Nicole: Small Steps to Kitchen Success

Cooking together as an activity began when we would go out to eat at a restaurant and say to each other, “I bet we could make this better ourselves!” – Nicole

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Kitchen Hero Nicole started really getting into cooking when she and her husband would cook together as an activity. Even though Nicole was improving in the kitchen, cooking solo was not always easy for her, and taking full responsibility of making weeknight meals was intimidating. But her determination to face up to her cooking challenges allowed her to gain confidence in the kitchen. Now she’s a total prep master (we’ve seen her photos!) and she’s whipping up healthy, delicious, homemade meals that she can be totally proud of! Read more about Nicole’s Hero in the Kitchen story below.

Name: Nicole Mink
Age: 31
City, State: Richmond, VA
I cook for: myself, my husband and guests.
Outside of the kitchen I: run, do pilates, read, teach a Bible Study to three year olds, and travel with my husband.
If I could have any superpower, it would be: teleportation.
I cook because: I really like good food. My for real cooking journey began when my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I were sitting in a restaurant and, after tasting our food, looked at each other and said, “I bet we could figure out how to make this better.”
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: Chicken Taco Salad

HOW DID YOU LEARN TO COOK?

As a child I loved to bake. I enjoyed following the directions and measuring everything precisely. I baked all the time. When I left home for college I took a few basic cooking skills with me, but nothing remotely resembling meal planning skills. I tried a few recipes here and there, but never achieved the “go to the grocery store, grab a few ingredients, and prepare a meal fit for a dinner party” status I admired. My husband and I cooked through many Alton Brown recipes while we were dating. Cooking together as an activity began when we would go out to eat at a restaurant and say to each other, “I bet we could make this better ourselves!”

We gradually improved our cooking skills and regularly hosted friends for dinner parties. I always aspired to cook healthy and attractive meals, but always seemed to miss the mark when I cooked solo. A few years ago I decided to begin working on my solo kitchen skills. I set a goal to make (cook / bake, etc.) 40 new-to-me recipes or dishes. I made it to 12. The next year I re-adjusted my goal down to 20 and finally, the third year of my “Make 20 New Dishes,” I succeeded.

The tricky part is at this point in our marriage, my husband was the primary chef for our dinner meals. In February of 2015 my [future] sister-in-law introduced me to Cook Smarts. I attribute my success in the kitchen, my ability to cook, and prepare interesting and nutritious meals to Cook Smarts.

WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST COOKING CHALLENGE?

My biggest cooking challenge continues to be timing. I have no problem presenting a meal on time when I follow the instructions on a Cook Smarts meal; however, when I go “off-script,” it’s not always pleasant. I struggle in ensuring all of the components of my meal are at the proper temperature and ready to be plated at the same time. Thankfully, Cook Smarts is improving my skills in this area, but I do want to continue to improve!


When I began my Cook Smarts journey, I told my husband that if we needed to order takeout because a meal flopped, it would be okay. In over 150 meals we haven’t had to order takeout to replace a meal.


 TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROUDEST KITCHEN MOMENT.

My proudest kitchen moment happened outside of the kitchen recently. I extended an invitation to a new friend to join us for dinner. Our mutual friend said, referring to me, “She’s a really good cook!” I heard this and wanted to refute it, but realized as I stood there, that for the first time I felt I could actually own that designation. I graciously thanked my friend and was exceedingly grateful. It was a really exciting moment for me.

Prior to this point I would have said, “I think each 50 meal milestone with Cook Smarts is a super proud moment for me.” When I began my Cook Smarts journey, I told my husband that if we needed to order takeout because a meal flopped, it would be okay. In over 150 meals we haven’t had to order takeout to replace a meal.

How has your cooking routine changed since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans?

Cook Smarts has greatly changed our routine and the dynamic in our home with regards to the kitchen. When my husband and I dated we would cook interesting meals together on the weekends. When we got married we continued this pattern but my husband took on the primary responsibility of our weeknight meals. Up until this point this responsibility would have intimidated me greatly. Instead it has slowly morphed into a season where I make the weekend meals as well. There are a few times we’ll pick a new or familiar recipe to make together on the weekends, but in general I’ve taken on the majority of the kitchen responsibilities.

WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR HEALTH AND SUCCESS IN THE KITCHEN?

A tip I like to recommend for success in the kitchen is to give yourself 15 to 20 minutes more time than the recipe suggests. It’s hard when you’re making a new recipe to perfectly time it, so I like to give myself some grace and prepare myself that it may take longer than expected. This helps me remain calm and keeps my kitchen experience stress-free. I also prefer to read the recipe through twice before beginning and have all of the ingredients prepared before I begin the “make” steps. I also like to put away ingredients after using them so my clean up time is faster.

My husband and I love Cook Smarts, and we love the confidence I’ve gained in the kitchen. We definitely appreciate how our palates have been expanded and we’ve found new foods and styles we really like that we previously may not have tried. Thank you, Cook Smarts!


Wow, Nicole! Thanks so much for sharing your motivating Kitchen Hero story. Your persistence to improve in the kitchen is very inspiring and makes us very proud. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be able to overcome your current cooking challenges in no time. Even though we haven’t gotten a chance to taste your home cooking in real life, we can just tell by your food photos that you’re a really good cook, and we’re so honored to be allowed a space in your kitchen!

To join Nicole and cook meals like her favorite Chicken Taco Salad, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!

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