I was watching an interview last week with a man who is the senior chef of a well known resort in the West. Although a chef, in the interview he was talking about the need for people to have a well stocked pantry at home so you can see how that caught my attention!
In the interview, he talked about the problem of so many people not knowing how to cook today and how it affects their budget, their health, and their general well being. A lot of his interview was centered on how having a very good size pantry (including a deep freeze) made it possible for his family not to have to leave home for a month at the start of the lockdown, when the grocery store shelves were bare where he lived.
I remember in the beginning of the COVID lockdown, hearing about how people were panicking because they had no idea how to prepare a meal. What surprised me was just how many people were in that position. Fortunately, in the towns and cities, take-out food became possible but what if it hadn't?
With many people experiencing financial hardship during and after the lockdowns, I have wondered how many of those who knew how to cook also had experience in shopping for food and cooking on a tight budget. For that can be completely different than being able to purchase anything you want when in the grocery store.
When we had been a two career couple and I chose to stay at home with our daughter, it was really hard to change long time habits. Not to mention a much leaner budget. Before "coming home", I needed time more than money. After that, I had half as much money but a lot more time.
Thankfully, I didn't have to learn new skills during a pandemic. It had to be hard for people who had to learn to cook and in a time of national crisis and shortages. However, there have been many stories online of families who started cooking together and enjoying meals together for the first time in years.
I have a feeling, though, that for every happy story we hear about, there are many more families who just made it through. I mean, does one take a photo of a bowl of cereal and put it on Instagram saying that is what they made for dinner... again? There are people who would see it as amusing and even I would for awhile, but not for over a year.
There is a low rumble going on in the media again, even though I don't watch the national news on the main stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.), it is hard not to hear the chatter about the COVID cases rising in the States and seeing where it could go eventually. After all, our friends in other countries have experienced (and are experiencing) more lockdowns.
I learned long ago that knowledge can be just as important... sometimes even moreso... than just stocking a pantry. Just this past week, I was able to stretch two different main dishes because of past experiences in getting the most out of the ingredients. Since I was recovering from the tooth extraction, it helped a lot that I had leftovers... twice in a week.
Another evening, I was getting ready to make cowboy casserole and was shocked that there were no cans of Bush's Baked Beans in the pantry. How did that happen? Must have been because I thought I had too many at one time and well... you can guess. I stopped buying them and didn't realize there were no longer too many.
However, I did have two small cans of pork and beans so I threw them in with the ground beef and onions, along with some additional condiments, and they did the job just fine in pretending to be baked beans. Note to self: I really need to stock up on pork and beans, too.
Knowledge and experience together are how we can look in the pantry and/or refrigerator and know we have what it takes to throw together soup, or a casserole, or a salad, or a stir fry, or a nearly infinite way to assemble food for a tasty meal.
Of course, knowledge is easier to get these days with great cookbooks and a YouTube search but experience takes a lot longer. It also comes with culinary battle scars of burnt meat, scorched pans, salty baked goods, tasteless soup, overcooked pasta, etc. Been there and definitely done that for each of these!
We can only gain experience by trying new things and trying to avoid perfection. While I have enjoyed a few cooking shows through the years, I soon got tired of those that seemed to make cooking look hard and demanded perfection. Well, except the Great British Baking Show but the contestants signed up knowing they would face Paul and Mary!
However, we can all gain knowledge everyday and in many ways. I love to cook and I took gourmet cooking lessons as a young wife but I learned a lot through watching other people cook, sharing recipes with friends and family, and then... when cookbooks became much cheaper with digital formatting... making the choice to invest in really good cookbooks.
I will talk about that subject more next week but this week I want to share a few that are excellent for learning the heart of cooking. The "how to be a good cook" instead of just a list of recipes. Although, they have recipes, too.
I'm sharing a few that I have recommended before and a couple I haven't mentioned here that are good for beginning and experienced cooks. All of these books contain the author's philosophy of cooking and I have each of them on the Kindle to be able to increase the font and continue re-reading and to look up recipes.
An Everlasting Meal is my favorite book about cooking. It is one that you can reread a dozen times and still learn something as the author writes in such a way that you feel she is sitting at the table with you. It is not so much a cookbook as a way to cook book.
When I was looking it up on Amazon, I was very happy to see the Kindle version is on a special price of $1.99 at the moment. It is the kind of cookbook that one can easily read on the Kindle, too.
The Feast Nearby is another book I have recommended a few times. It is written by a food writer who gets a divorce and loses her job within a week or two of each other. She moves from Chicago to a cottage in Western Michigan, where she learns how to eat very good food on a very small budget. This is another book I could reread (and have) many times. It is also easily read on the Kindle.
The Life Giving Table is an excellent and fun-to-read book by Sally Clarkson about how food and hospitality have been important in their ministry and life in general. It combines very good recipes with enjoyable stories about cooking and sharing food with others. I gave away my paperback copy and bought one for the Kindle when my eyesight started to be a problem.
The Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe she shares was given to them by my daughter, after she served it when the Clarksons and us were together in Stephanie's home well over ten years ago. Sally and Sarah turned it into a Christmas tradition for their family. (I took just a little bite of it since it gives diabetics nightmares!)
A book that I have only read partly (and not because it wasn't good but it got lost amongst a lot of books to read at that time) is Twelve Recipes. The author, like the author of An Everlasting Meal, has been a chef for Chez Panisse so I knew the cooking philosophy would be good. I may not agree with Alice Waters' politics or personal life but she is a food genius.
The author wrote Twelve Recipes as a book about cooking for his (then) twenty year old son and others like him who wanted to learn to cook. He shares the twelve basic recipes and the various menus you can make with each of those recipes that everyone should know.
Like the other books, it is enjoyable to read and I own it on the Kindle. I now have it near the top of my "to read" books on the Kindle to finish reading. There was nothing inappropriate in the part of the book I read. Don't laugh, I returned a book about food to the library once because it was disgusting and I was shocked by two other cookbooks by the language they contained. Sheesh...
One other book I would recommend is Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn. She had an excellent cooking program back when The Hallmark Channel first started and carried some of Martha Stewart's programming. Her recipes are easy and approved by her all male (except for her) household.
I only have this on the Kindle but it is one that if I was cooking for family at home all the time, I would definitely get in paperback. It had a following at the time and excellent reviews from home cooks.
I'll be chatting more next week about the importance of a good cookbook library.
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