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The Novice Cook

I've put together a 48-page ebook specially aimed at those people who would like to cook but don't feel terribly confident about it. Though cooking shows proliferate on television, fewer people are actually cooking or enjoying home-cooked meals on a daily basis. They are missing out. Cooking can be fun!

Sharing a meal, no matter how fleeting, is a privilege. When my sons, now in their mid-20s, were at school, we all led busy lives. They had lots of extra-curricular pursuits, my husband and I were busy newspaper executives. But I insisted we sat down to dinner together each night. Dinner time depended on who was last home. Occasionally it would be quite late, but the lads were quite capable of preparing themselves a snack to tide them over till mealtime. I cherished the short time we spent at the dinner table, sharing our day or maybe not saying a lot - just sitting down in the same space for 30 minutes. Sometimes extracting information from them was like trying to get blood out of the proverbial stone, but the lines of communication were always there. These days, when we all gather round a table, it's usually for a long leisurely discussion.

Want to cook but not sure where to start. Download The Novice Cook (198Kb PDF file) and learn some kitchen basics. You'll find out how to set up a store cupboard, what utensils you'll need - and those you can do without. There's a glossary of the most common terms used in recipes. Learn about buying fresh ingredients, basic nutrition, kitchen hygiene. And there's a collection of simple but tasty recipes that will have you developing your cooking skills in no time.

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I am increasingly amazed at the number of people who say they "can't" cook. I was watching a very large woman on one of those ghastly "let's reform our eating habits" TV programmes who admitted she never cooked, couldn't cook. She and her daughter existed on takeaways and the daughter was showing every sign of turning into an obese adolescent. When the mother was shown how to cook a simple nutritious meal or two, the child was ecstatic about having delicious "real" food. The smile on her face was gut-wrenchingly incredible.

Where are we going wrong? Why aren't people learning cooking skills? The Spouse and I were talking about this the other night and I was recounting how excited I was as a 10-year-old to at last be in Form 1 and go to weekly cooking lessons at a nearby school that had a "manual training" department. In those days it was woodwork for the boys, cooking for the girls. We wore cooking aprons with our names embroidered on the front - which we had made in sewing class. At "manual" we learned the basics of food and nutrition, washing, ironing, house-cleaning. A couple of hours out of school once a week, that's all it took.

Our teacher, Miss Deal, valiantly led us through the preparation of good basic fare. I can still remember many of those dishes that we cooked - cottage pie, rissoles, lemon sago, chocolate cornflour mould, stewed fruit, plum jam, macaroni cheese, parkin, steak and kidney pie, afghan biscuits, Belgian biscuits, seameal custard, lentil soup, pancakes, hokey pokey, roasted vegetables. We learned how to make white sauce and gravy, how to prepare vegetables and salads. Each week it was a new adventure. I was a bit disappointed when we got to the six-week "laundry" module but that has stood me in good stead, too - particularly in the ironing department - though these days borax and starch and blue bags are a thing of the past.

It was such a thrill making something that was tasty to eat. Each week we took along a pie dish with an elasticised plastic cover so we could transport our masterpieces home. One week I missed the regular school bus home to the RNZAF base where I lived. Fortunately an air force truck came by a little later and the driver recognised me and stopped to pick me up. I remember being wedged in the front of the high cab between the driver and passenger, desperately trying to stop my dessert from slopping out of the dish as we went round corners, but very proud to tell these men what I had been doing that afternoon. Bless them - they were actually interested.

Mum and Dad would sample my cooking and say the right things. Sometimes I'd make one of the dishes for the family though my Dad always insisted on calling my favourite pudding "mouldy chocolate cornflour".

My grandmothers also played a part in my interest in cooking. My paternal Nana let me "help" her make scones from a very early age - 5 or 6. I'd have my own piece of dough and I try several different shapes before decorating it with sultanas and popping it on the oven tray. Though my scones were a bit grey and over-handled, they were the most delicious ones because I'd made them.

My maternal Nana was a hotel cook who could whip up any of the hearty pub fare of the time with little effort. Whenever she came to stay, the house always smelled of fresh baking. I learned a lot by watching and I never remember seeing her with a recipe book. She let me make "pussy cat pikelets" with currants for eyes. Again my pikelets were the best in the batch!

Dad was a weekend cook. He was in charge of the Sunday roast - always consumed at lunchtime while the weekend weather forecast and the request session played on the radio in the background. His real specialty was Sunday night pancakes with lemon, sugar and butter.

My mother is an expert in the baking department. At 82 she can still whip up a plate of light tender cinnamon oysters or a batch of delicious biscuits. During the 1950s she honed her skills hosting afternoon tea parties which were part and parcel of an air force wife's life in those days. The Spouse and my sons will endorse she still makes the best roast dinner they ever eat.

On reflection, I was fortunate that I had good role models who encouraged my endeavours - even if my mother was (sometimes still is) occasionally reluctant to try some of my foreign cuisine exploits.

My sons are reasonably competent in the kitchen and aren't afraid to ask for advice. The Spouse, while a good "basic cook", will probably benefit from receiving his own personal copy of my ebook. His idea of "night on cooking" is to take me out for dinner, so I guess I shouldn't complain!

Cooking fulfills so many different needs. The need for sustenance, for the intellectual challenge of coming up with something new and interesting to eat, the need to produce a meal others will enjoy, and the need for gracious acknowledgement from those at the dinner table that we've achieved our aim. And it's never too late to learn.

Home cooking isn't arugula science. It's a bit like driving a car - once the basic techniques are mastered and confidence is acquired, it suddenly doesn't seem to be so terribly difficult at all. I hope you'll download my book and give cooking a go.

 

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