Make sure you read to the bottom of this post for one of Caroline’s favorite recipes!

Cooking was always something that either I watched my mother and grandmother do, or something that miraculously happened in the microwave. Burning popcorn and melting Lean Cuisine packages were my specialty in high school. Come college, I ate whatever Ms. Edna and Ms. Louise, our sorority cooks, prepared… even the chicken fried steak, ughhhh. Post kitchen hour meals consisted of late night Ramen (hello, microwave friend) or possibly a pizza if someone’s parents put money in their account.

Mind you I learned a lot living in the sorority house for 3 years. I learned what fraternities had the cutest boys, how to get by wearing all your roommate’s clothes, how to sneak liquor into football games like a pro.. but definitely not cooking. My now three year vegetarian­self looks back on these days with disgust­ but you can’t change the past, so embrace it. Just like that rice I burnt last night.

Then things got serious

I graduated from college, moved far far away from the comfort of other people’s cooking, and somehow landed myself an older boyfriend­ whom I was determined to impress. Turns out all I had to impress him with was my southern accent. I didn’t have secret pie recipes and definitely not the patience to curl my hair daily.

So I placed some calls home and gathered some recipes from the inspirations noted above in an effort to make a fabulous meal. Being cheap and not wanting to make a casserole or use an entire stick of butter, I opted to just let my creative juices fly. I first conquered Spanish rice. And not your average kind… the Rice­a­Roni brand.

I started to really enjoy the art and benefits of homemade meals. Pot lucks were planned and I saw the love come together in a meal with the meshing of friends and flavors. Nothing can beat coming together with friends over a good home cooked meal. People even started to ask for my recipes! Needless to say, the boy didn’t last for long and after I learned to cook for two, it shortly turned to one. Amid the sorrow, the inner cook in me was born, Venus rising from the pie crust!

Cooking has become one of my favorite past times, something I look forward to when I come home at night. Pining over recipe blogs is a dangerous hobby but a very satisfying one.. Just make sure your friends are hungry.

How to take a recipe and make it your own…

1. Give it your special touch­

Whether you’re adding fresh herbs to boxed Mac & Cheese or using almond milk as a sub for dairy, you’re getting outside of the box!

2. Choose something to really fancy the recipe up

Add that Fire Roasted can of tomatoes over the regular diced ones, make it yours and own it! It probably only cost an additional 20 cents.

3. Don’t over read the recipe

At the end of a successful meal, looking back it does not matter if you used Pam or greased the pan with a stick of butter­ you will figure out what is really important the more you cook, but in the beginning try not to over think every step of the recipe.

4. Don’t be afraid to substitute… but don’t get crazy

Running to the grocery is overrated and having the “wrong” ingredient will force you out of your comfort zone and good things happen there. I hope just stepping into the threshold of the kitchen hasn’t freaked out you already.

5. Find a spice you love, add it. A little at a time!

6. Don’t be afraid of different varieties of the classics

You will be amazed at the colors that vegetables come in. Maybe they weren’t on the Thanksgiving table but they are real. I promise. Get wild­ throw in some purple heirloom tomatoes to bring the color level to the next level!

7. Add some love

If you don’t love what you are eating then other people probably won’t either. So own it, love it!

8. Make sure there is wine and if all else fails, add chocolate.

And finally, I’ll wrap this up with one of my favorite seasonal recipes of my mothers. It is simple and boy is it tasty! Don’t feel like you have to get all fancy and make it your own. This recipe shines in the prime of summer when the tomatoes are juicy, local, and oh so delicious. This one is an immediate crowd pleaser, but do as you feel.