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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A home-cook is truly an extraordinary person

Out in the commercial world of food production, there are bakers who specialize solely in the precision of baking. There are confectioners, who spend their days making candy. We have companies whose only products are jams and jellies. There are pickle manufacturers, pasta sauce producers, and yogurt factories. You can go into your grocery store deli and buy a perfectly-roasted chicken.

All these different specialties of food producers have a few things in common that aid them in turning out consistently good products. They have equipment that is specific to their industry. They spend their days perfecting their craft, be it baking, jam and jelly making, or roasting meat. And they are "at work", meaning there are no outside distractions, like bandaging the skinned knee of a child, answering the ringing door bell, or taking that all-important phone call.

The home-cook doesn't go to any special school to learn their craft. We don't receive any noteworthy training. We are self-taught, by trial and error, and by reading cookbooks.

For myself, I don't own a chicken rotisserie, a flash freezer, a marble slab for baking and confection-making, or a wood-fired, brick pizza oven. What I have is an ordinary home oven, a freezer that makes funky sounds, and an assortment of pots and pans that look more like the shelves at Value Village, than the shelves at Williams-Sonoma.

Every afternoon, I have a 2-hour window for getting dinner made, laundry folded, homework supervised (okay, not so much supervision now that the kids are older), and daughters driven to their late afternoon dance classes.

And yet, I still manage to churn out an interesting, mostly delicious and nutritious meal, night after night. This is something to take pride in.

If you're the home-cook in your household, give yourself a huge pat on the back for the work that you do. You have likely spent years developing your skills and abilities to work under less than perfect conditions. Any professional chef or pastry-maker would likely complain loudly to the management, if made to work with less than industry-standard equipment. And yet, we do this night after night in our own kitchens.

We really shouldn't be so hard on ourselves when something we've made in our home kitchen, with imperfect equipment and numerous distractions, turns out less than perfectly. In truth, we are doing an extraordinary job.


  1. Very nice post, Lili. I especially like this part and can totally relate to this, lol:

    an assortment of pots and pans that look more like the shelves at Value Village, than the shelves at Williams-Sonoma.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Thank you. And if you could only see my pots and pans! Yes, it sure would be nice to have pretty set. But I have what I have. We do the best we can with what we've got, don't we?!

  2. I agree! Thank you for this post.

    Last night, I was making homemade pizza and my son said, "I love, love, love your pizza! More than anybody else's including takeout!" I have been trying to make homemade pizza for about 10 years (yes, years!), using various recipes and methods, and it never really tasted very good. My family never said much, just dutifully ate it, but there was always some leftover that wouldn't get eaten. Recently, I've finally got it right, the pizza is delicious, and now they all negotiate (not quite argue) over the leftovers. :)

    1. Hi Sharon,
      Oh, congratulations! Doesn't that make you feel great when you finally get it right, and everyone tells you?! Job well done, I say! You'll have to share your recipe.

    2. Please share your pizza recipe! I've all but given up on homemade pizza.

      Lili, is that a picture of cherry crisp? I wanna eat it now!!! :) Thank you for such an encouraging post. You didn't mention that home cooks are often trying to please finicky palates in addition to whatever else we have on our plates (and I laughed when I read your comments about the equipment we have to work with! SO true!). My non-scientific observations have been that the people with fancy-schmancy kitchens don't actually do much cooking but those of us with "well-used" kitchens and appliances do!

    3. Hi Kris,
      It's blueberry-rhubarb, thanks to a really great harvest last summer.

      Not only are home-cooks trying to please the one's in the family with, how shall we say it, "sensitive taste buds", but also food sensitivities and allergies, and trying to do it all while staying on a budget! It's really quite a task, yet we do it every day, and do a good job of it.

      I know, my friends and family with fabulous kitchens hardly use them. It's the great irony of kitchen makeovers. I knew a caterer, many years ago, who had a teensy weensy kitchen with an ordinary household range, and a motley assortment of pots, pans and bakeware. She was able to put together meals and buffets for 100 or more in this kitchen, that I would have thought was totally inadequate for family meals, let alone a business out of her home! It's all about the cook and not about the equipment!

      So, Sharon, , ,what's your pizza secret?

    4. I haven't written all this down before so forgive me for being vague. Pizza making, I've found, is about trial and error in your own kitchen with your own materials and prepared to your own taste. Just give it a try and don't panic if you're smoke detector goes off!

      My pizza dramatically improved when my mother-in-law gifted me her pizza stone and pizza pan (I usually make 2 pizzas, one on the stone & the other on the pan). I never would have bought this stuff on my own, but now I see it's well worth it!!

      Make the dough. Most recipes are good, just warm water, yeast, sugar, flour, oil, and salt. Let it rise, sometimes for a couple hours or hardly at all if I'm in a hurry. I've found.The longer you let it rise, the lighter the crust.

      The key, I think, is to get the oven hot (450) with the stone in the oven prior to putting the pizza in. I roll out the dough, one on the pan and the other on parchment (for the stone pizza), decorate & throw it in the oven. Actually, for the parchment/stone pizza, my mil gave me a wooden transfer board also. Very handy!

      Once the pizzas are in, I usually turn down the temp (pan to about 400 to get it a little crispy, and the stone to about 350 to cook thoroughly for my hubby who likes it well done). Hover, checking often without opening the door and remove when pizza perfection is achieved! (about 12-18 minutes, I think?)

      Sauce: I use 1/2 cup per pizza of blended canned tomatoes (to get out the annoying tomato chunks that some members of my family don't like). Spread sauce on pizza and sprinkle with store bought "pizza seasonings".

      Cheese: Shredded mozzarella

      Pepperoni/Sausage: I go for a high quality pepperoni. Brown sausage before hand.

      Veggies: My family says, "What a way to ruin a perfectly good pizza!" I usually throw on mushrooms, onion, or whatever I have on hand, on a corner of the pizza for myself.

      That's it!

    5. Thank you, Sharon!
      I'll give your instructions a try next time we have pizza. I don't have a pizza stone, but will try it on a pan. My family likes the bottom of the crust crisped up a bit, so when the pizza is almost done, I slide it off the pan and directly onto the rack in the oven, and bake for 5 more minutes.

      Funny comment about the "annoying tomato chunks". I make pizza sauce, and add lots of bits of veggies. It's how I get rid of veggies needing to use up. So my sauce is always a bit "chunky". My son and friends were making pizza at our house a month ago, with my homemade sauce, and one friend commented, "this isn't real pizza sauce, it has stuff in it!"

      Pizza is really a great food for the mom who feels like a short order cook, as you can customize your own section however you like!

      Thanks again for your instructions, I'm going to try a higher preheat and baking temp this next time.

    6. Thanks,Sharon. I have a pizza stone but haven't had much luck with it--I think we prefer a chewy crust rather than a crispy one. But I think you bake yours at a lower temp (my directions call for a 450* oven for the baking part as well as the heating-the-stone part) and that may be part of my problem. Too hot/too crisp.

    7. Woo hoo! I made pizza tonight using Lili's French bread dough recipe--best homemade pizza ever! I also used the parchment paper idea and it eliminated the problem I had with transferring my pizza dough to the stone without a transfer board--bonus feature was it made cleanup even easier. I'm pretty geeked that it turned out this well--I really was ready to throw in the towel on homemade pizza.

      Lili, if you're contemplating getting a pizza stone, I don't know if I'd bother. I made 2 pizzas tonight, one on a stone and one on my yukky looking old pizza pan (with vent holes to crisp up the crust) and we couldn't tell the difference.

    8. Hi Kris,
      I am so glad that your pizza turned out so well! And I hope the family was extremely appreciative of your work!

      That is a good tip of Sharon's to do the dough on parchment to make transferring to the stone easier.

      Your thoughts on whether or not to buy a pizza stone are really appreciated. I had thought maybe I'd check into them. But now that you've said your pizza in a pan was comparable to the one on the stone, well that just means one less thing to need to store, for me!

      Thanks for letting us know of your success!

    9. I can't take credit for the parchment idea! That was from The Frugal Girl:

      I use a pizza dough recipe from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook, though, and prepare it mostly in the Kitchen Aid mixer. I've used this dough for a deep dish style pizza and calzones. Yummy! Any dough recipe would work, though.

      The holey pizza pan doesn't get the bottom of the crust brown. My kids like it less browned because they both have braces & it makes it easier to eat. The pizza stone, however, makes the bottom of the crust golden.

    10. Kris,
      Glad it turned out well!

      Did you preheat the stone in the oven? The stone has to be really hot before you put the pizza on it.

  3. Thank you for this reminder. I wake up every morning thinking about what to cook for dinner* and 6 nights out of 7 it's something nutritious and interesting. The seventh night (sunday!) I give up and people go and look in the can cupboard. My husband has no idea what a treat it is when he decides and cooks me a meal.

    * meal planning doesn't work for me

    1. Hi Jessica,
      We really do an amazing job, thinking up something interesting and delicious each day. I think home-cooks take their work fairly seriously, too. We fret over whether it tastes just right, we strive to improve what we produce -- I think we do great work.

      Isn't it so wonderful when someone else does the cooking?! I just feel like a queen on my night off, eagerly anticipating what someone else is making. And meal planning just doesn't work for everyone. I'm trying for this month to plan a week at a time. Last week didn't go as well as previous weeks. Oh well. But dinner still made it to the table, and everyone was satisfied.

  4. Very well put Lili.
    As a professional baker/decorator and a home cook I see both sides of this issue.
    You have summed it up nicely. Homemakers today have to guard themselves angaint the unrealistic (and/or) expensive standards they are bombarded with.

    1. Thank you, frugal spinster.
      You're absolutely right. We can really let ourselves feel inferior to what the media puts before us, if we're not careful. It's all too easy to let ourselves fall into the trap of thinking we have to turn out professional results day after day. And that was my point, really, we're doing a great job at feeding ourselves and our families, and we should take pride in that.
      Thanks for your input.

  5. I fret about many things, but not about how my meal turns out (unless we have been on a long kick of non-nutritious food.) I do the best I can under the circumstances of that day and am just happy if there is something to eat. My mother taught me that when I was growing up. My sisters and I did most of the cooking and didn't worry about what was fixed because everyone had hits and misses. That was expected. I wonder if as adults, we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect.

    1. Good for you, live and learn!
      You always have such a rational approach (must be the scientist in you), and that's very refreshing, and balancing for some of us. I think some of us do put too much pressure on ourselves to get things "just right".

      And while I love sites like Pinterest for browsing ideas, those sites really do a number on my ego, seeing all these beautiful ideas. But what I fail to realize in the moment is that these women are only showing their successes, and they have failures, too. Just like the rest of us!

    2. You're so right actually. Problem is, none of the eaters are about to see what kind of day you've had and to subsequently appreciate their food!

    3. Do you realize, Lili, that you are the perfect one to some others that read your blog? You are very organized, frugal, and thrive on making things nice for your family. What an ideal world it would be if we could just be happy with who we are and stop comparing ourselves to others. Something I still have to work on, but with age and time I am getting better at it.

    4. Okay, I guess it's time I start showing some photographs of my desk, a couple of the closets, the laundry room, and oh yeah, the very messy bathroom! You may not think I'm so organized if you saw those areas. I do have the ability to just step right over a mess and not even see it.

  6. Home-made tastes better! And no, I don't miss the weather in Alberta you cheeky woman! Cheers!

    1. Hi Cheapchick,
      Agreed! Although, when someone else does the cooking for me, restaurant or at home, I really appreciate it.
      I have a good friend living in Edmonton, and I don't know how she manages with the extreme cold temps there. I'm afraid I don't do well with cold and snow for very long. I do hope that your house sells quickly.

  7. We don't do so badly do we, us home-cookers? ;-)

    1. Hi Jo,
      We do an awesome job! After seeing all the delicious-looking things that you cook/bake, I'm sure your family would totally agree!

  8. Love this post and love the photos. My mum worked fulltime when I was growing up and so relied a lot on convenience foods (and so did I when I became vegetarian), so I have been slowly learning how to make things like jams, relishes and pickles as an adult.

    One of the things I love to do is recreate dishes that we eat at restaurants at home, making them healthier and much more cheaply.

    1. Hi Economies,
      There is something so satisfying about making your own preserves and pickles. They look so pretty and signify abundance. They're one of the food items that I'm most glad to have learned.

      That's so, so smart to try to recreate restaurant meals, both from a financial and health perspective.

      Good to hear from you. I hope your field work was very successful!


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