Can you substitute baking oil with applesauce? Hmm, this was the big question that I had to answer yesterday. You see, I have decided to try one new recipe a week, and it has not been easy. Sometimes cooking and baking is a recipe for disaster. It takes tools, ingredients rarely graced on our pantry shelves (like tahini), luck and imagination. I have stacks of cookbooks scattered all over the place while I look for one “new experience.” Oh, yeah, cooking delicious food is more like an extreme sport than a hobby.

Oh, did I mention that beef rolled up (with a scrumptious mixture of fennel, onion and mushrooms), tied with twine and sautéed with a brown sauce is too much work? You have to pound the beef (my husband, Doug, suggested he use one of his hammers) and then tie the rolled beef in three places (again, Doug was running to the garage to get some string). Back off! Garage items need to stay out of my kitchen! That’s why chefs like to go shopping and get special kitchen twine and a meat mallet, which does look suspiciously like a hammer and string but is a lot more expensive.

My most recent success was sole Parmesan, which is a mouth-watering dish that takes a lot of preparation. Come to think of it, most cooking takes time. Now I know Rachael Ray says that you can cook great meals in 30 minutes, but she has a staff and stocked kitchen. For most of us, we have a staff of one. And shortcuts don’t usually result in excellence.

Cooking (and eating) can be mundane. You’ve cooked this and eaten that, then suddenly, you want to try something with tilapia and marmalade. (Don’t do it!) Cooking, like life, can be one big adventure. I did make my own spaghetti sauce from scratch, which I admit was an awful lot of work. But mamma mia, I will never buy a jar of sauce again! Sadly, my new experience with the “real thing” means that my life just got more complicated.

My daughter and a few of her friends have challenged me to a chicken enchilada cook-off. Their enchiladas are pretty boring. I have a winning recipe and perfected it until my own family is surprised. See what cooking can do? It can shock your family! My secret weapon? Cream cheese… but don’t tell anyone. Cooking is a metaphor for life. One simple ingredient can magically transform ordinary into extraordinary!

All right, so there are bigger fish to fry than improving cooking skills. I know that! But some adventures start at home. Like tonight, my husband may be longing for a simple taco, but instead, he will be taking a culinary trip to Italy. Or maybe India. I’ll pick the destination (I mean recipe) and whip up something that will take us far, far away. With any luck, it will be a good trip. Otherwise, there is a garbage disposal and tomorrow is a new day. Until next week… try something new. Good luck, and bon appetit.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local Realtor. Have a comment or a story? Email her at