Lazy cooks are really just more efficient
Monday, June 03, 2013 3:37 AM
Last week I was thinking (and writing) about baking, and especially about the recipe for that delicious dessert I enjoyed at that last church supper. As always, one thought leads to another.
When I was younger, I really did try to be a good baker. After I had taken the dreaded-but-required home economics class in eighth grade, I occasionally tried baking something at home. Because we ate all of our meals in my mother's restaurant, it really wasn't necessary to cook anything else because we had all the homemade goodies we could possibly want. But I guess sometimes I just wanted to prove I could do it.
My mother must have had doubts about whether I would ever be a passable cook. I remember that she was often upset with me because I did not measure ingredients very carefully. Actually, I thought cooking in any form was kind of boring, so I was always in a hurry.
One time in particular that I remember was when I was going to make an angel food cake. That was before cake mixes - which would never have been allowed in our home anyway - and so this creation was going to take a whole dozen eggs. My mother was pretty upset as I finished mixing the ingredients: she was convinced the cake was going to flop, and it would be a complete waste of a lot of eggs.
She seemed almost disappointed when it turned out perfectly. It raised the way it was supposed to, got nicely browned on the top, and even tasted good. I think she had thought if it had failed it would have taught me a good lesson about careful measurements and the need to follow directions.
Fortunately, in that home ec class at school, we did almost everything as a team. So if we were cooking something, one person got the ingredients out, someone else measured and added them, and someone else did the mixing, all carefully watched by the rest of the team. So my baking attempts there were almost fail-proof. But one time I did have to do the clean-up, and the home ec teacher was not happy with me. We had used a glass cake pan, and taking shortcuts as I do with many domestic chores, I was getting finished in a hurry. That pan broke immediately after I immersed it into the hot sudsy water.
One thing in home ec that we could not do as a team was learn to sew. My mother had already tried to teach me some basics, and then in class we first had to make an apron, and then a skirt and then go on to something more complicated. The teacher was as frustrated as my mother when I sewed a seam less than perfect.
Both of them wanted me to learn my lesson - the hard way, just like baking at home - by ripping out the bad seam and starting over. I could see no point in that, and of course gave up sewing as soon as I could. Now, my mother's 1946 Singer electric sewing machine, purchased as soon as the company started making them again after World War II, gets used only for an occasional seam or hem repair.
When my brother's spouse died a few years ago, we were all concerned about how he was eating. After all, most men his age never learned to cook and he was no exception. One day when we were talking on the phone, I asked him if he cooked for himself or did he eat out all the time. He said, "Sometimes," and then told me what he could cook.
I told him that learning to cook is pretty easy, and added that for him, I'd write "The Lazy Person's Guide to Cooking and Lots of Other Things."
I didn't get very far on that project, but I did assemble a bunch of hints. For instance, bake two big meatloafs (easy!) and put one in the freezer. Eat one or two meals from the other one, then create the modern version of "TV dinners." Those covered, partitioned dishes are perfect for this: I put a big slice of meatloaf and scoops of mashed potatoes in the larger partition, gravy in one of the smaller ones, and a vegetable in the other small one. I make two of those for the freezer, and usually have enough of the first meatloaf for a couple of sandwiches the next day. Counting the whole meatloaf that is frozen, the two frozen dinners, the two we eat on the first two days of the loaf's life, I have followed my own Lazy Cook's rule: cook once and eat several times.
I'm so lazy - I'd prefer to see it as efficient - that I use the same technique with lots of other things: I cook a big pot of rice, then freeze in one-meal-sized containers, and I do the same with pasta and with the few desserts that I can make. All thaw quickly when needed. Leftover meat from broiled chicken or pork can become stir-fry for another meal, and the leftover stir-fry becomes a Thai-style omelette for yet another day.
I'm still thinking about that delicious dessert, and I guess it is time to quit procrastinating and try it. After all, the recipe sounds simple enough, it has a short list of ingredients, easy clean-up, and there is not a lot of measuring involved!