5 ways to fall in love with cooking

You can learn to love cooking from scratch. Here’s why making your own food is the healthiest option

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love cooking

There’s never been a better time to start cooking

Sure, it’s  easy to find a plethora of pre-packaged delicacies in your grocery store. However, all this processed convenience comes at a cost. In order higher amounts of sodium, fat and sugars-too much of these could add inches to your waistline and subtract years from your life. Food Network Canada’s celebrity chef Michael Smith agrees. “When we let Food Inc. do our cooking for us,” he says, “we place our health in jeopardy.” Well, that’s one convincing reason to start cooking again. Smith, whose new cookbook Best of Chef At Home celebrates the home cook, offers five tips for getting started.

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healthy cooking

1. Appreciate the importance of cooking

Eating foods cooked from scratch is important for your health. A poor diet is one heavy in sodium, fat and sugar, and processed foods serve those ingredients in droves. For instance, 77 percent of our sodium intake comes from packaged foods-and we’re eating much more salt than we should. On average, Canadian women consume more than 3,500 mg of sodium a day, or 2,000 mg more than the recommended intake.

If you’re trying to cheat the system by buying foods that claim to be “light,” “fat-free,” “calorie-reduced” or “low salt,” double check the nutrition labels-chances are, the product contains higher amounts other bad-for-you ingredients to compensate for the resulting lack of taste. Loving cooking begins with learning to value it.

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2. Realize that cooking is not rocket science

People have been cooking for thousands of years, remindsl Smith. It’s only in the last two generations that we lost our way with food. That’s the same time period that heart disease, cancer and diabetes rates have skyrocketed, not to mention that the number of obese Canadian adults has more than tripled in the last 20 years. But our modern lack of food knowledge needn’t be an impediment to healthy cooking. Why? “Cooking is not that difficult,” says Smith. “It may be unfamiliar, but it’s not difficult.” Consider the homemade meatball, which is basically just some ground meat, breadcrumbs, perhaps onions and an egg that you roll into little balls like your child would roll up Play-Doh. The pay off? You can pronounce every ingredient that went into your family’s dinner.

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don't aim for perfection

3. Do not aim for perfection

A recent Angus Reid poll found that two-thirds of Canadians admit to having cooking anxieties-they’re afraid their own families won’t like what they serve. It’s not hard to see why: shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen berate culinary imperfections, while beautiful photos in cookbooks are the food equivalent to opening Vogue and feeling bad about your thighs. “We’re surrounded by a culture of food perfection,” says Smith, “but if we screw up dinner, so what?”

Smith says it was his mom who helped spark his lifelong love of cooking because she encouraged him to have fun in the kitchen. Common sense still applies, however. If you’re just starting to learn how to cook from scratch, pick a simple recipe.

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enjoy the process

4. Enjoy the process

It’s no secret that we live in a fast-paced society, so it’s easy to understand why we might not take the time to appreciate the aroma of garlic as it sautés in olive oil. But then again, why wouldn’t we? We tend to savour the things we love, whether it be the giddy anticipation of the next Twilight movie or the way you steal a second glance in the mirror after you don a new slinky skirt. Finding your visceral appreciation for food takes some confidence in the kitchen, and this is where good cookbooks can come in handy. Keep a few favourite cooking tomes on your shelf and makes sure that they really explain why you’re doing what you’re doing (ie. why the butter should be cold if you’re making pastry). These tidbits build your culinary knowledge so that you can spend your time observing rather than worrying and second-guessing. Plus, it helps to create a positive ambience for cooking-invest in some iPod speakers for the kitchen and a bottle of wine to sip as you go.

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5. When in doubt, try pancakes

What’s the perfect meal to start a newfound love of cooking? According to Smith, it’s pancakes. “It’s the metaphoric first flame of the day,” he says. Not to mention they’re super-easy, nearly everybody loves them and they provide an aroma that even the most hardened soul can’t resist. Smith adds whole grains like oatmeal to his pancakes, which makes them not only flavourful but nourishing, too. However, if pancakes aren’t for you, look back to your own childhood for recipes that made your mouth water and nose tingle-chances are, they’re your own personal key to finding your inner gourmet.

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