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How to cook from scratch when you don’t know how

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Although I dreamed of being the perfect housewife and stay-at-home mom—keeping a clean, organized home, cooking healthy, delicious meals…and always with a smile on my face—none of it came easily to me. Least of all the cooking part.

I truly hated to cook, but it wasn’t the actual cooking I hated; it was the not knowing what I was doing. I had questions about every single recipe I tried (at the time, “Google it” was not part of my vocabulary, so I called my mom…every night). And I ruined a ton of meals, which I also hated, not just because it made me feel like a failure but because I was wasting so much food in the process.

Over the years, I kept trying (my family insists on eating, after all), and I slowly got a few recipes under my belt that I felt fairly confident preparing…except sometimes I would still mess those up too!

A year or so ago, I finally accepted the idea of “baby steps” and started focusing on mastering just one new thing at a time. I began to understand the why behind a lot of the things we do in the kitchen, which was an important step for me.

When I began writing Easy Homemade last summer, it made a lot of my friends laugh: “Mandi is writing a cookbook? Will the real Mandi please stand up?”

But learning to make each of those items—which involved a lot of experimentation, quite a few disasters and understanding the why behind each recipe—made such a big difference in my kitchen journey. It gave me a confidence in the kitchen that I don’t think I would have gained in another 10 years of preparing regular meals.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still not a chef by any means. These days I often Skype Shaina with my questions (although not as frequently as even a few years ago!), and I still make mistakes. But I finally feel like I’m over the hurdle. I can salvage most mistakes, even when I realize an important ingredient is missing halfway through. And trying a new recipe or technique no longer intimidates me.

If you find yourself in that same place, I recommend starting with the basics: Take some time to make sauces, salad dressing, condiments and spice blends. Smell the spices and try to identify the flavors in your favorite foods. Create a roux and turn it into a basic white sauce.

Often, we approach cooking from scratch from the opposite direction—starting with recipes that use premade ingredients and assembling them—but if the thing that’s holding you back is not having a good understanding of how and why things work in the kitchen, starting with the basics can be a big confidence booster!

I dove right in while writing the ebook, but you can start with one little thing at a time.

How about homemade brownies for dessert this week?

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a medium bowl, mix sugar, flour and cocoa. Add butter, eggs and vanilla extract and beat for 3 minutes.

Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Drop several teaspoons of peanut butter across the top of your brownie batter and swirl with a knife.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool for 20-30 minutes before cutting. {If you can resist!}

Click here to add this recipe to your Plan to Eat account.


What is your favorite thing to cook “from scratch”?

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