This picture of my son, Heath, at age three, was taken when we were picking raspberries for the jam we all made together every summer. It is comforting proof to me that I did, indeed, try to raise my family to appreciate and enjoy real, home-cooked food. Fast-forward to February,2006, when the same son, having evolved from a green-mohawked rock star to becoming engaged this year, asked me to give him cooking lessons. Imagine my surprise! He had lived on his own and existed on Ramen Noodles (the apparent staple of all young people) for many months, so I guess I didn’t think he really missed real food. At any rate, I was more than happy to comply,and we designated Monday as the official class day.
We began with knife skills, which he picked up very quickly. He even learned early on that he really only needed three or four knives and asked why anyone would need to buy a whole set. (This is something I didn’t pick up on until my mid-thirties, and is a favorite Cuisinette mantra.) After mastering knife skills and basic stock, we moved on to menus. He chose comfort foods to start with – meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. He did very well, but I have to say, I didn’t do quite as well as a teacher. I have been passionate about cooking since I was fourteen ( a LONG time ago), and it has become second nature. Except for baking, I rarely use recipes. I had to come to the realization that not everyone knows what T means in a recipe ( tablespoon), something that never occured to me. (Just as I have NO clue what an algorithm is!) So I had to adjust my teaching method, and learned a lot along the way.
Yesterday, Heath requested that we do breakfast. So we did pancakes with fresh blueberry sauce, a cheese strata, sausage gravy, and hash browns.(No, I wouldn’t normally make all of these things together, but it was a great lesson.) I have never truly mastered home fries, so yesterday was a learning experience for me, too. Everything came out perfectly except the hash browns. I did cottage fries in my favorite carbon steel fry pan, and Heath did the shredded hash browns in my Inducinox fry pan. We learned a lot about heat control, and how important it is. It seems elementary, but until you see it in action, is sometimes hard to understand. My cottage fries came out perfectly, but the shredded potatoes cooked too quickly on the outside, and not on the inside, creating a mushy mess. Lesson learned; The heat was too high in the beginning. We will re-do them next week.
The other important thing that Heath picked up on during the second week ( roasted chicken and gravy), was that you simply can’t reduce sauces or brown meat in Teflon coated pans. (Again, it took me years to figure this out – I thought I was doing something wrong). I am embarrassed to admit that I, too, was a victim of heavy marketing in the eighties, and purchased a whole set of Teflon pans. My husband has managed to hang on to one of them and the rest went into the trash.) Heath had tried browning chicken breasts in a Teflon pan on another occasion,but realized that they weren’t really browned, but rather sort of steamed. When we tried it in my Inducinox skillet,and he could actually see the difference in browning and the reduction process, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. After learning the fine art of de-glazing a pan, he questioned the need for non-stick pans in a kitchen in the first place.
So, we’re learning together, and having fun, and I can heave a sigh of relief when Heath moves out again, knowing that he will have the basic skills he needs to create good food.