Since I was stuck at home for the summer, I realized that my focus on college stopped me from getting bored, so I haven’t really developed any hobbies. I feel like we see that happen in movies and TV shows where the middle-aged dad retires from work and has to find his hobby, but it’s weird to see it happen in your own life. I’m only in my 20s! When I was trying to figure out how to keep myself entertained, I tried being creative with art and music, but I struck out because I’m such a perfectionist - I needed to find something to do that when I mess up, I won’t get frustrated with myself. The realization of the hobby I accidentally developed hit me like a bus about a month ago. I love cooking! I never thought of that as a hobby because cooking and eating food are things you have to do to survive. Turns out, I’m pretty darn good at it, and now that I know that cooking helps me relax, I put more effort into making time to cook for myself. It’s important for everybody to find things that help them get in the zone, relax, and have fun, but I want to share how I learned to cook so you can try it for yourself.
Quick backstory here, feel free to skip it if you like. I don’t want you to feel like you’re trying to find a recipe in a blog post that’s really just a mom talking about her favorite son’s autumn football game. I’m going to put a recipe at the bottom of this page, it’ll be headlined with “Recipe:” in bold. Anyway, I was raised by a single mom, plus I’m an only child. When there are only two people in a household, it’s often cheaper to eat out for meals than it is to cook at home, so we got in a bad routine of eating out 24/7, until I was about nine years old and my mom decided she needed to teach me some cooking basics. For the record, my mom didn’t have anybody to teach her how to cook except her mother-in-law because… well, if my grandma reads this, sorry… but my grandma on my mom’s side can’t cook. Like, Costco pizza on Thanksgiving can’t cook. So my other grandma taught my mom to cook a few things, but my mom is by no means an expert.
To start, my mom tried finding recipes online to try, but that’s really difficult because you have to research the recipe, get all of the ingredients, and hope you cook it the right way and that it tastes good. We struck out a lot and gave up on cooking several times because it was really frustrating. Finally, my mom found out about this business called Hello Fresh. It’s a company that lets you pick however many meals you want in a week, how many people you want the meals to serve, and then they get the exact amount of each ingredient you need and ship it to your door. It’s super sustainable because their meals create so little food waste, plus their recipes are created by practiced chefs so you know they’ll be good. We would usually get three meals a week with servings in each meal for two people. The recipes to choose from rotate each week, so you get to try making a bunch of different styles of food.
When we started cooking with Hello Fresh, I started out getting things like cutting boards and utensils ready for my mom, washing vegetables, and making the easy sauces that go into the recipe near the end. I slowly got better and faster at that, and my mom and I also created a really positive cooking dynamic. We got better at communicating and anticipating each others’ needs, which are awesome things to develop in any relationship. At that point, I graduated to cutting vegetables and cooking easier things like rice. Soon, I was as good at cooking as my mom (though maybe a bit slower, just because she has 20 more years of practice than I do). We still ate out several times a week, and if we had a busy week we would cancel our Hello Fresh box so we didn’t have to spend an hour cooking dinner, but we realized that we usually preferred the food we cooked to most restaurant food.
Now, since I’m poor and in college, I cook almost every night. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and sometimes I still eat ramen, but I usually cook things like stir-fry, fajitas, chicken with a variety of side dishes, and pasta. I’m going to share the fajitas recipe I love below. Full credit to Hello Fresh, it’s their original recipe.
*cooks two servings
- One large red onion
- Two bell peppers (preferably one yellow one red)
- 1 lime
- 2 chicken breasts
- Cheddar cheese, grated (I prefer medium cheddar)
- Tortillas (any size, I prefer medium flour tortillas)
- Sour cream (you don’t need a ton, I’d get the smallest size you can)
- Garlic powder (1.5 tsp), cumin (.5 tsp), chili powder (.5 tsp) mixed together
- Salt, pepper, olive oil
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knife
- Wooden spoon/tongs
- Cheese grater
- Frying pan
- .5 tsp measuring spoon (or you can guesstimate, whatever you prefer)
- Baking sheet
- Small bowl
- Wash and dry all produce. Cut the red onion and bell peppers in thin slices. Quarter the lime. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you’re a beginner: After you wash your onion, cut it in half stem-to-roots. Then, peel off the outer layer so you don’t get any of the gross flaky parts in your food. Chop off the ends that have the stem and roots of the onion, then put the flat side down on your cutting board. Cut it into small slices, starting at one of the ends you chopped off. Watch your fingers!
- For the bell pepper, I like to cut all the way around the stem in a circle so I can just pull the stem and seeds out. After that, I slice it in quarters and remove the “ribs” of the pepper. That’s the fleshy white part on the inside. Then cut the peppers into thin strips lengthwise.
- Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat (like 7.5 on your stove). You’ll want to use about one tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan is hot (you can tell because the olive oil looks looser and moves around really easily), add the sliced bell peppers and onion to the pan. Cook, tossing, for about 5 minutes or until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste, season with 1 tsp of your mixed spices. Remove from pan and set aside.
- If you’re not comfortable straight-up pouring salt or pepper on the veggies, you can put a bit in your hand and sprinkle it on the food. It’ll help you season the food more evenly.
- While you cook the veggies, use the cutting board to slice your chicken into slices. I’d move the lime onto a different plate so there’s no cross-contamination. You can slice your chicken into long strips, but try to make them only 1/2 of an inch thick so they cook through without burning. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat another drizzle of olive oil in your large pan over medium-high heat. When it’s warm, add your chicken. You might have to do your chicken in multiple layers so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side.
- While the chicken cooks, put about 4 tbsp of sour cream in the small bowl. Squeeze lime juice into the bowl to taste (I use half a lime) and season with salt and pepper, no more than .5 tsp of each. If needed, add water to the mixture until it reaches a drizzly consistency.
- When your chicken is cooked, add the veggies back into the pan with the chicken. Season with your mixed seasoning to taste. Cook, tossing, for just 2-3 minutes until your veggies are warmed up again.
- Grate your cheese. I use about a cup of grated cheese total, but grate however much you want. Put your tortillas on a baking sheet (I usually use 4-6 tortillas total) and put however much cheese you like on each tortilla. Pop in the preheated oven for just 2 minutes.
- Make your fajitas! I’d put as much of your veggie-chicken filling on each tortilla as you want and then drizzle with your sauce. You can use your left-over lime for squeezing over if you like. Enjoy! If you have leftovers, the filling is best heated in a frying pan in olive oil.