Cooking Is Important

Reader Contribution by Sue Van Slooten
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In the face of today’s over reliance on fast food and convenience foods, I am steadfastly convinced that it’s time to take back the kitchen. I first wandered into the kitchen at the tender age of 8, and under my mother’s tutelage, started baking, then cooking. Those skills have been honed and polished ever since. We have a family joke where I say my son must be the only kid in his high school that sits down to a home-cooked meal almost every night. Only it’s not funny. While I know there are probably others who sit down to a home-cooked meal, those numbers are more than likely a minority.

It’s no secret that cooking skills have disappeared over the last few decades. Even 25 years ago, I was considered “out on the fringe” or, more positively, “incredible” because I baked my own bread. It wasn’t just bread, but homemade everything: soups, cakes, freezer jams and jellies, even pasta. After inheriting my father’s pasta machine, homemade ravioli became a reality. In keeping with this line of thinking, when my son turned 10, I plunked him into the kitchen to begin his culinary training, which he took to quite well. Now 16, he is now an accomplished cook in his own right. Almost too good.

I realize that not all children have a desire to learn to cook (my son refused to learn how to bake yeast bread, for example), and one of the major obstacles to non-convenience food suppers is time. The question here is one of survival, if you will. At a time when food prices are rising (and will continue to rise), I would argue that now is a good time to learn to make your own meals. The skills involved needn’t be fancy: in the example below, it’s boiling water and maybe chopping some vegetables. You might be surprised by the money you would save.

Money is only one reason for cooking from scratch as our grandparents would say, as you control the ingredients, the how and the when. You control how much salt and fat go in, unlike the canned or tinned varieties. Let me illustrate: When that Thanksgiving turkey or Easter ham is done, don’t throw away the carcass or bone, make soup with it. You can put anything you like in the soup: for the turkey, noodles, rice, various vegetables like celery and carrots, or even some chopped cabbage. Hambones are famous for the base of pea soup, and again, you can personalize your soup: with or without celery, some carrot or onion, various herbs, the sky is the limit. Even potato water, after cooking boiled potatoes, has it uses (which I’ll get to in a future post). These are just a few examples from two fairly common foods, turkey and ham, and I pick those, because a lot of people have a turkey for Thanksgiving. The resulting broths can be frozen for use in the coming months.

If meat isn’t your thing, an excellent vegetable broth can be made with various vegetables, my favorites being a combination of chopped or sliced carrot, celery, onion, possibly some noodles, and I always throw in a bay leaf and some herbs. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Again, this is just boiling some water for an hour or two, with something in it. Strain out the bones and bay leaf, sit, eat. Supper done.