Random Thoughts on Food, Cooking & Recipes

Tomato BruschettaIs the art of cooking dying?   From the looks of the fast food landscape, the frozen dinner section and the heat and serve options in the super markets, one would think so. Given the fact that everyone needs to eat, one would think everyone would learn to cook but such is not the case and it is taking it’s toll.  Are you sick and tired of fast food?  Maybe you are sick and tired of being, sick and tired.  It is time to make a change.

The reality is many people have never learned to cook, as evidenced by the success of the fast food industry and the freezer cases overflowing with heat and serve meals. People have learned to re-heat, to open a package or a jar and drive-through, but somewhere between hunting and gathering and the 21st Century, the art of cooking is being lost and with it goes our health and the health and eating habits of our children.

I learned to cook by watching and doing.  What was once learned in the kitchen watching Mom or Auntie whip up dinner is now learned by watching cooking videos and step by step cooking blogs.   The Pioneer Woman was the first step by step blog I remember seeing. Clearly, her fabulous photography helped but I think her real success came from actually showing people even the most basic techniques. (Season the Chicken. See, this is what it looks like.)  Chef John has a wonderful collection of cooking videos.  The food and techniques are the stars of his show, besides his fabulous sense of humor, his focus is strictly on the food.  What is usually missing from videos or picture perfect step by step blogs are the mistakes. Even the most experienced cooks make mistakes.  I know I have had my fair share of ‘lessons learned’.   Actually,  I learned a great deal about cooking (or rather how NOT to cook) from watching some of my father’s ill fated attempts in the kitchen.  Thanks to my father, I know how to NOT cook salmon. I also learned at an early age to not put hot broth into a non tempered cut glass bowl. The resulting explosion left a lasting impression!

When working on recipe development I am always caught in a quandary.  Too many ingredients, too few ingredients, too detailed instructions, not detailed enough.   When I first started writing recipes I tended to not be detailed enough and people had a ton of questions. Now I find myself becoming too detailed, which makes a simple recipe appear difficult and scares people away.  It is a challenge to find a happy medium.

What I see lacking in budding American cooks is lack of basic cooking common sense.  I say American, because if you look at the recipes on the International sites they are much different. Most of the recipes are simply written and the use of processed ingredients is rare.  When I was learning to cook, the goal was to be able to cook without a recipe. To be able to forage in the refrigerator and pantry and produce a meal.  A recipe was a guideline, something to be used for inspiration.  There were certain things that were just assumed.  If the recipe called for a roux, it didn’t tell you how to make the roux, how to add the liquid, how to stir. Those things were givens.  This is the art of cooking.

I know we are busy, everyone is busy.  The other thing I know is that people make time for things that are important to them.  Having a food plan in place is essential.  I have found we waste more time thinking about what to cook, than we actually spend cooking.

Here is your challenge.
If you are someone who is already a good cook, who are you going to teach to cook?
If you are learning to cook, what do you want to learn to make?

In the next few days, I am going to be putting up some recipes and ideas for fast affordable meals that encompass the use of a few decent processed products, short cuts and cooking techniques to help make the transition out of the drive through more realistic.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please let me know.


Posted in Real Food, Real Life Tagged permalink

About Baking Nana

Each morning my granddaughter Sarah calls to ask, "Watcha doing, Nana? Are you baking Nana?" Hence my "name" Baking Nana. I am a mother to three wonderful children and a grandmother to 12 very hungry grandkids. I don't bake fancy cakes but I do make wonderful yeast bread and home cooked meals made with love.


Random Thoughts on Food, Cooking & Recipes — 17 Comments

  1. BN: It’s amazing to me how many people don’t know their way around the kitchen very well. My mom is an excellent cook, and my dad could manage several meals (as well as the canning of green beans). I was always expected to help in the kitchen, so, I guess, as the saying goes, some of it rubbed off on me. My mom is a recipe follower. So it’s not too surprising that I’m not very skilled at what I’ll call impromptu cooking. If I’ve got some leftovers of x, y, and z, I’m frantically searching for a way to use them. Yeah, I can accept the criticism — A more accomplished cook can create something new, but that’s not really my style. My three children are in this new generation that you mentioned. None of them are interested in my favorite room in the house. The time they are required to spend in that room is forced, and I am a tyrrant in their eyes. Go figure! Well, I’ve got my fingers crossed that when they’re not looking, a little bit of that will “rub off” on them.

  2. I grew up in a family where both parents worked and both parents (and kids) shared in all the household duties, including cooking. Honestly, my Dad was a better cook than my Mom. He actually taught her how to cook when they were first married. Nothing fancy here, just basic tasty home-cooked meals from scratch, we always had a nice garden, and seldom did we go out to restaurants. These days I rarely hear people talk about Mom & Dad teaching them to cook, it seems it’s mostly learning from “Grandma.” I think we’re already well on our way to losing an entire generation of cooks. A friend’s daughter and her friend recently stopped by for a day on their way to Miami for a cruise. I made strawberry shortcake for dessert, and neither of them (in their early 20’s) had ever had strawberries served over anything but those round sponge cakes you see at the store. They simply couldn’t believe how good homemade shortcake was. My hubby’s brother has recently shown moderate interest in cooking, his daughter has zero interest, his wife on a scale of 1 to 10 is about a 3. He wanted to learn how to make the family’s longtime traditional Christmas dinner (sauerbraten) and all the sides…there are no recipes. Spent the day with him by my side showing him everything he needed to know, then followed up later with a detailed list of tips and timing on the meal. That was four years ago, and he’s never made the meal. I think he’s just more interested in telling people he’s a “foodie.” With both parents working these days, I fully understand that it’s a tough challenge to eat at home every day, but taking the time to plan meals certainly is key. You need to have on hand everything that you need so you don’t have to run out to the store, or make stops on the way home from work after you’ve picked up the kids. I have so many friends who really enjoy coming for a home-cooked dinner, but none of them really cook nor have an interest in learning, and that’s how their children are being raised. Very sad I must say.

  3. A recipe is a guideline – you couldn’t be more right. My mom taught me the basics and most of the recipes I have published are exactly that – basic. Once you can do the simple things right & well, it’s easy to add a little bit of your own flair. That’s what I learned from my mother & grandmothers and it is what my kids are learning from me & my wife. Have a great weekend.

    • Doug, Your children will venture off into the world knowing how to forage and produce meals to feed themselves and probably all their friends as well.
      What an awesome way to pass the torch to the next generation.
      BTW – have you ever noticed how some people panic when they can’t get to their ‘recipes’?
      In general terms I think peeps get a little too attached to a ‘recipe’.
      I say, throw caution to the wind and create FOOD!

  4. Baking Nana – Nicely written blog! I think if I were to write a series of cookbooks, I would have different series for different audiences. I myself was raised by a professional cook, and have pretty much sheltered from “cooking tragedies.” It was pretty hard for me to imagine some of the things people do in the kitchen until I was actually teaching people how to cook. I gathered a rather large following in the residence at university, and in the staff lunch room at work. I found it entertaining to see how many people were interested in watching me cook. It is pretty hard to write instructions sets when it is so hard to gauge people’s skill levels. It is also the case when cooking international cuisine Western cooks may not be familiar with the techniques. Westernized versions of ethnic cuisines being represented as authentic dishes adds to the confusion. I really do think learning to cook is best done “hands on.” Even though I work as a professional technical writer, I would find it difficult to explain techniques for ethnic cuisines that I have learned from my ethnic friends. It is also hard for me to see what things in the cooking from my own culture people might find challenging. It has been my own experience that new cooks tend to be very messy, and teaching them to keep the kitchen clean while they cook helps them out a lot! =)

    • Hi Mrs J. You are so right, knowing your audience is key to good instructions.
      Before I posted my article on how to cook a Rib Roast I had several experienced cooks tell me I was wasting my time. That said, 200,00 views (19,000 on Christmas Eve) later that post is still picking up views on a regular basis. Apparently, a lot of people – even experienced cooks needed a refresher course on cooking Rib Roast.
      Practice makes perfect and people need to get into the kitchen and practice the art of cooking.

      • Baking Nana – BIG SMILE! Those were an excellent set of instructions for Prime Rib! I appreciated them because I almost never eat prime rib. I was a vegetarian for years, and my Iranian-born husband simply doesn’t like meat prepared in the Western style. I really liked the instruction set you prepared for Corned Beef too. Keep up the good work! Those of us who teach others through our writing know the satisfaction it brings. Let us decide for ourselves how we “waste” our time! Have a good day! =)

  5. I read somewhere that the way to irritate an American is to inconvenience them. Sad, isn’t it? Food and meal preparation is such a loving gesture. How could it be an inconvenience?

    • Hi Carla,
      So true! We have become an instant gratification society. There is a lot of be said for ‘slow food’ prepared with love.

  6. Penny – your timing on this subject is incredible! I totally agree with you that the ability to cook is dying and there’s very little hope in turning it around if we don’t start making a concentrated effort to teach. I started discussing with a friend the idea of starting a class called “Cooking 101” – or “Cook Camp”. I want to target the age group 14-25 year olds. And I agree with you that the problem is that there are a couple of generations now that, for the most part, don’t know how to cook – therefore it’s not being taught to the next generation and so on. Those of us that do know how need to step up and take the initiative to teach. There are those out there that do want to learn – they just don’t have anyone to learn from. I learned some from my mother & grandmothers – but it was limited. I was fortunate enough that I worked in a French cafe where the chefs had tremendous ability and were willing to share that ability with me. I soaked it up like a sponge and discovered that food could be prepared easily, understandably, and taste great to boot! I feel a responsibility to pass this on. And I commend your efforts to do the same through your website. I will be watching and reading what you post. If we don’t teach – and others step up to learn, then we are enslaving ourselves to what the mass marketing wants to throw at us as an edible alternative – – and you don’t want to know how many and much preservatives (ingredients with letters and syllables to lengthy to pronounce) are included in those “fast food” meals to allow them to sit in a warehouse and on grocery store shelves to make them shelve able until the “use by” date……”””shivers”””……….

    • Thanks for stopping in Pam. Great minds…. !
      A friend of mine who is an excellent cook, offered cooking lessons to the teen group at her church. She had her lesson plan in place and quickly discovered that these teens had never been taught even the most basic knife safety skills, measuring spoons and cups were foreign to many of them. She had to stop, back up and start at the very beginning.
      The teens loved her classes and each week would come with enthusiastic stories of their cooking successes.
      Without the ability to cook people will be forever enslaved to processed, packaged, chemical laden ‘food like products.’ There will come a time when people will not recognize ‘real food’ when they taste it.
      Good luck with your cooking class idea. I look forward to hearing all about it.

  7. I learned to cook from both my mom and my dad, they never used a recipe and they were both great cooks. I was lucky both my daughters were eager to learn to cook and they both eat very well and healthy.
    My saying to them was, if you can make spaghetti sauce and broth you will never starve, and they both do. I love learning new ways to cook. Looking forward to reading more, thank you..

    • Hi manella. I too learned to cook from my family. Mother, Father, Brothers, and Aunties. I was blessed to be surround by people who know how to cook. Unfortunately, there are at least one or two generations who have grown up without cooks in their lives. (and I don’t mean the cooks at the fast food places….)
      Everyone’s circumstances are different and it is hard to gauge what people need and what people call ‘cooking’.
      Excellent suggestion on the spaghetti sauce and broth. You cannot go wrong there!

  8. You know, I consider myself an accomplished cook, but I’m always happy to learn from others who are willing to share. Your thoughts are welcome, so think on, my dear, with my blessing!

    • Hi Brenda: We all have room to learn! Balancing a career / busy schedule, family and real food can be a huge challenge!
      I will pass along any ideas I may have. Hopefully we can learn and support each other in this journey!
      Thanks for stopping in!

  9. I know one who I will NOT be teaching how to cook: my daughter! (At least she knows good food when she tastes it!) But there is hope for my daughter-in-law. She is very concerned about eating healthy, so my granddaughters get fresh organic fruits and vegetables all the time. She asks me all the time how to put something together, and soon she will have an arsenal of recipes that she can put together quickly but with good and healthy ingredients. This is a timely and important blog, Baking Nana!

    • Hi Marianne! The fact that your Daughter in Law has an open mind and willing to learn is a huge step for then and your grand kids. They are blessed to learn from you! It is important that everyone know how to feed themselves without driving through. You daughter knows a good thing – she knows how to drive to your house! 🙂