This wife, mother and photographer proves you don’t have to start early to be a standout cook. At the age of 30, Becky Hardin panicked when she realized she had no idea how to cook—anything. To face her fears, she began a blog, The Cookie Rookie, to document her trials and triumphs in the kitchen. Here, she shares how she went from clueless to confident.
(Becky’s a master cocktail crafter. Sit back and learn more about her as you sip on her delicious Salty Dog Sangria recipe.)
Taste of Home: Where are you from, and what’s your favorite regional dish?
Becky Hardin: I’m originally from Kansas City, but now live in St. Louis with my family. I’m so proud to be from the Midwest, and equally lucky that all of my immediate family lives in St. Louis, too. My husband, Pat, and I have the sweetest little boy, Henry, who is shaping up to be quite the foodie. Everyone comments what a great eater he is, making me a very proud mama! We love getting together with grandparents, siblings and cousins weekly for a great meal and company.
As for my favorite regional dish, that’s easy! Here in St. Louis we love our Provel cheese! If you haven’t had deep fried Provel bites, have you even lived?
(Is Becky’s beloved Provel cheese the best in the Midwest? Check out our list of best Midwestern foods, ranked, to find out!)
TOH: How did you get started in the kitchen?
BH: Growing up, I never had an interest in cooking. My mom, Susie, is an amazing cook and I was always just happy to enjoy the food she made from the sidelines. She always wanted me to realize how fun and easy cooking can be. When I turned 30 and was living alone, something clicked and I had an intense desire to learn all I could and get creative in the kitchen. Mom has helped me every step of the way—I would still be struggling to boil water without her!
TOH: How did you learn to cook so quickly?
BH: When I finally decided it was time to learn, Mom came to visit for a weekend and brought my most requested recipes. We spent an intensive weekend learning how to master those childhood favorites and I was instantly hooked. I think learning to cook is all about being OK with the trial and error and realizing things are so much easier than you might think. If you’re creating food with love for your family, there are no bad recipes. The more you practice, the more you get a feel for what flavors work well together. My mom never leaves a recipe the way she finds it—she’s constantly tweaking and revising. I tease her for that, but have totally inherited that trait. I now love getting creative with my cooking. In fact, I even tweaked one of her recipes to make my own Sheet-Pan Chicken Parmesan!
(Master some of Mom’s best comfort food recipes yourself.)
TOH: What advice would you give to newbie cooks who might feel a little intimidated in the kitchen?
BH: Once you start experimenting, you realize that almost any recipe is attainable. Don’t be scared by long lists or hard-to-pronounce ingredients. If you’re unsure how to prep something, there’s a how-to video for anything and everything. Take things one step at a time and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on the classics. Cooking should be fun and creative, not stressful.
(Are you just getting started in the kitchen? These super simple recipes are as easy to make as they are delicious to eat.)
TOH: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
BH: I’m proud to be the queso queen, even if it’s not exactly friendly on the calorie counts. (Try her delicious Skinny Queso recipe if you’re looking for an equally delicious, healthier version) The more cheese the better, I always say! Appetizers are a favorite, too—I feel like they always bring people together. We also have a couple go-to recipes we make time and time again at home. My husband’s favorite recipe I make is my Grilled Salmon with Avocado Salsa. It’s so quick, easy, and fresh. Henry loves cookies, but his favorite is shaping up to be my Baked Chicken Tacos. I’m glad both recipes are fast and simple!
TOH: What do you love to do when you’re not cooking up a storm?
BH: Photography! I photograph food all day every day, but in my spare time I love learning how to photograph families, kids and animals. Henry, Dill, and Scout make the best models and so far let me practice as much as I’d like. I’ve always loved the arts and was missing that creative outlet so much when I was in the corporate world. The second I picked up a DSLR camera, I knew I’d found my passion. I love the cooking, but creating beautiful photography with food and drink is really what fuels every day as a food blogger.
TOH: What is your absolute favorite thing about cooking?
BH: I love that food brings people together. Food is memorable, as well as the conversations had over a home cooked meal. Those are moments we can’t get back, and I’m realizing they are so worth the extra work.