The Flipped-Out Food Story
I learned to cook from watching my mom. Well, sort of—and I hope she will laugh if she ever reads this. I don’t think my mom ever particularly enjoyed being in the kitchen. She subscribed to the “churchlady” school of cooking—so called, because: 1) she actually had cookbooks that were put together by actual churchladies; 2) many meals in her repertoire seemed to involve a can of concentrated cream-of-mushroom soup (“Lutheran glue”, as the saying goes); 3) a packet of golden onion soup mix was frequently involved to add “extra zip”; and 4) some meals were topped with such distressing combinations as Wheaties mixed with cheese.
My father, although appreciative of Mom’s efforts, rated meals on the “Glock” system (his own invention). As a kid, I always thought this referred somehow to gagging—you know, like “GACK”? But, as it turns out, “Glock 1” is really not bad in Dad’s system—even mildly enjoyable! BUT…anything in the “Glock 5” category—the culinary inner circle of hell—was a spectacularly vile concoction. Any meal whose origin was a box emblazoned with a smiling oven mitt generally fell into this category.
I left for college armed with a few of Mom’s recipes (mostly “Glock 1” caliber). But then I quickly discovered that cooking for one person was time consuming and, given the type of stuff I was making, incredibly boring. I became addicted to preternaturally orange mac-and-cheese-in-a-box, ramen noodles, canned whatever—anything I could drop in a pan (better yet, the microwave!) and be eating in less than ten minutes.
When I started dating my ex, I proudly cooked him what my mom had called Portuguese Stew. In retrospect, I’m not sure at all what made it “Portuguese.” It contained Kielbasa sausage (Polish), canned beans, potatoes, broth, cabbage, and ketchup. My ex made fun of me relentlessly for this endeavor. For years. “Portuguese STEW!” he’d crow, with his voice going into a screechy falsetto.
I didn’t know any better.
My cooking makeover
But on the bright side, he did teach me some basics of “cooking for real”. I also began studying cookbooks and cooking magazines, and became an avid watcher of Food Network: that revered station, which, along with the Cooking Channel, has made cooking accessible to the hopeless masses like me.
I’m a scientist by training—cooking naturally appeals to me, because it’s much like following a laboratory protocol: you mix particular amounts of various ingredients and subject them to specific conditions (for example, heat and pressure) to achieve a final concoction—but you EAT it rather than running tests on it. And so, I set out to master basic techniques and recipes, and then began experimenting with variations.
During graduate school, I found myself running through my game plan for the meal I would be making that night while doing my lab work. I found it very relaxing, after a stressful day at the lab, to come home and chop vegetables into small, symmetrical pieces, and then to transform them into gourmet meals. As I got comfortable with more basic dishes, my cooking became more and more ambitious. In fact, the complexity of the dish I was making began to correlate strongly with the degree of stress I felt at the end of the day.
That’s all well and good for a single person who doesn’t mind eating at 8 or 9 pm.
The beginning of Flipped-Out Food
A lot has happened since then. Last year, I got married and became the “instant mom” of three wonderful kids. I have a 6 pm deadline to have dinner on the table each evening—give or take 15 minutes (the family is very forgiving). By necessity, I have become a slow-cooker maven, mistress of the pressure cooker, and a habitual meal planner.
I save complex cooking projects for the weekend, when I enjoy cooking large quantities of food—some for eating or further prep during the week, and some to be frozen for time-crunch crises.
The Flipped-Out Food “Saucy Two-Step”
Here’s an example of what I mean:
It’s overwhelming to make homemade lasagna during the week, right? UNLESS you use a strategy like this:
1) you make a wonderful, slow-cooked Bolognese on Saturday, which sits in the fridge overnight, going from great to sublime as the flavors meld and get all happy together.
2) On Sunday, you assemble the lasagna.
3) The grand finale in this scenario—a quick bake in the oven, followed by appreciative lip smacking and gooey deliciousness—could easily happen during the week! (My husband is very familiar with this drill, and happily pops the lasagna into the oven before I even get home!)
Then you freeze the rest of that lovely Bolognese sauce to pull out for extra-busy days, so that all you have to do is boil the pasta, reheat the sauce, toss, and pass the parmesan cheese!
I call this trick The Saucy Two-Step: it’s just one of many in the Flipped-Out Food playbook—that I’ll be sharing throughout this site—that help me outsmart the smiling oven mitt, and keep my life healthy and sane.
The Bolognese Sauce I used for the lasagna-making operation shown above. Easy, relatively fast—but tastes as though you’ve been slaving away over a hot stove!
…The Lasagna Bolognese that I made with the easy Bolognese sauce. You can assemble it in advance so that all you have to do is pop it into the oven!
The “Saucy Two-Step” approach to Spaghetti and Lasagna Bolognese. Make easy Bolognese Sauce on the weekend, then use it for two easy meals during the busy workweek.