Renee Winick mug

Renee Winick

My skills in the kitchen have gone through a significant metamorphosis over the years. I’m a child of the 1970s and 1980s, where vegetables were found in cans and dinners were found in boxes that often included the name “helper,” so that was pretty much all I knew about meal preparation.

In fact, when I was in my 20s, I was blissfully ignorant in the ways of cooking. I was aware that there were other ways to prepare food; but I was single and totally fine with keeping things simple, even if it wasn’t necessarily the healthiest choice.

After I married and especially after our kids were born, I knew I needed to up my kitchen game. Many times, however, I would feel underqualified and too overwhelmed with life to try anything “complicated,” so I’d fall back to those easier, but less healthy short cuts. More than once, I’d been embarrassed by my very limited recipe repertoire when hosting friends and family. I knew I needed to make a change.

The change happened gradually. I started collecting recipes. I didn’t try the recipes right away. They were more of a cooking bucket list at the time, something I’d try when I felt ready and had more time. Some of my first attempts were crockpot meals that my friends and family had shared at scrapbooking weekends or other gatherings. The set-it-and-forget-it method fit my life at that time; so, it was the perfect starting point.

As my kids have gotten older, I’ve been faced with another challenge — their discerning and diverse tastes in food. My son loves spicy foods, but cannot stomach anything creamy or cheesy (other than pizza, miraculously). My daughter is the exact opposite, loving all things cheesy and creamy and hating things with a lot of spice. That has cut my menu options about in half.

Luckily, my husband is not a picky eater and, even if he isn’t a fan of a meal, phrases his criticism in the most positive way. Wise man.

With my new search criteria in hand, I have continued my quest to discover meals that everyone in my house will enjoy.

My process for finding Winick-approved recipes goes something like this: I choose the protein I am going to use, then Google it along with the words “recipe, easy.” I then disregard any recipe that includes the words “cheesy,” “spicy,” “creamy,” “zesty” or “rich” in its title. Thankfully, my family is pretty open to vegetables and my daughter only briefly dabbled in a “no red meat” phase. I then look over the recipes to see whether I have all of the ingredients and to also review the recipe’s instructions.

I have found that one person’s definition of “easy” is what another person might describe as “complex,” “fussy,” or “two hours of paprika-filled torture.”

I am now the proud owner of an overflowing binder full of recipes. It is organized by the type of recipe (appetizers, breakfasts, proteins, skillets, etc.) and includes my notes on whether I altered the recipe or if I’d make any changes in the future. I may also add if I prefer a specific cut of meat, type of pasta, etc.

Finally, I include the family’s grades for the recipe. A great recipe gets As all around. A pretty good recipe will get As or Bs from individual family members and suggestions for the next time I try to recipe. Anything with a C or lower loses its spot in the book. There’s no room for the underachievers in the “Renee’s Recipes” binder.

In the spirit of full transparency, I will let you know that if you look inside my freezer, you will very likely find frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets and maybe even some corn dogs. I’m pretty certain that my teens would revolt if I didn’t have these tasty treats available for them. Besides, this busy Mom likes to enjoy a break from cooking (and a couple slices of pizza) every once in a while!

When I think about how my kitchen skills have transformed over the years, it’s less about me suddenly becoming a fantastic cook and more about me starting to trust my instincts and being willing to try new things. Upon closer inspection, I can see an overlap between kitchen skills and life skills.

If you’re too afraid of failure to move out of your comfort zone, you may find yourself stuck in an unhealthy place. Trust your gut, take note of what works and what doesn’t, and make sure to share the fruits of your labor with those you love. Bon appetit!

Renee Winick has lived in Prior Lake for nearly two decades, where she resides with her husband and twin son and daughter.