Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cooking from scratch. Cooking From RAW Ingredients!

Recently I was involved in a bit of a Facebook kerfluffle about cooking from scratch. The gist of the discussion was whether or not it was part of a homemaker's job to cook for the family. My personal take on this is that there's not much that comes in a box or package that passes muster for nutritious living in our family's book, so cooking from scratch is more or less a necessity if my family is going to eat in a way that I feel is healthy. I understand that the time constraints that many families face make cooking a very difficult time trade-off to fit in on a regular basis, especially if both parents are working full time. But if one parent is home, and their job is as the "Home-Maker" then in my book, cooking is part and parcel of the deal.

As you can imagine, the notion that a homemaker should cook for the family caused a bit of a brouhaha in this day and age of "Don't put me in a box and tell me what I should do" feminism. In reaction to the June Cleaverism of the 1950s, we have swung so far in the other direction that no woman wants to be told that she should be in the kitchen (and far be it for me to tell anyone what they should be doing). But to me, it's not really an issue of feminism or not. My husband is often the at-home parent and when he is, he cooks. End of story.

In the midst of all of the hubbub (anyone notice that there are so many great synonyms for a Blogging Brouhaha?), was this simply astonishing quote:

"i think that we don't all understand cook from scratch the same way - for the ones who supposedly cook from scratch at every meal every day, you wouldn't be on facebook if you understood "from scratch" the way some others do. My sister in law cooks "from scratch" every meal and she is never out of the kitchen, unless it's to go buy some raw ingredients - RAW ingredients"

Which I think is worth addressing in depth. There are several parts to this myth that bear some serious discussion. The first is that cooking from scratch, or using "RAW ingredients" is some sort of terrifying bugaboo that modern homemakers just can't face. To debunk this, I'm here to tell you that I started out as a lousy homemaker. I was going to be the career gal: you know the one who has it all and comes home from her mentally stimulating and fulfilling job to kiss her lovely well-scrubbed kiddos hello and sit down to a family meal together. Except that I really couldn't make that one work. Kid #1 more or less demanded that I set the career path aside and become a full-time mother (which of course meant that I needed to start homemaking as well). Not having been much of a cook to start with, I had to learn from scratch to cook from scratch. Which is all to say that if I can do it, anyone can.

Myth number two is that it takes some insanely inordinate amount of time to buy and cook with RAW ingredients (I'm going to just keep capitalizing that one because the effect is so epic, as teen son would say). So much time in fact that you would never be out of the kitchen unless you're leaving to go buy those RAW ingredients. Now on account of my children's food allergies, I'm required to cook from scratch even more than the average homemaker. I can't simply go buy a bag of Bisquick and whip up some pancakes, nor can I buy the already made and pre-frozen waffley thingies. I have to start with some RAW goat's milk, RAW eggs, and add in the flour etc. until a pancake batter appears. To confront this sisyphean task, I simply bought a copy of Betty Crocker's cookbook and I go to the store once or twice a week. If I'm feeling especially organized, I whip up a triple batch of the pancake batter in the evening after dinner and store it in a handy lidded container in the fridge so we can pour a few spoonfuls on a hot griddle whenever POOF we want a pancake to appear. Time to make pancake batter from scratch: About 15 minutes.

Again, I'll make the point that I utterly and totally started out as the suckiest cook ever (my hubby can attest to this), not unlike Julia Child. So if I can do it (even if I have never risen to the level of a souffle-maker but have just mastered the basic pancake), anyone can. Heck, cowboys on the trail of a cattle drive managed to make flapjacks from scratch, and they were certainly no gourmet chefs, so I'm fairly confident that most folks can master it.

Myth number three: If you buy into the enforced slavery of the cooking-from-scratch mentality, you won't even have the time to update your Facebook account.

So here's a typical menu and time breakdown:

Breakfast: Omelette with sausage, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms: 15 minutes
Lunch: BigAss Salad with chicken breast, dried cranberries, pecans, and goat cheese: 35 minutes including cooking the chicken breasts and making the dressing
Dinner: Turkey with Portofino sauce over steamed cauliflower (I'm eating Paleo right now and not doing any breads or pastas): 45 minutes

Shopping: Two one-hour Costco trips a month amortized on a daily basis = 4 minutes per day
Three Weekly trips to the grocery store by foot = 2.5 hours = 22 minutes per day
One weekly trip to get our raw goat's milk = one hour = 8 minutes per day
Caring for chickens (where we get our eggs) = one hour = 8 minutes per day

Total Shopping time: 42 minutes per day
Total Cooking time: 1:35

Total Kitchen Slavery Time: 2:17

As you can see, I don't spend anywhere near my entire day cooking and shopping, and I even have time once in a while to update my Facebook status and get in these crazy discussions! Also, three of our grocery shopping trips double as dog-walking time, so they really should get some time deducted for that, and most people don't have to go out of their way to buy raw goat's milk or raise chickens for eggs. I'd say for most folks it could be 1.5 hours or less to cook from scratch with RAW ingredients, including shopping time.

Robin's Cooking From SCRATCH with RAW Ingredients Time Saving Tips:

- When you can, prepare ingredients for more than one meal at a time. If you're chopping onions, peppers, zucchini, etc., chop two or three instead of just one. Store the others in tight-lid glass containers in the fridge. Now when you want to whip up a salad or a stir-fry, it's quick and easy.

- If you have a batch of time available, mix up batters ahead of time as well. Making a double or triple batch of pancake, waffle, or muffin batter to have available in the fridge makes quick work of nutritious breakfasts. The kids like to bake teeny muffins in a cute little pan I got that fits in our toaster oven. It's almost like those fun "easy bake ovens" that you can buy for kids except that it works really well and the food is nutritious. Having batter on hand for them to make themselves a breakfast muffin also saves money from the endless boxed-cereal grocery bills.

- Plan meals from menus (I'm just now getting the hang of this one!) and shop from a grocery list made from those menus. Then you're guaranteed to have the ingredients on hand to cook what you want when you want to. If you don't have to do last-minute trips to the store, you save on gas, time, and frustration.


Jennifer said...

I think that many people miss out on the family component as well. I do the majority of the cooking because I am the parent who is at home the most, but as my boys have gotten older, they've taken on their fair share of the responsibility as well. On the nights when Dh is home, we're in the kitchen cooking together. Meal prep is a family effort. It takes a lot of food and work to cook for 6 people, and I openly admit that we don't live up to the true "from scratch" goal all of the time, but we keep plugging along, working together and continuing to improve as we go.

megan/mason said...

I survived my junior high and high school years on mostly Kraft Mac & Cheese, nachos, chips, and fast food. I finally decided to teach myself how to cook in college and had a few "just choke it down so that it doesn't go to waste" dinners along the way, but it really isn't all that hard.

Basically, if it takes you all day to cook from RAW ingredients, you're doing it wrong. I'm not saying that there aren't a few times a year when I spend several hours of the day in the kitchen--Thanksgiving, Christmas cookie baking day, pierogies for Easter, etc. But, on the average day, I can make our dinner from--gasp--RAW ingredients in less time than it takes for most people to order a pizza and wait for it to arrive.

ATW said...

Robin, Great Post!! Your right on with the just do it attitude. No matter what level your at. A little dash of a can do spirit and an ounce of if-you-want-it-bad-you-will-get-it-bad, can transform the worst cook into an artist. People think that using raw ingredients is way to much work. This is sad. I truly believe that most people have lost thier sense of taste for what is natural and this may very well be the reason many folk are not adopting the Cooking from scratch idea.

Nancy said...

I agree. We have some food restrictions that limit the kinds of pre-pared foods we can buy, so I do cook from scratch a lot. but we do eat a lot of tasty simple meals that take20 mins or so to do. I like to meal plan and make lists from the plan. It allows me to be more efficient. LIke, cook a whole chicken one night, and plan to use the leftovers in another meal. Id love to back you up in your next facebook brouhaha, if you want to friend me, its Nancy Owen Machaj :)

Kate said...

Yes, some meals from scratch are time consuming but there are plenty of meals that are quick to pull together. I admit that some days it feels like I spend all day in the kitchen but those are usually my baking days and the taste of fresh bread and homemade cookies definitely makes it time spent well.

Even though my dh has a full time job away from the home he still cooks. He enjoys cooking and baking and really has fun trying out new recipes. We have lots of meals where we each do part, I make the pizza dough, he makes the pizza.

Now, I don't always make things from "raw" ingredients. My spaghetti sauce uses canned tomato sauce. Hopefully this year we'll have enough tomatoes that I'll be able to can our own, but for now we buy it. We don't have any food allergies here so we do have some mixes (like boxed rice pilafs) and some prepared foods (chips & cereal) in our menus but we rarely eat out and we have a home cooked meal almost every night. Okay, so every other Fridays isn't all that home cooked, canned chili but with homemade from scratch cornbread.

To me the most time consuming thing about cooking from scratch is washing the dishes. I just hate washing the dishes, but even if we ate frozen foods for every dinner there would still be dishes to wash.

I'd also enjoy backing you up on FB, Kate Housley Williams.