Growing up, Michaelle Catlett had doubts about cooking.
"(My mom) told us you can't make your own rice because it would be sticky and you can't make gravy because it will be lumpy," she said. "So I didn't really start learning how to cook until the last three or four years."
The Cary resident credits her confidence boost to TV cooks such as Rachael Ray and Julia Child, adding friends laugh when she shares she got the recipe from her "friend" Rachael. Watching these cooks, she said, taught her the basic techniques.
"I always assumed you can't make gravy. You watch these people do it and I said, 'oh that's how it's done,'" she said. "I learned how to use cumin and how to chop herbs. I had fresh herbs in my garden, which I thought were pretty but I never used them because I didn't know how to chop them."
Michaelle now grabs fresh basil to make a pesto and cooks chicken, using the bones to make stock. She grinds her own flour to make breads for husband, Patrick, and their children, Daniel, 16, and Samantha, 13.
For Michaelle and Patrick, learning to cook has had an positive effect on their waistlines. She lost 45 pounds over three years, and Patrick lost 65 pounds over two years. She said as she learned to count calories and chose real foods over processed, slowly the weight came off.
"It feels wonderful to realize that we are not victims of age or metabolism, and that by making better choices, we have more control over the health and strength of our bodies," she said.
Michaelle also has switched to a gluten-free diet to alleviate health problems. Michaelle admits it is ironic considering she also works as a produce demonstrator for the Grain Pantry, teaching individuals how to grind and mill their own flour to make bread. But she adds she also teaches classes on eating gluten free.
Michaelle looks to her "friend" Rachael to plan gluten-free dinner. The menu sometimes features stews and soups like tortilla soup, cheeseburger soup and Italian wedding soup with pork and beef mini meatballs, white cannellini beans and escarole.
Michaelle said she and Patrick also love spicy food and kick up the heat with fiery shrimp or peanut butter chicken and rice. For not so spicy nights, she makes Italian chicken with gnocchi in a pesto sauce and chicken in Dijon sauce with asparagus. One of her prized recipes is for lasagna she acquired 30 years ago from her uncle. She still makes it, but now with gluten-free noodles.
Besides herbs, a backyard garden produces vegetables that make their way into recipes like zucchini and potato pancakes. She recently added okra and tomatillos to the garden and she cans tomatoes to use when she makes pizza rolls, a famiy favorites and a recipe she shares today.
Michaelle said some families complain they get the same dishes over and over. Not in her house. Her dishes often are versions of something she saw whether it be within volumes of cookbooks or those reliable cooking shows.
"I try to follow the recipe the first time around. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. If there is a flavor component I don't care for, I'll change it the next time," she said.
Becoming more confident in the kitchen, Michaelle is now dabbling in Asian cuisine, learning ways to make fish and exploring time-saving equipment such as the pressure cooker to make meals healthier and easier for herself and her family.
"I enjoy cooking. I like that I know how to chop an onion now and add fresh herbs to what I'm cooking. I plan on having the time to make dinner because I enjoy doing it," she said.
• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.