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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why Learn to Cook?

I didn’t grow up cooking. My mother would describe me as a “reluctant helper.” But, when I got married, I found out I needed to learn a few things. I got out my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook and went to work. Believe me, we had some unique meals! Then, we moved to Spain, and I had to learn how to cook from scratch. In the 1980s, there were very few frozen foods, and almost nothing was already made. You got the raw materials—pardon the pun—and did the prep and cooking. I added Jose Castillo’s Manual de Cocina Económica Vasca (Manual of Economical Basque Cooking) to my growing collection of cookbooks.

Perhaps the first terrific cooks mentioned in the Bible were the brothers Jacob and Esau. Their father Isaac was absolutely crazy about a venison stew Esau made, and Jacob prepared a red pottage that was so delicious that Esau sold his birthright to eat some. (Genesis 25:28-34)

How did Jacob and Esau learn? I think it’s pretty obvious that they watched their mother. Rebekah made a very similar savory dish from goat meat. (Genesis 27:9-10) I don’t for one minute condone Rebekah’s actions in plotting against her husband, but it’s noteworthy that Esau and Jacob both learned to make amazing, tasty food in their mother’s kitchen.

Why learn to cook? I’ll propose a few reasons:
  • To feed your family healthy, delicious food. Food that’s made from fresh, local ingredients tastes better and is healthier.
  • It’s usually cheaper to make food from scratch than to eat processed foods.
  • Cooking is a practical skill for both boys and girls. Many young adults will need to know how to feed themselves.
  • It’s a family activity. It’s fun to cook with little helpers. As they help, they learn. You don’t have to do much instruction; they learn by cooking along with you. Little children can help make cookies or stir a pot or dump ingredients into a bowl. Soon, they’ll be doing it themselves!
  • It gives you and your children the experience necessary to be hospitable. Food is the global way to exercise hospitality.

This is how I learned to cook:
  • Watching others. There’s nothing like watching someone else cook. You see how they put the meal together, the tricks to keeping the flavors right, timing, and much, much more. I will always be grateful to the chef who let me ask questions from his kitchen doorway and to a Spanish pastor’s wife, who showed me how to make homemade tomato sauce, fried cod, and chicken filets. I learned the Spanish tortilla’s flip and slide motion from an American missionary and the secret to non-sticky paella rice from a Basque friend, in her home. A pastor baked the most incredible flan ever, and another friend demonstrated that garbanzo beans can be absolutely delicious as a main course. I learned some amazing cheap meals from a missionary friend who never scrimps on taste. Watching how people cook is probably the very best way to understand the little tricks involved in the process. Do they set the roast garlic aside? Do they keep an ingredient warm? When do they add it? How exactly do you stir or whip this sauce? Watch. You’ll learn.
  • Reading cookbooks. For one thing, cookbooks are rarely only about recipes. Many times, they let you have a window into the authors’ lives. For that reason, I absolutely love From Julia Child’s Kitchen, with photos taken by her husband. (He taught her to cook, by the way.) The aforementioned Joy of Cooking includes the backgrounds of many of the recipes. I have Amish cookbooks, collections of recipes from several churches, a Southern cookbook, Betty Crocker, Fanny Farmer, and quite a few other little ones. Our daughter found an old cookbook, hand-written by monks in a Spanish monastery. Cookbooks help you understand food. Use ingredients you know you’ll like, and experiment. I've rarely ever had a horrible failure when I followed a recipe.
  • Asking friends. Spain is known worldwide for its awesome cuisine—almost as much as France. Therefore, many conversations revolve around food. My friends love to tell you step-by-step how they’ve achieved a certain flavor. I go home and try to do the same. This isn’t as effective as reading a recipe, but you will get the hang of it after practicing. (Hint: practice on your family while the kids are little, and they won’t remember your goofs!)
  • Helping a friend in her kitchen. I’ve enjoyed watching some of my friends as we worked together on a meal. Even if all I was doing was cleaning up as she cooked, I could watch, ask questions, and enjoy being with her.
  • Learning the shortcuts. My sister served an awesome appetizer. It was a puff pastry shaped like a cup and filled with a creamy mushroom sauce with green peas in it. I was awed. It was fabulous! I complimented her, and she laughed and said, “I don’t do anything hard.” She’d bought the pastry cups and filled them with her own filling. Voilà! So, I copied and did something similar for a church banquet and got rave reviews of my own. Who would’ve thought? I have to share another shortcut that cracks me up! There are so many wonderful bakeries. Someone who’ll remain nameless buys a gorgeous cake, takes it out of the plastic container, slips it onto a plate from her home, and takes it to a social. Homemade? Not exactly, but just as good. Shhhhh! You can do the same thing with cookies and wonderful breads. By the way, learn to use a crock pot and a pressure cooker. (You’ll thank me, someday.)
  • Branching out. In the beginning, try simple recipes with flavors you know you’ll like. Then, try something from another ethnic food group—something Italian, or Thai, or Indian. 

Above all, have fun! Enjoy your kitchen, and learn to use the ingredients that grow where you live. Experiment with flavors and techniques, and teach your children to cook. Share your food with others in Christian hospitality. Use hospitality one to another without grudging (1 Peter 4:9).

Bon appetit!   Enjoy your meal!   ¡Que aproveche! 


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