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Jan 4 2011

A Desperate Plea from a Culinarily-Defective Jewish Mama

By at 12:03 pm

Here’s the thing, I’m a Jewish mother who can’t cook. I know, I know. I’m like the triathlete who can’t swim, the artist who can’t draw, the yogi who doesn’t meditate. It doesn’t make sense. Yet, here I am.

Even worse, I don’t really want to learn to cook. I want to want to learn, and I would love to be able to show up at a potluck with a fantastic lasagna or super creative salad – you know, the kind with toasted nuts or something.  Most importantly, I want to feed my daughters healthy, tasty meals without having a panic attack every time I think about making dinner.

I want to be that good, but I don’t want to suffer the growing pains that it will take to get there.

The good news is that my husband can cook. Oh, man, can that guy cook. He won my heart with his scrambled eggs, and his brisket melts in your mouth. Josh can make an entire Passover seder with barely a second thought, and every last bit of it is delicious (including his famous strawberry rhubarb sorbet). I might spend all day planning a meal, reading recipes, grocery shopping and cooking my sorry little heart out, and the results don’t even come close to what Josh can throw together in half an hour with just the ingredients in our cabinets.

But I am nothing if not moderately stubborn, and I am hell bent on learning how to cook more than just a few handfuls of meals. (Right now I can make decent fried eggs, lentil soup, and, I must say, kick-ass guacamole.  Also, I have gotten really good at cooking noodles, as they are just about the only thing my toddler will consistently eat.)

My biggest challenge is finding recipes that I can follow. Josh and I keep kosher – sort of.  (I prefer to call it faux-sher.)  So, recipes that include pork, shellfish, or milk and meat together are out. Also, recipes that use big words like “sauté,” “reduce,” or “broil” without explaining to me just what those words mean are also out.  (I’m still trying to figure out the difference between a blender and a food processor. And don’t get me started on the time I tried to make minestrone soup and couldn’t figure out what a leek was, or how to cut it. That required more than one phone call to my husband. At work. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.)

Yet here we are, at the start of a new year, and by God, I am going to learn to cook.  Amy’s recent post about her new year’s resolution is inspiring me. I am determined, by the end of this year, to be able to roast a chicken. And perhaps even make matzoh ball soup. I’ve found some great ideas here at Kveller, but I would also love to hear from you, dear readers.

What is your favorite source of recipes?  (Bonus points if they don’t include bacon or cheeseburgers, or sadly, bacon cheeseburgers.)  Help a pathetic Jewish Mama, and share your favorite websites, books, or even your best recipes.  And please, if you use fancy words, tell me what they mean.  My daughters, husband, and I will be most grateful.

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12 Responses to A Desperate Plea from a Culinarily-Defective Jewish Mama

  1. MangoMel says:

    Ina Garden’s Perfect Roast Chicken from the 1st Barefoot Contessa cookbook has been our family’s Sunday night dinner for years (you can get the recipe on Food Network). You can sub. olive oil for the butter you rub on the outside of the chicken.Very easy and everyone is amazed how good it is.

  2. LCR says:

    First of all there’s nothing wrong with Baker’s Best. But if you MUST cook, there are some seriously easy recipes from Barefoot Contessa and Giada DeLaurentis. Like 5 to 6 ingredients TOTAL. Cut, stir, serve type stuff. I’d start there. No blenders, Cuisinarts, fancy tools involved!

  3. Jessie says:

    You want to know a secret?

    Its really good, too. I have great pictures of Nora with the first one she made.

    Also, give yourself a break and get a slow cooker. You can make really yummy things with really minimal prep.

  4. Anna says:

    If you’re up for buying a new appliance, check out clay pots. We have one and love it, especially for roasting a chicken. The clay pot is kind of a cross between a crock pot and a roasting pan. You soak it in water for 10-15 minutes while you prep your meal. Then you put the ingredients in the pot, put the pot in a cold oven (and turn on the oven), wait 1-2 hours depending on the recipe, and enjoy. The water in the clay keeps food from drying out, so recipes are forgiving in terms of time to cook without drying out the food. Favorites are the roast chicken, red beans and rice, and a tex-mex dairy casserole.

  5. Josette says:

    For the simplest recipes, I always turn to The Minimalist himself, Marc Bittman. He also usually offers alternatives to the pork or shellfish options in his recipes. I also just LOVE watching his videos on the NYT site, because they are short and actually show you how to make the dish. You could start here, with a simple pasta dish:

    • Carla says:

      Can I tell you, I usually find Marc Bittman to be totally inaccessible? I used his recipe for roast chicken, followed it *exactly* (or so I thought), and it came out terribly. I’m bummed though, because he seems like he should be such a great resource…

      • Nancy says:

        I was going to suggest Bittman’s roast chicken method until I saw your comment. But it’s the only way I make chicken now, so maybe you should give it another try!

  6. Dorothy says:

    Hi Carla,

    My first thought on reading your plea was that with your very own personal chef in your home (hubby) why don’t you flatter him by asking him to teach you. Also, try and watch him and absorb as he cooks, and don’t be afraid to ask questions as he does so. Also, he must know what those “big fancy” words mean.
    There are many good beginner cookbooks out there, as well as much info. on the web. Take a look, and good luck. We all went through your problem, one way or another.

    • Josh (the hubby) says:

      Dorothy – For the sake of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, I don’t show Carla how to do things, especially in the kitchen :)

    • Carla says:

      Dorothy – Josh and I have found a system that seems to work for us… when he stumbles upon a particularly good recipe, he writes it up for me in a way that works for my inept style. I have several good recipes that way. However, the two of us in the kitchen together aren’t a good match – we have such different styles. :)
      Thanks for the tip, though.

  7. Sara says:

    First, many Jewish mothers are totally cooking inept and yet not so many admit to this fact, traditional European “Jewish” cuisine may be to blame (seriously, it’s like a half step above British cuisine).

    You don’t need to learn fancy terms to cook healthy things for your family, just learn to substitute. Anything you would cook but that is milk and meat, change to non-dairy options. Non-kosher meat or fish options can be subbed out for ones you do eat.

    Do a single ingredient search (IE “asparagus recipes”) you’ll get great ideas and if you read the ingredients and something sounds overdone or repulsive off the bat, just skip on to the next result ( is my saving grace). Anything you don’t know (dice, saute and so on) fake it, you probably won’t ruin anything if you go slow and keep it simple.

    Good luck.


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