by Kathleen Blease
Check out my new recipes in The Recipe Box. Either click here or click on the link above. Colonial Cookies, a luscious Chocolate Cake that will make you look like a pro (very easy!), a Rice Pilaf with Roasted Pecans and Dried Cranberries that keeps well in the fridge, and an easy cheesy Apple Pastry. Those are just the new recipes. Hungry yet? Also visit the page for cooking and baking tips. Just scroll way down.
Easy is my way to cook. If a recipe is complicated, I won't attempt it. Quite frankly, I have the skills and experience (thank you very much!) but I don't have the time, and I hate cooking while under pressure. My husband, however, loves trying new things, so fancy recipes go to him.
Do I love to cook? Not really. I would be happy to hand over the responsibility to a private chef! But I do love the idea that my family eats a home cooked meal, nourishing and made from scratch. I rarely use prepared items, like canned spaghetti sauces or dinner rolls.
The basic criteria for my favorite recipes are: 1) they are made from scratch, 2) they use ingredients that are as fresh as possible, and 3) they are easy to prepare. A few standard and basic cooking techniques--the right way to braise, saute, and roast, for example--and a good sense of timing go a long way in making a meal fabulous. Really, it's just the basics that count. Hint: buy yourself a meat thermometer.
My interest in cooking stems from many years ago when I was single, owned my own home, and was a freelance book editor. I barely made enough to pay the tiny mortgage and the outrageous taxes. I sold my car back to the dealership because I didn't use it enough to warrant the expense. I lived in a downtown, so it was easy for me to walk to the bank and post office, the two most important places to a freelancer. The hills in this particular downtown, however, were killers. While my knees suffered, I do have to say that my waist line didn't. It stayed cinched in for many years--well, relatively speaking.
Still, and despite all the exercise, there was one issue I was particularly concerned about. I couldn't afford to get sick. Just as it is today, private health insurance was prohibitively expensive. So, there was one thing I knew I could do to help keep me out of the doctor's office--healthy cooking. I learned about beans, legumes, homemade chicken stock made with bones, yogurts, brown rices and lean meats. Believe it or not, I sustained myself, my cats, and my household necessities on ten dollars a week. It all came down to the cooking...and lots of coupon clipping.
How did I learn to cook? Watching my mom, mostly. Well, I didn't learn the specific techniques by standing and cooking at my mother's side. I didn't have the patience back then. Still, it's pretty clear to me that my cooking mores came directly from Mom's.
I grew up on a small farm, and my mother maintained a large garden, a herd of goats, and a flock of sheep. Mom had a licensed goat dairy, and we had plenty of goat milk everyday. I still remember how the cats hung around in the milking room to lap up the little streams of the white stuff that hit the ground. Those felines has amazingly shiny coats. Mom made lots and lots of goat cheese. I devoured the stuff long before it became bistro posh. It took, what, three gallons of milk to make one pound of cheese? And after that, we still had a lot of milk left over, even though we had a steady stream of dairy customers. Well, then, it was time to get some hogs. Each year, Mom and Dad would bring home some runts and in no time they were hefty hogs.
Yep, our freezers and shelves were full. Produce and meat--fresh, fresh, fresh. Oh, and mom made lots of fresh bread long before the bread machines hit the market. Her Easter bread--with the colored eggs--was gorgeous.
But, of course, I took all this for granted, as most kids do, until I graduated from college and had my own place. When I was stumped, my mom gave me great advice right over the phone. I don't think she had much written down; it was all just common sense to her, really. I do believe Mom made each and every Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Day, and Easter dinner by memory--from shrimp cocktail to stuffed artichokes to savory hams and turkeys. (Hey, Mom, don't correct me here. If you did have a recipe, don't tell me. ;-) I love languishing in this bubble.)
Today, I try to follow her lead. Of course, as with anything else, it has become my own--my own way to measure a pinch of this and a dab of that...my own way to knead bread, chop nuts and veggies. And I have to say, being a book editor and writer, research certainly made the mix. As a matter of fact, for several years I really enjoyed reading Cook's Illustrated from America's Test Kitchen. The mag gave me lots of advice on sound cooking and baking principles.
But what was the most important lesson Mom taught me? The sit down dinner. Dinner was at six sharp. Better be there. We always ate as a family, even with our crazy schedules. Today I do the same, although I have to admit that the actual dinner time floats a bit. And we still say the same prayer..."Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive, from thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen." I love it when the whole family--my folks, in-laws, and nieces and nephews--get together and in unison we proclaim the same verse!
Well, now, enough of all this food memory. Check out the recipes and see what you can make tonight. Easy does it!!
This blog's mission is simple--to encourage moms who are married to non-Catholics and raising their children in the Faith. If you know a mom who needs a little encouragement in continuing her efforts, I would be delighted if you would share Kathleen's Catholic with her. Thank you!