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Home cooking? Yes you can!

Kerry Auld is a lot like many of us. In the new year, she hopes to cook more healthful, creative meals more often and save money by taking her lunch to work. Oh, and she also wants extra time in the day for planning. • "When you are tired from working, it is easy to just fix something quick and simple like a soup and sandwich, a bowl of cereal or a salad," says Auld, 53, who lives in Largo and is a teacher for the visually impaired. • She wants to break out of that rut, but, also like many of us, finds planning is a stumbling block. • I've talked to several neighbors and friends recently who vow to make better friends with their kitchens in 2009. Thank a shaky economy for that. • Below and on page 6E, we address how to make good on that promise.

Cooking is hot

The worldwide ad agency and trend spotter J. Walter Thompson has pronounced home cooking this year's hot food trend. The prediction is fueled by Food Marketing Institute data that claims 71 percent of Americans were cooking at home more and eating out less last year. That number is likely to climb, or at the least stay steady, this year.

(J. Walter also expects people to start canning again. We'll keep you posted on that one.)

Foodies, a make-and-take meal assembly business in St. Petersburg that also holds cooking classes, has seen an uptick since the last months of 2008, says Todd Roberts, day manager.

"We ran our bistro class three times last year and never filled it, and it's got a waiting list now," he says.

Among Foodies' most popular classes are weeknight meals and appetizers. French classes do well, too.

About 20 percent of adult students can cook at least a little, Roberts says. "But in every class we'll be teaching a few people the basics, how to dice a tomato or onion," he says.

Bil Mitchell, head chef at Publix Super Markets' Apron's Cooking School in Tampa, says all his basic cooking classes are filled. People want to learn to cook in their own kitchens, he says.

Getting going

The bad news for Auld and the rest of us: Adding minutes to the day is not among President-elect Obama's many promises.

Time is a funny thing, though.

We have plenty of it to watch football and reruns of CSI: Miami. Coincidentally, it takes about the same time to bake a meatloaf as it does for Horatio Caine to put some creep behind bars. Just an hour. Imagine what could be produced in the three hours the football game wages on. You could still watch the action, checking on your pot roast during the plentiful commercials. Time isn't the only barrier to cooking. There is a host of misconceptions about cooking:

You need lots of equipment. I cooked for more than 20 years before buying a food processor or a fancy standup mixer. I am still using the same $1 plastic colander I bought in 1976 for my first apartment. Good food can be produced with a decent knife, a skillet and a saucepan. Measuring cups and spoons are musts; microplaners and garlic presses aren't.

Gourmet and trendy foods are best. Maybe it's from watching flashy celebrity chefs on TV, but there seems to be a pervasive belief that dinner needs to be an event. Learn to cook 10 entrees (baked chicken, spaghetti, grilled fish, vegetable soup, etc.). Basic food cooked well is a worthy goal. Leave complicated ethnic dishes for takeout splurges.

It takes too much time. Rachael Ray has made a career of cooking meals in under 30 minutes. Some meals take even less time. In just 5 minutes, shrimp and scallops are ready to eat; so is a big bowl of couscous. A steak can be grilled in 10 minutes. Dried pasta is al dente in around 12 minutes, and a fresh tomato sauce can be heated in about the same time. It's planning that really takes the time.

The ingredients are too expensive. There is some truth to this statement, but by buying items on sale or in bulk, costs can be reduced. Many inexpensive cuts of meat can be used for several meals. I bought a $10 bone-in half ham for New Year's Day dinner and used part of the leftovers for split pea soup. There is another hunk in the freezer for at least one or two more meals.

Also, learning about substitutions can save money. Any onion can stand in for shallots. Dried herbs can be used in place of fresh, just use about a third less because they are stronger.

A lousy cook can't change. Okay, maybe you burn water. Take a cooking class this year with some- one else in your family. Record or watch some of the Food Network's daytime cooking shows. Ask a friend or relative to give you pointers. Don't give up.

I promise I won't. Even I need to cook more at home this year. Some of the tips on page 6E are going up on my fridge, too.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.

Home cooking? Yes you can! 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 3:30am]
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