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Folks that taught me....

The idea of cooking never really crossed my mind until I found myself on my own. After all, I had to eat.

College life pretty much took up every second of my day. Between classes, parking, sports practices, girls, nightlife and the job I needed to supplement my lifestyle things like Ramen Noodles and Mac-n-Cheese became second nature. Not only for time constraints, but also, due to the lack of funds.

Back home, Mom had the ‘market corned’ (no pun intended) as far as meals were concerned. She’d make hot dogs, pork chops, spaghetti, roast beef and potatoes, you know the basics. We never complained because it was dinner and she worked hard to make it for me and my sisters.

My dad was from Alabama and during his military service overseas, he worked his way up to Sergeant of the mess hall. During his stint in the Army he learned how to cook. His southern roots brought barbecue to the forefront and his military service brought the discipline a chef needs to create wonderful dishes. Mom may have been more of a pasta and sauce type cook whereas dad was a little more country, you know beans and cornbread.

Then there was my Grandma Fryman. The kindest, most gentle old Polish lady you’d ever meet. She’d babysit us kids and let us help her cook plenty of Polish favorites. Lawrence Welk on the TV and Perogies in the pot. We’d help with Krysczyki (Angel Wings) or Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage) and eat the whole time we sat at that old table. Even the dog got into the mix with his own special plate under Grandpa’s chair. Sure do miss those days.

However, any way you slice it, you had to learn how to cook from someone else. From birth to 15 you ate what was given to you and never bitched, because going to bed hungry sucked. But during that time you picked up things. Your brain was a sponge at that age and learned without realizing. Adults taught us how to tie our shoes, ride a bike, drive a car and in my case bandage up some wounds from the previously mentioned activities! And over the years you watched your dad cook steaks on the grill and your mom bake a chicken in the oven. Some of that had to stick in your head!

Pretty soon you were able to make your own breakfast even it was just toast with peanut butter or a scrambled egg. From there things got a little more extravagant. Not Rack of Lamb extravagant, but a grilled cheese sandwich seemed like an awesome achievement. Hell, you may have even added a slice of ham to it and threw a cookie sheet of fries in the oven. Dinner!

Think how far you have come as far as cooking is concerned. Pretty sure the producers from MasterChef aren’t knocking on the door as of yet, but you can make yourself a burger right? How about an omelet on the weekends? Maybe even something from the lake like salmon?

Cooking takes a little initiative, a touch of creativity and the ability to read a freakin’ recipe!

Mostly, cooking is an expression of your tastes. You have these tiny receptors in your tongue called taste buds that are tempted by certain flavors. Some folks like savory where others like sweet. Some like sour and others enjoy the heat like you’d find in cayenne peppers. Whatever way your taste buds take you still needs a disciplined direction to create an edible meal. Just because you like peanut butter doesn’t necessarily mean you should combine it with another of your favorites like tuna fish in the same dish! Um, ewww.

Here is a bit of advice I was given growing up; Steal from the Masters.

That’s right, take the best of the best and alter it to satisfy those taste buds. Find a recipe you enjoy and take it up a few notches with some heat, or different spices, or a richer sauce. Try cooking with wine or brandy. Try putting in some color with fresh herbs from you garden, a shredded carrot, or sliced red pepper or even an avocado.

Dammit, sauté something for a change!

Not everything has to be battered, fried and smothered in ketchup!
• Cooking with fresh ingredients will always make a better dish...PERIOD!
• A pinch of salt or an extra pat of butter never hurts either.
• Think layers. If you add a can of crushed tomatoes to a pot it will reduce the seasonings you already added because now there is MORE in the pot. Taste it and add more seasoning if needed.
• Taste, Taste, and TASTE as you are cooking.

Once again, look back to just how far you have come since you started cooking. Now think of how far you can go.

Life is too short for simple mac-n-cheese dishes anymore. I know you’re busy, we are ALL BUSY.

But, wouldn’t you rather have a great meal instead of JUST a meal.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and don’t forget your bib.