Isn’t it funny how one simple phrase can trigger a memory from long ago? In our first class, Chef Bill talked about the benefits of “cooking from scratch,” and those words brought me back to my childhood kitchen in the early 1970s.
My parents always invited my grandma and her sister, my great aunt Barbara, over for holiday dinners. Each holiday meant a new battle between my elderly relatives and my Mom. My grandma would hardly get her pastel coat and coordinating cotton gloves off before she launched the first verbal missile, “Did you bake that pie from scratch?” My Mom would huff and reply, “No, I would never do that. I baked a Mrs. Smith’s frozen pie.” You see my Mom was a “modern woman.” She embraced all the conveniences that were newly available, such as boxed cake mixes, Betty Crocker au gratin potatoes, and of course, frozen pies. In our house, food prep was quick, and food almost always came out of a box or can.
This battle between my Mom and my grandma and her sister went on for years, with the elderly sisters losing every battle, until the year I turned 12. Then they finally won the war. At Christmas that year, my aunt Barbara gave me a church cookbook, “ Cookin From Scratch.” From that day on, I have been cooking from scratch.
I love to cook. I love the colors and smells of the ingredients, losing track of time when I am cooking like I do when I am reading a good book, feeling a sense of accomplishment when a meal turns out perfectly, but most of all, I love the happiness home cooked meals bring to my family and friends.
My husband loves to cook too. On the weekend, we plan 3-4 meals for the coming week so we can have leftovers for the other days of the week. Then on Saturday or Sunday we go grocery shopping, which we both love to do together. When we were first married 26 years ago, we had a very tight grocery budget. We couldn’t spend more than $50 per week for groceries between the two of us. We vowed then that when we had more money, we would never have a food budget and would buy the best quality food. Gratefully, that’s the case today.
Usually on Sunday afternoons we cook something more complex, such as a casserole or soup. It’s always a dish with lots of leftovers so we can freeze them for the weeknights when we get home late and are too tired to cook something that requires a lot of time and energy. Unfortunately, at least a couple times a week, we end up leaving our home cooked food in the freezer, and we pick up takeout on the way home. The excuses are always the same: “It’s too late. I don’t have the energy to warm something up. Or I don’t want to have to do dishes.”
When I inventoried our pantry, I must say we have a pretty strong pantry game overall. That said, white bread, bleached flour, white rice, and regular pasta are still go-to staples in our kitchen. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are nearly nonexistent in our pantry. We know the nutritional value of those foods, and the pantry list reminded us that we need to do a better job of including them in our diet. Besides that, we would like to eat dinner at home most nights with fewer excuses. But we could get the most health benefits from packing a lunch most days. Our diets are blown daily at lunch, because we both eat lunch out every weekday, often at fast food restaurants. Figuring out how to work packing a lunch into our schedule would reap a lot of health benefits for both of us.
Our class assignment to use what’s in our pantry to cook two recipes was an easy one. I always have cans of tomatoes on hand for soups, chili, and crock pot dishes, so I decided to make a Cooks Illustrated cream-less tomato soup that I have been wanting to make. The recipe uses bread as the thickener instead of cream. In the cookbook, a homemade crouton recipe immediately followed the soup recipe so I decide to make it too. Croutons are so simple to make! The soup was fresh and delicious, and the croutons crunchy and buttery. And the best part of all is that we have leftovers to freeze for two more meals.
For my second recipe, I decided to make a dessert. Every year in July or August, we drive to Rush River Produce in Maidenrock, Wisconsin, and we pick pounds of blueberries to freeze. We then make delicious muffins all winter long combined with the sweet memory of picking the blueberries in the summer sunshine. While I make a lot of apple crisps, I rarely make a blueberry crisp so I decided to find a recipe on the Web. The crisp turned out perfectly, and I whipped up some fresh Chantilly cream to accompany it.
I am already looking forward to next week’s home assignment. Here’s to cooking from scratch.