Debbie Miller, shown here with her daughter, Stacy Webb, and granddaughter, Madeline, believes home cooking can be a family affair.

Simple Ways to Get More Comfortable in the Kitchen

What’s for dinner? It’s a simmering question as it seems more families are chewing over the benefits of home cooked meals versus frozen dinners or eating out. Yes, home cooked meals can be more nutritious, cost less, taste better and encourage healthy table talk, but many want-to-be cooks feel they are short on time and the essential skills to make home cooked meals a regular event.

The Efficient Kitchen
Whether Farm Bureau member Debbie Miller is cooking for a wedding party of 100 at her Hide Away Country Inn in Bucyrus or her family of five, she appreciates a well-equipped and stocked kitchen. To begin, she advises home cooks to invest in quality versus quantity. Alternatively, she cautions home cooks to not spend on lots of seldom-used gadgets.

“Save your money,” she said. “Don’t buy the folding omelet pan.”

The Smart Home Cook
Debbie said there are endless resources available to the home cook. Consider the wealth of cookbooks, television food shows, online recipes and tutorials, cooking magazines and cooking classes.

“Find a grandma or retired neighbor,” she said – they have a wealth of cooking information to share, are often eager to teach and welcome the companionship. She learned many fundamentals from her mother and grandmother and now teaches cooking classes at the inn.

Through the years, she has continued her family’s legacy and instilled a cooking passion among her own children. “Get the kids in the kitchen early,” Debbie said. Her son became the family’s grill master at age 13. To engage her kids, she would give them kitchen tasks each night.

Longtime cooking instructor and mother of seven Margie Potts agrees. She said she would allow her kids a day to cook dinner.

“Sometimes, we would have breakfast for dinner, but that was OK,” she said. “When children get involved in making dinner, they’re more likely to try different foods.”

Lee Ann Miller of Miller Haus Bed & Breakfast in Holmes County offers inspirations from her Amish neighbors’ simple ways.

“We can learn from the Amish by involving our children in the kitchen,” she said. Amish families, she notes, pass recipes and cooking skills from generation to generation and also “use the kitchen as a place to create more `home.'”

Not surprising, there’s no eating in front of the TV for Lee Ann’s 10- and 15-year-olds. Rather, they eat together at the table or at the counter if they’re in a hurry.

Meal Planning
For busy families, Debbie advises planning a two-week meal schedule and creating a shopping list to prevent over buying. She encourages home cooks to take advantage of seasonal items and grocery specials. For example, she purchased fingerling potatoes on special to slice for a unique potato salad and later add with carrots to a pot roast.

“When you plan ahead, you don’t have to stress out at the last minute about what you’re going to eat,” Margie said.

Margie advises cooks to make the most of their grocery shopping. Her tips: watch the ads, shop with a list, take advantage of the samples for trying new foods, check out day-old bakery and other discounted items, consider store brands for some purchases and get to know the store personnel for valuable advice.

Debbie offers other time-saving tips:

  • Try slow cooking recipes either in the crockpot or the oven. Her favorite dish is a pot roast with sliced potatoes, carrots, onions and a beef or pork loin assembled the night prior and pulled out in the morning to cook 10 hours before dinner.

 

  • Start with simple recipes that have five ingredients or less. Debbie suggests using the Internet to search for recipes by their ingredients. For example, a recipe search for flank steak and green beans might lead to a recipe for Mongolian Beef.

 

  • Cook once and eat twice. For lasagna, she suggests making two pans and freezing the second one or cooking both pans and freezing the extras in smaller portions to microwave later.

Quick-cooking tips aside, Margie encourages people to set aside time for meals. “When you make time for dinner, you’re not only eating better, you’re enjoying a good time with your family,” she said.

Kitchen Equipment
You don’t need a lot of equipment to make great home-cooked meals. But over time, you might find that these kitchen tools come in handy.

  • Stainless steel sauce pans (6-8 quart size)
  • Coated frying pan
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Dutch oven
  • Cookie sheets
  • 9″ x 13″ casserole dish
  • Loaf pan
  • Stainless steel bowls
  • Sieve
  • Colander
  • Colored cutting boards (red for meats, yellow for chicken and green for vegetables)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Forged steel knives
  • Stainless steel vegetable peeler
  • Meat tenderizer
  • Whisks
  • Spoons: wooden, slotted, ladle and scoopers
  • Rubber and metal spatulas
  • Kitchen shears
  • Tongs with 10″ handles
  • Grater or micro planer
  • Rolling pin
  • Food processor or blender
  • Small table-top grill
  • KitchenAid mixer

Teresa Woodard is a freelance writer from Franklin County.

The Secret to Quick Meals: A Stocked Pantry
Keeping a well-stocked pantry makes meal preparation easy. Lots of shelf stable items, as well as a few in the refridgerator, will inspire you to create new meals with ingredients you have on hand.