Not on Jesse Toothman’s table.
He’s all about from-scratch cooking.
It’s better for you. And, besides, it tastes a lot better, he says.
“You just take three, four ingredients and make something from it,” he said.
It’s something he learned from his mother and grandmother.
“I will not do it from a box.”
He started cooking when he was around 13.
“The No. 1 lesson I learned was to use an iron skillet. This nonstick stuff I don’t like. It wears off. I don’t trust it. This skillet is 40 years old,” he said, pointing to the largest of the three skillets resting on his kitchen table.
“They’re best for gravies and for frying. You can make pineapple upsidedown cake in them. The food just tastes better.”
His wife Rachel has an important part in his cooking process: She’s the taster and cleaner-upper.
“He does all the cooking and baking,” she said with a laugh.
Not only does he cook and bake from scratch, but he also rarely follows a written recipe.
“I make them up on my own,” he said.
He goes to the kitchen to relax and de-stress.
“Cooking, baking, it all depends on the mood I’m in. I can cook something, and I’m good to go. It’s how I get rid of stuff.”
Sometimes he’ll take an established recipe and tweak it, like the 80-year-old recipe for pecan pie from Rachel’s family.
“It just didn’t look like it would be the right consistency. It was a cup of Karo, 3/4 cup milk, a packet of vanilla pudding mix and a cup of nuts. I changed it to a cup and 3/4 Karo, a cup of milk, 2 1/2 cups nuts, the pudding and a little vanilla.
“But the next time I make it, I may do something different with it. I don’t stick with a recipe. I never did.”
Scratch cooking is also healthier, he said.
“Take a box of macaroni and cheese. The sodium content in that box is higher than making it on your own. On the other hand, salt is what makes your flavors come out. So you need balance.
“My way of thinking is if you want more salt, you can add it. But you can’t take it out.”
While he prefers garden-fresh vegetables, frozen will work in a pinch. But never, ever from a can.
His favorite meal just might be hamburger and gravy. There’s a trick to making the perfect gravy, he said.
“The secret is right there,” he said, pointing to his three iron skillets. “Gravy is based on three things: grease, flour and liquid, either water or milk. It’s got to be well-balanced.
“Too much flour and it’s gooey with lumps. Get the grease popping hot, sprinkle flour in it and brown it out. Add enough flour so the grease is all soaked up that it looks like dried mashed potatoes. Then take your spatula and pour milk into it.
“For turkey gravy, drippings are the grease. Let them cool and what’s on top it what you use.”
He has his favorite TV cooks, but he often can’t find the ingredients they use.
“Some things I can replicate with what we have.”
The show that was made with him in mind is “Chopped,” in which contestants are given often bizarre secret ingredients to cook with.
“That’s me,” he said. “ Give me any food, and I’ll make something good out of it.”
“And that’s the truth,” Rachel said.
At Christmas, he’s “crazy busy” baking up about 150 dozen cookies of various sorts to give away. He’ll start about two weeks before.
“Just as long as the dogs and I get a sample, we don’t care,” Rachel said with a laugh.
“Thanksgiving meal I do all in a day,” he said.
One of the stars of this meal will be his homemade dressing, which is flavorful enough to not need gravy.
“The key is your spices,” he said. “On this one, I used poultry seasoning, sage, onions and good creamery butter. Do not use tub butter. It’s 80 percent water.”
He doesn’t use sugar substitutes or light margarines, either.
“If you use light margarine on cookies, they will be thinner, more dried out and not as chewy. Butter is the key. Or lard.”
Like all cooks, he’s made his mistakes.
“But my theory is if you don’t do something, you cannot make a mistake. And if you say you’ve never made a mistake, you’re lying. The thing is to learn from your mistakes.”
He’s thought about opening his own restaurant and has submitted some recipes to local cookbooks.
“But for the most part, my recipes are right here,” he said, tapping his head. “I could write down a recipe, but next week I may make it differently.
“I’m not one who likes stuff that’s outlandish, that the high-faluters eat. Give me a bowl of beans and a piece of cornbread, and I’m satisfied,” he said.
“But I guess my favorite meal is whatever I’m making at the moment. We’ve put a lot into this kitchen. It’s the heart and soul of the house.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.
- My Favorite Recipe
If you like something sweet, Jessi Polis has the cake for you.
Her orange cream cheese pound cake is light, refreshing and just sweet enough to satisfy those cravings.
This cake is her husband Sam’s favorite, she said.
Paula Ansberry makes some pretty powerful pepper poppers.
She got the recipe from a friend a couple of years ago. She was a little hesitant to try one. She’s not a spicy food kind of person.
People say they go to cookouts and picnics to get together with friends and family.
They say they like the burgers and dogs, and pasta, fruit and potato salads, and all those other side dishes you can’t have a picnic without.
Art of cooking
Kim Holbert isn’t one of those “Try it; you’ll like it” kind of cooks.
She’s more like, “You like it; I’ll make it.”
“If I know that you have a preference toward something, I aim it that way,” she said.
Just home cooking
Food doesn’t have to be fancy to be tasty.
Judy Starn learned this growing up on Sugar Lane in Catawba. She was the only girl in nine children of Woodrow and Anna Starn. One brother passed away, so she grew up among seven brothers.
“I like to cook, but I wouldn’t say I’m a good cook,” she said.
Just plain cooking
You know those pretty layered salads people put in clear glass bowls, and you have to lift all the layers out at the same time and then spread them out on a plate so everybody can see how pretty it is, and then they go “ooh” and “ahh”?
‘Just plain good’
When it’s just too darned hot to cook, or you need something cool and light in a jiffy, Josephine Vespoint has a quick-as-a-wink salad for you.
Take two cans of pears, and drain and place each pear right side up on a bed of lettuce.
All about family
All her life, Alma Hoy Parrish has been about one thing: family.
She’s put the knowledge she learned at her mother’s knee to good use during her 46-year marriage to Tom Parrish while raising their two children, Mike Parrish and Lori Hill.
Easy and versatile
There are salads that you ever-so-politely nibble on.
Not Cathy Davis’ California Tossed Salad.
It fills a large bowl to the brim. You have to grab it with tongs, lift it to your plate and, as she says it, “dive on in.”
It’s filling. It’s healthy. It’s easy to make.
Light and fluffy
Grandmas are probably the world’s best cooks.
Just ask anybody who’s been lucky enough to have eaten their scrumptious cookies, luscious pies, fluffy cakes and wholesome breads.
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