I love to cook. I’ve always enjoyed it, but now that I quit my full-time nursing job to stay home with my kids I have a little more time on my hands. It was really my job that shaped my initial approach to cooking. I was working in the morning, home in the afternoon, and working during the evening (i.e. normal dinner-prep hours.) I had a million recipes that I prepped in the afternoon, slid in the oven before I left, and was piping hot and ready when I got home. Because I was short on time, I used a lot of canned items. Canned chicken, canned soup, canned veggies, canned tomato sauce. Some other women I knew, whom I dubbed ‘scratch snobs,’ NEVER used canned anything. They didn’t even use pre-made pasta. Whoa. I didn’t have time for that nonsense. I felt secretly smug that I was feeding my family home-cooked meals in less time than it took these broads to make their artisan raviolis. I had four weekly menus that I rotated through each month so I always knew what to buy and what I was going to make that night. I never stood, glassy-eyed, staring in the fridge at 4pm thinking: What should I make for dinner? I thought I had this cooking thing licked.
After doing this for a number of years, a few things happened that changed my approach. This first thing was the birth of my twins. I was committed to breastfeeding and so, I was essentially confined to the couch for much of the day. Breastfeeding twins are a full-time affair. I supposed I could have sat on the couch, nursing a baby, in silence, listening to the distant sounds of fighting and breaking glass as my three older boys busied themselves, unsupervised, somewhere else in the house. But I opted to cover the sounds of my neglectful parenting with the television. Now, the only things on during the day are soap operas and the Food Network. Needless to say, I detest soap operas. So that left the Food Network.
The Food Network opened up a whole new work for me, as far as my culinary efforts were concerned. I was introduced to flavors and techniques that I would have never attempted otherwise. I felt like Paula Deen was my long-lost grandmother, as I was a big fan of butter and mayonnaise myself. After watching her, I attempted my first scratch-made chicken pot pie. And a new confection known, sinfully, as ‘gooey butter cake.’ Both were huge successes.
Then I went on an Italian food kick after becoming hooked on Everyday Italian with Giada deLaurentiis. After I got over being worried about her burning her cleavages while cooking in her dangerously low-cut t-shirts, my mouth watered over the pasta dishes and braised meat she prepared. I tried my hand at white lasagna and used wine in my cooking for the first time ever. Again, these dishes are a huge hit with my family.
On the more ‘ghetto’ side of things, I tried the big greasy burgers and hearty main dishes of Guy Fieri. I also enjoyed Sunny Anderson’s Cooking for Real. I was really starting to branch out from my four weekly menus and my family was thrilled.
After I quit my job and we moved, my sister introduced me to what is probably the best thing to happen to the home cook since the invention of the cooking range: Pinterest. Talk about a recipe smorgasbord! Anything you could ever think about making, you can find it on pinterest. My family has NEVER eaten so well.
Another thing that influenced me was my other sister, Melissa. She had begun a ‘clean eating’ thing that I initially rolled my eyes at. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I started simply, by restricting my grocery shopping to the perimeter of the store. The perimeter, I discovered, contained the items that were the least processed (read: closer to how they actually exist in nature.) Now, Melissa was making her own cheez-its. As the mother of 5 young kids, the cheez-its were just fine coming from Nabisco and I certainly wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel on snack foods. But as far as meals went, I bought as few processed foods as possible. For the first time IN MY LIFE, I made a yeast-bread item. Not a loaf, but breadsticks and rolls. My family was in heaven. I have found that pulling apart fresh-from-the-oven bread is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
As my cooking has become less processed, it’s also become a lot better tasting. It has become my mission to make a meal so delicious that my typically reserved husband would take one bite, slam his fork to the table and declare: “Honey, that’s the BEST thing I’ve ever eaten!” Although that has yet to happen, I’m starting to get a reputation amongst my husband’s group of friends at law school. He tells me there are jealous looks and some chop-licking amongst them when they see what new delicacy he has toted to school for lunch. Our church missionaries, who change frequently and who we feed dinner to about once a month, have passed on the word that ours is the place to eat for dinner. I, of course, am flattered and it makes me try that much harder to outdo myself and live up to their expectations. I even made some pasta from scratch last week for them! Who know?!