(Ed. note: I expect to update this blog 1-2 times a week at most to preserve my sanity, since I also blog at The Artful Amoeba. If I anticipate the time between posts will exceed that, I will try to let you know.)
Good, home-cooked meals can be much healthier and tastier than what you’ll find in the frozen food aisle, the takeout box, or even many expensive, sit-down restaurants. The very same meal can often be made at home from scratch in 15-30 extra minutes using simple, widely available recipes and ingredients that cost *cents*.
In short, home-cooking can
improve your health
save you money
take only a reasonable amount of time
help channel your creative and artistic instincts
bring you more self-confidence
and help connect you with your family and friends
Shared meals are a lost art and one of life’s greatest under-appreciated pleasures. I regularly invite friends over to break bread at my table – not necessarily for fancy dinner parties, but just for good, homely fare. They always appreciate it and we get to connect in a way not always possible at other times.
I was lucky to be trained by my mother from a young age to cook. She was taught by her mother, and my father’s mother was an excellent cook too, so I benefitted from an upbringing where it was normal and natural to cook all your own meals, bake cakes, desserts and even bread from scratch. My family is Southern, too, so sharing and savoring meals and throwing dinner parties was part of the culture. However, I’ve noticed most people today don’t really cook or entertain.
They are scared, or think it’s too hard, or will take too much time, or that it’ll be too expensive.
They are missing out. My aim in starting this blog is to help people cook like me: that is, to make delicious, healthy, economical, relatively fast home-cooked everyday meals you can easily and proudly share with your family and friends. The price you pay for home-cooking is a little extra time, but this can be kept to a minimum in many ways, including making your own frozen dinners.
To this I bring the perspective of
- a life scientist (I have two science degrees, one in biology)
- a former health reporter at a daily newspaper (three years tenure),
- a former picky eater (I had about five meals I’d touch when I was young, mostly the usual suspects)
- a person who now genuinely enjoys eating and exploring new foods
- a person with common sense and a cheap streak. I like eating well, but I don’t like to spend a lot of money to do it. Sometimes I look at fancy recipes, cooking shows, or ingredients and say, “Like hell I’m doing/paying that!” Great chocolate fondue can be made with the store brand semi-sweet chocolate chips. Store brand frozen puff-pastry works great and cuts out hours of slavery. On the other hand, I do buy goat cheese and have, in fact, made hot and sour soup with real fresh wood ear mushrooms (that were found in the woods for free : ) ). Point is, I know where to draw the practicality line.
I’ve cooked and experimented for about 11 years. I want to share all I’ve learned with you. This will come in the form of:
Recipes – I’ve road-tested dozens, if not hundreds, and I’ll share the cream of the crop. I’ll also tell you why recipes are the key to great food for most of us, and show you how to make a recipe live up to its full potential though technique. Part of my food philosphy is to not reinvent the wheel. I, like most people, did not go to cooking school and have little sense of how to assemble a really delicious meal from thin air, even if I have an idea of what I’d like. The proper amounts and proportions are tricky to know. So I stick to recipes made by pros, with the occasional minor change or addition.
Meal planning – part of my success as a home cook stems from my ability to plan. I know, I know, planning isn’t really your thing, you’re saying. But wait –it’s not that painful, I promise. It only takes a few minutes, and will save you scores of frantic, last minute trips to the grocery for 1 med. onion.
Techniques – Over the years I’ve tried to incorporate more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and non-animal protein into my diet. I’ve also tried to replicate a lot of the great ethnic food I try at restaurants (and for three long, hard years, I lived in a state with not a single Indian restaurant. There was no choice but to learn to cook it at home). A lot of times this means learning new tricks and techniques. When can you get away with the whole-wheat flour, and when can you not? How, for instance, do you turn the gelatinous blob of flavorless goo called “tofu” into something not only merely edible, but delicious, flavorful and crispy (like the stuff at the Thai Restaurant)? How do you make that great paneer from the Indian restaurant? I’ll show you.
- Posts for beginners and more experienced cooks — This blog is for all home cooks, so we’ll look at easy stuff, like your basic making of a grilled cheese sandwich, to more complicated stuff like pie or angel food cake (my grandmother’s specialty, but anything involving like 10 egg whites is by definition advanced).
- Time sense — Some recipes are meant for hurried weeknights and others for lazy weekends. I’ll make sure to point out which is which.
- Shortcuts — It’s 7:00 on a Wednesday and you just got home. You’re starving and cooking dinner sounds impossible. This happens to everyone, including me. That’s OK. The key is to plan for this and have a solution ready. I’ll explain.
Saving money — Do you really need to buy a quart of buttermilk each time a recipe calls for ¼ cup? No. There is a better way. There are many good ways to cook well and save money. I will share.
Humor — Let’s face it: we’ve all had kitchen disasters, and I’ve had my share (You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to de-cement an expensive French ceramic 9×9 inch dish glued to hot aluminum foil with peach juice that is still rolling around the still-scorching-hot pan and spilling out of the dish every time you try to lift up the dish to de-adhere it. At 11 PM. On a weeknight.). This is one reason one of my kitchen rules is: Cook no recipes for guests that haven’t been field-tested solo first. You’ll hear all the great stories here, as well as my humorous take on anything else I post. Good humor, like good food, spices up life and makes it worth living.
My food philosphy – It’s based on the lastest science, to start (see below). But it’s more than that. Food should be good, but also taste good. If it doesn’t at least taste good, you shouldn’t be making that recipe ever again. Bad health food and poorly cooked vegetables are a major reason people don’t eat well in this country and we should work to eliminate them. I’ll give you the science and philosopy of a (good) skinny cook.
Health and nutrition science – I firmly believe science is the only way we have of knowing the truth about the universe – and our bodies. I base my nutrition on the results of peer-reviewed research, and I’ll share that info with you. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutritionist. Please consult one if you have questions about your specific dietary needs.
Flexitarianism – In my effort to eat healthy meals that are good for the environment as well, I have slowly adopted a flexitarian diet, in which I minimize the amount of meat I eat, but still indulge in an occasional carnivorous treat. Guess what? That saves money, too! I’ll show you what a variety of great protein sources there are out there, which ones are good and which ones are duds, and how to incorporate them into meals. Just because you’re not a vegetarian doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy great vegetarian food, and the health and financial benefits thereof.
- Fruits, veggies and whole grains — How can you possibly cram more (good tasting) fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your diet? What the heck is the FDA thinking? Well, there are ways, and I will help you find them. My primary method is seeking out cookbook authors who know what they are doing, but there are other ways as well.
- Psychology of eating well — Eliminating “All or Nothing” thinking and positive encouragement for making changes in your diet and lifestyle.
Product recommendations – I’ve road-tested a lot of kitchen equipment, foods (including processed/convenience foods – the best ones do have their place!), and cookbooks. I’ll share the best of the best with you. You’ll find them all in my “store” (to come), and if you like this blog, please consider buying these products through my website. It will help support the content you read here.
You can also “buy me a coffee” (feature to come), below, if you read something you really enjoy and want to honor. Sadly, there is no “dump coffee over blogger’s head” if you read something you don’t like. Instead, please post a (polite) comment letting me know. Like everyone, I’m human, and I’m sure I’ll make a mistake sometime. I welcome all respectful commenters, but I reserve the right to restrict those who aren’t. Likewise, if you read something you love or are inspired in some other way to share, please do.
One other note: I can’t do all this alone. I don’t know everything (in spite of certain acknowledged blowhard tendencies). I’l need all of your help in the form of comments and suggestions — I know I’m not the only one trying to minimize cost while maximizing taste and nutrition. Please feel free to contribute! We are all friends here.
If I wasn’t doing science writing (via my day job and other blog, theartfulamoeba.com), I’d be teaching people good, satisfying home cooking. This blog is my effort to do what I can instead. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please share it with friends. You, too, can cook well at home. Cooking, as they say, is for everyone.