Sunday, 24 March 2013

Fearless in the Kitchen

Back in my 20's I met a gal who admitted she literally didn't know how to boil water. She was 23, going to move into her own apartment but was going to take a cooking course before hand. Her mother had done all of the cooking, laundry and cleaning for her, she knew nothing on how to cope on her own. At that moment I silently thanked my mother for letting me loose in her kitchen, regardless of how much extra work it made for her.

I think the first thing I made at home was chocolate chip cookies, not sure what I did wrong but they melted into a paper thin, chocolate globbed mess, the first of many cooking fails in my life. I learned to make french toast at guide camp and we probably had french toast for many Sunday breakfasts after that. Later, in Home Ec class, I learned to make a cheese souffle that turned into a frequent Sunday brunch dish. Occasionally, in my early teens I was left at home on a Sunday, on those days my friend Karen and I made a meal of buttered minute rice. My current Food Network addiction has encouraged many Sunday afternoon experiments in the kitchen, some complete failures, others becoming part of our regular meal repertoire. It's not always pretty or ladylike (just ask B what he's heard coming from the kitchen) but always a learning experience.

If I remember correctly I think my first cookbook came from my Aunt Eileen as a graduation present, The Joy of Cooking. I still have that well worn volume and learned many of the basics from it. When Aunt Eileen's children were young, I would go over and help with the baking.  She had an old recipe for molasses cookies in which you added baking soda to molasses in a pan on the burner (don't try this at home). We had a great laugh when the whole thing bubbled up over the pan and over the stove top. 

Then my Aunt Betty turned me on to the Best of Bridge series of cook books. I used many of those recipes for dinner parties and pot lucks. And then, in the eighties, my Aunt Lorraine was my mentor in the kitchen and introduced me to Martha Stewart's cook books. Aunt Lorraine always made me whip cream with a hand beater and she always gave the job to me because I "was so good at it", til I finally caught on and whipped it into butter. Don't think she asked after that. Of course Aunt Kitty was always good for some ooey gooey squares recipes.

The men in my family are no strangers to the kitchen either. Dad was the chief cook for Sunday breakfast, preparing the eggs and crispy bacon. Once when my mom was away, he made hamburgers and apple pie for dinner for us kids. He had followed a recipe for each but put a tablespoon of salt in the hamburgers rather then a tablespoon which made them rather inedible but the apple pie was great! Uncles Donnie & Paul each created seafood chowder to die for and Uncle Bob did lamb on the rotisserie grill that was beyond anything I had ever tasted before.

My mother was very resourceful, it couldn't have been easy feeding a family of five on a budget but I always remember eating well. It was amazing what she could do with a can of tuna or pound of ground beef. I remember lots of casseroles and one pot dishes, most of them containing a can of Campbell's soup, either tomato or cream of mushroom. There was my brother “Rob's Favourite Casserole”, that's actually what I remember calling it, layers of sliced potatoes, carrots, peas and ground beef with a can of tomato soup poured over it. I recall having “American Chili” quite a bit, again using tomato soup and macaroni noodles instead of kidney beans. Lasagna made from the recipe on the box of Catelli noodles. A box of Dainty Chinese Fried Rice with hamburger was something I looked forward to, especially with a piece of buttered home made bread.

One of the favourite comfort foods of my youth is what mom called Swiss Steak. It's a mushroom sauce that can be used with steak, pork or chicken. I still frequently make this quick and simple dinner. I always make enough sauce so that I can have just the sauce and rice for lunch the next day.

So parents, though it may be messier and more time consuming, please let your children into the kitchen to help with meal preparation. Let them experiment and fail and try again. You may just be nurturing the next top chef.

Pork Chops in Mushroom Sauce

  • One can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • One medium pepper sliced in sticks
  • One medium onion sliced thick
  • 12 button mushrooms sliced thick

  • ¼ cup flour
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 pork chops or meat of your choice (beef, pork or chicken)

  1. Mix salt & pepper into flour.
  2. Coat the meat in flour (You can use whole steaks, pork chops or chicken breasts or chop up into smaller pieces before coating).
  3. In a large fry pan over medium heat add oil & brown meat.
  4. Put meat aside add more oil and sautes pepper, onion & mushroom til soft.
  5. Add ½ cup water to pan.
  6. Stir in contents of one can cream of mushroom soup.
  7. Add meat back into pan.
  8. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes til sauce is reduced and meat is fully cooked.
  9. Serve over rice.

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