Cooking allows me to know that my family is able to connect and enjoy one another’s company around the dinner table.
Name: Shayla Bradley
City, State: Sioux Lookout, Ontario
I cook for: myself, my husband, and our baby daughter (born in November 2013) — we feed her with the Baby Led Weaning philosophy, meaning she gets to eat pretty much exactly what we do!
Outside of the kitchen I: am a journalist for a small community newspaper (currently on maternity leave until October) and a hobby blogger.
Being able to cook allows me to: accomplish at least one good thing each day, start my daughter off with healthy habits and healthy food, and know that my family is able to connect and enjoy one another’s company around the dinner table!
Favorite Cook Smarts meal: The chicken with honey lemon butter was an all-around favourite!
How did you learn to cook?
I grew up in a family that served home-cooked meals regularly, but I didn’t take on much interest in cooking until I was in about the sixth grade. My mom got me a cookbook for kids and I picked out a few recipes to try for the family (the only thing I remember is mini meatloaf muffins, which would be super trendy now!). From then on, I only really cooked basic things for myself such as weekend snacks, or things to tide me over after school, like scrambled eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches. In university and college, I ate a lot of pasta and other easy, carb-loaded dishes.
When I moved in with my boyfriend, now husband, I decided it was time to expand my skill set. I worked from a lot of online recipes and hard copy cookbooks, got advice on cooking techniques from my dad and family recipes from my mom, and tried to remember what worked and what didn’t. I’m still not entirely comfortable making something up from thin air, but I’m getting a lot better at modifying and adapting recipes and tried-and-true dishes to suit our needs.
What’s been your biggest cooking challenge in the past?
I’ve had a hard time moving beyond the same basic meals — stir-fries, easy pastas, grilled meat + rice + frozen veggie; you get the idea. My father is a really adventurous cook and often brings all kinds of crazy ingredients to stock our cupboards, and they languish there, because I don’t know how to incorporate a new spice or condiment or cut of meat. I’ve started using basic, adjustable formulas for things like salad dressings and sauces to change up my routine without going too far out of my abilities, and I’m cracking open lots of previously sealed containers!
How has your cooking routine changed recently?
In our first few months as new parents we really floundered in the kitchen. We lived off of freezer meals until they ran out, then struggled heavily with getting nutritious, easy food on the table at a reasonable time — not to mention being able to eat with two hands, both at the same time, at the table. As my daughter got older I wanted to include her in dinner time, but found we were eating after putting her to bed, which made for a long, hungry stretch for us adults. That, and my husband was coming home from work and having to sort out what to cook while I entertained the baby — we both wanted to switch!
Now I do my grocery shopping on Sunday, which offers me an opportunity to get out of the house myself, or we turn it into a family outing. I do my prep work while my husband hangs out with the baby, or once she goes to sleep for the night. On weekdays, he comes home and gets quality time with her while I work on dinner, which goes quickly thanks to my Sunday prep. There’s food on the table for all of us to enjoy before anyone gets grumpy, and it’s a much better balance.
“I’ve started using basic, adjustable formulas for things like salad dressings and sauces to change up my routine without going too far out of my abilities!”
What new skill or dish have you cooked that you’re most proud of?
I’m so glad to be learning proper knife skills! I’ve always just hacked away at things and wondered how people manage to dice and chop so nicely. I still fumble here and there, but I don’t think I’d be as embarrassed to pick up a knife in front of my brother-in-law, a professional chef, anymore.
What advice would you give to other home cooks who want to cook more homemade meals?
You have to make homemade meals a priority. Yes, it takes more time to buy and assemble everything, and where I live, it’s often more expensive to buy quality, healthy ingredients. But I look at it as an investment in my health and happiness, and the health and happiness of my family, so it’s definitely worth it! There are days when I am tired and burned out and the thought of having to get to work in the kitchen seems daunting, but when I sit around the table and watch my husband and daughter enjoy something I made, I’m glad I put in the effort.
Shayla, not only does your family enjoy your meals, we have also been enjoying them vicariously through all the tasty photos you share! Thank you for sharing your motivating cooking story. Learning the basics and growing from there is what it means to be a Kitchen Hero, and we’re glad to be a part of your cooking journey.