advice to the frustrated home cook

I’ve read some of your blogs, and I think this is what you want:

something delicious
something fast
affordable
makes a lot (depending on how many you’re feeding)

I will go ahead and say that you will be let down at cooking shows who tell you that you can cook something brilliant in 30 minutes. And you can, don’t get me wrong, but those people cooking on TV are professionals, and have done it for a long, long time.

Hear me out!

I’m not here to sound discouraging. I love to see folks cooking at home. There’s something so important about cooking a meal in your home. The smells, making people hungry, gathering folks together. It is what is most important in a lot of our days.

But what I see, is aggravation.
I read people’s frustrations with not having enough time, or you’ll head straight to the freezer section. (Which honestly, you do what you gotta do. I’m not judging you on your eating and cooking habits. I just know, you can do it.)

Yes, you can do it.

I know you worked a long day.

You already made the mistake of coming in to sit down.

You’re watching that show that you love.

Then your stomach starts to growl.

Don’t panic. You still have time to make good choices.

Just because Sandra Lee is doing something “interesting” with canned cheese, doesn’t mean you have to. This is where the home cook learns to grow.

And you know what? You’ll get faster, and faster at prepping meals. That’s what TV shows don’t show you. They have all their stuff ready to go. Oh, four cloves of minced garlic? Watching folks with even decent knife skills, mincing a clove of garlic takes some sweet time. Don’t do that to yourself. Or if you do, leave time for it. Leave time for your prep. Leave time to get things right.

So often, we rush to put things in our belly, and are discouraged at the final product. But then, you’ll start to nail stuff better and better. You’ll have your go-to chicken dish and will think the night before about marinating a pork shoulder, soaking beans, or baking fresh bread.

Cooking at home takes time. There’s no way around that. If it’s not important for you to dedicate time your craft, you will always feel frustrated at the outcome.

Now, I am not speaking to the mom or dad with kids. I can’t say that I have experience with little ones and different eating schedules. And that’s even if your kid wants to eat what your eating or if that’s even an option. Whatever, I’m not getting into that, but what I have seen, and what I like to see, is kids interacting with their food.

Isn’t that the whole point? To connect with the ones you are feeding?

If I’m missing the point, excuse my ignorance. I realize it is different.

I also fall victim to a frozen pizza from time to time. And after I’m done hating myself (just kidding), I’ll know deep down, I won’t be able to do that for a long time. At least I hope I don’t.

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I’ve talked about this before. (In fact, almost exactly three years ago. Damn, I’ve come a long way.)
It helps to keep some things around. The things that they always have on TV shows and in magazine articles. Meal prep.

Have your stuff organized. Your onions chopped. Your liquids ready to be measured. Eggs and butter at room temp if they need to be. Water hot. Oven pre-heated. Yes, kitchens are hot places. But you know the saying.

Don’t kill yourself. Keep it simple. Use that boneless, skinless chicken breast that you love to buy. But please, cook it in a lot of butter or olive oil or something. Load that hot pan up with thyme and garlic and lemon juice. Just throw it all in a pan, tilt the pan, let the juices form at the bottom and baste that super-mom cut of meat. Delicious!

And now, you are a kitchen stud. Roast some vegetables while you’re doing it.

There are many uh, “wonderful”, uh, “things” you can do while your food is cooking.

Just uh, don’t forget to set a timer. 🙂

Multitask. Yeah, that’s what I mean.

– – – – –

I guess that’s my advice to home cooks struggling with time. Buy good ingredients and cook them simply. Save dramatic dishes for the weekend. Good rice with good vegetables is a GOOD thing. And it’s cheap and easy.

Maybe I’m just beating a dead horse now.

Fair enough.

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7 responses

  1. Speaking for the home cooks with ONE kid (I can’t speak to more than that), food prep is so key. Organization is the name of the game, and it’s not going to happen every day, but some days (like last night, for instance) you can make a brilliant meal despite the fact that you’ve got a busy two year old “assisting.” He stood beside me on a chair as I chopped the veggies and salted the chicken thighs. I kept him at a safe distance while I cooked bacon in a pan (big thrill). I rewarded him for not getting to close to the spitting oil or sticking his fingers in the path of my knife by giving him a little bacon, in his high chair, while I drained (most of) the bacon grease and browned the chicken. We sang songs about the merits of bacon while I browned the onions and garlic. I reduced a bit of sherry over those, added the meat back in, threw in some french lentils and chicken broth, lowered the heat and covered it. Then we played with trucks for a while. When it was almost done, I put a pot of rice on, threw a bunch of fresh spinach in the pot with the meat, and by the time papa walked in the door we had a delicious dinner all ready to eat. Every day isn’t like that, but if you get it just right once or twice a week and eat leftovers or omelets the rest of the week, you’re doing ok.

  2. Yeah!! As someone who is going to make a post grad school entrance to the kitchen, I found this really encouraging!! When it takes me so damn long to cook, I get pretty frustrated and bummed out. I’ll be taking Monday night dinners at our place for the fall. If you think of any simple-ish recipes, feel free to pass them along. What would go really well with roasted veggies? I have a book on soups and am hoping to do lots of that. Hurray for fall!! Time to head to work. Dinner service starting up soon? Sorry I don’t come in to visit more- we’re really trying to save up for buying a home- so outside of special occasions- it’s been Santa Cruz or TB. Greetings to your chickens & turkey! Thanks for writing, as always. Big hugs to you, brotha Margi

  3. Well said. It is possible – and it tastes so much better – to cook it yourself. For me, chicken is often the answer. Easy, tasty and quick. It is the little black dress of cooking.

  4. Great article. I am “baching” it in DC for a job, but my husband and grown son still live in our home in the REAL Washington (State). Whenever I visit, I cook up a storm of healthy dinners for them (yes, it’s a chore prepping everything, but if you think about it, chopping onions and stuff for several different dishes is as hard as for one dish). I freeze them in individual man-size containers so they can have it whenever they want it. Got a text from hubby last night in fact, “great fried rice, hon!” Thanks for sharing such great tips!

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