I taught my 14-year-old grandson, Richie, to cook this past summer while visiting us. Most kids try out the stove before that age. I don’t think it had crossed his mind until now.
I was tired of cooking for him. He eats like a horse, and I was in the kitchen continually. So, since necessity is the mother of invention, I decided to teach him to prepare his own food.
Our first venture was eggs; scrambled eggs, sunny side up eggs. Soon, the eggs became egg sandwiches on toast, omelets, then huevos rancheros, and even eggs on top of waffles (frozen type, toasted). We moved on to pancakes. But, soon he was inventing other combinations based on the basics that we had covered.
He made his own syrup because my store syrups contained high fructose corn syrup. I had ignored that ingredient deliberately. He saw it. He caught me.
The only problem was that he wanted to cook whenever he felt like it. And he made a mess. He (sort of) learned how to clean it up, but no sooner had he finished and it was time to eat again. Eventually, I kept a basin full of sudsy water so that I could help with the routine.
But, he was learning how it works.
Smoke in the kitchen was our next challenge. Since I am the “queen of the oven-toast burn,” I know about smoke. Always turn on the fan over the stove before beginning to cook. Turn the cooking temperature down. Turn off the burner after cooking. For some reason, these were challenges that he learned slowly.
He liked it. When I left and returned an hour or two later, he would be back at it.
This cooking operation was taking over my life. We mastered fried potatoes. Shoot, I haven’t even mastered fried potatoes! I kept pre-cooked potatoes from Fred’s garden in the refrigerator just for that purpose. Since Richie avoids wheat products, he liked the potatoes.
I gained weight. He stayed the same.
He learned that I cook by taste and not by measuring every little thing. He wanted to make soup next.
Topics would be cutting up a chicken (for chicken soup), and making broth. What spices go into the soup? How do you get the grease out of the broth after boiling the chicken?
We never got the soup made. Nope. Spaghetti came first. Being an organic kid like his dad, he wanted me/us to make our own spaghetti sauce from our garden tomatoes. We did.
What did I get myself into?
I am visiting Richie in a few weeks. I promised Richie we will make that soup. Do you want to know how? In case you don’t, here goes. Remember. The rule is: there are no rules to making chicken soup. Create!
1. Cut up a large chicken. Pull as much of the skin off as possible. Leave some for flavor. Just cut away on the skin. Take out the fat globs as well.
2. Boil the chicken in a large pot of water. You need at least a gallon. Make sure the water covers the chicken. Simmer on low heat. Cook ‘til meat tender and white (about an hour). The water will be your broth. DON’T THROW IT OUT
3. Remove chicken from pot to a large bowl. Refrigerate chicken and broth if you can (overnight if you want to continue with soup the next day). The next morning the fat will have accumulated and hardened in the broth. Spoon it out. Cut up chicken meat. NOW, back to the stove and pot of broth.
4. Add 1 diced onion to broth. Add some more water if you need to. The broth should be flavorful, not watery. Add 1 cup regular rice (and maybe a little more) to water (the real stuff, not instant rice). Simmer for about 15 minutes.
5. Add large tablespoon or 2 of minced garlic. I told you I don’t measure. Keep simmering. Also, oregano, basil, rosemary. That’s it! Be brave. Be bold.
6. Dump in a can or two of chopped tomatoes. They add to the flavor.
7. Add 2 regular-sized packages of frozen mixed veggies (frozen peas, corn, carrots.) If you have a fresh carrot or two, slice it thin and add it as well. Or, add chopped broccoli, celery and corn (frozen or canned; whatever is in the cupboard) if available. You can peel and dice a potato too if you have one.
8. Simmer. Add salt to taste (about a teaspoon or two). Pour into your hand first. I didn’t always do this. One time the salt lid came off and salt poured into the soup. Bad soup!
9. Now, add the chicken. Simmer and taste test. If chicken liquid is too weak, always have some canned chicken broth on hand to add to soup.
So good. I love the soup with oven toast (with butter and garlic, or parmesan) as an accompaniment. Try not to burn the toast!
If Richie “gets” this concept and all the challenges involved, I think I can kick back until he dreams up another dish to attack. Wish me luck!
Judi Tabler lives in Pawnee County and is a guest columnist for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website juditabler.com.