Cooking Basics: Skills that Must Be Taught

Cooking Basics: Skills that Must Be Taught


What do your recipes and your LBD have In Common?

I work in a very specialized pediatric ICU. Our team is intelligent and well-educated. They’re the people I would trust to care for my child if I was on the other side of the hospital bed. However, many of these nurses’ educations didn’t include much lab time in the kitchen. There are exceptions, but quite a few are ‘cooking-o-phobic’.

A few years ago, I brought cinnamon rolls to a work potluck. Several ladies asked me where I bought them. I explained, that I made them. The group was impressed. A few people said they didn’t know it was possible to make cinnamon rolls at home. My favorite part of the night was when someone took a bite and sighed in obvious enjoyment. Then, she said, “You made these?” at my nod, she continued, “They’re awesome! What brand are they?” I get paid to control my expressions. Caring for patients and families means keeping my thoughts from appearing in technicolor across my face. However, I had to look like I was working my way up to a seizure as I stifled the laughter.

Let me tell you a little about the food culture I grew up in. I come from a long line of cooks. One of my grandmothers was a typical 1950’s cook. She made great food, the recipes for which came from the backs of packets, the pages of ladies magazines, or “my friend, Velma, at the WMU”. Her food was tasty and fashionable. I can list the dishes she took to events because I still make most of them. My other grandmother was a farmer’s wife and mother of eight. She was an amazing cook. My fried chicken falls miles short of her mark. She cooked country meals, with homegrown food. They kept a large garden and raised or hunted much of their meat. That woman could take whatever random things were in her pantry and manage to feed the starving hordes. I seem to have inherited this skill on a somewhat lesser level, for which I was very grateful during our lean years. My mom and her sister are both great cooks, and family meals are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. At least the food is, my family is a little rowdy for Norman. To be fair, my mother does have another sister. That sister can use the words ‘Pillsbury’ and ‘homemade’ in the same sentence. We just tell her, she has other talents and love her anyway!

Coming from my food-centric background, imagine my shock when I walked into my first work potluck. The table was laden, but there were wrappers everywhere! Store-bought fried chicken and biscuits, Oreo’s, grocery store potato salad, and a pre-made cheese tray filled the first table. Another had offerings from the “posh and healthy” grocery store. There was a container of dip that cost $8.00. Now, I like food. I’m not really a food snob. Give me some of those Oreo’s and a glass of milk, and I can solve the world’s problems. The shock wasn’t that the food was ready-made. I totally get time crunch issues. My shock was because, for most of them, ready-made was their only option! It never occurred to them to make something, because they had no idea how to begin.


Don’t misunderstand. My coworkers are smart, and I respect them more than I can say. Most of them simply weren’t taught to cook. Taking on a job without being prepared is intimidating. One of the things I want to do with this blog is to walk those wonderful, capable, and intimidated people through some kitchen basics. Hopefully, I’ll manage to throw in a few interesting tidbits for the seasoned cooks in the group. If everything I discuss in these posts is old hat to you, just sit back and indulge in a smug smile.

All the wardrobe gurus tell us to have outfits for different occasions. Think of the outfits as meals you are comfortable preparing. You should have the famous LBD (little black dress); the kitchen equivalent to this is an impressive meal to make for company. You need a great pair of jeans (preferably without muffin-toppage). This is a lot like having a basic meal for your family on the weekend. You must have a comfy pair of sweats and an event t-shirt from 2006. These are a grilled cheese and soup sort of meal. The kind you throw together when life is crazy. They cover the important stuff and fill the gaps, but you really don’t want to take them out in public. Business casual food is what you take to a potluck. It is pretty and good quality, but not overly fancy. With business casual, you can mix and match the different pieces to suit your event.

I’m going to do a blog series on “outfitting” yourself in the kitchen. I don’t mean tools and gadgets. I mean recipes that can become the LBD, favorite jeans, comfy sweats, and business slacks in your kitchen. Everyone needs a company meal, a potluck meal, a comfort meal, and something to go with the Bluebell or Ben and Jerry’s when life explodes. Hopefully, we can take away some of the stress for newbies and give a few thoughts to the old hands. Please join me, later this week for the first post in this series. We are going to look at something easy and tasty to take to potlucks.

Updates:  Potluck Survival 101



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