It’s resolution time, and this year all of my hopes and dreams start in the kitchen. Home-cooked meals are the key to saving money, to increased health, to family bonding, to actualizing my inner Ma Ingalls.
It’s no small task to woo me away from the ease and comfort of the Chick Fil A dining area, so I began romancing myself back into the kitchen by reading. Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine was a good start, and I revisited the chapters in which she describes the slow and magical process of watching Arborio rice soak up cups of broth and wine to make a delicious, simple risotto that mysteriously nourishes the soul as well as the body. And the one where she centers herself after a hard day by scrambling eggs, patiently scraping the wooden spoon across the pan, slowly converting a sticky, runny mess into a fluffy, satisfying dinner.
Next I read Cooked by Michael Pollan. I was transfixed by poetic paragraphs on chopping onions, carrots, and celery into mirepoix; odes to the primal powers of the humble cooking pot; detailed and sensory descriptions of turning a bubbling, yeasty starter into a loaf of crusty, fragrant bread.
It doesn’t take much to bewitch me with the possibilities of this everyday alchemy: the ability to take dry pantry ingredients, raw plants, and pieces of dead animals and transform them into fragrant, nutritious, inviting meals that will draw my friends and family members around the table. Magic! That I can do right in my own kitchen! I’m hooked.
But then there’s my actual life to contend with. Back in my kitchen, it only takes me about a minute to remember why I don’t make risottos more often, and that is the simple fact that it is decidedly un-transcendant to stir rice for thirty minutes with a screaming one-year-old clinging to my leg and a four-year-old sous chef “helping” dangerously close to the hot stovetop.
So the lofty prose pushes me in the right direction, but the sort of reading that will actually help me in my day-to-day cooking endeavors resembles more of a “Worst Case Survival Guide: Unskilled Moms in the Kitchen Edition.”
Alas, they don’t make that.
But I have found several other resources that have been practical and helpful.
This is as basic as it sounds, and it helped me to get a running start. After feeling like a cooking worm because I had only ever baked bread with store-bought yeast (Cooked), it was a good boost for my ego to be able to breeze through the glossary at the beginning of the book. I already know the definitions of the words “blend,” “marinate,” and “double-boiler.” Yes, I will move to the head of the class!
The first part is a lot of talking about food, food prep, and grocery shopping. The second part is actual recipes, and the couple that I’ve tried have been good. Mostly this book de-magics the whole cooking process and reassures me that I Can Make Edible Food on a daily basis even while being assaulted by my own children.
This book is laugh-out-loud funny and worth reading even if you already know how to boil water and/or chop vegetables. But everything (even the recipes) is rated PG-13 for language, so maybe don’t let your six-year-old read this one out loud to you.
2) Meal Planning Worksheets from Like Mother, Like Daughter
I talk about this blog all the time, but that’s because it’s one of my favorites. There’s a whole series here about meal planning and cooking that I’ve read through a couple of times (to find it, scroll pretty far down the right sidebar). As just a little example of how funny and practical this blog is, enjoy this quote, which I currently have IN A FRAME in my kitchen:
What is the difference between getting some housework done and living in a pit dug out by spatially challenged warthogs? Between being able to have a good homeschooling day and feeling like you are in charge of a bunch of illiterate savages who figure out the speed of passing trains with knotted ropes and their fingers? Between starting a creative project of any kind, working on it, and finishing it, versus feeling like all you do is go in and out of the grocery store?
This site also features lots of great tips and recipes for feeding a crowd on a small budget, which is my top priority at the moment.
3) Chicken and Rice for beginners, courtesy of Dinner: A Love Story
Like I said, I’m trying to fill us up for as little money as possible, which means simple carbohydrates are back on my table at dinner time. It’s just too bad, so sad for the health-conscious voices in my head that tell me that we shouldn’t be eating bread and grains. Also, chicken and rice is one of my favorite comfort meals of all time. But despite my new flippant attitude toward unhealthy eating, I can’t shake the guilt over using canned cream-of-the-devil soups on a regular basis (I read too many food blog comments.)
Enter: This Recipe! It’s delicious and flavorful, it contains no canned cream soup, and it actually comes together in 20 minutes as the recipe promises.
I haven’t had a chance to check out anything else on this website, but I definitely plan to.
Not to brag, but we have now eaten dinner at home for two weeks and neither I, the children, nor any of our entrees have spontaneously combusted. Most of the food I have cooked has actually been good.
Maybe one of these days I’ll win blue ribbons for my beef bourguignon and I’ll know how to use a mini-blowtorch to caramelize my own creme brulee, but: baby steps, you know? For now I’m perfecting my spaghetti technique and conducting wild experiments like adding peas to that easy chicken and rice.
Yep, we’re living large (and not just because of the carbs).