Chef Ashley Runner showing Martha how to 'shock' vegetables without killing them off.

I started cooking differently, which means at all, on October 26th of last year. That’s the day I finally decided to change a few things about myself from the inside out and it came out as more vegetables, smaller portions and nothing processed. So far, that also means 70 fewer pounds and a size 22 to a size 10.

My first attempts at cooking, like I said last week, resulted in a lot of braised pans, charred steaks, mushy vegetables and very dry chicken. For some reason I just kept going this time and pushed through all of those horrible weeks of trying to learn how to cook.

But even as the meat became more tender and the vegetables weren’t so limp, the bland factor was still pretty high. Everything kind of tasted the same.

Just last week, however, I learned that my friend, Ashley has been a professional chef and loves to teach newbies like me how to make great dishes with affordable ingredients and not a lot of time.

In just two hours we made pork chops with granny smith apples and cabbage, roasted red peppers with basil and scallions, a vegetable tartlet without the tart that has eggplant, tomato, red onion and squash, asparagus and baby bok choy shocked vegetables with an orange and ginger dressing, and acorn squash with oyster mushrooms. It was all so easy that I could do it again without wondering how we got to the ending and it was in my budget.

My refrigerator is now full and I will be the envy of everyone at the office tomorrow.

Vegetable Tartlet (without the tart)

Slice two red onions, a small eggplant, two yellow squash and three roma tomatoes. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a tart pan or baking dish. Arrange the vegetables and top with fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the top. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes. Baste with the juices and bake for 20 more minutes. Voila!

Thank you, Ashley for being a part of this journey and helping me to continue to change. Seventy pounds lost so far, more adventures to follow.

Ashley Runner is available for private cooking lessons – leave a comment here if you live in the Chicago area and would like to learn more.

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