I have always had an interest in cooking, and it started at a young age. I remember watching my mother cook dinner, and assisting a bit as well as well as getting tastes of what she was making. For some reason I had a fondness for slices of raw white potatoes, and those were on the menu a lot. Strange, but it worked for me!
She was an excellent home style cook- this was probably due to growing up on a farm, where her mom was responsible for feeding lots of family and hired workers on a regular basis. We still make a lot of my grandmother’s dishes, and I have several of her recipes written in her handwriting. They are more nostalgic than practical because she wrote things like “cook till done”, and listed ingredients in no particular order. Luckily, we deciphered them. My mom also cooked a lot from memory, but she also liked trying new recipes. At family gatherings, she and her extended family exchanged them. I still have my mom’s recipe box, with several of these- with names like Ag’s Beans, Sue’s Economy Casserole ( so named because the ingredients were expensive), and Leatrice’s Sheet Cake. I know exactly where these tried and true dishes came from since I knew the original cooks. It is a treasure to have them.
My personal cooking adventure started with a Betty Crocker Cookbook For Boys And Girls that I received as a gift in fourth grade. I still have it! It was a fun way to make some dishes everyone might eat, and I tried most of them. I also got some credit for a Girl Scout badge along the way, so definitely a win/win. And I kept doing assistant duty for dinner.
Cooking took a back seat as I got older and busier with sports and activities, but it kicked back in during law school. Fast food was expensive, so I learned a few basic dishes could make quickly. Not exactly gourmet standards, but edible and enough to get me through the semester. When I lived with three other law students my last year, cooking got a bit more complicated due to our small kitchen. That is when we discovered Domino’s Pizza, the only food you could get delivered in those days. We pooled our money and ate them way too often. I can say without exaggeration I haven’t eaten a Domino’s Pizza since graduating in the 1980’s.
Cooking took on a new life when I stayed home with my kids. Learning to cook healthy food that little ones and adults would eat was one of my major jobs in those days. Luckily, I still liked to cook, and started collecting cookbooks too. Every vacation, I would pick one up in a gift shop. This lead to a way too large collection, but I tried to use them all at some point.
I was always game to try a new recipe and had some funny moments along the way. One day, I decided to make home made runza’s. For those not familiar with them, they are a meat sandwich in a baked bun, about the size of a billfold, popular throughout the Midwest. My recipe called for using pre-made bread dough, and then putting the meat filling inside. I didn’t do something right, because when I checked on them, my runza’s were each the size of a large purse, and totally misshapen. I let them finish baking, and that didn’t help. Into the trash they went, never to be attempted again. Another misadventure was a ginger bread house one December. My daughter and I used a mold and made our own gingerbread. That seemed to go ok, until I took the last batch of gingerbread out of the oven and we started assembling the house. Our walls were so heavy, they barely stood up. The only rescue was to put pins into the walls to hold them together. Decorating was minimal because the house weighed so much we couldn’t touch it without almost causing a collapse.
Unlike my maternal ancestors, I still use a recipe for most things, but I have mastered a few “go to” recipes of my own over the years. Many of them have “jiffy” in the title. So when Covid hit, and we were in the stay at home phase, I decided to do a combination of carry out from our local restaurants and cooking. Once the regular recipes were exhausted, it was time to try some new ones. A recipe that caught my eye was shepherd’s pie, a meat and vegetable dish topped with mashed potatoes. It served four, so we’d have leftovers for another day.
I got the ingredients I didn’t have an hand and started making the dish. Total cost: $10.00. You can use instant mashed potatoes, which have improved greatly over the years, but since I had time I made my own. The filling was made, and I put the dish together and popped it in the oven. Then I started the clean up process, including the pile of potato peels in the sink. Bad idea! The disposal made a strange grinding noise, and then quit working. The sink was full of backed up water, and the dishwasher was out of commission since it drains through the sink.
A call to a plumber, who was able to come relatively quickly, lead to an easy (for him) fix. He was at the house for less than an hour. So the total cost of my shepherd’s pie was $200.00- $10 for the ingredients, and $190 to the plumber, who charged more due to the weekend.
Luckily, the pie itself turned out pretty well, and we got more than one meal out of it. If I ever make it again, instant potatoes may be the route to take. I can’t afford to call the plumber whenever real potatoes are involved!