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Senior Correspondent

This is a post I wrote about 18 months ago all about my first attempt to see if cooking was an interest I wanted to explore. Because most readers today were not part of the satisfying retirement family then, I thought you might enjoy my story. What did I decide? Was my kitchen transformed into a place where Betty and I whip up meals to die for? What do you think?

Almost two two months ago I wrote about a growing trend among folks who cook for relaxation and as a hobby. If you missed it, click here. As I noted, I find cooking a necessary evil. Food is fuel and the less time spent in a kitchen preparing it the better. Part of a satisfying retirement for me is a fancy meal now and then. But I prefer to have a professional cook it and another professional serve it to me at a restaurant.

Many of the comments left on that post suggested I might be missing something with this attitude. I promised to take a stab at preparing a more involved meal and seeing if I was destined to be a foodie. Here is the result.

My meal was nothing terribly fancy. I picked things that didn't require all sorts of ingredients I'd only use for this project. Also, I wanted something that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. These two recipes fit the fill: a corn burger with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes as the main course and Italian roasted snap peas with tomatoes as a salad. Dessert was a scoop of ice cream with toppings. The recipes were found on the Internet and loaded on my laptop so I could consult them as I went.

I began the great cook-off just after 4:30 one afternoon. I don't know if this is the proper technique, but I found all the ingredients for both recipes and lined them up on the kitchen counter. Before going any further I poured myself a glass of white wine, took a few gulps, and plunged ahead.

I had assumed that anything that began with the same word could be a substituted for anything else with that same word. I quickly learned the errors of my ways. My wife informed me that baking soda and baking powder are, in fact, two different things and both will be required. With a little detective work, I found containers of both. So far, so good.

I'm not sure what leeks are supposed to look and feel like, but the ones we bought about a week ago for this project had turned somewhat brown and felt a little slimy to my touch. Not willing to get sick while slaving over a hot skillet, I made an executive decision and decided chopped up sweet onions would work just fine.

After finding a food processor, a few mixing bowls, a baking sheet, and a skillet the meal began to take shape. The corn burgers were the consistency of lumpy pancakes when I finally dropped them in the medium-hot pan. But, after giving them about 8 minutes per side, not the 4 suggested in the recipe, they were appealingly brown and ready for the crumbled goat cheese on top.

Since I bought creamy goat cheese and not crumbles, the ingredient was smeared on instead, but I think the end result was about the same. Oh, and I had missed the step about dicing up the sun-dried tomatoes, so they were a bit harder to bite through. After 15 minutes the corn burgers went on the buns, smeared with the goat cheese, and looking, well, nothing like my image of something called a burger.

The Italian snap peas with onions (instead of leaks!) and cherry tomatoes had been baking for about 15 minutes and looked about right. With a final dash of oregano they went on the plate next to the corn burger. Oven off? Check. Stove off? Check. Wine glasses refilled? Check. It was about 5:30 and time for dinner.

You'd probably like to know how it all tasted. The corn burgers were bland. A bit more salt and maybe some other spices would have helped with the overall flavor. But, they were cooked properly and quite filling. The Italian snap pea and tomato mix was excellent. I did add a dash of Italian seasoning to the final product…not in the recipe but by then I was bold and daring and ready to break the rules.

I left myself a mess to clean up. I have been told that it is best to clean as you go, but that would have been too advanced for my first attempt at something like this. So, 30 minutes after dessert I had the kitchen back in shape and ready for breakfast … which was going to be a bowl of cereal. I was tired of "creating."

Have I changed my opinion of cooking as an interesting pastime and hobby for me? In a word, No. Am I glad I did it? Sure. It gave me something interesting to write about and kept me out of trouble for an hour or so. But, I am quite content to go back to chili, grilled chicken, spaghetti, and (ham)burgers on the grill.

Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay have nothing to fear. What to do in retirement will not include cooking school.

Update: Nothing has changed in 18 months since I wrote this. Food is still fuel for me most of the time. 

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