Food &Drink: Cooking for Yourself

The other day I brought lunch to the office. It was leftover pasta–penne with tomato basil cream sauce and fresh parmesan from the dinner I made the night before.

After re-heating, I carried it to my desk, and opened the lid. The smell brought colleagues sniffing around wondering what I had ordered in that smelled so good.

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When I told them it wasn’t take out, they were shocked.

I’m young, enjoy going out, and have enough disposable income to dine out when I want. And most people assume that I do—all the time. The truth is, I feel like I’m somehow cheating myself if I *don’t* do most of the cooking.

I grew up in a family where restaurant dinners happened maybe once a month. It was just cheaper to eat at home. But as I got older, I realized it wasn’t just about the cost. It was about how empty a lot of fast food or even some restaurant food made me feel—and by empty, I don’t mean hungry.

So I started paying attention to what was going on in the kitchen.

My mom; one of the best and most creative cooks I know.
My mom; one of the best and most creative cooks I know.

And I learned young that people appreciate homemade. I also learned people appreciate dessert most of all. So for family gatherings, I put myself in charge of the last course. I tried cheesecakes, then pies, cakes and soufflés. I graduated to sweet-tart Cherries Jubilee, and the wonderful warm orange flavour of Crepes Suzette. I loved making people happy, and in truth it was easy. Both mother and grandmother were excellent cooks. And they were there to tell me if a batter was too runny, if meat was verging on overdone, or if the cake batter I’d prepared was supposed to be that colour.

My grandmother; chic, beautiful and skilled.
My grandmother; chic, beautiful and skilled.

I cannot think of one dish either my mother or grandmother made that we turned our noses up at. (Admittedly we snubbed certain vegetables…and liver of course.) Although sometimes we would complain about the evening’s dinner choice. Not because we didn’t like it, but because we wanted something else. So my mom responded in a way I now realize was the epitome of clever, “If you don’t like it, YOU cook what you want. For all of us.”

So I stepped up to the challenge.

If I felt like lasagna, instead of stew, the next day my mother would buy the ingredients for lasagna, and I became the chef.

A vacation to Mexico became the inspiration for another meal I’d prepare for my family; Chicken fajitas. I looked it up in a cookbook, and realized it wasn’t so hard; chicken, peppers, onion and some spice. On an exchange program, I learned the Spanish rice dish paella with it’s delicate saffron-seafood flavour. I started building my repertoire.

I realized I really liked seeing people enjoy my labours. But it never felt like work. It was pure praise.

When I moved out on my own it was a thrill to walk through the grocery store and select anything I wanted for my meals. It’s a joy that hasn’t worn off. I take my time preparing dinner after work, sipping a glass of wine and chopping vegetables, stirring sauces, shredding salads or just toying with ways I could tweak a recipe to make it my own. And the leftovers were always perfect for the next day.

One of my co-workers complained the other day about how her kids were snubbing what she prepared for them. I imparted my mom’s wisdom on her. Now she gets a couple nights a week off duty. And the some savoury leftovers for the rest of the office to envy.

Want to whip up something that will make perfect leftovers?  Try our Family Recipe Potato Salad; we’ve been makin’ it like this for over 40 years! 

 Family Potato Salad

4 c cold diced potatoes

1 ½ c diced celery

2tbsp finely chopped onion

2tbsp finely chopped parsley

Dressing: stir together:

¾ c mayo

1tbsp vinegar

1 tsp mustard

1tsp salt

Pepper

Toss the potatoes and vegetables with the dressing.  Add sliced hard boiled  egg on top, and sprinkle with paprika. Let sit, refrigerated, for 4 hours or overnight if you can.  It’s even better the next day!

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