Note: This post is Part Two in a three-part series on Scratch Cooking and Kitchen Basics. If you haven’t had a chance, please skim Scratch Cooking Basics Part One to see what was covered.
If you follow a medically-necessary diet and have been trying to eat accordingly, you have probably come to the conclusion that eating out and eating processed foods don’t just conflict with your diet, they can damage your health, reverse positive progress in your battle against your disease, and leave you fatigued, undernourished, or gravely ill.
All of that just sucks.
And so, one way or another, kicking and screaming, or perhaps with excitement mixed with fear, you’ve decided to give scratch cooking a whirl. Maybe you’ve cleaned your kitchen, bought a few new cooking tools and gadgets, pushed a cart around your grocery store’s perimeter (where the produce, meats, dairy, and unprocessed foods are located), and gotten a bit more comfortable making a few simple ingredient meals.
This calls for some celebration and congratulations! You made it! You’re alive! Woo hoo! This is no small feat. Most of the people around you are cramming garbage food full of empty calories, unhealthy fats, and excess sugars in their pie holes, and taking pictures of decadent foods to put on their Instagram, while you hold a salad with a dried up piece of chicken diced on top, thrilled that you can eat an avocado without feeling sick to your stomach.
It’s one step. And I will applaud that step, because I know what it feels like to go from laying in my bed and feeling about as lifeless as a rock until my body was able to absorb nutrients and bring some energy back into me. Feeding yourself is a big deal.
What the rest of the world doesn’t understand — but painfully, you do — is that if you did not grow up learning how to cook from scratch, it’s a skill that isn’t easily adopted as an adult. We are more likely taught to use every shortcut as an advantage over time and effort. People are being taught that it’s not just easier, but somehow better living to drink your meal in the form of a replacement shake rather than learn how to balance your meals for vitamins and minerals.
However, in the real world people treat food made from scratch differently than industrially-made food. Case in point: at the Beat the Blerch running races, foods such as donuts, Nutella, candy, cookies, and cake are served at the start of the race, at the aid stations, and at the finish line. Most serious runners will refuse all sweet treats because it will do a number on their guts. However, I observed in 2015 and 2016 as a volunteer and as a runner that more people stopped to eat cake during the race when they discovered who had made the cake. Once it was understood that the cakes were from a much-coveted local bakery that specializes in making cakes, the cake magically disappeared. People made an exception.
Our biggest challenge comes right after we have barely managed to keep ourselves from starving by making about five to seven repeatable dishes. Around the end of the first month of eating the same meals, with just a few small variations (like chicken tacos instead of beef tacos, and a lime dressing on that shrimp dish instead of the usual cocktail sauce because you’re avoiding tomatoes), that you suddenly get the idea of investing some money in a cookbook.
Bam, you’re on Amazon, perusing the cookbook section using keyword searches, such as “Paleo”, “Food Allergies”, “Dairy Free”, or “Vegetarian Foods for Heart Health.” After about five attempts, you settle on a couple of cookbooks, order them, and with Amazon Prime and Same-Day Shipping, a package is at your door. You rip into the box, eagerly open the first book, start flipping through the pages, and select a recipe that instantly makes your mouth drip saliva onto the glossy photograph astride a pile of bricks that just happen to be next to a distressed picnic table with wooden spoons and checkered napkins.
Two hours and about half of the bowls, pots, measuring spoons, and three-quarters of all the available countertop space in your kitchen later, you have a main dish that doesn’t look anything like the photograph. And by description, it doesn’t taste anything like it was supposed to either.
Well, crap. You just wasted a good afternoon, a bunch of groceries, and you’re still hungry.
Why? You can’t eat a single one of the recipes “as is.” All-purpose flour has to be replaced with a gluten-free version that doesn’t make you sick. Milk needs a substitute without losing creaminess. You substituted brown rice syrup for pure cane sugar because pure cane sugar makes your tummy hurt. You took out the nuts completely, left out the nutmeg, added a little more cinnamon, and axed the garlic.
If you’re lucky, you eat a little bit of what you’ve made because it’s just barely palatable, and sadly slide the rest of it into the bin and call it a day.
This post is all about cooking from scratch at another level: developing your own substitutions and creating new dishes, with or without a recipe. Read on for more.