My mother was pretty smart. She knew that if she took the time to show me how to do the basics, she could get off the hook for nightly dinners. (Mom didn't much like cooking, and it showed. The joke was, "My mom didn't cook; she opened.") Until I was ten, I did all the prep work. My mom would fire up the stove and finish everything I had started. Shortly, I graduated to finishing up the cooking under supervision.
And then I spent an entire summer with my grandmother in New York. We did all kinds of cool things in the kitchen, including making fresh pasta: noodles, raviolis, gnocchi, and a whole bunch of different sauces. Plus desserts. It was great. I hated to leave.
At home, the big day came when I was ten. I put my first solo meal on the table. It was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and canned green beans. A decent first effort, and my mom jumped at the chance to get off the weeknight cooking merry-go-round. I was on for once a week, using her recipes (boring) and her instructions (actually pretty good).
The summer I was 12, my mom came up with a clever idea — I would do the shopping and cooking Monday through Friday. Any money left over from the shopping was my allowance that week. (I quickly learned that you can't cheap out on the ingredients if you want to make tasty meals.) I used my mom's cookbook (circa 1945) and did some serious experimenting. The book was a hoot, though. There was even a section at the end called "Entertaining Without a Maid." Seriously.
Mostly it worked out fine. However, there was the day I made Spiced Ham Loaf. It took forever to hand-grind the ham and prep the meat for the loaf pan. The result: I flippin' made Spam! It was pretty good Spam, but still... My dad had been in the Navy where Spam was a mainstay. He couldn't eat it anymore. That night, we went out for pizza.
At the end of the summer, my dad took me aside and said, "Do your old Dad a favor, will you? Your mother is great at a lot of things, but cooking isn't one of them. Could you cook during the week from now on?" I was a daddy's girl, so I went along with this. And I'm glad I did.
Because, like most skills, cooking is mostly practice.
Over the years, I have made some elaborate meals. My favorite things to cook are anything Italian or Indian (which is tricky at first because it is spice-oriented rather than herb-dependent). These days, however, I am so busy with other things that I default to the easy stuff like pasta sauce, tacos and taco salad, and chicken breasts in some kind of sauce with rice.
Here is my new favorite quick and easy sauce for pasta:
Avocado Cream Pasta Sauce Recipe
8 oz. thin spaghetti or pasta of choice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 avocado, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves of garlic
Chopped fresh or dried herbs: Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, Marjoram (you pick) OR
2 tsp. Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring salted water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add in your pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water just in case you need a bit more liquid in the sauce.
- Zest the lemon before juicing it. Put aside.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into a food processor. Process until smooth.
- Now add in the pitted avocado, herbs, and salt. Process until smooth and creamy.
- When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer and place pasta into a large bowl.
- Pour on sauce and toss until fully combined. Garnish with lemon zest, black pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.
*Dish does not reheat well due to the avocado in the sauce.
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