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The Joy of Cooking From Scratch

There's nothing like the smell of four loaves of bread baking in the oven or a fresh apple pie or homemade chocolate chip cookies. Yum! These are the smells of my childhood. My mother was born during the Great Depression in 1933, before there was such a thing as pre-packaged cake mixes, frozen pie crusts, and even what used to be called TV dinners (frozen dinners). Although those things came along when she was a young bride, she made almost everything from scratch when I was a kid, and that is the way she taught me to cook.

While you can get away with knowing nothing more than how to turn on the microwave, if you don't know how to cook from scratch, you are missing out! To keep our sugar intake down, I reserve making cakes, pies, and cookies for special occasions now, but when I do, they are always made from scratch. My mom used a really charming cookbook from the 1950's that had a lot of really detailed, instructive, black and white photos that show exactly how to make simple masterpieces from a pile of ingredients. It's been re-released, so of course I ordered myself a new copy of this old gem (you can check it out here).

Cooking from scratch is Simple Change #5 in our list of 52 Simple Changes to Transform Your Life, which you can get for free by clicking here!

Pre-packaged food is loaded with additives and preservatives and things you can't pronounce when you read the label. When you cook from scratch, you know exactly what you are eating, and you control the quality of every single ingredient. Also, you can flavor everything exactly how you like it! I am not a fan of pepper, so I use very little in my cooking, and most of the time I leave it out completely. I find that most pre-packaged food and even food in restaurants is too peppery for my taste, so I actually prefer to make my own food and season it exactly to my own taste. I have never had a piece of pie anywhere else that even comes close to the pie I make!

Homemade apple pie!

If you are new to cooking from scratch, and it seems a bit daunting, start simple. Get yourself a good cookbook, and follow the instructions exactly. After you've made a dish exactly as the recipe says, you can play with changing the spices the next time you make it. If you are baking, don't change the amounts of the core ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs, butter/oil, baking soda, baking powder, and salt), as there are chemical reactions that happen between these ingredients that give the finished product its wonderful texture. What you can mess with is the flavoring - the amount of vanilla or adding something like a little bit of almond extract or a few drops of an essential oil like lemon, peppermint, cinnamon, orange, etc. These won't change the texture of the end result.

The simplest thing to do is to eat close to the ground. What I mean by that is eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and explore different ways to cook them, instead of buying the frozen stuff with a pre-made sauce that has who knows what in it. Make the sauce yourself using high quality olive oil or butter; most pre-packaged sauces use cheap soybean oil that isn't even good for you and chemical preservatives. There are some wonderful cookbooks that focus specifically on vegetables, like The Vegetable Cook Book or Eating by Color. You can also get recipes online at, but one of the benefits of a cookbook is that you don't have to know exactly what you're looking for; you can thumb through the pages and get ideas you never thought of before! Go to a book store when you have an hour of free time, and browse the cookbook section.

Here are some other ideas:

For breakfast, make a veggie scramble. Chop up some vegetables (and ham if you like), melting some butter in a frying pan, sautéing the veggies and ham until the veggies are soft, and then adding two eggs that you scramble in a mug with a fork before adding. Sprinkle a little salt on top, and stir until cooked the way you like. Throw a little shredded cheese on top, and you have a delicious ham and veggie scramble!

Ingredients for veggie scramble, plus a yummy fresh fruit salad!

12 year old Joey making hash browns and 19 year old Lauren making a veggie scramble

Roast a chicken. You can buy a whole chicken at the store, put it in a rectangular roasting pan (be sure to pull out the little bag with the organ meats first!), brush some butter or olive oil on it with a pastry brush, salt it with either sea salt or garlic salt, and then roast for about an hour and a half at 325 degrees. Buy a meat thermometer so you can make sure it is fully cooked (it needs to hit about 170 degrees in the thickest part). Now you have roasted chicken that you can use not only as a main course, but also for topping on salads, for sandwiches, burritos, chicken quesadillas, wraps, fajitas, and so on.

Make a soup. After you've taken all the chicken meat off of your roast chicken, you can make some chicken soup by throwing the carcass in a stock pot with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, an onion cut up in quarters, and a carrot and some celery cut in large chunks. Cook covered on low heat on top of the stove all day. The longer you cook it, the more flavor and healthy stuff (like collagen and calcium) will come out of the bones, so don't short this process. When it's ready, pour it through a colander into a large bowl or another stock pot. Now you have a delicious, healthy chicken stock! It will need some salt and herbs; I like to add a little sage, rosemary, marjoram, and basil, but you can play around with whatever herbs you like. Just remember that you don't need more than about a quarter teaspoon of any dried herb. You can always add more, but you can't take it out, so go slow!

To this delicious chicken stock you can add pieces of chicken from the carcass, some rice or noodles, and whatever veggies you like. I like to sauté my chopped veggies in a little butter and olive oil before putting them in the soup; they have a better texture this way. Then cover and cook for another hour on top of the stove; heat it up on high first until it boils (you'll see bubbles), then turn it all the way down to the lowest heat. All the veggies should be soft and the rice no longer crunchy.

If you want to get really fancy, turn it into a chowder by adding about a cup of milk. You can also mix up some drop biscuits, drop spoonfuls of the dough directly in the soup, and put in the oven uncovered at 425 degrees for about 15 min until the biscuits start to brown on top of the soup. Delicious!

You can also make a delicious minestrone soup with your homemade chicken stock.

Use a slow cooker. Another easy way to start cooking from scratch is to use a crock pot (slow cooker). You can put a roast with veggies, a little water or broth, and some spices in the crock pot and cook it on low all day; when you come home at night, dinner is ready and waiting for you! As an extra benefit, your home will smell heavenly. You can also make barbecued beef or pulled pork, which is basically just a roast cooked on low all day with some kind of barbecue sauce (preferably homemade). After about 8 hours of cooking, you can pull it apart with 2 forks into little shreds, and then serve it on a sandwich roll or even by itself. Yum!! I made this last night for dinner. The sauce was made from ketchup, brown sugar, dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, garlic salt, liquid smoke, and Worchestershire sauce. Wow - it was amazing! Here's the recipe. There are entire cook books devoted to using a slow cooker; check one out for ideas like The Easy and Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook.

What kinds of yummy things are you going to make? Happy cooking!!

Cooking from scratch is Simple Change #5 in our list of 52 Simple Changes to Transform Your Life, which you can get for free by clicking here!

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