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Andrew Coppolino photo

Andrew Coppolino photo

It takes a little time and care to make a smoked tomato oil at home, but investing a Saturday in food preparation can lead to a week’s worth of fresh, homemade meals.

Good food = hard work

Eating healthy, homemade food takes time and organizational skills, but it’s worth it

Food has been hot, so to speak, for some time now. People blog about it, share pictures of it, watch how it is cooked on television (ad nauseum), talk about it and eat it morning, noon and night, and sometimes after that even.

Let’s not forget, however, that good food, whatever that may be defined as, is hard work. It’s hard work for the farmer. It’s hard work for the cook, whether in a restaurant or at home.

The fact is that healthy, thoughtful cooking is time consuming and takes some elbow grease. Good food takes time to plan for, shop for, prepare for, cook, eat, and then clean up after. Don’t let anyone tell you, “cooking at home is easy.”

As a demonstration, let me take you through our food prep process from where I live in the east ward of Kitchener.

The house has three adults (and two very large dogs for whom we don’t prepare food, though some people take on that task for their pets), with up to three other adults usually visiting on weekends.

Two of those adults are weightlifter types and generally require fairly sizeable quantities of food. I don’t do so much weightlifting, but I still enjoy fairly sizeable quantities of food (and know that I shouldn’t).

To satiate and nourish all of the above, menu planning begins on Friday night after work. The first challenge is to find recipes and healthy ingredients to use, starting with finding variety in the centre-of-plate component. That is no small task.

Proteins such as chicken, fish, beef, pork all come to mind. The trick is to use the available techniques — braising, grilling, roasting, sautéing — in inventive ways, lest the inevitable meatloaf Thursday rear its ugly head.

Meatless dishes make a periodic appearance and include pastas, grains and legumes. They offer variety but also require a bit more research and inventiveness. For instance, we soak dry beans for various dishes and that requires forethought and budgeting for time.

So, the menu set for a week’s worth of meals, the shopping begins fairly early Saturday morning. Living downtown gives us quick access to the Kitchener Market; we walk when we can but usually have other errands to attend to.

The stroll-through-the-market moments are stellar, as far as I’m concerned, but are time consuming. Though it is usually crowded and busy — I love the bustle — it is also less convenient in terms of carrying bags and navigating the hordes. I find leeks are particularly good for jabbing into someone’s thigh.

There is no doubt that meeting friends and neighbours and talking to the farmers and vendors that we have come to know is absolutely stellar too. That again takes time but that’s a good thing. I just can’t imagine the whole operation with three small children in tow.

Next, we plow through the human crush and vehicular congestion and head to our independent “downtown” grocer, Central Fresh Market, to pick up other supplies that aren’t available at the farmers’ market. Central tries to include Ontario produce, and I am just about guaranteed to find Jerusalem artichokes there, something rarely available at the Kitchener Market.

It’s now somewhere around 11 a.m. Back at home with bags of goodies, the next step is unpacking, sorting, breaking down, re-wrapping, labelling, freezing and storing. The dogs help out tremendously by pointing out exactly where the luscious beef short ribs and chicken thighs are.

Once that’s done, there’s only enough time to have a short coffee break and maybe some lunch before lists are consulted, mise en place set up, and the cooking begins.

The afternoon sees every available counter space filled in the kitchen. The preparation isn’t for intricate, molecularly-driven gastronomic dishes: they are usually stews, soups, casseroles and pasta sauces that have been selected to get us through the week until the whole thing starts again on Friday. More elaborate dishes are prepared at the last minute for Saturday and Sunday nights.

Two sides of the kitchen are at work, one with chopping and dicing and a bit of minor butchering; the other does the actual layering of flavours and cooking.

When needed, and when time allows, we make things like hummus, mayonnaise and chicken and beef stock because we are trying to be more self-sustaining. When we want pizza, I make the dough, which requires several hours. You can imagine that added work and time.

Ooops! I forgot that I have to rush over to our farm-fresh Egg Man for our weekly batch of healthy-raised eggs before 5 p.m. Then, before you know it, it’s evening and the day is pretty much gone. That means finishing the packaging and storing and a whale of a clean up that adds more time.

Granted, Sunday is more relaxed, but it usually is dedicated to preparing some sort of family dinner for six, and that takes time too. In our house, we try to buy simple, healthy, unprocessed food and cook it ourselves. It takes a lot of work, and we enjoy the decisions we have taken. But let’s be clear: ordering in is way easier.

• • •

Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based
food writer and broadcaster.
Visit him at waterlooregioneats.com.

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