My daughter is a newlywed who found herself in the position of needing to fix dinner a few nights ago without planning and using only the ingredients on hand. She didn't think she should need a recipe. She should just be able to pull it out of her head. She couldn't. So she had, in her own words, a minor meltdown.
She had two things working against her. Well, maybe three:
She is a perfectionist.
She has an unrealistic view of how most people cook.
Her husband is an excellent, intuitive cook.
As a result, to comfort her, I find it necessary to blog about what dinners were like in the early years of our marriage. I was not a complete novice. I cooked dinner many weeknights my last couple of years in high school, but my mom did the planning. I only had to cook. And she had taught me many of the basics.
When I got married I cooked the same things that I had eaten as a kid. I had a rotation of about seven meals. I think all but one involved a white sauce or Campbell's soup. We had tuna noodle casserole nearly weekly. Creamed tuna or creamed dried beef on toast was a frequent meal. Some version of hambuger browned and cooked with soup and noodles--and maybe cheese--was a frequent dish. Salmon cakes and spinach. Hamburger gravy. Spaghetti made with Ragu.
That was pretty much it. Add a canned or frozen veggie and some canned fruit. I had recipes that I made sometimes. My grandma's beef stew. A couple of chicken casseroles. Once in a while I might make a roast with potatoes and carrots for a Sunday dinner. But I never veered far from the foods that I grew up with. And my husband started our marriage as a 19-year-old college student. He would eat anything.
I'm not sure when I started to cook differently. I remember a chicken enchilada casserole that a friend made when Patrick was small that may have been a starting point. Being a Weight Watchers member and then leader changed my cooking somewhat, but made me more recipe dependent when I strayed from the baked chicken breast or piece of fish and broccoli.
I like having a lot of ingredients available and having many choices. I have a generous grocery budget. I'm kind of spoiled. But it has taken me years and lots of experience to be able to cook this way. And sometimes it fails me. I stand and stare at my pantry and the ingredients don't seem to amount to anything. Those are the nights that my family usually gets spaghetti, tacos, or chicken breasts.
My advice to the person who is newly responsible for cooking meals for a household is to have a couple of meals that you always have ingredients for and that you can cook easily, whether with or without a recipe. These should be things that will almost always sound good to the members of the household. (Around here spaghetti is the big fall back, although in recent years lentils have moved up the list.) It will save lots of stress, and avert meltdowns.
|Making risotto. With a recipe.|