Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

February 22, 2012

A little bit of home-cooked variety has proven to be a good thing

After recently being taken to task by a co-worker over my apparent lack of cooking skills, I decided to take steps to enhance my ability to develop fine cuisine. Or, at the very least, a hot, home-cooked meal that doesn’t involve the microwave oven.

I’m calling it baby steps for now. As a guy, cooking has never been one of my strong points. And the microwave oven has proven to be a saving grace in recent months. I have also been spending a lot of money eating out at restaurants — particularly in the months since my mother’s passing.

But I’ve tried to make up for the bad habits by also working out at the gym. Eat out a lot and work out a lot. It should all equal itself out, or at least that was my thought process. I’m not overweight or anything like that, but I also realize that eating out every day at the restaurant is not the healthiest thing to do. It also can get a little expensive after a while.

The problem is it is hard to cook when you are at work all day. So I decided to try out the new crockpot. I bought it two years ago during a mad Black Friday shopping spree. I am embarrassed to admit that it had remained in the box — sealed and never opened — for almost two years. But I finally decided last week to break open the box, and try out the crockpot. With the crockpot, I can have food slow cooking throughout the day while I am at work. The meal will be hot and ready by the time I get home from work. It’s just like being at a fancy restaurant, but with no waiting for the meal to be served and no need to tip the server.

I’ve started out relatively easy — hence the baby steps. Baked potatoes on the first day wrapped in aluminum foil and later stuffed with cheese, butter and dipping sauce. Meat balls with sauce and fresh-cut onions the second day. Mini sausages, I believe they are called “smokies,” with fresh-cut onions and green peppers were made on the third day of the cooking experiment.

Up next will be chicken, roast and whatever else I can get to work in a crockpot. I am told my options are nearly unlimited. Except, of course, for pizza. That won’t work in a crockpot. I’ll have to stick with frozen pizzas for the time being.

So far I’ve been quite pleased with the results. The food has been warm and delicious upon my arrival home each evening.

The only thing that has kept me from enjoying a hot meal immediately upon my arrival home each evening is the cat trying to desperately get in the house before me. When I do break down and agree to let her in the house, she quickly vanishes the minute I turn my back on her. Then I have to walk upstairs and downstairs and upstairs again looking for her. Very frustrating. She’s not even my cat. She belongs to my sister.

Back to the food. I feel as if I have actually accomplished something within a matter of a week. It’s not like I didn’t cook before. I did. But it was sporadic, and not very elaborate. Frozen pizza, TV dinners and other simpler meals were more of the norm in the past. I’ve also smoked up a kitchen or two burning items that I thought would be simple to cook.

Now I’m sprinkling cheese, cutting onions and peppers, mixing spaghetti and barbecue sauces with just the right amount of water and checking the expiration date on chicken and meat at the local store before heading to the checkout line. I’m also saving a little bit of money  — or at least I think I am — in the process.

Will this current cooking experiment turn into a long-term venture? I don’t know. At this point in my life, it seems like the best option. I’ll still eat out at the restaurant from time to time, particularly on weekends. But you can only eat so many cheeseburgers at the local fast food chain before it starts to get a little old. But that won’t stop me from hitting the all-you-can-eat mega bar from time to time. Men simply can’t resist such a temptation. And we will normally attempt to eat more than we should when such all-you-can-eat buffets are offered to us.

But a little home-cooked variety has also proven to be a good thing. I’m glad I’m learning how to do this. I should have tried it years ago. But I guess you are never too old to learn a new skill.

I don’t won’t to be viewed as someone who is completely hopeless when it comes to cooking. That’s why I’m trying. The crockpot is first. The oven will be next. But I need to take small baby steps and slowly evolve toward a larger oven-cooked meal. That also will have to be done on weekends, or on days when I’m at home and not at work. When I’m at work, the crockpot will have to do. But it’s a good starting point.

And it’s a step up from the microwave.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com.

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