The other night as I was franticly trying to create all of the very specific dishes my son had requested for his birthday meal, my daughter was watching me very intently. Finally, when I had reached a point where all the sides were completed and cooling she smiled at me and said, “I think you are a really good cook, and I can’t believe you ever burned boiling water.”
What a humbling moment, as my entire cooking life flashed before my eyes thinking about what my sweet child said. You see my folks always included my brother and I in their cooking endeavors, I was in 4-H and specifically remember one summer that I made more banana bread than I care to really think about desperately trying to master that perfect loaf. But my brother was a much more natural cook, rarely got distracted and, well his food usually turned out really well. Mine on the other hand… well I was more spontaneous so my food while usually edible usually got a LOT of critiques. So, I just shrugged it off and decided my younger brother could be the cook and pretty much left it at that.
When I went to collage and lived alone I always had a well-stocked freezer of meat from my folks and I then would supplement my favorite sides, which was usually potatoes. I had a dear friend at the time that just laughed at me because I was literally that “meat and potatoes” person. They were cheap, I loved them, and I was a collage student. When Dan and I got married though I think I knew I needed to expand my horizons. I remember I wanted to make a really nice meal for him when we were dating so I got frozen ravioli, but I had no idea how to cook it…and I remember actually asking the check out clerk if they knew how. Yep, Dan would tease me about how I could somehow almost burn boiling water. However, he was a good sport and played the part of a young newlywed and ate a lot of what I fondly called “Amy Surprise”. That was usually a spaghetti type dish with a very sweet sauce and whatever else we had to go with. Secretly I thought of myself like Julia Child or Remy from Ratatouille, just creating in the kitchen, cookbooks and recipes were there just as a springboard.
Once we started Amy’s Meats I found that The Kansas Beef Council had amazing take a way’s with all kinds of recipes for each cut of meat and as I better educated myself on how to best cook our meat and each cut, my cooking got better. I also found myself watching this explosion of pre-made meals; easy to cook prepackaged meals take over (or at least to me it seamed that way). Recipe books at the checkout lines would show these lovely meals and have the recipe but you had to buy a lot of processed items to create these “easy meals”. I remember the day almost exactly that I started to challenge that, by that I mean looking at a recipe and needing to by cream of chicken soup and thinking, just WHAT is cream of chicken soup? How did folks cook without cream of chicken soup before you could buy it already canned?
This challenging stance I had would then open the doors to my real learning of how to cook. Because of the lifestyle Dan and I have chosen we cook from hardcore scratch almost every meal (I say almost because, I’ll be the first to admit…it’s really nice to just by a can of cream of chicken soup rather than make a roux sometimes.) It’s hard, but as Dan and I have always said about our life, if there’s a hard way to do something… that’s pretty much the way we do it. It’s hard to cook from real ingredients (frozen meats, home canned or frozen veggies) you have to think about meals ahead of time. Well… you are supposed to at least. I’m just as busy as you. I work at home so you would think that I could have a lovely hot meal waiting for my family to sit down to promptly at 6pm everyday, but… yeah, not so much. I start my day with a glass of chocolate milk and hit the door running, if it’s nice out and things workout perfectly I stay outside until dark…and then remember that the family needs “consumption of nourishment” for the night. So I’m usually doing the night milking franticly thinking about what I can quickly thaw or what’s leftover in the fridge that I can use to create a meal from. It’s the same in every house, that burning question. What will I feed my family tonight?
Enter the world of the interweb and google. I have two go to folks that I use for recipes, Jamie Oliver and The Pioneer Woman, I’ve learned a lot from them, like how to cut an onion (no seriously, I have). I also have a handful of cookbooks that I use. But my treasure is my recipe box. It’s old, wooden and my Granpa gave it to me, I’m sure at the time he bought it at an auction or something and just thought I should have it, but that little box holds the story of my cooking life. The dividers are made from the Art that my oldest did at preschool, and the recipes are my staples. My mom’s theory is that there are so many recipes in the world they all need tried once, so even if we liked something, we’d never see it again, however the same was true if it was bad. Me on the other hand, if we loved it, it goes in my box and it becomes THAT recipe, because while I enjoy cooking and eating I want a staple, a go to, that comfort meal when needed.
I enjoy cooking, but what I enjoy more is growing, raising and harvesting the real food needed to cook with.