In the June Koontz household, all children were expected to be able to handle themselves in the kitchen. We were expected to know how to cook so we could "fend for ourselves" by the time we grew up.
So, my mother gave us all cooking lessons at various points throughout our childhoods. She started us out young: when I was five or six years old I would help her cook by measuring out some of the ingredients, pre-heating the oven and so forth. As we got older she would make sure we knew the difference between "t" and "T" or "tsp" and "Tblsp." We had to know the difference between baking powder and baking soda (I learned that lesson irrevocably when I made a batch of three-inch tall cookies by accident). We had to learn the difference between a dash, a pinch and an eighth of a teaspoon (yes I'm kidding on that last one).
We had to learn how to make cookies, cakes, soups, entrees--we even had pie-making lessons, although I must admit that one never really stuck with me. Fortunately I married a woman who makes an amazing pie crust, so now I just cut and peel the apples and I can leave the real pie-making artwork to her.
The culmination of the June Koontz school of cooking came in the form of a final lesson, where we were expected to cook a full dinner for the family consisting of a couple of side dishes and an entree. I got off easy on this one because by the time I took this test, my sisters had all grown up and moved away--while they each had to cook a full dinner for six, my "final exam" was just a dinner for three. :)
The key to this final exam was to think ahead and time things such that everything would be ready at the same time. We'll talk about this concept in a later post. It's harder than you think--you can't really cook a serious meal by performing all tasks in series. You need to perform some tasks in parallel and you also need to know how long different prep tasks should take and thus where are good places you can fit them into the overall workflow. You have to have a good sense for multitasking.
Hmmmm, that sounds surprisingly similar to my office job right now.... :)
Also, my parents always had a garden in their backyard so my sisters and I learned from a young age how ridiculously better-tasting homegrown vegetables and greens were compared to what you could buy in the store. The best store-bought tomatoes taste like styrofoam compared to what my Dad could grow in the backyard. Even lima beans taste great out of a garden. Seriously.
So I regularly thank my Mom for teaching me how to cook and for giving me all the fundamental skills I use in the kitchen now. Parents--listen up! This was one of the most important things I learned as a kid. It fostered my interest in cooking. It gave me really useful cooking skills that I refined and deepened as I got older. And most importantly, it gave me great bonding time with my mother.
It also helped me land my wife, who always wanted to marry a man who could cook.
So here's another recipe for you to try that comes courtesy of the June Koontz recipe collection:
(from June Koontz)
5-6 medium potatoes
6 cups water
10 slices bacon (thick sliced preferred)
1 14.5 ounce can whole peel tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
1 lb frozen cut corn
1 teaspoon black pepper (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup hot milk
1) Peel potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Add to water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are nearly cooked through.
2) While potatoes are boiling, fry bacon in a non-stick skillet. Break bacon up into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Drain MOST of the bacon fat (leave a couple of tablespoons of it) and fry onions in bacon fat until tender.
3) Add bacon, onions, frozen corn, tomatoes, seasonings (everything EXCEPT the milk) to the boiling potatoes. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then let stand a few minutes.
4) Heat milk in a pan or in a microwave and add to soup.
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