I didn’t come from a foodie family. Most of my youth, we were always on the go from one activity to another, and so we never really sat down for idyllic home-cooked meals around a dining room table. At college, I mostly ate food prepared by the (awesome) chef at our sorority house, and in Orlando after college, I’m pretty sure I existed solely on beer and chips and salsa. In LA, I upgraded to cocktails & sushi, but the end result was basically the same: I never really learned to cook.
Imagine my surprise then, when upon moving to Virginia, most of the women I met not only knew how to cook, but were good at it. Where I was making Hamburger Helper from the box and congratulating myself on not burning it, they were baking pies from scratch, roasting tenderloins, broiling lobsters and all other sorts of things that I’d always assumed you just paid chefs to do for you. That’s what restaurants were for.
Having never NOT been good at anything in my whole life (except for maybe athletic coordination), I thought, well, cooking can’t be that difficult then, and so I set about improving my skills.
Hilarity ensued. There was the time I set my oven mitts on fire taking Christmas cookies out of the oven (wine miiiiiiiiight have been involved). Then there was the time I mistakenly set the oven timer to 5 HOURS instead of the 5 MINUTES it should have been, and then blithely left the kitchen to carry on with my day. There were undercooked pizzas, overcooked chickens, burnt breads, overboiled pots, and a baker’s dozen other kitchen-related disasters along the way.
There were friends who looked on in horror when I said I didn’t know what a ramekin was, or when I made a cheesecake without having the slightest idea how a springform pan worked. I just went for it, and figured I’d pick up any skills or knowledge I might need along the way.
And that’s somehow, magically worked for me. I’m comfortable now hosting dinners for eight. I’ve won my company’s annual team cooking competition two years in a row. I’ve had chefs compliment ME on a recipe they’d never experienced before. And while I’m not quite ready to pen my own cookbook, or, if we’re being honest, even stray too far from recipes, I’ve come a long, long way from my Hamburger Helper days.
And as I get more comfortable in the kitchen, I’ve found that I actually am willing to try all the delicious recipes my friends have long-perfected. Here’s one, courtesy of Kelly & The Pioneer Woman, that was easy to do and came out wonderfully: Pioneer Woman’s Shrimp Penne Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce.
- ¾ pounds Penne Pasta
- 1 pound Shrimp
- 3 Tablespoons Butter
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 whole Onion (small)
- 2 cloves Garlic
- ½ cups White Wine (or To Taste)
- 1 can Tomato Sauce (8 Oz)
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- Fresh Parsley, to taste
- Fresh Basil – To Taste
- Salt To Taste
- Pepper To Taste
Cook the penne pasta until tender-firm, also known as al dente.
Peel, devein and rinse (under cool water) 1 pound of extra large shrimp. Heat about 1 tbsp. butter and olive oil in a skillet. Add the shrimp and cook for a couple minutes until just opaque. Do not overcook them. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Now, put the cooked shrimp on the cutting board and pull off the tails. Chop the shrimp into bite –sized pieces and set aside.
Finely dice one small onion. Mince two cloves of garlic.
In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally. After the garlic and onions have cooked a bit add your white wine. Let the wine evaporate for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. If you would rather not use wine, you can use low-sodium chicken broth instead (about ½ cup).
Now add an 8-ounce can of plain tomato sauce. Stir well until combined. Then add 1 cup of heavy cream. Continue stirring. Turn heat down to low and let simmer.
Now chop your herbs, about a tablespoon of chopped parsley and about the same amount of chopped basil, or if you’re feeling very proper, chiffonaded.
Now add your chopped shrimp back into the tomato cream sauce. Give it a stir and add salt and pepper to taste. Throw in your herbs and stir until combined. Finally add your cooked penne pasta and give it a good stir.