For seasoned home cooks, scratch-cooking comes easy. Having mastered culinary basics long ago, these cooks can manage the most complex recipes—or even cook without a script.
This post isn’t for them.
It’s for you.
Are you a non-cooking foodie?
You love great food. You crave new taste sensations. And you like the idea of home-cooking.
But for one reason or another—your kitchen’s too small or too big, you have too many children, you don’t have any children, you’re too busy, you have better things to do with your time—you’ve never made scratch-cooking a daily ritual.
Recession dining: Living well is still the best revenge
You’re not alone.
In the boom economy many foodies stopped cooking. They found food fixes in restaurant dining and upscale ethnic take-out fare. Cooking was relegated to weekend performances on Hummer-size Viking Ranges and industrial meat smokers.
Those days are gone. The recession forced foodies back into—surprise!—our modest but serviceable kitchens.
And that’s a good thing, I think.
There’s more good news. You don’t need an investment banker’s income to eat well—even fabulously. You can enjoy wonderful family dinners, soigné cocktail parties and lovely guest suppers no matter what the Dow decides.
Here’s the kicker: You have to learn to cook.
Very likely you’ve realized it’s time to say hello to your kitchen.
Perhaps you’ve been casting furtive glances at that fancy Dutch Oven you got as a wedding gift. Yes, you took it out of the box—and it looks great sitting next to your artisanal extra virgin olive oil.
But maybe it’s time to haul it from the shelf, dust it off and, you know, start using it.
Maybe. Just think about it. Need more convincing? Here are my…
10 top reasons to scratch-cook
- Better taste. Scratch-cooked food tastes fuller, fresher and more satisfying. I’m not talking about showy, chi-chi recipes. I mean simple meals made with seasonal ingredients put together by someone who cares. (A thoughtless, ill-prepared meal is almost worse than none at all.) Once you take time to learn and practice cooking basics, you’ll find your pestos, pastas and puddings hold up to—or beat—any pre-made convenience food and most restaurant repasts.
- Health. Home-cooked food is healthier than convenience meals. You control what goes into your body. You select the fresh, organic, seasonal, grassfed or other preferred ingredients. You measure the oil, salt, sugar and cream in each recipe. And scratch-cooked meals don’t—by definition—include commercially processed items. So you’re assured the fat molecules in your olive oil haven’t been re-arranged in a lab, heated to Inferno-esque temperatures and injected with dubiously stable hydrogen. Your sauces, pastas, condiments and desserts aren’t loaded with high fructose corn syrup. And the flavor of your dishes comes from real food, not test tube-created texturizers, enhancers, emulsifiers and preservatives. When you select and cook food with your own hands, you eliminate a load of known—and unknown–food dangers.
- Cheaper. Unless you shop exclusively at Citarella, you’ll spend far less buying and preparing your own food than eating take-out and convenience dishes. And that holds true even if you eat high-end organic, imported or specialty foods—the restaurant or take-out equivalent will always cost more. A lot more.
- Promotes emotional/spiritual balance: Food preparation is a process. It takes time. It requires participation. There are no instantaneous results. You have to plan meals, shop, tote groceries, unpack items, set aside half an hour to cook. You engage with the food you eat. I don’t think it’s going too far to say, you develop a relationship with food. You start to understand its textures, tastes and idiosyncrasies. You may find yourself wondering about your foods’ origins—it’s plant and animal sources—and your relationship with them. By handling food every day, you’re given the opportunity to be mindful. You open a daily window that allows you to consider your interconnectedness with something greater than yourself. You don’t get that kind of take-away from a take-out burrito.
- Helps you relax, lift depression and manage stress. Recent studies show that knitting, crocheting and other repetitive needlework activities measurably lower stress and boost the immune system. Based on my anecdotal experiences with both needlework and cooking, I believe food preparation offers similar salutary benefits. Once you know your way around the kitchen—there is a learning curve—I predict you’ll see both short- and long-term improvement in your mood and stress levels.
- Supports work/personal life balance. We talk the talk about professional/personal life balance. Scratch-cooking gives you a tangible way to walk the walk. It moves ideals from lofty concept: Home-cooked meals are a good idea; we really should make time for them, to action: We set aside time to cook and eat dinner together. It’s pretty easy to cheat on family time. You can chat and check email while watching your kid’s soccer game or tweet and text in the middle of Chutes and Ladders. But you can’t get away with that when you scratch-cook. At least not without second-degree kitchen burns. You can’t prepare meals unless you set aside time to plan, shop and cook. Having a genuine measure of your work/life balance—or imbalance—provides a sobering reality check.
- Holds family and friends together. We’re all busy. But if you’re too busy to eat with your family and friends, you’re too busy. If gathering your tribe around the table is impossible for you, maybe you need to rethink priorities. Because family meals aren’t just a bygone-era formality. Breaking bread at home with friends and family helps you relax, rejuvenate and reconnect. For a more detailed take on the importance of family dining, check out my post, The Secret to Making Time for Family Meals.
- Revives lost and dying skills. I remember feeling shocked a few years back when I realized how few friends and neighbors cooked dinner. Ever. In my affluent suburb cooking had become optional. Some parents saw food preparation as an onerous chore. Others caved to kids’ pizza and fried-food cravings. And some parents simply didn’t know how to cook. You know how you feel disturbed when you hear about a species going extinct? I felt the same kind of quiet panic over lost cooking skills. My vague anxiety over home-cooking’s demise was, in fact, the impetus for Copywriters’ Kitchen blog. I want busy people like you and me—freelance workers, parents, students—to make time for body-and-soul nourishing meals made by our own hands.
- Models resourcefulness. When you’re able to prepare food from start to finish, you give your friends and family a powerful model of self-sufficiency. I’ve seen this play out in my own home: My oldest son is a skilled and talented scratch-cook. This year he opted out of his college food plan and pooled resources with his roommate. He bought a bulk supply of grassfed meat and chicken, shopped farmers markets and cooked fabulous meals every night. As you might imagine, he was one of the most popular young men on campus.
- Supports ethical choices. Home-cooking doesn’t immediately raise your consciousness and transform you into a proponent of fair trade, agrarian labor relations, small business advocacy, locavorism and farm animal ethics. But the process of scratch-cooking and the relationship it engenders with food and its sources, lays a foundation for deeper thinking on the politics and ethics of food.
Non-cooking foodies: Ready to give scratch-cooking a try? Or are you still holding out in defense of frozen Pad Thai and pizza? Let me know.
Experienced cooks: Tell us why you cook from scratch.