ELMS: Confidence in the kitchen

Ask anyone in my family what my go-to meal is, and they will all tell you the same thing: macaroni and cheese. Not fancy homemade mac ’n cheese, of course, but the good ’ole Kraft stuff from the blue box.

It was one of my favorite foods when I was a kid, and now that I’m “all grown up” and required to cook for myself, the cheesy goodness has remained a staple in my life because of its simplicity.

If you haven’t caught on, cooking is not my forte. My culinary specialties are grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, cereal, frozen waffles and Break ’N Bake cookies.

So when I decided to wow my significant other for Valentine’s Day by cooking him a surprise dinner, I was more than a little nervous.

Not only am I not the least bit proficient or experienced with cooking — especially when it comes to preparing an entire meal for two — I have never really found it to be enjoyable or relaxing as some people do. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot in the name of love.

If I was going to fail miserably, I decided I may as well attempt something relatively difficult, rather than just opening a box and cooking what’s inside.

I started with a mixed greens salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and Italian dressing. For the main course: pan-seared steak with a sauce made by sautéing red wine, beef stock and chives. On the side, steamed green beans with sliced almonds and a pinch of nutmeg, followed by butter and herb pasta.

OK, that last one might have been from a pre-packaged side dish. But I tied it all together with a bottle of Shiraz and brought out French vanilla ice cream topped with halved strawberries and chocolate syrup for dessert, so I think I’m allowed one bag of Pasta Sides.

Like I said, cooking has never been my strength, so I’m sure you can imagine my boyfriend’s shock when he walked into my place to find a table set for two with appetizing food that I was responsible for — especially when he thought I was taking him out to a nice dinner downtown.

The greater surprise, however, was my own.

Not only did the dinner turn out edible — in fact, I can say confidently it was damn tasty — but I actually had a blast preparing it. Searing the meat, boiling water for the pasta and stirring the green beans all on the stove, all at once, without ruining anything, gave me a huge rush.

I think a key to my positive cooking experience was the trusty recipes I could reference to prevent any extreme mistakes. I learned preparation is definitely important, and it allowed me to relax and focus on adding my own personal touches to the meal.

Above all, I had the satisfaction of experiencing the direct results of my efforts and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Successfully cooking dinner for two broke me out of the mac ’n cheese box, and gave me the confidence I needed to succeed in the kitchen. It made me realize I should never rule anything out just because I thought I couldn’t do it or because of a few disagreeable experiences, and neither should you.

So go out there and try your hand (or fork or spoon) at something you’ve always wanted to excel at. You’ll never know how delicious success is until you try.