My Challenge for You

FEB 12

Friends are often surprised when I tell them I did not grow up in a home where cooking was a relished activity.  My mom ran a very tight ship, raising five children and overseeing everything from housecleaning to homework.  Cooking however, was definitely not high on her list of “Likes”.   Nevertheless, year after year, mom planned and prepared three square a day for her often unappreciative but always hungry brood.  She wasn’t a particularly creative cook but her meals were always well balanced, healthy, and properly cooked. She was not one to burn the Sunday roast.

Dad however, enjoyed his occasional forays at the stove, most often after Mass on Sunday mornings, whipping up scrambled eggs and the kielbasa he so loved as a boy in my grandmother’s Polish kitchen. Perhaps the best food memories I have, though, were the late nights I would return home from a high school play rehearsal or some other activity and he would descend the stairs to join me in the kitchen and whip up another little treat, this time prepared just for me. They were always unique and tasty but those clandestine meetings were really about spending private moments with together.

zack cooking

Zack gets busy in the kitchen

My point in sharing these memories with you is to suggest that we never know which experiences or relationships will influence us in later years. Despite those warm moments I had with my dad, I was neither really interested in learning to cook nor in eating in general.  (I’m sure many of you are having an impossible time imagining that!) It wasn’t until I decided to woo my then boyfriend/now husband that I set about learning.  My initial attempts were disastrous, as he will happily recount for you.  Over time however, we began preparing meals at home and, without too much trouble, became pretty good at it.  Now our boys are involved in relationships of their own and I am delighted when they text me pictures of the dishes they prepare with their girlfriends.

adam's egg dinner

On a college budget, Adam is taking time in the kitchen

I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that no matter what your personal history with food and cooking, we all still need to eat. At some point grabbing fast food or throwing something in the microwave isn’t gonna cut it, and whether or not we had mothers or dads who thrived in the kitchen, we need to make time to nurture ourselves.  If we want to bring more balance to our lives, don’t we owe it to ourselves to prioritize creating enjoyable moments to spend together?  If we devote a small portion of our week to planning and preparing healthy and delicious meals, our relationships will deepen from the intimacy shared over them. Our health will improve as we eliminate processed and prepackaged foods from our diets, and we will benefit from slowing down and living more fully in the moment.

So in an effort to nudge you closer to your stove, I’m making it my mission to share simple recipes that can begin to form the foundation of a culinary repertoire for even the most novice cooks among you. With some practice, you will master these and from there, can build on them, resulting in your own special style and your own warm memories.

Speaking of warmth, they’re predicting eighty degree heat here in Los Angeles, but most of the country is completely snowed under.  So for all you snow bunnies in need of a good thaw, I thought we’d start by making soup.  Another good reason to begin here is that once you know the basic formula for making soup, you can create your own with whatever you have in your fridge and pantry – no recipe needed! You will see that all you need to make a tasty soup is some aromatics, a liquid and whichever veggies and/or proteins you have on hand. Here are two versions of a heartwarming, tummy filling classic CHICKEN SOUP.  The first was passed on to me years ago by my jewish mother-in-law, an excellent cook in her day.  The second takes much less time and uses some store bought ingredients, but still qualifies as healthy and ‘real food’.   Enjoy and let me know how you like them!

Old School Chicken Soup

kitchen rooster closeup

Don’t be a chicken, get in the kitchen!

Place a whole or quartered (preferably free range) chicken in a large stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring the pot to just under boiling over a high heat.  Lower the heat to a simmer and add a peeled carrot (or 2) that has been cut in quarters, one onion (peeled and cut into large chunks or slivers, whichever you prefer), two stalks of celery cut like the carrot, and a large handful of parsley. Allow the soup to simmer for three hours (the house will smell delicious and you will feel warm and cozy), skimming any accumulating foam off the surface and discarding.  The meat of the chicken should be falling off the bone and your vegetables will be quite soft.  Generously season the broth with salt and pepper, discard the parsley, and voila!

Quick & Easy for the 21st Century

Peel and chop 1 onion,  a couple of carrots and 1 celery stalk.  Saute them in a little butter with some fresh thyme leaves if you have them, until softened.  Add 6 cups of low sodium/low fat chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes.  Shred and add a couple of cups of store bought rotisserie chicken (or use the leftover you have in the fridge!), throw in a handful of fresh dill or parsley, and a squeeze of lemon if you have one, and serve.  How easy was that?

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