The “Art” of Cooking
I was flipping through the TV channels the other night, when I came across a show that was talking about poor eating habits and how we make excuses for choices we make. Most often we hear: we’re too tired or too busy to cook. We even throw in- take-out allows for more quality time with my family. I have fallen victim to this way of thinking and I think it is time to break some habits and tendencies and try to gently force ourselves to be more proactive with our meal planning. The planning part is the key, and maybe it doesn’t have to be that difficult.
We have endless options at our disposal for food preparation. Cookbooks are now a work of art. They adorn our shelves and coffee tables. There are tons of food and culturally blogs. One blog I recently discovered is North Wild Kitchen. Just like a beautifully illustrated book, the pictures in this blog draws you in to a place that is likely unattainable, but allows you to experience another culture. The blog presents a plethora of images and stories that conjure up a dream. Then there are your standard cookbooks like Better Homes and Garden and of course all those beautiful magazines that entice you with meal-saving solutions while you check out your groceries. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the internet with sites such as the Food Network and Bon Appetit. So many options and so little time. Do we really have little time or is it we don’t use our time wisely? I can spend hours looking at blog sites, viewing recipes online and reading cookbooks when I could be in the kitchen actually making something.
There must be a solution to this dilemma, albeit low on the scale of a true dilemma. Another element from this TV show was it stated if we prepared more of our meals at home, that would improve the obesity problem in our society. Pre-made, fast food or prepared food is loaded with fat, salt and sugar. It does taste good, but it clearly is not a good option for maintaining healthy weight. The implication was if we cooked our own meals, weight issues would be corrected without actually dieting. I don’t doubt this to be the case, at least on some level.
What I’m finding is cooking does not have to be so difficult and timely. It all comes down to having some basic ingredients in your house and you can come up with something to eat. Hence the meaning of the words in the picture above: i cche c ‘e’ c’e’ what there is there is or whatever is in my kitchen, I’ll find something to make.
So what do we cook? How do we rap our heads around preparing meals, which often is the easier than thinking of what to make? I realize sometimes we don’t feel like cooking. When that’s your reality, try to keep it simple. When you’re in the right mindset, be a little creative like one dabbling on an art project. Some of your creations may be better than others, but with a little practice, you too can learn the art of cooking.
Here’s what I’ve come up with (I’m sure there’s nothing new here, but maybe something will strike a chord with you)
Keep your kitchen well stocked with some basic ingredients:
Pantry: chicken broth, marinara sauce, diced tomatoes, black beans, baked beans, pasta, rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, tuna, flour, sugar, lemons and always have 1 red onion
Cooking: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, baking soda, baking powder, Dijon mustard, sea salt
Freezer: frozen vegetables, frozen burgers, salmon filets
Refrigerator: eggs, butter, milk. cheddar cheese or other hard cheese, parmesan cheese
Time savers/quick meals
Frozen brown rice from Trader Joe’s; pop in microwave, done in 3 minutes (for a diversion toss with broccoli and soy sauce)
Chicken cutlets: buy thin cutlets: dip in flour, egg, bread crumbs with parmesan fry in a few tablespoons of olive oil/butter mixture or put in oven. Quick and easy!
Steak: Add some seasoning, salt and pepper if that’s all you have, broil or grill, saute some mushrooms in olive oil and butter and a garlic clove. Place mushrooms on top of steak. Have a simple salad and maybe some fresh bread that you picked up at the store or skip the starch altogether
Salad: fresh greens with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon (easiest dressing) sprinkle with salt and pepper or pepper and parmesan cheese and a few slices of red onion
Rao’s marinara tomato sauce is my favorite jar sauce. I’ve tried them all and unless you’re making your own, don’t even waste your money on any other marinara, in my opinion. When it’s on sale, stock up! Maybe make your own meatballs and slow cook them in the ready made sauce. It literally takes less than 5 minutes. 1 pound of chop meat (beef or chicken), 1-2 eggs, 1/2 cup or so of seasoned bread crumbs, if you’re in the mood 1-2 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup or so of parmesan cheese. Mix it all up, I use my kitchen aid, roll into balls and drop into sauce. (I prefer dropping my meatballs in sauce instead of browning them. They stay moist. This is how my mom always made Italian meatballs and I have followed suite.) Cook meatballs on low heat for as long as you like, well make sure your meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Make pasta, and your simple salad and there you have it.
Use your grill for burgers, steaks or fish. I love salmon on the grill. It’s so easy: salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, sear on stove in a cast iron pan (if you have) then bake in oven or use a grill and avoid smoke and a fishy-smelling kitchen. Baked potatoes in the oven-clean potatoes, smear some olive oil and sea salt and put in oven at 375 for about an hour. Again, not saying these are exact recipes, but that’s the point. They don’t have to be so precise, especially if time is not on your side. If you do have time, go ahead, read and try new recipes, but don’t be afraid to experiment a little on your own. You know more than you think. Think of what flavors you like together and experiment.
Something else that really helps is to think of your meals ahead of time so when you’re shopping, you are already aware of what to buy. Ask your family what they might like to eat this week. Have everyone pick a meal so when you’re out and about, you know what items you need to pick up. I think Sunday’s are a great day to ponder the upcoming week. You tend to have more time to think. If you incorporate meal planning into your schedule, it will likely be less of a chore than trying to come up with something to make. Don’t forget to make a list!!
I’m not a great cook but I do enjoy cooking, especially when I have time. However, I think with a little planning, we could be better at cooking our own meals. This week, I tried to put some of these principles into action.
I just came back from Christmas shopping and spent more money than I planned on spending. I thought I’ll make sure we eat at home more this week. This helped me rationalize my spending spree (don’t judge). I looked in my refrigerator and created a meal. I had some crescent rolls from Thanksgiving that I never used. I unrolled them, added some shredded cheese and smoked salmon that had been in my refrigerator for some time. Then I threw in some frozen organic broccoli from Trader Joe’s to add some veggies. Now to be honest, it wasn’t the best thing I ever made, but it satisfied a need for a meal. I didn’t over-eat, because I didn’t love it, but that really wasn’t the point. I used what I had, created something to eat, and I felt like I accomplished something. If I didn’t use these ingredients, I may have ignored them for awhile longer and eventually tossed then in the trash, or feed to our chickens (they did enjoy a little smoked salmon).
So next time you don’t know what to make, open your refrigerator, lay some ingredients out on your counter and see what combinations of food go together. You may come up with something new and maybe even exciting. We throw out way too much food. It’s so wasteful and it really is rather irresponsible. I’ve become more aware of the concept of reusing or repurposing food since I volunteer at a homeless shelter. I love seeing the creative way they use food and incorporate ingredients to pull off an amazing meal for the residents and those who come in for a hot meal, no questions asked. It’s pretty awesome!!
There is an art to cooking, but not all cooking has to be a masterpiece and Instagram worthy. We have put such emphasis on beauty that our food has to look like a prized possession or photographed treasure. We have elevated food to where it is no longer something to nourish but something to regale in. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love to make a delicious beautiful meal, and I have posted them on Instagram but all meals don’t need to fall into that category. I think we need to try and be more resourceful and balanced then elaborate and beautiful.
What do you think?? Is this something you think you could pull off? Keep it simple, eat more meals at home, be more mindful in meal planning and stop fooling yourself that you don’t have time to make something to eat? I think it’s worth some conscious effort to be more mindful of our eating out practices. Maybe stop doing so much research and cook something. You might actually have fun.
Again, something I need to learn; every meal does’t have to be the best thing I ever ate. If I eat something that isn’t my favorite, I definitely eat less and it usually takes away the hunger and I can move on. Hmm…just something to consider. I’m not suggesting that you make lousy food, but maybe if you don’t have many options, the option you do have should suffice. If all else fails, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or tuna with lots of carrots, celery (apparently very good for you now!) chopped onion and mayo on some lettuce or toast or melt some cheese and make a tuna melt- might be a great option. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just try and live like the past generation; before fast-food, take-out and microwave meals.
The picture above was taken in July 2018 when my husband and I spent a few days at Borgo di Vagli. I think I have mentioned this establishment in a prior post, but we had one of our most favorite meals here, while traveling in Italy. It truly was authentic Italian cooking, and honestly there isn’t any culturally-food that is better than Italian, at least to me! This place is a dream. It is an ancient hamlet that was restored with modern amenities, while preserving the integrity of the village. I highly recommend staying and eating as many meals as you can at: i cche c’e’c’e’ while in Tuscany ! You won’t regret it. Every bite is an infusion of flavor and delight!