Friday, August 14, 2009

Cooking for fun and, um, eating . . .

By Lonnie Cruse

I watch House Hunters on HGTV religiously and I'm always surprised when the female house-hunter looks at the kitchen and promptly says: "He cooks, I don't." Sigh. They don't know what they're missing! Finding a great recipe. Gathering the ingredients. Chopping, mixing, measuring, stirring, folding, blending, and above all, TASTING!

I'm certainly not saying that only women should cook. Hey, I made sure all of my sons knew how to cook and do laundry in case they didn't find anyone foolish enough to marry them. One didn't, but thanks to his mommy, he hasn't starved or gone without something to wear. But anyone who claims to never cook is missing a very satisfying part of life.

Back in the day, before Internet and entire television stations dedicated to cooking and eating, I learned to cook from my step-mom and my mother-in-law. And by trial and error, of course, with more error than trial. It's easy to see my favorite recipe in the first cookbook I got at one of my wedding showers. The page is smeared with chocolate and flour.

Let's face it, I'm a messy cook. I recently tried a new recipe for NJ Coffee Cake, sent to me by my friend Pattie. It makes THREE delicious cakes, and if baked in the lovely (how did we ever get along without them?) throw-away foil pans, and the cook can keep one and give away two, thereby impressing the daylights out of family and friends. I gave one to a friend and one to my son and his family. And, kept one, of course. Delicious. Messy to make. I mean the cake part was easy enough, mix a box cake, pour it equally into three pans, bake. But the topping involves mixing flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, and I mixed and spread it sooo well that the floor had to be swept after. And my clothing was covered in the topping. But it was worth it. And it's a bit messy to eat, at least for me. I had a piece while writing this and scattered topping all over my keyboard and my calendar. The recipe is at:

Today there are wonderful recipes everywhere. Television shows let you watch as the cook/chef creates an amazing variety of dishes. I love watching the chef challenges. Seeing what unusual dishes they come up with. And there are tons of recipe sites on the Internet. And friends who share via e-mail.

After eating Chicken and Wild Rice Soup at my friend Kelly's house, I begged her for the recipe. Talk about a comforting meal! She took down a three-ring binder from one of her cupboards and copied it for me. From that I discovered a terrific website and you can find the soup recipe there by doing a search on the site. It's the recipe from 2004. Yum! And the site is full of light recipes that don't taste light but are.

A friend's daughter is getting married this fall. I've known her since the day she was born and wanted to do something special for her, so I asked her other friends and family to give me their favorite recipes. I'm typing them into Word documents, adding graphics, printing them out, and putting them into those protector sleeves in a three-ring binder. I got the binder idea from Kelly when she gave me the soup recipe. It's an easy way to keep loose recipes I collect that aren't on recipe cards. AND they stay clean in those nifty little protectors.

I neglected to mention book stores. Some have entire walls covered with cookbooks. Whew, how to choose? My most favorite recent find is 101 Things To Do With Canned Biscuits. In it is the directions for making pineapple upside-down biscuits. Just like the cake but done with canned biscuits and my friends love them. Another favorite is a recipe book for crock pots. Simmer all day, enjoy all evening!

And if you are into the older recipes, antique stores generally have tons of cookbooks. I'm looking for an older version of The White House cookbook. I have one book that is so old, it tells the reader how to use her new electric refrigerator to make and keep the newer foods. It was created when ice boxes went out of use and electric fridges came into use. One old recipe book I own not only lists the author's aunt's best recipes but tells of her life story. Lovely book. I recently bought an antique book on bread making that has recipes for every kind of bread known to woman.

Cooking is fun, and these days MUCH easier than when I was a bride, way back in cave woman days. Far more gadgets to make things easy. Far more easy recipes. And many are light, too. And delicious. AND fast. Many meals that used to take hours can be done in minutes. So if you haven't seen the inside of your kitchen lately, why not find a new (or old) recipe you'd like to try and give it a shot. Keep a wet sponge and a vacuum handy, if you cook like me. All over the kitchen. No matter how large the kitchen. Using flour has never been a high skill level with me. Likely never will be. Chopping onions? I could learn a lot there. Tasting? I'm an expert.

And don't forget all the mysteries that have recipes included. Tamar Myers' series comes to mind. Among MANY others.

Good eating!


Julia Buckley said...

Lonnie, I've always loved looking at recipes and I have tons of cookbooks, but somehow I don't always love doing the cooking. I think it's the energy it requires. But I just saw JULIE AND JULIA and now I'm inspired again.

As a veteran in the kitchen, what do you recommend as an inexpensive way to cater a birthday party?

Sandra Parshall said...

I have a feeling JULIE AND JULIA will inspire a lot of hours in a lot of kitchens. I've been hungering for Julia's chocolate-almond cake since I saw the movie. I have the recipe. Now I need a good excuse to make a cake that has roughly a million calories in every crumbly slice. Anyone have good news or a birthday you'd like me to celebrate in your honor? (I think Liz would call this enabling. :-))

Patricia Stoltey said...

Authors should love to cook. It's a great way to procrastinate when we could be writing, keeps us on our feet (for exercise), and the result is even more satisfying than knocking off another 1,000 words of prose.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Julia, birthday party? It would depend on the age of the birthday person. If kids, I'd be doing hot dogs and stuff. If adults, I'd have Don grilling his famous pork chops. Everyone loves them. He gets them cut 1-2 inches thick, marinates them in whatever he can find in my cupboard, then grills them for about 30 minutes. Does that help?

Sandra, I WANT a piece of that cake!

Patricia, excellent idea, cooking instead of writing!