Years ago, my mom and I — separately and coincidentally — decided to embark on a self-taught culinary education. As we began to pool our budding knowledge during lengthy phone conversations, one of us would eventually wish we could go back in time to teach ourselves what we know now. We considered building a time machine, but then we thought writing a blog to share our newfound skills was a way better idea, so…
Welcome to The Weal Meal, a mother-daughter blog of home cookery. Here we post everything we have learned — and are still discovering — about food and cooking. What you will find here are our own kitchen-tested recipes as well as tips and tricks for the home cook that will take your meals from “just OK” to “Wow, this is really good!” This blog is for anyone striving to build confidence in the kitchen and be a better home cook.
I’ve been immersed in a “ready-to-eat” food culture all my life, so for a long time, I thought cooking from scratch was hopelessly complicated and that I had no aptitude for it. But in 2008 I decided to give it a shot anyway, to set a healthy table for my family and to live by the principles of responsible eating that I’ve come to admire. I’ve been surprised and delighted by how satisfying it is to cook from scratch and began compiling a recipe collection to record my successes.
When I began organizing the collection, I noticed I often had multiple recipes for the same dish. In trying to consolidate them, I discovered that if I just kept the similarities and discarded the differences, I often hit upon a “no frills” version of the dish that was just as delicious as the original versions and often easier to make. I started rewriting all my recipes this way. Through my trial and error, I’m hoping I can show you that recipes are guidelines, not rules!
I had two rules when making meals for my daughter when she was young: No sodas with meals and no frozen dinners. Back then, after a long day at work I made the simplest and fastest meals I could think of. Fridays and Saturdays were Chinese food or pizza nights. Every now and then we’d go to a restaurant and sometimes I’d try to copy a favorite dish but was mostly unsuccessful.
I cooked basic American fare: spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed peppers, baked chicken. The goal was nutritionally balanced, fast, and tasty, in that order. Sometimes I didn’t quite make it to “tasty”. My poor family suffered through sloppy omelets and chewy, overcooked pork chops and steaks. Salt, pepper and garlic powder were the only seasonings I used with the exception of Italian dishes: out came the basil and oregano. Every now and then I’d try something “complicated” or “exotic” . I once tried to make fettucine Alfredo after having it at a restaurant. After 30 minutes of stirring up a boiling pot of gloppy, unappetizing eggs and heavy cream, I finally gave up and ordered Chinese food.
The popularity of TV cooking shows in recent years sparked an interest in cooking I honestly didn’t know I possessed. It’s both an art and a skill. It’s chemistry, and alchemy–and you get to eat and enjoy it when it’s successful. Now if a recipe doesn’t turn out quite right, I don’t fret about it. I just dump it out, figure out where I went wrong, try again, and if all is well, it goes up here on The Weal Meal. When Hayley asked me to collaborate with her in this endeavor, I was thrilled and excited to share what I’ve learned — and what I’m still learning, which is basically this: You don’t have to be a Top Chef to cook and eat well. Take your time, be a little adventurous, and most of all, have fun with it.
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