Amanda: The Tears & Triumphs of a Home Cook

I learned to slow down, take my time and just enjoy the cooking process. I’m still learning, but I let myself make mistakes and adapt…It’s been a really fun (and tasty) process.


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Amanda: Hero in the Kitchen via @CookSmartsThe best part about Cook Smarts is our Kitchen Heroes. They’ve helped us build a wonderful cooking community, and still enthusiastically tell folks about us. No one’s got a better squad than we do! For example, our Kitchen Hero of this week, Amanda, helped us spread the word in her love letter to Cook Smarts. Even a simple ‘thank you’ can’t fully express our gratitude!

While our Heroes are always saying that our meal plan service has helped them overcome cooking challenges, save money, or enjoy cooking overall, it is really our Heroes who inspire everyone to cook. And Kitchen Hero Amanda’s cooking story truly keeps us motivated to keep cooking and doing what we do. Read all about how this Easy Mac and Taco Bell girl discovered healthy, homemade meals, and experience her tears and triumphs in her Hero in the Kitchen story below.

Names: Amanda Blackwell
Ages: 27
City, State: San Francisco, California
I cook for: myself and my fiancé.
Outside of the kitchen: I am a sports reporter for so I get to make super cool videos and features about college athletes. I also run (slowly), do yoga (slowly) and obsessively learn everything there is to know about our new puppy, Melvin.
I cook because: it’s unbelievably rewarding to sit down to a meal you’ve just spent time, energy, sweat and, once, tears to make, and find out that it’s actually really good! It’s also so much cheaper and healthier than eating out every day.
The one kitchen tool / equipment I cannot live without is: a good knife. We’re in the process of moving right now and I have my sharpener packed away. I’m finding out firsthand how much easier it is to have a quality, sharpened knife.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: I was told these questions would be easy! It’s impossible to pick just one favorite. I loved the Paneer Tomato and Spinach Curry, which is not something I’d ever thought I’d make about two years ago. I am also the president of the Slow-Cooker Chili fan club. In the summertime, it’s all about the Honey-Mustard Chicken Tacos.

How did you learn to cook?
Honestly, I learned to cook with Cook Smarts. I was an Easy Mac and Taco Bell kind of girl in college and those habits lingered into my early 20s. A few years ago, I got this idea into my head that I’d run a half marathon on my 25th birthday. I trained for it for about five months, and along the way, this crazy thing happened; I decided that I actually LIKED feeling healthy. (Taco Bell girl felt so betrayed.)

I was exercising a lot, but still hadn’t quite figured out the whole healthy eating thing. I also was spending way too much money on take-out food. I didn’t really know how to scale a home cooked meal for a single serving. I felt like I’d be wasting a lot of food if I tried to cook at home.

I moved in with my fiancé about a year and a half ago, and with someone else to eat the food I’d be making, I decided to give it a go. This also wasn’t easy. I felt like I was trying to find a new recipe every day and didn’t really know how to plan ahead for the week with groceries.

One day when I was searching Pinterest for recipes, I came across one from Cook Smarts and thought, “What the heck?” and signed up. I wish I’d known about it when I was living by myself because, with the changeable serving sizes, it would have been totally doable to cook for myself.

It’s been an awesome adventure over the last year and a half. I’ve challenged myself to make and try things I never would have even considered.

What’s been your biggest cooking challenge?
Like many people, I have this need to be perfect (I’m working on getting over it, I swear). I think my biggest challenge was just to accept that I was going to make mistakes as part of the learning process and to be okay with it when something didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped.

Almost everything I’ve cooked with Cook Smarts has turned out great, thanks to the videos and helpful suggestions, but especially early on, I had a lot to learn. It would take me an hour to make something that was only supposed to take 25 minutes, or I would be trying to hurry and skip a step.

Eventually, I learned to slow down, take my time and just enjoy the cooking process. I’m still learning, but I let myself make mistakes and adapt, or remember them for the next time I’m doing something similar. It’s been a really fun (and tasty) process.

“I realized that I had actually picked up the skills along the way to cook my way out of a bad situation…Because of the skills I had learned from Cook Smarts, I was still able to calm down and make a great dinner.”

Tell us about your proudest kitchen moment.
My proudest kitchen moment sprung from the one time that cooking has made me break down and cry. I was attempting to make the falafel recipe, which suggested the use of a food processor, which at the time, I didn’t have.

I attempted to use my Vitamix, but I put way too much falafel batter in and it was too thick, which eventually caused the motor in my (brand new) Vitamix to get tired and take a nap. I thought I’d managed to break this indestructible product, but there was still falafel batter to blend, so my dead Vitamix would have to wait until later.

I grabbed my old blender out of storage and decided to try smaller batches. This still didn’t work. So I grabbed a big plastic spoon and tried to shove the batter down toward the running blade. Bad idea. The blade predictably destroyed the spoon, so now I had plastic chunks mixed in with part of my falafel batter. I was pretty sure that I shouldn’t try to eat that.

After a short breakdown / cry-fest, I took a deep breath and decided to see what I could still work with. I still had some quinoa from the batter recipe that was useable, so I made “deconstructed” falafels and put quinoa, hummus and some of the veggies and other ingredients into the pita pockets. They were actually still really good and I realized that I had actually picked up the skills along the way to cook my way out of a bad situation.

I came so close to throwing it all out and ordering pizza, but because of the skills I had learned from Cook Smarts, I was still able to calm down and make a great dinner. Also, my Vitamix came back to life after it took a quick breather and I immediately went on Amazon and ordered a food processor, which I love using.

What are your tips for health and success in the kitchen?
My tips for health and success in the kitchen are to try new things. There have been so many Cook Smarts recipes that I’ve looked at and said, “Hmm…I don’t know if I’m going to like that.” Or, “What the heck is an okra and why on earth would I eat it?” But every doubt I’ve ever had has pretty much always been wrong. I’ve decided to go into the recipes with an open mind, because if I don’t like something, no one is forcing me to make it again, but I might find something that I had no idea was delicious (here’s looking at you, okra).

I’ve also found that when it was my own hard work that went into making something, I’m more likely to like it. I think the extra bit of love you put into your food actually makes it taste better to you. That was cheesy as all heck, but I’ve actually found it to be true.

Thank you, Cook Smarts! My fiancé and I are eating so much better these days and we owe it all to you!

We’ve got to hand it to you, Amanda. It’s so easy to order take-out when things don’t work out in the kitchen. Your determination is a force to be reckoned with! Thank you for sharing your messes and successes with us, and as always, a huge thanks for being such an awesome part of our cooking community!

Amanda's favorite @CookSmarts meals: Paneer Tomato and Spinach Curry and Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

Amanda's favorite @CookSmarts meal: Honey-Mustard Chicken Tacos with Corn and Peach Salsa

To join Amanda and cook meals like her favorite Paneer Tomato and Spinach Curry, Slow-Cooker Chili, and Honey-Mustard Chicken Tacos, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!

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