Cooking from Scratch vs “Cheating”

I love cooking and baking. I truly do. If I had the time, I’d probably prepare everything from scratch, just like Grandma did. However, we live in different times. In Grandma’s day, men were providers and women were homemakers. Nowadays many women either don’t have a husband to provide for them, or the economic reality is that she has to work outside the home too just to make ends meet. It’s not that we’ve become lazy or slovenly in the kitchen. The fact of the matter is that many of us simply don’t have the time, or the stamina, to come home from a long day’s work and then prepare a meal completely from scratch.

I learned how to cook from my mother. She was a homemaker, but she also had a busy social life with her bridge clubs, volunteering, and so forth. However, TV dinners and fast food were considered a treat as most nights my mother cooked dinner for us. She mostly cooked from scratch, but she also “cheated” a little. She used frozen vegetables, or a can of Campbell’s soup for her sauces, or a packaged scalloped potato mix, but even with all this “cheating,” her meals were always wonderful. My mother also used cake mixes and pudding mixes for her desserts, however her famous German chocolate cake was made from scratch, but it was only baked for special occasions.

I do much the same as my mother did. I too buy frozen vegetables, and I’ll sometimes use canned soups or sauce mixes or the occasional boxed scalloped potato mix. It not only saves time, it also helps prevent spoilage. I simply don’t have the time to go to the grocery store everyday for fresh fruits and veggies.

I do, however, have draw the line somewhere. Hamburger Helper? No no!  I had to eat that stuff when I was in college and didn’t have time to cook.  Ramen soup is another college staple food I’m totally burned out on, although I have a fantastic recipe for a cabbage salad with ramen soup. That’s the only time I use it anymore.

My point is this–if you have the time to cook everything from scratch that’s terrific, but if you don’t, it’s okay. This isn’t Master Chef. It’s your kitchen and you have a life outside of it.

My thought for the day.


It’s All About Baby Steps

If you’ve ever seen the TV show, Worst Cooks in America, on Food Network, then you probably feel for the contestants. I know I do. It’s so obvious that they lack both the skills and the self-confidence to prepare the dishes they’re being challenged to make. I’ve been cooking for most of my life, and some of the dishes I’ve seen on that show would be a bit challenging for me as well. What’s even worse is they take away their recipes and the notes they take from the chef’s demos. I know, it’s just a TV show produced for entertainment purposes, but that said, this is not how you should teach people to cook.

Cooking, like any other skill, takes time to master, and if you’re teaching someone how to cook you start them out with the very basics. When I first started learning how to cook no one expected me to prepare chicken cordon bleu. They expected me to make french toast.

I started out learning how to cook bacon, and to make scrambled eggs and the aforementioned french toast. Then I learned how to make hash browns. Yes, there is a pattern here. Traditional American breakfast foods are some of the easiest dishes to prepare, making them the good place to start teaching a novice how to cook. And since it’s hard to mess up scrambled eggs, their confidence starts to build. Beginners can start learning basic knife skills by learning how to prepare salads. I’m no Hamburger Helper fan, but it’s a good place to start teaching a beginner how to follow a recipe, and since it’s a prepackaged kit it too is hard to go wrong, so the novice’s self confidence keeps building. From there they can start to learn more complex recipes–beef stew, chili con carne, beef stroganoff, and so on.

The same approach applies when teaching someone how to bake. My mother started me with cake mixes and canned icing. From there I worked my way up to the cookie recipes on the back of the chocolate chip packages. Then I learned how to make casseroles.

It’s all about baby steps. Some will have more of a natural talent than others, and those who demonstrate a particularly strong talent or desire for cooking or baking may end up becoming professional chefs, although most won’t take it that far. This is true of most things in life. Cooking, however, is a life skill, so we all need to be taught the basics, such as learning how to make scrambled eggs or beef stew.

My thought for the day.