we need to do to survive. Thankfully, there are a lot of us in between.

I have found that as Americans, many of us have lost our food traditions because we did not experience generational living with grandparents cooking and sharing family recipes. Perhaps our parents worked long hours and opted for serving TV dinners that would feed their children, without all the fuss.

And it’s true; it did make working full-time and raising a family easier. However, over time, our taste buds have become accustomed to food that is more processed, which has led us to being overfed and undernourished.

However, when we take back our courage to cook, magic happens in the kitchen, in our bodies, and in our souls. We discover that we can do it; we can make delicious meals, have leftovers in the freezer, and have bodies thanking us that we did! 

I know this because it did not come easy or naturally to me. I had to learn how to cook and now I’ve been teaching others to channel their inner chef for years. I love seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they taste the food they make! From kids to adults, it never gets old.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Vital YOU Virtual Cooking Sessions  that started recently. We had our first live session this month, and it was awesome! It’s not too late to join.

Here’s what one person said:

“I just wanted to say how much I am loving this food. I was on the go with my son yesterday and the leftovers were awesome to grab and go. Also, I made 3 lb of the turkey burgers. I don’t eat meat, but my son literally gobbled them up and my husband really enjoyed them as well. We now have a bunch in my son’s freezer and I don’t think they will last long. I’m looking forward to making more of a few things this week.”

It’s my goal to help you tap into your inner chef so that you can lovingly nourish yourself no matter your schedule or circumstances. Because it takes courage to cook, feed ourselves, and make time in the kitchen to prep, I’d like to share with you three strategies to ignite your inner chef:


1- Sometimes we just have to follow directions!

A little over 20 years ago my husband and I had a restaurant called The West Pole Bakery Cafe in Occidental (bonus points if you ever ate there!). About 1 year into it, by default, I became the dessert chef. In all honesty, when I would go out to dinner myself, I rarely left room for dessert. And if I did, I did not think beyond chocolate. However, at the restaurant, we always had 3-5 dessert recipes on the menu and they couldn’t all be chocolate.

At the time, I would take my 2-year-old daughter Rosie to the library and we’d load up on children’s books. Then we’d go to the cookbook section and I’d rifle through dessert books. I’d look at them with a rubric of how delicious, quick, and easy they looked and use those to choose our dessert menu. Again, she was 2 years old and I didn’t have a lot of time, so taking the guesswork out and following someone else’s directions really made it work for me.

Today, I still look at recipes through this lens, and with the internet at my fingertips, the options seem endless. But I do love occasionally sitting with one of my cookbooks for some inspiration or buying a new cooking magazine for new recipes.

If you’re not sure how to cook something or where to start, follow a recipe and/or watch the pros. The chefs on cooking shows or YouTube, or the cookbooks on your shelf can provide endless inspiration and direction. In fact, check out my YouTube for inspiration.


2- Create a signature recipe and make it a staple with variations

When you discover a dish that you truly enjoy cooking and eating, don’t hesitate to make it often! Add variety by changing up the spices and complimentary sides. Make subtle adjustments, introduce variations, and transform it into a reliable staple that you can rely on.

One advantage of working with proteins is that once you’ve mastered the cooking technique, you can effortlessly season them with an endless array of spice combinations. Whether it’s a comforting soup, a hearty stew, or any other culinary creation, once you find a winning formula, embrace it wholeheartedly and let it serve you well.

For example, let’s say you’ve perfected your technique for cooking tender and juicy grilled steak. Instead of settling for the same flavor profile every time, you can experiment with various spice rubs and marinades. One day, you might try a classic combination of garlic, rosemary, and cracked black pepper, serving the steak alongside roasted potatoes and sautéed asparagus.

On another occasion, you could opt for a Southwestern twist, seasoning the steak with chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika, accompanied by a vibrant corn and black bean salad and fluffy cilantro-lime rice. By exploring different flavors and side dishes while relying on your tried-and-true cooking method, you’ll keep your meals both doable and delicious.


3-Get Curious and ask questions

Although we all love the good deals at big box warehouse stores, (myself included), the courage to cook sometimes also comes with the courage to ask questions. Do you shop at a farmers market or go to the meat counter? Ask the farmer or the butcher what they like to cook and how they like to cook it. I get some of my most inspiring ideas that way.

I’m so thankful that years ago, I asked one of the farmers at my local farmers market how he liked to eat his squash. He told me one of the easiest ways to cook delicata squash is to do nothing but put it in the oven. When you take it out cooked, it’s easy to cut up, remove the seeds, and enjoy. If the thought of hacking open a hard winter squash feels overwhelming or painful, try it this way!

And the same is true with the butcher. I often ask what I should make for dinner, and their eyes light up and they share something they had last night, with the full recipe. I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas this way!

So all in all, follow a recipe, a chef, or someone that inspires you for new ideas.

Get good at cooking a few core items, make them often, then switch up the small things to create variety. There is nothing wrong with repetition, especially if you love it.

Last but not least, get curious and ask questions, you never know where your best recipes might come from if you don’t ask.


It takes courage to cook. You got this!


To your vital life,

Mary Sheila Gonnella NC, BCHN

Founder, Occidental Nutrition

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