Posted by: Kate | February 4, 2010

Existential Kitchen

Yesterday, as of 4:00 p.m., the lights in the kitchen were still off, ground beef still frozen, no activity anywhere near the area.  By 5:00, there were meatballs, pasta and sauce on the table.  No big deal, really… the meatballs were homemade, but the sauce was from a jar and the pasta from a box.  I can, and have, put a similar meal together all the way from flour and tomatoes, but not on a school night.

As I threw it all together, I got wondering… is this cooking?  Does it qualify as cooking, when all you’re really doing is preparing according to package instructions?  Do you get credit for cooking when one of the main aspects of the meal came from individual ingredients, or do you have to have assembled the whole shebang to be able to call it that?  When is it cooking, and when is it just preparing?

I’m sure the answer varies depending on whom you ask.  There are any number of highly talented, intelligent, skilled people who consider mashed potatoes beyond their culinary grasp and are proud of themselves when they’re able to put together a box of mac and cheese without burning it.  There are others who would be appalled to be caught with canned soup or boxed stuffing within a block of their homes, because why buy it that way when you can create it yourself, to your own specifications?

We’re somewhere in the middle, here.  We can create our own sauces, soups, marinades, and so on, from individual ingredients, when we want to, but we’re also unashamedly willing to serve a ham steak and boxed pierogies on any given evening, because sometimes easy outweighs culinary pride.

These are the things I think about when I’ve spent too much time at home alone.


  1. We’re somewhere in the middle too. While most of our food is made from scratch, (which made learning to live with Olivia’s multiple food allergies easier than it might have been if that weren’t already our practice) I love the convenience of being able to open a jar or a box and throwing something nutritious together on those busy nights when we’re all running in different directions. (Says she while the homemade veggie pasta sauce is simmering away nicely on the stove and the homemade rolls will soon be proofed to go in the oven…

    And, just so your other readers know, I’ve *had* your homemade spaghetti, happy mushrooms & all the fixings, and you are an awesome cook!!

    Miss you…

  2. Congratulations. You are a lot younger than I was when I figured out that convenience foods were not the devil’s work.

  3. Totally in the same camp. I love to cook from scratch, but I’m perfectly willing to open up that jar of pasta sauce, doctor it up, and serve dinner.

  4. We have this conversation all the time. I maintain that cooking is really just following a recipe- doesn’t matter if that means instructions on the back of a box or a complicated set of instructions written in a cookbook. A. says that it isn’t cooking if you’re just following instructions, that it’s just heating and stirring.

  5. I love to make things from scratch. It’s not always possible. SO, in my book, what you did IS cooking. The alternative is calling someone else to cook for you. You prepared a hot meal in your kitchen. Cooking.

  6. Is it cooking if all I had to do was throw rice in a cooker, cut up a bell pepper, and put a piece of chicken breast on a George Foreman Grill? I call it cooking… but if I am feeling super specific I call it easy cooking. Same with using a jar versus making my own tomato sauce, and cutting slices of that wonderful “cookie dough in a can” stuff.

    I only say “preparing” if I am reheating leftovers or eating a frozen meal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: