The Feral Modern’s Guide to Beginning Homemaking -By Caitlin Walsh

The Feral Modern’s Guide to Beginning HomemakingBy Caitlin Walsh

I should start this by letting you know I didn’t grow up domestic at all.

If I don’t miss my mark, most of us didn’t, mind–too important to attack the glass ceilings and the implicit biases and all of those things. The idea that you should prepare for a future centered around marriage or children (or, frankly, even be able to exist as a bachelor without a stack of Hungry Man or Michelina’s dinners) was fossilized thinking.

…well, it was a pretty picture they sold us and all, but I’m probably not the only one for whom the dream didn’t quiiiiiite work out that way. And, you know, thank the heavens for that, because I am having a lot better of a time focusing on keeping a household and raising two children than I *ever* did working a string of temporary jobs. It’s to the point I’m not sure how folks missed it: you HAD children, how on EARTH did you miss the idea that THIS was the important work you were doing?

(of course, mine are still two and five; I get the impression the Sheer Magnitude Of It All diminishes a bit when they’re not leapfrogging milestones on a monthly basis or trying with all of their might to ensure their premature demise (for which only Your Heroic Actions could save them). But still. This is frickin’ WILD.) [No. It doesn’t diminish. It only gets bigger all the time. – SAH-from the other end of the process.]

(And yes, I’m sure being a Broadway star or whatever my mom wanted to be would have been amazing, too. But it didn’t happen. Can we please compare against what you actually did instead of the Perfect Unrealized Reality that was never actually going to happen anyway?)

…so everything I learned about What Was Important, What Was Real or not was completely wrong. Of course. Most of us here, we probably figured out ten of those before we reached adulthood, and keep finding new ones at alarming rates despite our general cynicism and ennui regarding the Big Message. What else is new?

Well, what else is new is learning how to live with it.

I know stay-at-home homeschooling moms are supposed to do an awful lot of things. They’re supposed to keep their houses neat (and teach the children to do the bulk of it, in time), they’re supposed to keep the children up on their learning (which more and more seems to be something they do almost despite anything I actually manage or not… nevermind), they’re supposed to keep the family fed with meals better than you can get at a restaurant on a fraction of the Totinos Pizza budget, and only on rarest occasions decide Everything’s Gone Wrong And Just Order A Pizza.

…but, come on. The pizza shop literally called our house to make sure everything was all right when my older sister didn’t order dinner. My dad took all of us children out to a restaurant every bleeding week as a way of staying connected in spite of a divorce. As a young adult I was so unfamiliar with what was involved in putting a meal together that I was *sad* when I stopped being able to find macaroni and cheese with little bits of dehydrated broccoli because I didn’t realize there was a more effective way to have broccoli included.

(…also, it turns out the dehydrated broccoli basically added salt and nothing else. Felt a little betrayed by that, too. Add Reading Labels to the list of things I needed to learn.)


Well, mostly I haven’t, I’ll admit. I spend more than I should, go out more than I should, and still haven’t quite gotten the hang of planning meals that everyone will eat that also provides the vitamins and minerals growing bodies need.

But I’m much BETTER, and I figure I can encapsulate this in a few tips for other people in my situation. Because as dire as I think I painted the picture there… I think there’s a lot of us. We’re in the third generation of acting as though a home and hearth aren’t really things that need to be maintained. That’s going to leave a mark. [From the other end of this – we still eat out more than we should, and I never felt like I was a good housewife. You see, I was going to be an executive and have staff….- SAH]

So what have I learned? Let’s make a list:


This isn’t a FULL answer, mind you–I still needed to have someone “on the horn” to explain things to me like “What do they mean when they say ‘brown the hamburger’?” But it does go pretty basic! This book is basically aimed at newlyweds who themselves are trying to figure out how to cook for a household, and so it goes pretty far in its explanations, including substitutions, how certain things should be measured, things like that.

But more to the point, the “key recipe” system–where, at the top of the page, you’ve got a key recipe that just has the basic concept (it has a key icon next to it), and the rest of the page is filled with variants to make it the particular item you want. (Thus: Key recipe is “buttermilk pancakes,” and then you can look down for what you need to change to make “sweet milk pancakes,” “blueberry pancakes,” etc etc))–does a REALLY good job of teaching you what the heart of this foodthing is, and what can be changed without issue. And separating chapters by what KIND of food it is (quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, vegetables, meats) instead of by meal type or whatever also makes it a little trivial to understand what’s common about certain classes of food, and what you can mess with.

(Also, it just completely lacks the “trying to impress your friends” element that frustrates me so much about modern cook books. (Or at least keeps it to a few minor sections.) There’s an awful lot of basic ingredients that get reused over and over, and fairly few specialty ones. Symbol of a poorer time? For sure. But if you ARE looking to feed a family on the daily instead of having a fancy dinner party (let’s be honest, the food this book suggests for a fancy dinner party may well not go over right)… well, I think it’s rad.)

Downsides? It’s dated, and there’s a lot of things you’ll probably want to change due to how the price and availability of ingredients has changed. (Add more cheese to the macaroni and cheese recipes. They just don’t have enough.) And some of the terminology is confusing–apparently, when they say “American cheese” in this book, they mean cheddar.

BUT it completely changed my life for being able to cook for my family.

[ROFL. My first step was similar. Two picture books from a Portuguese TV cooking show. -SAH]


Sandwiches are great. Sandwiches are awesome. (They’re also occasionally the only thing containing actual food the children will eat.) Feel a little bad about throwing something on bread and serving it? A minute of frying on each side makes it fancier. Throw a can of green beans on the side (OH WOW if you can find out a canned vegetable your child will eat without complaint YOU HAVE IT MADE. I buy green beans (Daughter) and carrots (Son) by the flat) and it’s even rounded. Hot dogs are probably more of a questionable call, but I’m pretty sure they still wind up both cheaper and taking up less space than a frozen dinner. (…I get free mutton, but kind of a lot at a time, so freezer space is a little dear for me.)

But more to the point, I tend to find if I’m thinking of things as I Must Do Things Right And According To The Plan Always, I tend to fall for my crutches the moment ANYTHING goes wrong. (And that’s one thing about having to share a house with other people: things are going to go wrong. You forgot about ballet class happening when you needed to start the breadmaker*, your husband’s in a grumpy mood and you don’t think the casserole you had planned will go over well, something came up and your husband isn’t going to be home for dinner at all. You can plan all you like, but you can’t eliminate the uncertainty.) Having an In Case Of Trouble backup instead can change things from “AGH EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE I’M GOING TO GO GET HAPPY MEALS” to “okay, it turns out I didn’t turn on the oven when I was cooking the roast, guess we’re having hot dogs.”

(It turns out my kids love biscuits, actually, and I can turn them out in about half an hour from a handful of ingredients. (Also, Drop Biscuits are waaaaay easier than rolled biscuits.) So that’s made my list for Sudden Grumpiness Reducer Plan.)

* BTW, this is kind of ridiculous, but… if you have anything like the space, check your local thrift store for a bread maker. (Or yard sales, if there’s any in your area! Ours were a few months ago at this point, alas.) I don’t know if you’ll get as lucky as I did (there were THREE breadmakers for less than five dollars! Also, this is when Marie Kondo was REALLY popular), but if you arrange things so that there’s a loaf of bread almost finished when your husband gets home from work? The smell just completely hijacks the brain and says HOME, and all you did was dump a handful of simple ingredients in the jar three hours ago. Now, would it be better to have lovingly formed handmade loaves? Yes, and you wouldn’t even need a machine. But I’ll be honest, baking bread scares me a little and I think I’m not the only one. If you think this might be up your alley, see if you can get a used breadmaker for cheap.


I always thought leftovers were where you eat the same thing five days in a row, except that you get sick of it after two and throw the rest of the roast out. NOT SO! It turns out that people who are GOOD at this have a plan from when they buy the item for what they can turn it into over the next week or so. THIS NOT ONLY SAVES MONEY (by not throwing out half of the whatever and have to buy more) BUT VASTLY IMPROVES YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE.

No, seriously. Being able to turn your pork roast into stir fry, meat pie and soup means that you’re eating different types of food (if you’re like me, you tend toward “saminess” in the first presentation) with different foods with it (this also helps you use up your leftover veggies). It feels weirdly fancier to be able to pull the magic act. AND it increases your flexibility (when you’ve assigned a Brand New Meal For Each Day, all you can do is switch them around. But with leftovers scheduled in, particularly in meals with basic ingredients, you get to push things around at the last minute a great deal more.)

I’m also able to fit a lot more meals in a lot less space, if we compare Single Pork Roast And Other Ingredients I Keep On Hand Anyway versus the much more first-run items I’d have to buy without leftovers.

So, yes. Leftovers are awesome. Try and see if you can come up with good methods for using up basic meats and veggies you use a lot. (Soups, stir fries, and meat pies are my go-tos, and they’re pretty awesome. Flexible, too. Try it!)

And that is Feral Girl’s Beginning Guide to Keeping a Hearth And Home. Maybe I can write more as I find new tricks to actually trying to behave like a human being in a sane society! (I’m not sure if ‘fake it til you make it’ works with transforming the world, but it’s the best idea I’ve got right now.) And please-please-please let me know anything you-the-reader can teach us, add, or even ask about in the comments. (Most of my tips are obviously for the young mother–I think that there’s a bunch of bachelors here who could use cooking-for-one advice, too, if I don’t miss my mark. Empty-nesters as well.)

Thanks for lending me the stage, Sarah! Let’s all try to make the world a little more cozy tonight, huh?

186 thoughts on “The Feral Modern’s Guide to Beginning Homemaking -By Caitlin Walsh

  1. Let me give you a tip from my PA Dutch upbringing. When you have a hambone, or some leftover ham even, toss it in a pot, add about a pound of greenbeans, a couple of potatoes cut up, maybe half a sweet onion, salt and pepper, and water. So parsley flakes if you’re feeling fancy. Cook it till it boils, till the beans are done. Supper for a couple of days, easy. I honestly didn’t know there was any other way to cook greenbeans till I was in the army–I’d never seen them cooked any other way.

  2. When it comes to keeping the house looking less like a post-earthquake construction zone…

    Seriously. Much as I love mi mama, I never really learned how to break “keeping the house clean” down into manageable tasks and routines. until a wonderful friend introduced me to her site in the early 2000’s. Now, while I will never have the magazine-spread quality clean house, it no longer looks like “There appears to have been a struggle”, and it’s clean enough that it doesn’t exacerbate dust mite allergies.

    1. I’ve had her site recommended multiple times, and every time I try to read it I bounce, hard, off of her use of “LOL” as punctuation. Funny thing is that if she just used a 🙂 smiley (in case WordPress changes that to an emoji, that was the three characters colon hyphen right-parenthesis) I’d have been perfectly fine with it. But to my Internet “ears”, trained in the late 90’s, using LOL that much just… grates. It comes across as “I’m an immature teenager and I have little to say worth listening to.” Which I realize is unfair to her — she’s got a lot of good advice — but I was never able to read her site without wincing, so I eventually just gave up.

  3. I never thought I really liked ham until we started getting thicker steaks. Now one meal of ham, if spouse gets there first some ham and egg scrambles. If I get there, either split pea or white bean soup.
    And after Thanksgiving I made a turkey pot pie, and my beloved made turkey rice soup. And then, he freezer-bagged the leftover soup and pie in two-person portions, labeled them and dropped them in the freezer. Starting our tax-season, “Too tired to cook,” fund.

  4. Caitlin, thank you for sharing this. The whole “career is everything” meme was always a scam. Most of us don’t have ambitions to be president or lead a large company. To those that do, all well and good, but the rest of us are happy with making a decent living and raising honest, less than feral kids. My wife was a chemist, so although not domestic, cooking came naturally to her. Me, she taught to throw some turkey thighs in the slow cooker with potatoes, fresh veggies, and apple juice, and then portion it out to have for a week. The fancy stuff I left to her. I’ve seen a number of women raise their families and then have nice careers after the kids are raised if that’s what they want.

    I love the idea of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book! Simplicity is something I preach all the time, frequently to deaf ears. “Make something useful” is the first law of startups and the best business advice I ever read.

    “…trying with all their might to ensure their premature demise,” sounds about right for a 2 and 5-year-old. LOL.

    1. As Peterson points out: the people who do the career thing are generally very weird with very different wired-in priorities than normal humans. “Why aren’t there more women CEOs?” is the wrong question, “Why are there any CEOs?” would be closer to the mark.

      1. Look at extreme ‘success’ in any specialized activity, look at the history of it, and eventually the weirdness just pops out at you.

        Also, doing an activity long shapes you. Partly selection biases, and partly actual shaping by the experience.

        If you look at soldiering, you see some things in a lot of the Great Captains, and on the experience end, long service NCOs have some oddities, and Army Lieutenant Colonels often show certain traits.

        If you look at science, again patterns in some of a field’s great discoverers, and other patterns in researchers who have simply had a long career.

        If you look at trolling…

        There are lots of kinds and degrees of success in specialized activities. A star quarterback is not a writer of the great American novel is not a guy who spent his career programming, and tried to turn in good work every time.

        Fundamentally, humans often have broader interests. Even the ones who are absolutely wired to focus in on one thing, born monomaniacs who never had interest in anything else, are asking for trouble, for premature failure from mental health issues, if they make that one thing the whole of their sense of well-being.

        Expectations and where you try to rest your happiness, are absolutely a judgement call, one based in self-knowledge. And you never have much self knowledge, much knowledge about humans and societies, or much understanding of what activities feel like, when you are tackling these problems for the first time. You can convince yourself of a lot of things when you are young. So, early answers are probably wrong, and that is okay. You can survive making some bad decisions.

        The good path is keeping your eyes open, paying attention to the empirical test of the theory from your early decisions. What is wrong? What isn’t wrong?

        1. Prinz Eugen von Savoy – brilliant general, managed to fight multiple wars while on a Habsburg budget, and dear Lord, was that man eccentric. Granted, his genetics and early childhood probably played a role, but he was an Odd’s Odd. (Later on, having survived at least 7 concussions didn’t help.) And very, very good at what he did.

          1. I spend a lot of time on the road and filled much of it planning and researching a history of Eugene’s campaign in Italy during the WSS. I learned German and everything so I could read the Feldzug. It had everything, it was decisive, it was essentially unknown in English, the characters were fascinating — Eugene and Vendome were first cousins, the best generals of their age, hugely brave, and very gay. Best of all, the wife and I had been traveling all through the valley of the Po to “walk the battlefields”

            Then. Number two son gave me for my last birthday Italy, Piedmont and the War of the Spanish Succession by Cairo Paoletti published in 2020. His name in Petropavlovsk is cursed, when I found out he published first.

            I had a different book in mind, I was more interested in the “fog of war” and stuff like that, but damn.

        2. That whole, success has a cost, is one of the most valuable things I learned from David Drake’s books. And if you see him, tell him one of his readers said that.

          They don’t teach you that in school, but knowing it means you can actually ask, “What will this cost?” and, “Am I willing to pay it?” A lot of times, the answer has been no, and I’ve been the better for it.

          Also makes it easier to look at the ones who did decide to pay that price and accept they are reaping the rewards they are due.

          1. “Hey ! Was it worth it being an for all those years?”
            If it put clothes on your back, food on the table, and a roof over your head; then the answer is probably, ‘yes.’ And people will always wonder about the road not taken.

            1. True. Sometimes the cost is a few years of busting your brain, living off of canned soup and instant mashed potatoes and ‘only’ being able to afford a decent car and a mid-sized house and skipping out of keeping up with the Joneses. Sometimes the cost is not recognizing your kids in the evening.

              It all depends on what you want. But you need to ask what it costs to know. 🙂

        3. A few years ago, I wrote up what I call a work biography, collecting many of the stories I tell my younger colleagues. I share it within my company but can’t share it outside. Not that I name names, at least not of anybody who did wrong, only those who did right, and only first names of those. It’s not that my current employer has done much wrong, certainly not compared to other places I’ve worked or interacted with, but they can’t have one of theirs publicly bashing other companies even if it was long ago. I can however share the concluding chapter that has neither dirty linen nor trade secrets. It loses a little without the recounting of the long slog that got me there, but I share it with the good, like-minded folks here because all us huns are obviously close relatives, cosmically speaking. So for anyone interested in the rantings of an old geek:

  5. I think that there’s a bunch of bachelors here who could use cooking-for-one advice, too

    I feel personally attacked.

    And I can second the leftovers part: meal complexity can skyrocket relative to preparation difficulty when you only have to make one or two things at a time and then drop some combination of the freshly made thing and leftovers on the plate.

    1. Indeed. Used to be in high school, there were home economics classes, where one learned to cook basic stuff, and for a few blessed years the teachers of strictly female classes also incorporated boys who did want to learn their way around a stove, sink, pantry and refrigerator. Alas, this kind of basic ‘prep for life’ went by the board some decades ago.

      For another basic cookbook, I highly recommend the 1970s version of Joy of Cooking. Not all the recipes are easily doable these days, but the basic information contained therein is often useful and usually interesting.

      But for single person households, no better guidance than this cookbook for one or two. I’ve worn out two copies, since I bought the first one, upon moving out of the barracks.

      1. (Heh. I also gather that the boys in the Home Ec classes were the smart ones who went were because there wasn’t a lot of competition for the girls’ attention–with the added bonus of the fact that the girls would undoubtedly appreciate a man who knew how to cook and do basic sewing!)

  6. Our parents were Depression kids and I had it firmly ground into my mind that you make your money travel until it drops from exhaustion. Meaning, cook at home as much as possible. So while we go out a bit more, it’s still something of a “treat.” And both of us learned to do basic cooking. (Spouse did it the hard way – he left home not even knowing how to bake a potato).
    The Internet is also a good thing. We have pad thai fairly often now because I found a recipe online we both like. And that’s one of those, “doesn’t take much time to cook,” recipes that get food on the table in under an hour and which can be customized any way you like. (Our version adds ginger).

  7. Good advice for men here, too. My wife died 4 years ago, but even at 81 I’m able to put a good meal together thanks to my Gran who taught me the basics, even includng breadmaking when I was only 6. As a widower I know how to modify a recipe to use ingredients I like and can safely eat (I have food allergies that would make me very ill) and I do that a lot. And the Web is a grear resource – just type ‘bacon recipes’ into your search engine, for instance. The only use for a supermarket ready meal is when it’s a complex recipe that I don’t want the hassle of making for myself.

  8. Based on my own experience as a parent of long standing, I take great delight in passing along this sage advice and encouragement to those fresher at the game such as Caitlin:

    Yours are 2 & 5? It’s a tough job but don’t get discouraged, the first 57 years of raising them is the hardest, it gets easier after that. 😉

  9. I am going to reveal the Withnell secret meal planning method.
    Step 1. Shopping:
    Buy several assorted proteins, ones you family will eat. Things like tuna fish. ground beef. Hot dogs. Cheese and beans (mentioned together because together they make a complete protein). Also things like salmon chunks from the fish counter.
    Buy several starches. Rice, Pasta, Potatoes. Brown rice and whole grain pasta are actually more flavorful, as well as more nutrient loaded, and if you don’t buy the white stuff, your family will fairly quickly get used to it. Applies to bread as well. The Withnell family does not consider white bread to actually be a food item.
    Buy vegetables. Frozen or fresh are really not that much harder to cook than canned, and taste better. Again, buy ones your family will eat. If that is a very limited set, eventually they will get bored and ask for something else. In any case, vegetables actually eaten have more nutrient value than vegetables left on the plate.
    Buy sauces. Pasta sauce (not tomato sauce, why go tot the trouble of seasoning it yourself?). Barbeque sauce. Terryaki. Asian Barbeque sauce. Salsa. Alfredo. Look at the sauce sections both standard and ethnic, and buy what looks interesting.
    Step 2. Cooking:
    Pick a protein. Pick a starch. Pick a sauce. Pick a veggie. Be creative. Cook, using the sauce on the protein, starch, or veggie as the whim takes you. Some combinations will work, some won’t. You will quickly get a feel for what sort of things your family likes and some will become favorites. One Withnell favorite, created the day before shopping with what was left, is salmon chunks with carrots in alfredo sauce over whole wheat noodles.

    Just as a back up, we all took a multivitamin, but this system allows for reasonably a reasonably balanced diet with budget flexibility – if you’re flush, the protein can be steak, if broke, canned tuna.

    1. I buy tomato sauce by the case of cans because I make more than just pasta sauce from canned tomato sauce. Between homemade pasta sauce and chili and a few other things, I use about two 12-can cases of tomato sauce per month.

      1. Yummy easy tomato soup:

        some butter/flour roue
        dash salt, white pepper, any desired seasonings
        1 can Contadina tomato sauce
        1 same-can half-and-half

        Mix well and heat through (not quite to boiling). It will be fairly thick. If you use another brand you may need a pinch of baking soda to cut the acid. You can adjust portion size by cutting back the half-and-half as far as just over half a can. MILK DOES NOT WORK.

  10. Baking bread is simple if you have loaf pans and a strong mixer. It’s not that hard if you don’t.

    Basically, put water, flour and starter/yeast into your mixer. I start with it pretty wet. Run the mix crt and add flour until you get to the right consistency. (Usually 1 part water to two parts flour, but varries depending on climate.)

    Mix and beat it back into the bowl until the dough is worked enough. Should be stretchy.

    Grease the ever loving daylights out of your bread pans. More means less welding. Less means more applications per carton of grease. If it welds itself on, you didn’t put enough. Sorry.

    Put dough in pans. Should half full the pan. If your dough is really risy, put less, but you’ll only know after its over flowed a couple of times. Spray oil on the top of the dough and stick it in the oven on proof, or with just the over light on. Also put a pan under it in case it goes blooy. Let it rise until it doubles, or you figure it isn’t. That’s trial and error. Depends on the flour, the yeast and heck if I know. It seems to be consistent from run to run in the same kitchen, so take notes and do it longer/shorter next time.

    Pull it out and preheat oven to probably 375 and stick it in for 30m. It should thump nicely when it’s actually done.

    After baking, let it rest for a bit then cut it open and see what went wrong.

    I’ll link the page I got the troubleshooting steps from below since links go wonky. Here’s the excerpt:

    Some troubleshooting comments….

    Since this bread wasn’t kneaded it won’t be as well developed a loaf with a nice smooth crust and crumb as you might like. It is a bit rustic. Also, it tends to spread out when it rises above the bread pan. That thinner area will tend to be darker than the rest of the loaf. Don’t worry, even if it burns a bit, as long as the rest of the loaf is fine.

    If the loaf is too dark, bake it at a slightly lower temperature next time. If the loaf is too light, bake it at a slightly higher temperature next time. If the inside of the loaf is too dry, bake for a shorter period next time. If the inside of the loaf is too wet, bake for a little longer next time. You may have to play with baking times and temperatures a bit to accommodate your altitude and your oven.

    If you find specks of flour in the loaf, that suggests you didn’t stir the dough quite enough. Stir a bit longer next time, looking for clumps of flour as you do so.

    If your bread didn’t rise, the most common problems are using outdated yeast, using water that was too hot (which killed the yeast), using too much salt, using too much flour, and/or using too little water.

    Basically the art of bread making consists of making lots of loaves that go horribly wrong, then making corrections to the bake until they go right. So just get a few bags of flour and be prepared to sacrifice them on the alter of trial and error.

    Oh, if you don’t have bread pans, just use (very) well greased cookie sheets. Make a blob of dough, drop it on the sheet and see what it does.

    For a while I was baking starter discarded like that; I’d just spoon it onto a cookie sheet, throw it in the oven for a quick hot bake, then once it was cool enough to handle, I’d just split it open and add cheese and butter and have it right then. I was just going to throw it out otherwise, so why not try it and see what happened?

    1. You can also use just a little grease on the pans (even cooking spray) if you then dust it with a little cornmeal. This is especially useful if your oven heats unevenly and tends to burn the bottom of the bread by the time the top browns a bit, as it insulates the bottom just that little bit, and burnt cornmeal will dust off.

      1. I’ve never liked using a mixer–I’ve had the dough foul up in the mixer too often. I usually use a wooden spoon (or silicone spatula) to get the initial run of flour mixed in, then I just switch to using my hands, heh.

        Also: those nifty rectangular pastry cutter thingys are GREAT for scraping dough off the counter when you’re done.

        1. For a long time I used a wooden spoon. Then I discovered the dough whisk, and it became a “How did I manage without this?” tool. Also, using a silicone mat to kneed on makes cleanup afterwards much easier.

          1. I think part of my problem with mixers + bread dough is that the recipe I use is…well, it makes anywhere from 8-12 loaves, depending on what size bread pan one uses, so it’s really much too big for a standard mixer, and hand mixers don’t work so well either :p

            My current kneading surface is an old library card-catalog-table that has a nigh-indestructible laminate over it’s wooden top. (Seriously, we’ve been cutting stuff directly on it for YEARS, and it’s only if you look at juuuust the right angle with juuuuust the right amount of sunlight that you can see very, very faint scratches here and there from the knives… Not much sticks to it either, and what does is, as I mentioned, very easily scraped up (much to the dogs’ delight, since the scrapings usually get dropped in their bowl).

            We’ve tried silicone mats for baking, but so far I’m not hugely impressed. None of them fit our pans (either too large or too small), and they don’t ever feel fully clean to me… Haven’t been too impressed with the silicone baking “pans” either–they say stuff doesn’t stick to it? That’s a lie. Stuff absolutely does stick. Maybe not *quite* as badly as regular stuff, but if you don’t spray it you still are dealing with stuff sticking where you don’t want it to. (The one real advantage I’ve found is that you can pop stuff out, which helps…but if it’s still sticking, you still end up losing chunks, sigh) They are OK for making soap, although I still find that using a Pringles can lined with a tube of waxed paper makes for a FAR more awesome (round) soap bar than the silicone loaf pans (mini or otherwise).

          1. Which…are pretty much the same thing, thinking about it 😀

            (Though I would not use any of those currently in my house. They’ve been used for a LOT of scraping…but not of food things. I don’t think I could sterilize them nearly enough for my comfort, lol)

            1. You just need to buy a dedicated spackle knife for the kitchen ^_^

              …which reminds me, I still haven’t picked up a paintbrush to use in the bacon grease can…

    2. I use a bread machine, but it doesn’t cook the loaf. I just use it for kneading the dough and initial raise. Then I pull the dough out and then decide what to do with it. Generally Rolls or Small Bread Loaves.

      I can do the mix and kneading on my own. Did it for decades. Just easier and cleaner to have the bread machine do that work.

      I can plan and cook meals. We still had home economics when I was in middle school, 7 – 9, which was split between cooking and sewing. Doesn’t mean I’m an excellent cook, because I’m not. At best I’m an indifferent cook.

      As far as the foods kid will eat. Well he is a move versatile eater than I would have thought. We had so many battles during my childhood, regarding eating different foods, that I chose to not make that fight. I refused to be a short order family cook, but if you didn’t want it, don’t eat it, won’t fix it again. There are foods that, as far as I know, kid has never eaten because neither dad, or I will, thus won’t fix it, or order it. Surprisingly he has fewer food hang ups than either of us. Plus most foods he doesn’t care for are sweets. No problem passing on cake, pie, nor most candy or cookies. Tell me how this is bad?

    3. The problem with making dough without a machine is that it takes doing things on time. Especially with small kids, ten minutes without interruption is a rare treasure.

      When I’m on a baking kick, I’ll put all the dry ingredients for A Bunch Of Batches into ziplock bags, with the wet ingredients I need to add listed. Since my go-to is cinnamon rolls, the kids are REALLY GOOD about telling me when the stuff is ready to be rolled out and put together– and even then one in a half dozen will get forgotten long enough to overflow.

      1. My wife’s approach is to make the dough at night when the kids go to bed, then let it rise overnight. When I get up (usually an hour or so before her), I stick it in the oven (at 425 to 450°F for 45 minutes), and then it’s ready in time for breakfast.

        I’ll ask her for the recipe and post it: it’s really simple. Flour, water, yeast, that’s about it. (I just don’t remember the amounts off-hand). The most unusual thing about how we bake is that we back it in a porcelain bowl that has a lid. Lid stays ON for the first 30 minutes in the oven, then lid comes OFF and bake for the last 15 minutes. Gives a good crust while still maintaining a little bit of springiness. We started doing this when we got married because we didn’t have a proper bread-loaf oven dish, but we’ve had such good results with the 30 minutes covered + 15 minutes uncovered technique that we’ve kept doing it.

  11. Every recipe (except cookies and pie crust) in Betty Crocker can be adapted to the microwave by merely adjusting cook time downward as needed, and for fluffy eggy things, a bundt-style pan is useful. Yes, you can make a very good souffle in the microwave. (And when it gets cold, it contracts into the most delicious cheese-flavored ice cream…)

    And they adapt equally well to woodstove cooking.

    Get the looseleaf binder format, if you can find it.

    FREE MUTTON? OMG… Giant vats of Scotch Broth soup!!

  12. For a while, I was doing a crock-pot whole roasted/seasoned chicken every week or two, then taking what we didn’t eat and turning it into pot pies and casseroles (often tucked in the freezer for when I needed a break), chicken salad, and/or shredded chicken to add to mac & cheese, or other pasta dishes. And I slice and freeze leftover beef roast for later, in individual portions.

    I meal plan for a month out, and write my grocery lists based on those plans…but nothing’s set in stone. I just have general categories: burger night, pasta night (could be spaghetti, pasta bake (basically fast, poor man’s lasagna), mac & cheese & sandwiches, or homemade alfredo), soup/stew/roast night (cool weather only), Mexican night, pizza night, Zatarain’s box rice mix night, chili night, taco night, chicken & veggies night…y’all get the picture. But we rarely eat out anymore–that’s reserved for birthdays, celebrating good grades/surviving the semester/surviving the school year. And Other Half and I go out for anniversaries by ourselves.

    1. We used to eat out a bit too much, but nothing too ridiculous. Then the lockdown came, and things were way screwy for a bit. We grabbed take out too much during lockdown, then ate out way too much when dining rooms reopened.

      Now, we typically eat out about twice a week. One of those is usually dinner at the dive bar we often go to for live music. The other is usually good New York or New Haven style pizza for one lunch. Sometimes we swap one of those out for Indian, Mexican, or a casual restaurant.

    2. Menu planning for the month is probably my biggest cooking hang-up, especially since right now I’m cooking for one or two. I’ve mostly settled on fixing something bigger and long lasting on Sunday evening and eating leftovers for a few days, then sandwiches/grazing out of the cupboards before next week’s cooking event rolls around. I’ve got a well stocked pantry and freezer, filled with stuff I mostly like and can use, but I still struggle with planning meals in an order that uses things up on a regular basis and varies the flavors. Any suggestions?

      1. Honestly, soups and casseroles are probably your easiest route. (Rice/pasta + cream-of-something soup (I like mushroom better than the other flavors, personally + veggies/meat + cheese you usually can’t go wrong.)

        Or you do a fancy roast, and then turn the leftovers into soups/casseroles/etc. (Also: crock pots are AWESOME for everything like that, including pot roast.)

        There are also pasties and/or runzas, if you don’t mind a little extra time (it’s a good one to do on a weekend, and usually worth the extra time for the tasty results. Also, if you have additional hands, you can put someone on stuffing-duty…) Runzas, which use yeast-bread dough, you can just buy a pack of the Rhodes rolls, thaw ’em out, roll out the rolls into circles, stuff ’em with chopped up leftover whatever (although I am fond of the traditional cabbage-and-hamburger, personally) and bake them. (Just be aware that they always get bigger than you expect them to, what with rising and all, so I recommend baking them VERY soon after filling, before they have a chance to get too big… Pasties, being made either with biscuit dough–baking powder, not can–or a shortcrust dough–which I want to try, it’s denser and involves lard, which is great stuff–are a bit more time consuming, but still not too bad. And you can stuff either variety with pretty much anything you like. Doesn’t even have to be leftovers (I love using pot roast leftovers to make pasties, but usually cook up filling for runzas.) And you can top them with ketchup (ick) or butter (my personal favorite)–and even better, they freeze REALLY well, *especially* biscuit-dough pasties. (Though in our house, they usually don’t make it far enough to get frozen.)

        1. Apparently Aldi’s piecrusts include lard. So if they are dough sheets, you could probably use them for pasties, albeit not as thick as the really big Michigan pasties that practically use medieval coffin/cold water pastry.

      2. Plan by meat and then by theme. Don’t plan specifics. Plan for “fast and simple” during week-days. For example, one of my household standards is a bastard lovechild of Mexican and stir fry: 2-4 chicken tenders cooked in a stainless steel skillet with taco or fajita seasoning, a can of Ro-Tel, and 2/3-3/4 cup instant rice. It makes a good meal with some leftovers for two (serve as nachos or in tortillas with cheese), and does well as soup (add chicken broth) for the next day. Takes a total of half an hour, and one skillet, plus a knife and a slotted spoon to cook the first night. Scales up pretty easily to serve more than two, if you’ve got a big enough skillet, if you wind up with guests when you’d planned for this (or is fast enough to switch to if you have guests when you’d planned a smaller meal). Not hard to switch out the kind of meat, either (I’ve used both beef and pork for this).

        For my family, Sundays are for things that make stuff my other half will take for lunches for the rest of the week (tacos or chili, for example), Mondays are burger nights, Tuesdays are pasta, Wednesdays are chicken & veggies, Thursdays are Greek or Mexican food night, and Fridays are pizza nights.

        1. Right now our “big” freezer (7 cu ft chest version) is mostly empty. This is because we will take delivery of 1/2 a pig just before Christmas. I will add to freezer contents once I know how much room there is to stock our standards. Right now I have hamburger patties and chicken tenders, but that is about it. Hamburger patties are made from bulk 10% ground round and individually packaged. Chicken tender frozen is Costco bulk packaged Foster Farms. Son uses either for dinners after he gets off work. But I will use them too for dinners for us. By having my standards available I make dinners based on what we are each doing, or not, each night. Rarely without something to make. (Although my meal list gets limited. Right now I’m forbidden to make meatloaf, of any kind, hubby is down on chicken, because made it too often, regardless of form, except still can get away with $4.99 Costco Rotisserie. I won’t make salmon often either because when you spend 5 weeks having salmon steaks, loaf, sandwiches, cakes, you learn to not like it … hate is a strong word. One summer headed off to work after mom and dad limited out on salmon. Mom handed me 3 with “here is your meat until you get paid”. I was popular with the crew. I was trading salmon for hamburger and canned tuna by week 3.)

  13. When you buy ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, or pork – all of them have their good points), have a plan.
    First night – burgers. Try them on english muffins, bagels, or – my favorite – ciabatti rolls. Add in a veggie, perhaps a salad or veggie tray, and some older cheeses to melt on top (yes, older, dried out cheeses – not moldy – are just fine for melting), and a dessert – cookies, brownies, whatever, and you’ll have a very quick, and well-loved meal.
    2nd night – on the first night, take about 1/2 of the family-sized meat tray, and form it as meat loaf. Stick it in the fridge, and put it on in the afternoon. Add mashed potatoes/rice/noodles, a veggie/fruit, and you’re done.
    3rd night – take all of the meat that’s left – cooked or not – and mash it up for chili fixings. Add tomatoes, peppers, corn, seasonings, and some hot sauce. Serve over rice, or with baked corn tortillas – they can be the ones at the bottom of the bag, that are kinda crushed. This is even better the 2nd day.

    Learn to make some specialty breads – pita, french, sourdough – you’ll save a ton on it. Also experiment with muffins, pancakes, and scones. English muffins take a while to make, but are great, particularly the whole grain ones (VERY filling, you are full with 1/2 muffin). I recommend James Beard’s bread book, as well as Laurel’s Kitchen (her Oatmeal muffins are the BOMB!).

    The big thing is, give the process time. Gradually add in new items to your standards. Use fresh fruit and veggies as much as you can; kids do get used to them if they come from their own garden. Start an herb garden, find a local source of honey, and have fun with it.

    1. One fun thing about ground meat patties is that “burgers with buns and fries”” is a completely different meal than “burger patty with gravy and a side of potatoes”

      1. Having them on rice with onion gravy, egg optional (I add more green beans than onions, just long enough to warm them from the freezer) is a variation on Moco Loco, too.

  14. When I was in an apartment senior year of college, Mom turned over some of her cookbooks. Other than the complete fiasco of Worcestershire pudding (protip: if you don’t know what it should be like, don’t try it for the group dinner), they were a good start. (4 people in apartment. Each of us did solo dinner once a week, one pair would do Friday, the other get groceries and do Saturday, with Sunday we’d get pizza or go out to eat.)

    Later, I found a book with 30 minute recipes (Cook it Quick, or some such) that made for less exciting but more reliable dishes. After I graduated and was cooking for myself (college apt had 4 of us, plus the occasional guest), The Joy of Cooking was a useful guide. As memory serves, the instructions tend to run overcooked (at least in the 1970s edition, YMMV), but this was correctable. I also watched PBS cooking shows and got a cookbook or two from them.

    This all worked until I got short of time (I’ll blame the MS study program. That’s the ticket) at which time it was Stauffer’s and assorted microwave meals, plus lots of restaurant.

    For current cooking: we buy a lot, cook a bunch at a time, freeze most of it, and heat in the microwave. We’ll do a pizza from scratch once a week (gluten free, and loads better than what we could buy), but $SPOUSE tends to batch-cook. It works for us.

    1. I have 2 cookbooks and a couple of specialty ones. I rarely use them. Started out okay. But when I cook something “new”, even from a cookbook it is called “experimenting” by everyone else. Maybe the following hints will explain:

      1) Do NOT substitute same amount of Cyan Pepper for Chile Powder, when making Chile with meat and beans … Hubby showed up with Subway Sandwiches that night for dinner. (I was on swing shift for ship log loading, while hubby was on day shift, so this was a “surprise” dinner is ready … Surprise!)

      2) I guess there is a limit on how much elbow macaroni to add to chicken for chicken and dumplings … Put in spoon to dish up, entire contents came out of Crock Pot … We decided on Pizza that night.

      I am NOT allowed around the barbecue grill.

      1. I have a higher tolerance for ground cayenne than $SPOUSE does, but she uses a tiny bit in pulled pork (recipe from one of the Food Network people–Melissa d’Arabian if I haven’t mutilated the spelling).

        I bought a cellophane pack of cumin early one May. About half way through it, I tossed it, not because it went off, but because a little cumin goes a long way, and that was too far for me.

        Even when I could eat it, elbow mac wasn’t my favorite.

        We cook three things on the ancient gas BBQ: country ribs (parboiled, so really only need a good sear), hamburgers (done on the rare side, so microwaving will get them done right, and in season, zucchini. I spray with canola spray, then use a dusting of steak and chop rub. Three minutes, flip, three more, serve and devour. I *really* don’t like microwave zucchini.

        1. Steaks, Hamburger Patties, and once salmon. I get the seasoned Costco Ribs, when we run out our pig ribs. But either way they are raw. I cook super high 425, for 20 minutes, then switch to high slow cook feature for all day with barbecue sauce. Nice and tender, meat falling off the bones, when done.

  15. Perhaps not for everyone, it was good to read ‘Cooking for Geeks’ by Jeff Potter. It’s not so much a how-to as a why-it’s-thus, which always felt lacking.

      1. That is how I felt about the last software system I worked on. The documentation written (by boss), was all about “What”. Not Why, or How. The latter is what I ended up writing after being asked about something more than once. (Actually depended on how much time was spent researching How and/or Why. If relatively easy. Then needed reason to take time to write it up. If extensive research, then wrote it up, if for no other reason, I would have it to hand to explain it the next time the question came up. Yes I am lazy.) There were some items that when they asked why a certain setting was or was not used, the answer was that was their bosses choice (usually an OLD boss, so no one knew, but still NMP).

    1. The first _Cook’s Illustrated_ cookbook is a tome, but I’d say half of it is “why this works this way, why you can’t substitute this, but can do that if you adjust this other thing.” It’s a step up from Betty Crocker or Better Homes and gardens, but great for the “why do I have to de-grease everything to make a meringue?” type question.

      1. The Fanny Farmer cookbook is also a fantastic one. It’s pretty old-fashioned, but it gives a lot of great how-to on, say, how to make your own broth (if you have the time and patience, heh), and also some good ideas of how to prepare the bits Americans usually prefer not to eat, should one ever find oneself in the position of needing to eat those bits…

        Also really fantastic basic recipes.

    2. I used to be on the fatfree mailing list (yeah, I was veggie for a while. Didn’t last) and the forum owner had a really good book (said she) on the science of cooking. No idea who wrote it, but IIRC, it was intended for a grad-level course in food science.

      Alton Brown is supposed to have done a popular version or a few in a similar vein. I suspect a lot of it is from/source for Good Eats.

      1. Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For The Food is good, and has lots of diagrams and cooking science along with the techniques and recipes. His Gear was if anything even more useful to me, since I tend to buy utensils and gadgets and doodads, and knowing which ones were actually useful and which were not was helpful.

  16. My mother was a very plain, unadventurous cook in the New England style, and never taught me anything much. By age 50 I could make a steak and baked potato (and have them come out at the same time even) or whip up a spaghetti dinner, but that was about it. My ex was a great cook, but after about five years of marriage stopped enjoying it and fell into a rut of pasta-with-chicken-in-butter.

    So we agreed to get Blue Apron and I was in charge of cooking one meal a week and that was amazing. Part of my trepidations around cooking was I had no idea what the terms meant. What is a “medium dice”? What is “folding” vs. “stirring”? What does “done” look like? Blue Apron — while pricey and with lots of wasted packaging — was perfect for that: each recipe had a “hero” image and a description and list of ingredients on one side, and then the steps broken down with photos on the other side. So I discovered that I could actually cook without anxiety. (Plus I learned about a bunch of ingredients I’d never even heard of. Shallots are one of my favorite food items now and go in practically everything.)

    And then after my divorce I resolved not to eat solely out of cans and boxes like I had the last time I was single, so even though I dropped Blue Apron I kept on cooking. I’d just go “hmm, I have a chicken breast and some dill and let’s see what’s on the internet?” and find a recipe and just make that. I’m at the point where I barely even need a cookbook for most non-fancy dinners. (Okay, I still eat a fair bit of Campbell’s Chunky Soup and order out for Thai once every couple weeks. So what?)

    Since I’m usually only cooking for one, I make big batches of chili or beef stew or chicken cacciatore (basically Italian chicken stew the way I make it) or jambalaya or clam chowder, eat one bowl, and then put the rest in wide mouth pint Mason jars and freeze it. I get six or seven jars out of a batch, so I usually have a couple weeks’ worth of dinners in my chest freezer at any time.

    I haven’t tried making bread yet, because I know it’s a learning curve and will take some concentrated effort. And since it’s just me and my daughter doesn’t really like bread, I’ll probably have to throw away most of anything I make. But I have three weeks of vacation coming up in December, and I’m planning a test loaf or two in my Dutch oven just as proof of concept.

    1. Dutch ovens are wonderful things. I’ve taken to putting meals – bean soup, jambalaya, stew, pot roast – in the Dutch oven, turning the oven on about 300 (sometimes less, probably should usually be less) and walking away. Check periodically to make sure the liquid hasn’t boiled out and add more if needed. Other than the liquid checks, fuss-free cooking.
      I know, it’s what a Dutch oven is for, but I’m slow sometimes.

      1. I have a tiny “Dutch oven” as a result of some Christmas party. Might do for a personal item, that might still need accompaniment. Have yet to use it, due to.. not knowing WHAT and HOW to do with it.

        1. I need to replace our Dutch Ovens.

          We had ones with legs, which is a PIA used in the oven, but worked fantastic in wood fires or using coal on campouts. Passed them on to the troop for the adult patrol, or if they got another youth patrol.

          Also my Crock Pot died, well the old one died, then the relatively new one did.

          No leg Dutch Oven for home use either in oven or on stove top, get “adapter” for camping wood fire or coal use (if ever allowed again).

          FYI, cakes are great in Dutch Ovens. As is the Heart Attack Special (Layer Bacon in bottom, next hash browns, cover with scrambled eggs …).

        2. Eggs. Really small cast iron pots are used for eggs en cocotte and that’s what it sounds like you have. You put in a sauce or bacon or mushrooms on the bottom of the pot, crack an egg or two and put it in the oven. If you’re being precious you can put the pot in a tray of hot water.

          Makes an excellent meal for one.

            1. The French like it runny.

              Break the yolk early in the cooking if you don’t like it that way, the idea is the egg is the sauce. If you put the lid on it’s en cocotte, if you take it off it’s sur le plat. All delicious, if you like eggs.

      2. Simply finding a Dutch oven is a hassle nowadays. The term seems to be universally applied to any pot with a lid.

        A proper Dutch oven has a lid with a lip, so hot coals can be placed on it. It has an inside rack, so it can be used an oven. And it has a bail, that lets it be suspended above the fire if needed.

        1. My quotes were right, it seems. It might have a lip, but that’s all. It’s really just a (cast iron, it appears) lidded pot about the size of a fist. Yes, that small.

        2. Almost all of those traits are modifications. AMERICAN modifications. (The only stuff that are consistent is it’s a sided cookware that is 1) iron, 2) flat bottom, 3) lid.)

          Guess the whole “ooh, this is useful, now let’s change one liiiiittle problem….” has a long history for a reason!

          Got going from an English guy studying Dutch brass cookware and coming up with a new way to make cast iron cookware….and those dang Americans just went nuts with it.

          FWIW, I still get all sniffy at the idea of covering that wonderful source of iron in the diet with ceramic! :sniffs:

    2. Rolls or small loaves for the win. Does not matter what bread recipe you are using. Freeze what is not used first night.

      1. And in all honesty…Rhodes’ Rolls (or bread dough) is very nearly as good as homemade, and great if you need something in a relative hurry and/or haven’t got the energy to do the bread from scratch. (As I mentioned elsewhere here, I’m really fond of it for doing runzas. I did runzas ONCE with my from-scratch bread dough, and it was bloody exhausting.)

      2. The raw bread dough can be frozen for storage, as well.

        If I remember correctly, the dough for fry-bread needs to be pretty fresh out of the freezer in order to deep-fry properly. Also makes good pizza crust, IIRC.

        1. Have never frozen dough, but have refrigerated it. Depending on family member, the first rolls I learned to make (made them for years without the dough break maker) is called Grandma Annie’s or (Great) Aunt Veronia’s Ice Box Rolls. Because you get them ready a few days before, refrigerate just before that last rise (secret is to use double the required yeast). Day of holiday, take rolls out, transport (if needed), leave them out of fridge for last rise, cook as one of last items needing oven. Nice hot fluffy, large rolls for holiday dinner, and later for left over snacks that night or days following.

        2. I’ve tried freezing pizza-crust dough, and concluded that it’s better to just make a fresh batch each time. If anything it takes longer to let the frozen dough thaw than to let the fresh dough rise, so the frozen dough is not a time-saver, it takes up valuable space in the freezer, and it’s not quite as good.

    3. A roommate and I would do a pan pizza every week (before I was in an apartment), but somewhere I lost the crust recipe. I used the french-bread recipe from The Joy, and it was a good fit.

      Wheat based bread is relatively easy; you just need to knead a lot. 🙂 Whe I had time, I’d do a loaf every once in a while. GF bread is a whole ‘nother beast, and between $SPOUSE and me, we can get three loafs ready to go into the oven in a couple of hours. I can’t recall how long it took to get ready for a loaf of wheat based, but maybe a third of that time; depends on the yeast gods and proper sacrifices of sugar and warm water.

  17. When I was starting out, my recipes started at “serves 50” and went downhill from there. I’ve cooked on everything from professional stoves to campfires in the woods. But I started when I was six, and my grandma told me I was going to have to fend for myself as she didn’t see me ever getting married. *chuckle*

    Some things I’ve found as shortcuts for the picky and or frugal bachelor:

    Spam is cheaper than bacon, and browns up decent. Dice it and add to omelettes with cheese and shredded potatoes. Do not add olives to said omelette because the brine from the salt added to the spam overpowers everything. If you use frozen or freeze dried shredded potatoes you can still go from nothing to plate in under five minutes.

    Casseroles and stir fries are good “we have leftovers to disguise” meals. Casseroles especially in those little 9″ or smaller dishes are good throw it in and forget it for a while meals. Protein, veggie, cheese, done.

    If you have fresh tomatoes or a nice farm or farmers’ market nearby you can get them from, a little prep work for canned tomatoes can make soup and stew base for an entire year. Stewed tomato base works for everything from chili to pasta to vegetable soup. Proactive laziness for the win!

    When bread starts to go stale, if you buy multiple loaves at a time or just haven’t gotten around to it, french toast saves the day. French toast doesn’t care if the bread is a little hard or stale, once soaked in egg batter and fried up it is tasty stuff. And use honey, you heathens! Maple syrup is for pancakes. ;p

    You can freeze more stuff than you’d think to save for later. Cheese for example, if you buy in bulk lasts longer without growing icky mold if frozen and taken out in smaller blocks. I freeze soups and stir fries in those little tupperware bowls. One pat of butter and a napkin on top, you’ve got lunch that’s a lot tastier than drive through.

  18. My own basic reference is The Joy of Cooking, for things like what temperature you set the oven at to bake chicken breasts, and how long you leave them in, and what temperature the meat thermometer should read before you take them out.

    For leftovers, my practice with made dishes is to make four servings; since there are two of us, that lasts two meals. With roast beef or roast pork, we have one meal of hot roast, and one meal of slices of cold roast, and then I come up with something inventive for the reast. With turkey thighs (I just scored four today!) I boil them for several hours until the meat starts to fall off the bones, and then I make various dishes with the meat, and put the broth in the freezer; after three or four cycles it makes an amazing soup base.

    Unfortunately, my digestion can no longer tolerate tomatoes; they’re a big trigger for GERD. The worst thing about increasing age is the loss of foods I used to love. No more cold pizza for breakfast . . .

    1. William, I know some people are agin it on purist principles, but… consider white-sauce / alfredo pizza, instead of tomato-based? Has helped me on several fronts (along with better living through modern chemistry, in the form of a daily dose of OTC famotidine… IANADoctor/MedicalProfessional, so definitely double-check with your medical advisor[s]!)

      1. Unfortunately cheese has been off my list for much longer than tomatoes.

        I take prescription famotidine before bedtime, and prescription pantoprazole on rising, before breakfast. They help enough so that sometimes I sleep through the night.


  19. Once you’ve done it, making bread is a lot easier than it seems–but! At least for the recipe I use you do kind of have to have freezer space for it, lol. (Then again, I learned how to bake/cook in a family of 9 to 10–depending on who was home–and have never really learned how to cook for fewer people, sigh.) And I definitely agree that bread machines probably require a lot less attention. I’m actually afraid of using a bread machine, because I’ve never done it! (How do you get it clean…? Is it easy to clean…?)

    If anyone wants the basics on canning produce–another thing that is actually way easier than you think, albeit it can be time consuming depending on how much you’re putting up at a go–I’d be happy to share info on how to do that. 🙂 (Starting with: ignore everything the USDA says about what you can and cannot can, they’re full of crap. And clean the kitchen before you can.)

    1. Kneading bread is also a good way to work on upper-body strength, and to vent frustration. I’ve been known to make a batch of saffron buns just to keep from getting an “attempted assault and battery” charge.

      1. I had a Bad Patch when my daughter was about two, and was making absurd amounts of bread to keep from throttling the deserving. I’d give her a tiny wodge to knead by herself; turns out the kneading wasn’t as therapeutic as the Very Small Warcry of “PAT PAT QUISH QUISH” from the counter next to me. 🙂

    2. The bread machine I use, the mixing/cooking bowl comes out. Hand wash. The remaining parts can be wiped down with a clean wet cloth.

    3. My experience with making bread is that finding the yeast that works most reliably *for you* is the trickiest part. These days I swear by SAF Red (and swear at those packets of yeast).

      I make bread & butter pickles every year, along with an occasional batch of mixed-garden pickles, and I keep thinking about trying to can tomatoes – in particular crushed tomatoes for pizza sauce.

      1. I’ve never had issues with yeast (we keep it in a jar in the freezer).

        Tomatoes are nice and easy to can–they’re highly acidic, which means you can do the hot-water-bath method! (Pressure canning is also not hard, but can seem intimidating–I certainly was the first time I did it on my own, heh.)

        1. Summertime, I wait until I’ve westside Oregon to buy a brick of yeast (Reno to Flyover Falls has killed many a brick of yeast–somebody thought it didn’t need to be kept cool), but winter, i’ll get one at the restaurant supply store. Yeah, we’re spoiled that way. Might be one of the few things keeping Despicable Kate off “I have a little list.”

      2. I’ve had very good luck with the Fleischmann’s yeast from Sam’s Club. It’s less than $5.00 for two one-pound bags – about the same price as the 4oz jar in grocery stores. If you transfer the yeast you open into a sealed container that you keep in the refrigerator it will stay good for about two years – unless you bake enough (I don’t) to use it up.

        1. Fleishmann–yeah, that’s what we use. And you can keep it in the freezer, where it’s good nearly indefinitely (at least, so far…I’m pretty sure some of that yeast in the jar in the freezer is going on a decade or more old…)

          What you gotta be careful of is not to get the water TOO hot. My mother described it as “just hot enough that you don’t find it terribly comfortable, but don’t want to yank your hand away.” That’s….worked really well for me, heh, though I have no idea what the actual temp would be.

  20. I want to second the use of the freezer and microwave to save your leftovers. After my children grew up and left home, I had only my husband and myself to feed. My husband is very picky (First World problems, FTW) and won’t consider most leftovers to be food. So I just freeze the extra portions and have items that I can use for my lunch at work.

    1. We have the same problem, only both of us aren’t big on leftovers, with a few exceptions. We do the same for son, any meal that can’t be scaled down for two, leftovers are packaged, put in fridge or freezer, leave note for son that they are there. Or, depending, I package as toppers for the dog. OTOH I do not have problem throwing food out if, either son does not like whatever, or it sat in fridge or freezer too long. (Curtsy of Weight Watchers, FWIW.) Also the neighbors really like us. If I don’t think certain leftovers will be used … well between them they have 6 children, the 5 oldest are all growing boys.

  21. My bachelor recipes were heavily shaped from a period of trying to conduct cheap, under the radar cooking while living in the barracks…..especially with a mess hall that was unpredicatably open and over a mile to walk to. A crock pot with a timer, a good rice cooker with a timer, a pasta pot with a strainer and lots of Tupperware and ziplocks for leftovers and lunches will go a long way on a small budget. Betty Crocker and the Joy of Cooking are also great source material….

    1. Hah … barracks cooking! I did that, after having a mild case of food poisoning from the chow at the military dining facility when I was in tech school. Bought a hot plate, later a toaster oven, and a crock pot, and kept them in my locker when not actually in use. Never got caught out, developed some lovely one-pot meals based on a single chop or chicken breast, cooked with rice or pilaf. I also did exhaustive experiments on how many various ways that sliced deli ham, eggs, sharp cheddar cheese and English muffins could be combined … ham omelets, cheese soufflé, egg and ham on toasted muffin, etc.

  22. Upon the subject of “American cheese” in pre-1970s American cookbooks: probably NOT cheddar unless specified as “sharp” or “aged” or whatever other cheddar-specific characteristic. What it is NOT is “pasteurized process cheese food” or Velveeta, or most other individually-wrapped Singles. That phrasing, “cheese food”, is an absolutely critical separator of REAL cheese from the kinda-sorta-maybe-good-enough cheaper substitute. {Yes, boyz and girlz, Ize Can Be A Cheese Snob about some thinks …}

    In the current supermarket of 2021CE, think “Deluxe” American in the pre-packaged sort (Kraft Deluxe Slices for one specific brand; Walmart’s Great Value Deluxe American Pasteurized Process American Cheese [with added Calcium] comes in a Reduced Fat version), or even sliced-to-order from the service deli. Can be white, yellow, or somewhere in between in color. It is smooth, not showing the curd texture often seen in low-processed cheddars when you break a slice (instead of slicing it), and generally melts more smoothly than Singles, with less oil/fat separating from the solids. YMMV, of course. Serious Caveat: this report based upon personal experience combined with at least a little research — experience from the standpoint of being born in 1958, and being regularly accused since of manifesting mouse ears when someone says the word CHEESE

  23. My advice for large families is to serve a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with dinner. Sometimes the kids didn’t like what I was experimenting with. Sometimes I had nieces and nephews who were picky eaters. If you insist on your kids eating what you fixed, you can create eating disorders. It really isn’t good to force children to eat something they don’t like. But if you jump up and fix something “different” because they don’t like what you made, that creates a monster. Or monsters.

    So a plate of PB&J was always available. When the kids were teenagers they’d eat everything I made and then they’d eat the sandwiches too. Ah, such fond memories.

    1. I still remember the check in phone call I got after the crew got done with their 80 mile backpacking trek. Hubby and 14 year old son as part of 12 member crew. When they left we still had a picky eater. When hubby called for the check in, my question was “How did it go? How did (our) kid do?”. Hubby. “Well fine overall. Food was a problem …” My gut, silent “oh no”. Me “That bad?” Hubby, “Yes. He ate everything in sight. We never had anything left over to trade when we met groups on the trail headed in the other direction.” Which (I guess) is suppose to be part of the experience. Trade extra of what the group doesn’t prefer for higher group desired items. Out of the 12 in the crew, our son was the only one to Gain weight, but then he grew 4 inches in 12 days too. From that point on kid ate just about everything, and half of whatever I couldn’t finish (generally when we went out). We were officially on the see food diet … it was cheaper to take him to any place that offered “all you can eat”, there for awhile, lost money on me, he made up for it and then some.

      Then there is the story hubby tells about his folks taking the family to all you can buffet when he was 13 and his brother 18. Sometime that night they were asked to leave … feeding two teen boys on the see food diet was too much.

      I remember wondering why my aunt and uncle would cut off their three boys, after all it was an “all you can eat” … not like they were losing money on us 3 girls, especially since the 3 cousins were called the “little boys” for a reason (youngest was 20 years younger than I was, and the oldest was 14 years younger) and we girls were well past any female version of the see food diet.

      1. Heh. I miss my own “see food” days (though I wouldn’t want the expense). I was a girl, true, but I went from 5 feet to 5’11” in less than four years. Even my BROTHERS never quite matched me for volume of food eaten in the shortest amount of time–probably because my metabolism was off the charts then, and so I was “underweight” to boot…

      2. When my father departed the Marines, his slightly-older brother took him to an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet. Shortly thereafter, the manager kicked ’em both out and took down the sign.

      3. One of my incentives for keeping fit is to remain more or less on the see food diet. I’ve discovered my activity isn’t as good for the diet as it used to be as a younger man but generally speaking I can have a good splurge a couple of times a week and not gain weight

    2. Exactly – cater to stated likes and dislikes of picky eaters, you breed a monster. Kids playing games with what they will eat or not eat are playing control games with their parents. The best way to win is not to play the game at all. I developed a system with my kid, who occasionally teetered on the brink of picky eating by saying, basically: “This is what’s for breakfast/lunch/supper. Eat of it what you want, ask for seconds if you want … but if you don’t want? Guess what; next meal is in four or eight hours.”
      You very rarely see five-year-old anorexics. Plain old hunger wins, most times.

      1. And that does work for most kids–but you DO have those who have genuine sensory issues that they can’t articulate (and which parents may not be aware of) other than “I hate this.”

        For me? It was raw or undercooked onions (and still is). I cannot abide them. I *like* onions, as seasoning, and in themselves, but I can NOT eat them raw or undercooked, because it’s the texture of it. Caramelized or nothing, for me. For mom, it was brussels sprouts and lima beans (and so they were never, ever served in our home when I was a kid–I actually kind of like brussels sprouts, heh)

        1. 100% Either sensory, or in my cousins case, physical.

          I too despise raw onions, for the same reason. Won’t touch organ meats, cream corned, or stewed tomatoes. I will not serve the latter list, let alone eat. Old enough to skip a meal (however not recommended). Also old enough to not leave everything in someone else’s hands.

          My cousin, since she had physical therapy on her problem she is less a picky eater. She wasn’t swallowing properly. Which made it difficult to eat anything other than soft food. Which is why peanut butter or mac & cheese type foods were all she’d willing eat.

          Our son will not nuts or seeds. Not allergic. He was in braises between ages 8 and 14, when his last set was removed. Braises, nuts, and seeds, do not mix. Never learned to like them. OTOH he isn’t big on most sweets, cakes, pie, candy, or most cookies, either. Which is not a bad thing.

  24. Cooking is actually fun if you don’t do it too often…and there are lots of good recipes out there on the internet, if you don’t have something better…

  25. The only way my Mom could get me to not annoy her while she cooked was to have me help. Thus, I learned how to cook.

    I swear, if I was going to build a “homeschool in a can” or “how to adult” book package, one of the required things in it would be dirt-simple cooking skills, working your way up. Like, one of your examples-“brown the hamburger.” What is that? How do you do that? Yes, it’s spelling out things that are the most basic of things…but, sometimes we need that most basic of steps.

    How do you thicken up a broth? What is the difference between whipping and beating something? How can you tell what the consistency of one thing should be, versus another?

    I’m shocked at how many people don’t know these kinds of things.

    1. The teachers in Home-ec hated me. Because I already knew how to boil water and brown hamburger and make pancakes (she hated me on that one because I insisted on making it from scratch, not the mix she provided) I confused the other kids who had NO IDEA.

      1. Pancake mix is gross.

        I much prefer my great-grandma’s recipe (which is also nice and sweet–you can eat the pancakes without anything at all on them, or just butter, and they are STILL awesome)

    2. > I’m shocked at how many people don’t know these kinds of things.

      [raises hand] I never had to learn. I ate what my Mom cooked when I lived with my parents. When I moved out I ate junk food and take-out. I got married, and my wife chose “cooking” over “mowing the lawn.” Her culinary repertoire is a few simple things and TV dinners, but we aren’t foodies.

      I am learning now, since I’m having to do the keto thing on my own, but there are a lot of basics that keep tripping me up, and the Web is not helpful on many of them. On top of which, I ruin a lot of food: “turn to medium heat and cook until brown.” Ri-ight. Medium heat I had to look up; that’s 300-400F; I check that with my laser thermometer. “Brown” requires process-of-elimination; when it starts getting darker it’s probably not raw any more, but the area between that and Burnt Crunchy Bits requires the cooking timer, because the subtle shifts of color(?) are completely invisible to me.

      I had the vague idea cooking might be fun, but it mostly looks like repeating high school chem lab forever.

      1. Cooking is, generally, mix it, heat it. It’s baking that is chemistry. That might be why I like it more – the steps are given and there is precision rather than a rough & ready ‘about so much of this then a bit of that’ which has me wondering how narrow/wide the success (or error) band is.

        Discussed this a bit with someone in a chat ages ago. Told of baking and $YoungRelative was watching:

        “Am I baking or cooking?”
        “How can you tell?”
        “You’re measuring everything. Twice.”

        The other part of the Cooking Problem is that recipes always seem to call for things that I do not have and have no desire to go get, or for something I outright loathe (e.g. peas) and then I wonder if they are something that can be simply deleted or if there is a substitute that ‘works’ but the volume etc. is required.

      2. “Medium” heat usually refers to the dial for the burner. On a 5 (high) to 1 (low) scale: on your largest burner, “medium” is going to be 3, but on your small burner it might be a 4 or 4.5.

        How to brown hamburger: Thaw your pound or half-pound package in the microwave or water bath until you can squish it and the middle isn’t solid anymore. Put it in the pan and turn the heat on to “medium” (see above). Use your spatula or pancake flipper to cut it into smaller and smaller bits. Every couple of minutes try to turn it over so the top side is down and keep cutting large chunks into smaller chunks. When you cut the largest chunk in half and it isn’t pink in the middle any more, it’s done. Maybe go another 15 seconds or so to make sure. Use a strainer or a big knife held against the side of the pan to drain off the water and fat.

        Eat your mistakes. I occasionally make a zucchini side dish by 1. slice zucchini into 1/2″ slices, 2. put in skillet and just barely cover with water, 3. boil it all-but-dry, 4. douse in balsamic vinegar, 5. boil it all-but-dry again. One time I tried red wine instead of balsamic and it was … not good. I ended up throwing it away as inedible, but I ate three or four slices first. Won’t do that again.

        Cooking was not-fun for me until I learned by doing that the things I thought were nerve-wracking weren’t as important as I had feared. Also, I used to be anxious about cooking because I was cooking for me and someone who I considered to be a good cook, so I worried about screwing up her dinner. Now that it’s just me I’m much less nervous.

        1. Oh, and for chicken and steak I make liberal use of my probe thermometer to check the internal temperature. I know I’m supposed to be able to poke a steak and tell how done it is, but I’ve never mastered that. Better living through technology!

          1. /blink

            Can you not perceive the color pink? In which case I got nuthin’. Maybe cooking is not for you.

            Or is your hamburger gray all the way through when you start the cooking? If that’s the case, it’s too old or too freezer-burned; throw it away and get some that’s fresher.

            1. Definitely color perception issues.

              It’d be interesting to figure out if there is a good cheap camera set up that would work as an assistive device for cooking.

              But I just watched the Hacksmith ‘power loader test’ video, and am probably thinking too much like a lunatic.

          2. Re: colorblindness — Steak you can cook by touch, but I don’t think you want to put your hand on ground beef in a pan.

            But theoretically, you could go to the paint store and get “pink like burger” and “brown like burger” paint strips, and use them for comparison.

            Re: freezer burn — You can use freezer burned meat in soup or cook it in a crockpot. If it’s not actually spoiled, it will soften up some and be edible. Small pieces are better than big pieces, so chop it up if you can.

            1. > But theoretically, you could go to the paint store and get “pink like burger” and “brown like burger” paint strips, and use them for comparison.

              In practice, no.

    3. Fanny Farmer came from a well off family that abruptly found itself much poorer — and she found herself in the kitchen.

      She wrote the cookbook she wished she had had.

  26. Bubble & squeak and quesadillas are great ways to use leftovers as well.

    in the case of quesadillas, throw whatever leftover protein (and maybe some veggies) onto a tortilla, drench it in shredded cheese, top with another tortilla and fry on both sides until the cheese melts.

    “Traditional” bubble & squeak (at least as I learned it from my mom– I assume there are infinite variations like there are with stir-frys) was taking leftover mashed potatoes, mixing it with chopped up leftover cabbage, and frying patties of that alongside some strips of leftover roast. But it works with any mix of leftover potato– just add some milk and mash it up before adding the vegetable– and most vegetables.

    Here are two good backup meals I grew up with:

    Hamburger soup:
    Cook up some ground beef (or ground turkey or sausage or whatever). Add whatever vegetables you have on hand (my mom usually made it with potatoes, onions, and celery) salt and pepper, and a lot of water, then boil until the vegetables are done. We had this one often enough it’s a comfort food thing for me nowadays.

    Crackers and stuff:
    Break out the saltines or Ritz or whatever, and some sort of protein (spam, tuna, whatever you have, even peanut butter works), slice up some apples or pears, and slice up some cheese and let everyone put the stuff on the crackers and eat it. This is another thing I still enjoy as an adult, although I omit the meat and just do crackers, cheese, and apples.

    1. My family does a variation of hamburger soup that is hamburger + beans (canned, so you don’t have to soak ’em first), corn/other veggies, seasonings and sometimes pasta (macaroni, usually).

      It’s really great with a piece of cheese on the side. (Or fresh bread. Or both.)

      1. Ours is brown the hamburger, then clean the fridge into the pan, with stewed tomatoes.

        ….my husband can’t do cooked tomatoes. Thank goodness for *diced* tomatoes, which turn into sauce by the time the cooking is done!

        1. Chile Meat & Beans
          Brown meat.
          Small can of tomato sauce (I cannot stand stewed tomatoes, I do not care what it is in, I loath it. Mom used to do a variety of stewed tomato and bread soup. Yuck, ewwww, and bleh.)
          3 to 5 cans of canned Red Kidney Beans
          Chile Salt seasoning to taste (3/4 Cup)
          1/2 C water to start – keep an eye on it as simmers, add more water as needed.

          Cook on top of stove to boiling. Turn down. Should simmer for another 3 hours or so, then done, be sure to add water to keep from getting thick.

          Add in whole hotdogs or chopped spicy sausages, for Chile Dogs.

          Shred Cheddar Cheese

          Have Saltine Crackers, Scoop Frito (or other corn) Chips, or Corn Bread, and sour cream.

          I put layer of Frito, layer of cheese, scoop or two of the cooked Chile, more cheese, top with sour cream. Hubby and son do not do the Frito layer or sour cream topping, but add in saltine crackers.

          Not quick. But it is easy. The 3 can size provides one night’s dinner for us (3), plus son 2 nights lunch (works swing). One of the few items I don’t mind having as left over.

          1. Ours is:

            Browned hamburger
            softened/caramelized onions
            other seasonings to taste (we do thyme or oregano, or both, and sometimes a bay leaf)
            black beans
            kidney beans
            pinto beans
            any other beans you like (though I don’t recommend navy or the big white northern beans because gross)
            canned corn
            diced tomatoes (maybe)
            broth/wine/water/all of it (technically I suppose one should use beef broth, but really, it’s anything in a pinch will do, and adding some red wine sometimes adds a nice robustness. We don’t drink alcohol, but cooking with it is shiny 😀 )

            Dump it all in a pot and cook til hot. Serve with bread or sliced cheese (I eat the cheese on the side, but I suppose you could put cheese ON the soup. I like the contrast, though, in texture/flavor combinations.)

    2. What you describe as “Bubble & Squeak” is what we called “Succotash”. Another variant (when someone forgot to get the hamburger out to thaw for either meatloaf or hamburgers, before Microwaves) was “in gravy”, difference was potatoes was never included IN the “Succotash”, because the combo went on some sort of potato. Either way became Succotash & Salad, or Hamburger Gravy on potatoes & Salad. The only time either out and out failed was when mom tried to sneak in Liver and/or Heart as the primary meat ingredient. Nothing disguises either.

  27. You have no idea just how wonderful this was to read and just how many people really do need to read it.

    That Betty Crocker cookbook? My Mom had it, got a copy when she got married as a gift from someone, that was about 1951? when the book was new. I really need to get a copy, I learned a LOT from that book myself over the years as a teenager because we all had to learn how to cook.

    A great leftover plan are things like jambalaya. If you know the spices, all you need is rice and you can throw your left over meat in there. If you want to go the easy route, Zatarains in the box is cheap and easy. Red beans and rice – very simple, and again, you can add any left over meat to it. Pasta is often the same and a lot of sauces can be made really easy and cheaply. Mac & Cheese works great with all sorts of left overs as well. You don’t need all that much in spices either, salt, pepper, garlic, a few others, and you can make a lot of bland things taste great.

    For years I would cook a couple big dinners a week (often on the weekends), split up the leftovers and freeze them. Then I had mix and match for lunch at work and for dinner afterwards when I got home. Saved me a fortune. When my ex and I found ourselves in dire financial straights (I was out of work) I was able to feed the two of us on less than 40 dollars a week. Because rice and beans in big bags are cheap and if you are careful when you shop, you can find a lot of stuff on sale really cheap because it’s about to go bad. So you cook it immediately and freeze it. (and when you’re out of work you have the time to ride your bike to the store each day to scope out those kinds of things).

    It’s so much easier to cook than most people realize. And all you really need is one frying pan and one pot for 90 percent of it.

  28. In re., Bread Makers, only if you’re really hurried, it really isn’t hard to make bread. The Cooks Illustrated overnight proofed yeast bread is wonderful and only takes a couple of minutes of your time. Brown Soda Bread is the other. It takes less than five minutes to prepare and good brown soda bread with proper butter and black currant jam would be my choice for a last meal. I made one for thanksgiving and my sister and I ate that rather than the cakes and pies on offer.

    In other news. Looks as though Biden has caved on the Federal employee vax mandate. Can you say disparate impact, I knew you could. Also, most of the bulge bracket banks have been publishing pieces saying that politician panic over WuFlu is and has been harmful. Finally, the adults are coming back. ‘Bout time too, The Xi variant might be the last we hear about.

      1. The early reports out of South Africa are that omicron is more contagious & much less virulent.
        Trying to stay skeptical until independently verified because I want it to be true.
        A quick spreading mild cold that provides significant protection to the other variants is the express lane to real herd immunity, and the end of Covid as a political emergency.
        Yes, I’m not affected much by that since I’m in Florida – but a lot of folks are stuck in places where they really need the break.

        1. Been hearing all day– maybe the last few days– it has “unusual symptoms.”

          ….only THIS AFTERNOON do I hear someone quoting one of the on the ground doctors about it. There’s no coughing, no fever, you just feel really tired.

  29. I recommend two books for those just starting out. “Simple Fool’s Handbook to Cooking” which is a guide for those leaving home and has a meal a day section, while most of the recipes start with “first brown the meat”. That book kept me fed for years despite it’s very thin form. And “A Man, A Can, A Plan” is a great companion, as it uses canned food as the basis for a bunch of tasty and straightforward meals. If you ever wondered what you would do with all your stored canned goods, it’s a great post apocalypse/prepping book too.

    Graduate to an earlier (pre-1970s) Joy of Cooking, once you can feed yourself and others. It’s a great reference for specific meats, has great “basic” recipes, and is really very funny to read. It covers everything from coq au vin to squirrel and other suburban game. JoC is my go to cookbook.

    I also love the “church lady” recipe books, especially pre-1970. They are widely available at thrift stores and estate sales. They contain simple recipes that people were very proud of and are usually straightforward and easy to reproduce. (By “church lady” I mean any collection self published by a church group, ladies’ auxiliary, PTA, or service organization.) Look for one with dirty pages, marked up recipes, and tabs for favorites. Those will be ‘family favorites’ that stood the book owner in good stead.

    Just for completeness’ sake, while in the thrift stores, keep an eye out for “Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Jars” or the follow on volumes. The manufacturer has a vested interest in helping you get the best use from their products, and their recipes often become family favorites or end up in church lady cookbooks. (And it’s a great reference if you want to actually eat from your prepper pantry.)


    1. I have what must be a variant on that one, A Man, A Pan, A Plan, and I also have Help! My Apartment Has A Kitchen!. Both of which were given to me after I already was cooking pretty well. I should probably read through them at some point and see if there’s anything I can glean, like a cool but easy recipe or something.

  30. I grew up thinking I would have a staff as well. But I took home ec in school because I love to cook and sew hehehe. But that was back in the day when they taught cooking and sewing. My mother did a great job teaching me the basics even though she didn’t know much when she started out because her mom had left the family when she was young. Most things Mom knew about cooking she learned from watching Julia Child on a black and white TV show. I got Better Homes and Gardens and Betty Crocker cookbooks for shower gifts. I always liked Better Homes and Gardens best but I have used both books for over 40 years. I raised 6 kid and homeschooled them, cooking as much from scratch as possible because I like that sort of thing. I taught them all to do basic cooking and clothes washing because I didn’t want them to have to get married in desperation because they were hungry and had no clean clothes.
    The main obstacle was that my hubby is a VERY picky eater. I made it very clear when we had our first child that, as man of the house he could eat however he wished, but he was NOT to discourage our children from eating anything at all. Period. He agreed that it is a pain to be picky and encouraged the kids to try whatever. Eating out often was not an option because we had no money and there are no restaurants or fast food where we live.
    We didn’t make the kids eat anything but I did encourage them to try it and see if they liked it and made sure there was something on the table that everyone would eat and if the only thing that you liked on the table that night was peas then you could eat extra peas and skip the rest. If you don’t make a big deal about eating mealtimes are much more pleasant. It is a power play that parents will not win in the long run.
    I have learned a lot of techniques from YouTube videos and there are really good ones out there for every kind of food you can imagine and some you would never guess existed.
    One thing I have noticed in many years of cooking for picky eaters is that veggies that are roasted in the oven or grilled seem to be more acceptable than any other way. Just use raw or frozen veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potato, white potato, cabbage, asparagus cut all about the same size chunks in a mix if you want or just one type of veggie, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with an herb mix, or just salt and pepper. Then bake at 350 until they are slightly brown on the edges and tender.

    1. > roasted … grilled

      For some of us, texture is far more important than actual taste. When vegetables are cooked until they’re gelatinous, as so often happens, it’s like someone else already chewed them to a pulp. Maximally gross.

      That’s the reason I won’t eat hamburgers from some fast food chains in my local area. They’re meat paste, probably pink slime and filler. They smell great. The flavor would be good, except it’s entirely overridden by having the consistency of 2-hour oatmeal.

      1. Our son is more likely to eat RAW vegetables and fruit than cooked or grilled. Sometimes dried. None of us will eat canned vegetables.

        1. Personally I find that canned corn tastes about the same as frozen, and canned green beans acceptable but less desirable than frozen. Canned potatoes and tomatoes have roles in certain dishes, but I will not typically eat them as a side.

          On the other side of the coin, canned carrots are mediocre. Canned asparagus and spinach are generally unpleasant, and the less said about canned peas the better.

          1. We’ll only eat heated fresh corn on the cob. I will freeze corn saved from excess corn on cob if there is any. But it has been a long time since excess has been a problem. Neither son or I handle corn in any form, well. Home canned veggies are okay. I haven’t bought commercial canned brands in forever. About the only frozen veggie I buy is *trees* (broccoli spears).

  31. I use my bread machine’s dough setting to make my dough through first rising and then shape into whatever I want, let rise again, then bake. The yeast is the most important thing, and I ordered mine online and store it in the back of the fridge. The old red and white plaid cookbook is the 1962 version before they changed all the good recipes that I found on ebay, the same one my mom had and I grew up cooking from. When we were kids money was really tight and every protein was made to go 3 meals, like roast Sunday, leftovers next, and stroganoff with noodles as thirds…there are meals that even today my dad still won’t eat now that he doesn’t have to! I still love cream-chip-beef, or as some call it SOS…

  32. I was warned that one must be a bit careful with oven temp/times from older cookbooks. I gather that the older ovens had temperature control that was less tight, and that the ovens spent more time at a noticeably lower temperature than the set value. I won’t swear to how big a difference this makes; just note that you may need to vary times a bit to fit your oven/environment.

    1. it also matters if you have a convection oven, and what altitude you’re at. (We’re at high altitude, but as we keep re-learning every year, doing the turkey on convection means it gets done a LOT faster than we were expecting…)

      I’ve found doing quick breads at high altitude tricky: if you don’t increase the flour somewhat AND increase the temp in the oven, they tend to crater, sometimes to the point of being inedible…

  33. I am currently making a pseudo shepperd’s pie. Mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing from Thanksgiving, thrown in a pie shell. Cream and butter on top to cook down into it as it bakes…

  34. They’re supposed to keep their houses neat (and teach the children to do the bulk of it, in time), they’re supposed to keep the children up on their learning (which more and more seems to be something they do almost despite anything I actually manage or not… nevermind), they’re supposed to keep the family fed with meals better than you can get at a restaurant on a fraction of the Totinos Pizza budget, and only on rarest occasions decide Everything’s Gone Wrong And Just Order A Pizza.

    ::looks around child-filled chaos and laughs maniacally::

    OK, we DO have stuff like my finding out that if you wash the carpet you have to vacuum every other day, BUT you don’t have to wash it very often. I won’t say it looks nicer because it’s pale brown carpet, but it looks less bad….

    Best advice I got? From Hifalutin Homeschooler, give yourself permission to stock up on frozen pizzas.

    Peanut butter and tortillas are also good– as is teaching the kids to make oatmeal. When I had a truly horrific reaction to the flu vaccine, while extremely pregnant, and my husband was deployed, the roughly-three-year-old was able to feed herself and her sister faster than I could get away from the bathroom to Find Something.

  35. Really enjoy the OP’s post and all the responses. Weirdly for someone whose mother doesn’t much like cooking, I enjoy food prep and got decent at it before I graduated from college. Now can we just invent self-cleaning dishes?

    I have and use all the “classic” cookbooks- Joy of Cooking (early 1970’s edition), Betty Crocker (mid-1980’s ed), Fannie Farmer (1970’s), Good Housekeeping (also older). They all have their places, but my favorite cookbooks are often the brand name cookbooks. The recipes tend to be very reliable for their specialties and, at least for the older ones, mostly using fairly standard ingredients. My favorites are the older (late ’80’s/early ’90’s?) Land-o-Lakes country cookbooks (Blue is organized better, Red has some of my favorite recipes)- if you want to cook middle-American with lots of creamy sauces these are a great start with big pictures of most of the finished products. My mother’s go-to when I was a kid was The Hunt’s Tomato Sauce Cookbook, I always knew she didn’t know what to fix for supper when she stood in the kitchen with it open, so home cooking to me always equals tomato sauce and something. Honorable mention also goes to the Perdue Chicken Cookbook for a “zillion” ways to cook chicken, and the annual Pillsbury cookbooks (probably best for either baking or random things to do with crescent rolls). I also recommend Seat-of-the-pants Suppers by Nancy Heiser, which I nearly passed up when I got it from a library used book sale, this book assumes you know the basics of cooking but provides a bunch of simple pantry friendly recipes for the busy parent.

    The other thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is another staple of my family’s methods to use up leftovers- McCormick’s Brown Gravy mix. Add chucks or shreds of leftover meat, a can or two of mushrooms, and some onion, the gravy mix, and liquid, then voila, 15 minutes later dinner.

    1. Sounds neat to me; If you are the only one in the house you can really have fun hot rodding the oven!

      Tim Taylor had the right idea, the scale Dick Seaton worked on was interesting.

  36. Also, it just completely lacks the “trying to impress your friends” element that frustrates me so much about modern cook books.

    THIS has invaded all the “learn to cook” books for KIDS.

    The “simple pancakes” recipe in my daughter’s favorite book has like six ingredients to avoid including eggs and oil and add in something “healthy” in addition while remaining edible. (I think it was wheat bran?) The proper way to do that would be to have the substitution listed at the bottom, for allergies and “healthier.” Nevermind that the idea of ‘healthier’ they use is aimed at sedentary adults, not active kids….

    1. Ugh. This may be my Odd speaking, but the “Cooking for KIDS!” push rubs me the wrong way. What did those kids do that they they deserve to have dumbed-down “for KIDS!” drek inflicted on them?

      And that “simple pancakes” recipe with the politically-correct avoidance of eggs and oil is Ugh squared.

      1. Use to be, that’s what you labeled the stuff that didn’t assume you already knew what a roux is, and how to make it– or that you should probably not be doing anything that took to-the-minute timing, for that matter, or a lot of upper body strength.

      2. Most “X for Kids!” products start with the premise that kids are incapable of understanding anything. And that if someone can’t understand something you should backhandedly insult them about it. Repeatedly.

        They almost make the “X for [ideology]!” products look sophisticated by comparison.

        1. So, a move in the direction of peak uselessness would be marketing to child adherents of an ideology?

  37. I used to do a Basic Cooking class for the just-starting-out at my church, and I taught them Weekly Chicken: One chicken per 2-3 people you want to feed. Cover it in butter and herbs and roast it. (*If you are still too squeamish for Raw Chicken, rotisserie from the store is acceptable.) Eat chicken. Detach leftovers from chicken and prepare for

    Chicken 2.0, which is most easily presented as Artichoke Chicken (cream cheese, mayo, chopped artichokes, one pound cooked pasta, 2/3 of your remaining chicken bits) or Chicken Gack (spicy tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, As Much Shredded Cheddar As You Want layered between tortillas). Should feed 4-6 people or make an extra night of leftovers for a small family before further devolving to:

    Chicken 3.0, otherwise known as Soup. Remaining Chicken Bits browned with onions and simmered with the frozen veggies of your choice, AFTER being doused with water and BEFORE being thickened with milk. (Chicken stock was for the adventurous, but I did tell ’em how to do it.)

    It’s by no means fancy, but it does give you some confidence and show you how to squeeze out the maximum nom per bird. And Chicken Gack (It has a real name somewhere, but we just call it Chicken Gack) is still my go-to dish when I have to feed as many people as possible on as little expenditure as possible. To really pack in nutrients, I add in black beans and corn tortillas instead of flour.

  38. I wanted to be a chef when I was at school and worked in several NY kitchens before I realized that it was hard work in lousy conditions for low pay, so I became a banker. The banking exams aren’t nearly so rigorous.

    I love cookbooks but most modern ones, and most of the TV a celebrity chefs, are making restaurant food. Unless you have a brigade you’re not going to do any of that.

    I bought my daughter a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking when she married. Child’s are the only recipes I actually cook to because they always work. Learning how to do green vegetables properly is worth the price of the book. The next best thing is learning that all roasts are basically the same and that all sautés are basically the same, etc., Work your way though it and you’ll master good bourgeois French home cooking within a year. I’d add Jacques Pepin’s La Technique to learn knife work and Harold McGee On Food and Cooking for the science of it.

    All that said, my favorite cookbook is Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking and my treasure is Le Repetoire de la Cuisine 7000 recipes in 200 pages. Take a cutlet — veal, chicken or pork — bread and fry. Add ham and brown butter you have Anglais, add mushroom sauce and you have Champignons. Add lemon and anchovy it becomes Viennoise. make a cream sauce and it’s a la creme. All cream sauces are the same and so and so on.

    This all sounds very pompous, but it’s actually good, honest simple cooking. Once you learn the technique you can make anything and the simplest recipes are the hardest to pull off.

    We had hamburgers tonight.

  39. My mother learned to cook with the 1950’s Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, and she taught me a fair amount from it (what I didn’t learn from my 4H cookbooks). A few years ago I finally acquired a copy of my own at a garage sale. I think it’s a facsimile reprint rather than the actual original cookbook, but it’s got all the key recipes and variants, and all the instructions for various processes.

    What I really miss right now is a working oven. Ours gave out a few years back, and we just haven’t been able to see clear to fixing our replacing. The burners all still work, so we think it’s a thermocouple (my folks had an oven that would do that intermittently, and finally failed altogether. From what I hear from a brother who works fixing and maintaining rental apartments, replacing may be the only option, because it can be difficult to impossible to find parts for stoves older than about ten years.

    1. If you can spare the counter space, keep an eye out for a deal on a countertop convection oven. The cheap ones have low-med-hi temp controls, the better ones have thermostatic adjustments.

      They won’t hold pans as large as an ordinary oven, and they take up counter space. In return, they’re a whole lot easier to use (at least if you have a bad back) and see into (unless you’re a midget) and easier to clean. Plus you can take it with you when you move, or use it as a secondary warm-up oven if you get the big one repaired or replaced.

      1. Unfortunately, this house has a tiny kitchen with almost no counter space — it’s almost as bad as the kitchen in the apartment I had at Illinois State University. The microwave takes a big chunk of what little counter space I have, and I need the rest for food prep. In fact, Dad had a countertop oven sitting around the house that he offered me, and I had to turn it down because I literally had no place to put it.

    2. The parts for older than 10 years for ovens is what we ran into when our 18 year old Kenmore finally died. I could replace the top stove elements, kind of, but nothing else, not even the oven elements (would not seat correctly, which meant sparks, oven sparks bad).

      We have a convector toaster counter top oven. Son uses it instead of firing up the larger oven.

  40. Lovely stuff to read. My mom in her seventies encouraged several of the young wives on her street to Go ahead and stay home if they were enjoying that baby. She had nine kids and a lot to say about how to enjoy them. Basically, really look at them and see what’s happening.

    Also my aunt gave me Fannie Farmer in 1970. It has an amazing simple pie crust called stirred pastry. I had to increase the recipe for nine inch pie pans, but it is simple and way easier than all that cut in the butter.

  41. I use JoC, several editions, as my first paperback copy has fallen apart; used to use Fanny Farmer, but no longer. I think the more modern version of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook is from America’s Test Kitchen (ATK); their Cooking for Two books are very good, and they have many others.

    After you’ve been at this for a while, common themes emerge; when our kids were small, the Best Baby Sitter in Michigan made Tater-Tot Casserole for us – mushroom soup, green beans, browned hamburger, seasoning, covered with ore-ida tater tots. Made that for years – still do – before I recognized that’s a variation on Shepherd’s Pie.

    And I do use internet recipes a lot. King Arthur has a lot of bread recipes I’ve been trying.

  42. I love left over meat. Start noodles or rice boiling. Chop meat to bite size-ish fry up with butter and onion.
    When the onion is cooked:

    (1) add sour cream, a bit of dry mustard powder, a couple of splashes of Worchestershire sauce and serve over noodles for stroganoff.

    (2) add veggies and then rice to pan and sprinkle with soy sauce for fried rice. Garlic and ginger are good additions, and scrambled eggs as well.

    (3) if you’ve got tortillas, add a can of chopped green chillis. Roll then up in the tortillas and fry them for falutas.

    (4) Add any mexicanish spices or sauces handy for soft tacos, burritos, with whatever tomates or lettus you’ve got handy. Quesidillas if you’ve got the cheese. Or just serve over rice.

  43. My grandmother was a little girl when the Spanish Influenza hit. She was the only ambulatory member of her family and the only thing she knew how to cook was oatmeal. They all survived, marvelously enough, but they really were sick of oatmeal.

    I told this story once online and a woman decided her daughter was ready to learn some basics. Next thing you knew (she was a homeschooler), she was teaching home ec in third grade because the daughter wanted to LEARN it.

  44. Oh, I love cooking! I think the first thing I learned to cook was tuna on toast, when my mom got incredibly sick with the flu while Dad was away on a trip when I was about 5. Basically, you open a can of tuna and a can of cream of chicken soup, add milk or water until it’s stir-able, and add frozen peas – heat it up and toast some bread, and there’s supper.. Super easy, tasty, and I didn’t burn the house down around our ears or starve.

    Now I cook and bake all kinds of things, some more complicated than others. I have become past master at reusing food; my family has a talent for getting other peoples’ leftovers in intimidating quantities – say, 20 pounds of sandwich meat or 50 pounds of pancake flour or a 5-gallon bucket of raw eggs or 5 bags of 25 tortillas; stuff like that. So I’ve gotten really good at repurposing a single ingredient into multiple things. I think it’s an underrated skill, actually, using what you’ve got to make delicious food that the whole family will eat.

    Also, if you’re brave enough to ask, my dad has found that most restaurants/grocery stores/bakeries will give you slightly out-of-date food for nothing or next to nothing. We get ‘chicken bread’ from a local bakery and give away the nicer loaves at church – sometimes as many as 30-40 on a slow weekend (of course, we do also give it to our chickens).

    I like the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It doesn’t assume that the cook knows what they’re doing: everything’s spelled out and explained, and they have instructions with tons of pictures and a ‘basic skills’ page for each section that includes ‘why we do it this way and not that’. Also, they have a handy cheat sheet on each cover for how to make your own spice mixes and what things one can substitute for other ingredients. And it has recipes that range from extremely basic and fast to ‘fancy dinner party’. For your clean-out-the-fridge nights, they also have ideas for add-ins in their basic recipes such as biscuits and muffins that make it easy to reduce food waste. And it’s frequently updated, so you can get recipes that make sense and are easy to find ingredients for.

  45. I’m surprised nobody here mentioned using an Instant Pot / pressure cooker.

    Obviously not enough Dutch heritage people with 7+ people to feed at a time!

    Sadly my boys are growing up and what used to feed the family with leftovers somehow vanishes into the portable black holes that sit at the dinner table. So ‘cook with leftovers’ is rarely a possibility. But I can recommend the Instant Pot for fast meals – we recently upgraded to the Duocrisp, which mounts an air fryer on top – baked potatoes pressure cooked for 4 minutes and then air fried for 12 just come out beautiful.

    And just about any curry works – lamb + curry, pressure cook for 45 minutes and you’ve got fall apart meat.

  46. Y’all are wimps, reasonable, and not trolling.

    I don’t recall seeing /anyone/ suggest pulling up living room carpet, so as to build a kiln in which to fire bricks of food like substance.

    Food like substance is the best.

    It doesn’t spoil, unless you cheap out on the Thorium.

    You don’t have to fight anybody to get enough.

    It doesn’t cause problems with any of my unusual dietary restrictions.

    It tastes and feels no worse than my other alternatives.

      1. Up way too late, had misplaced my sense of appropriate, and the dietary restrictions are a bit unfun at times.

        But, I was being deeply unfair to the things I can eat.

    1. I always thought you were supposed to eat the carpet. Well, chew on it for stress relief, or something. Apparently quite tasty after your doctor has been shooting you with speedballs and strychnine for a year or so.

      1. My minimize mold content dietary restriction would seem to argue against any sort of carpet based diet.

  47. I am deeply grateful for my stay-at-home father who taught me to cook, clean, do laundry, and do basic car and house maintenance.

    My go-to for easy or last minute meals is meat and veggie gravy over some sort of starch, potatoes, rice, or pasta usually. Usually ground beef with the store brand mixed veggies with some brown gravy mix. I know, there’s all sorts of fillers and stuff in the mix, but that makes it easy to work with. (I have an in-house purist now who prefers to make EVRYTHING from scratch. As I have soy allergies, this is much appreciated, but when I’m cooking there’s usually a time crunch.)

    Next is quiches. Super easy. Buy freaking premade pie crusts and keep ’em in the freezer. Then, whatever sounds good with an egg and heavy cream mixture poured over the top and cooked. Ham and cheese, broccoli and ham and cheese, last night’s leftover burrito meat with peppers, last night’s leftover pork roast with potatoes and onions… the possibilities are endless.

    My nephews’ current fave is homemade KFC bowls. Throw some chicken nuggets in the oven (breaded chicken strips work fine too, I just cut them into bite-sized pieces after cooking). When the meat is ready, cook up some brown gravy. Instant mashed potatoes (bacon bits or roasted garlic make nice stir-ins), some canned corn, bite-sized pieces of meat, gravy and then some shredded cheese on top. Filling, easy, teenage boy approved.

    My sister’s go-to is stir-fried chicken and squash over rice, or stir-fried chicken and green beans over rice. Easy, cheap, quick, healthy, and can feed a small army.

    Or, Poor Man’s Chicken Parm: chicken nuggets or strips baked, placed over pasta with jar sauce of your choice sprinkled with parm (preferrably the real stuff).

  48. My late Mother made sure I didn’t leave her house without knowing how to cook from a recipe. She’d known too many men who married simply because they couldn’t cook.

    The best advice she gave me (along with the requisite book) was to always have on hand a cookbook so basic that it didn’t assume you knew how to scramble eggs. Hers was THE JOY OF COOKING, and while she took only a few recipes from it, she used it as a reference when another cookbook assumed she knew how to perform some basic cooking that she hadn’t run into before, or wasn’t sure of.

    With such a cookbook on hand, you can confidently tackle just about anything.

  49. Large soup bowl.
    Package of chicken Ramen noodles with seasoning packet
    1/3rd cup Celery coarsely chopped
    1/4 Onion, coarsely chopped.
    1/3 cup carrots, coarsely chopped.
    1/3 cup of leftover turkey, coarsely chopped.

    Dump carrots in bowl with a dash of water and nuke for a minute,
    Bust up the ramen noodles into chunks the size of the end of your thumb, toss in bowl.
    Add seasoning from packet.
    Toss in rest of ingredients.
    Add water until it’s about 1/4 inch below the top of the bowl.
    Nuke the whole thing for 4 minutes.

    Don’t eat it so fast you burn your mouth and tongue.

  50. The are lots of easy, foolproof, no-knead yeast bread recipes out there to ease you into the art of scratch bread making. I personally love the book “Artisan Bread in 15 minutes a Day” and you can probably find a used copy of the first edition for next to nothing online. Title is *slightly* misleading, you do have to make the batch of dough early in the day or the day before, but that’s just mixing and letting bubble, then you have enough dough for several loaves which require nothing but shaping and baking.

    It also is great in that it is based all around one base recipe, then variants in both style and type of breads are based around that.

    Bonus, the process is easy enough that youngest boy child (now 16) stole my book years ago for himself years ago and I never have to make bread anymore.

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