I’m a self-taught cook, and not a great one. But I enjoy it, find it relaxing (usually) and like to experiment. I have cookbooks and use them, but also know you can take ingredients and come up with something delicious and all your own. When you do, write down what you did so you can make it again!
My mother always made home-cooked meals. She didn’t enjoy cooking and hated a messy kitchen. So baking cookies with Mom didn’t happen. We were allowed to hang around as long as we didn’t get in her way and we got to clean out the icing bowl when she was done. When I moved out on my own, it would have helped if I had some kitchen experience. But with the help of friends and cookbooks, I learned. That was fun too.
When my mother realized I was a pretty good cook and, more amazing to her, that I enjoyed it, she said “well, I don’t know where you learned that! Sure wasn’t from me.” No, Mom, it wasn’t. But I learned what a good home-cooked meal tasted like from her, and that you can make them from simple ingredients without spending a lot of time at it. I also learned that, even if she tells you exactly how she did it, you can never make one of your mother’s meals and have it taste as good as hers did. But that’s ok too. It keeps childhood and your mother special for you.
My mother’s cooking method showed me how easy it is to clean up dishes and counters as you go along. Rinse and stack cooking utensils and wipe counters while you’re waiting for something to finish. You see the value when you sit down for your meal in a relatively clean kitchen, and afterwards when you don’t have to face a splattered counter full of pots and ladles with congealed food dried on them.
When I started cooking, I was a student or working at low-paid jobs. I had little money. But, since Mom didn’t rely on processed or ‘fast-food’ for our meals, it never crossed my mind to do so. I cooked cheaply with real ingredients. Why buy canned kidney beans for chili if you can get dried ones for less and just remember to soak them before cooking? That made economic sense and I’ve learned that it makes nutritional sense too. If you cook from the ‘rawest’ form, you control what goes into it more than if you buy already processed products. Cooking from ‘scratch’ but using packaged vegetables and seasonings might make a meal home-cooked, but the sodium and preservatives in it is dictated by the manufacturers, not you.
In this section, I share cooking and preserving methods that I’ve learned from other people and books or by trial and error. It’s not a cookbook but might supplement yours. The indispensable cookbook for me is The Joy of Cooking. I like the older version, just in case I ever need to know how you cook squirrel.
I took the top photo of a Christmas dinner made by my husband, sister and me. The middle photo is of a potluck meal provided mainly by my paternal aunts and cousins. They like to cook. My father-in-law photographed his end-of-season plum tomatoes. The Amazon link below left is to the “new” Joy version (‘lighter’ cooking, no squirrel), on right is a basic cookbook that sounds good for those who really do not know how to cook.