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The Satisfaction of a Home Cooked Meal

By Staff Writer, Spring 2016


Imagine yourself in a kitchen about to embark on the exhilarating task of preparing a delicious, home-cooked meal. Perhaps you have painstakingly scrounged the internet for a special recipe, or discovered a gem waiting dormant in a hand-me-down recipe book from relatives past. You compose your list of ingredients and head to the farmers market. While there, you carefully and intentionally select each ingredient, item by item, asking every farmer the back story; what’s special about this variety in particular? How was it grown? Did the forgone cow have a name before arriving packaged here at market? You beam as you leave without a cent left of your budget; arms aching from the bounty you bear.  


Back in the kitchen, you prep your recipe, confidently rinsing the vegetables and vigilantly watching as the ice slowly drips from the package of grass-fed beef proudly thawing on its plate. The knife is sharpened, and the oven preheated. Then, with a determined smile, you are ready to assemble your masterpiece.


Shrugging off convention, you embellish your recipe with your own creative flair; little by little adding the right combination of spices and seasonings based solely on taste.  As the smells of cooking onions and roasting garlic teasingly waft through the air, your stomach, rumbling expectantly, makes its presence known. Finally, everything has marinated, simmered, sizzled, and baked to perfection, and you pull out your favorite dishes and set the table. As family and friends congregate, you relish all the thoughtfulness and effort involved in providing healthy, delicious nourishment to share with the loved ones gathered there.


Sounds pretty idyllic, right? The fact of the matter is that home-cooked meals require many resources, including time, skill, energy, and money, that few, if any, of us are willing or able to spend. When bills pile up, schedules fill to bursting, and the demands of day-to-day life get you down, it is much easier to turn to fast food and pre-made dinners.  The reasons for such a compromise are logical, but the satisfaction derived from a home-cooked meal is lost. And often, so too is the variety, superior flavor, nutritional benefit, and control over what you consume.


That satisfaction was one of the motivations behind Jeff and Heather Pennypacker, owners of the Sweet and Savory Classroom, deciding to open a cooking school in Chattanooga. Jeff’s classes, which teach savory meals, and Heather’s, which focus on sweeter recipes, demystify the culinary arts and enable their students to look forward to cooking rather than forswear it. 


They start by helping their students overcome mental blockades. “They think cooking takes a long time, that they don’t have the skills,” says Jeff.  “They ask questions like, ‘How do I season,’ and ‘What goes with what?’” 


The Pennypackers provide hands-on learning in the classroom, walking their students through everyday scenarios that might be considered intimidating. “Most of my students who come for the knife skills class are hoping to learn how not to cut off their fingers,” says Jeff.  “It’s a revelation for most people that the paring knife isn’t the only knife they should be using in the kitchen. We introduce them to a 10-inch chef’s knife, and they begin to understand how having the right tools can make them safer and faster in the kitchen.”


Cooking shows and kitchen aisles of department stores suggest you need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on fancy gadgets and appliances in order to be a successful cook. Jeff disagrees. His idea of the “right tools” is far more affordable and practical.  “Every kitchen should have a minimum of a 10-inch chef knife, a great sauté pan, and a wooden spoon,” he says. “With those three things, you can do just about anything.” 


Along with appropriate tools, Jeff and Heather equip their students with the confidence necessary to overcome the challenges kitchens can present. “People get frustrated when the meat sticks to the pan or their dish burns, and they feel like they just can’t do it,” he says; however, “we get around that barrier by teaching them kitchen fundamentals. Doing so changes cooking from a burden to a joy.”


He encourages new home cooks to seek out fresh ingredients as they are able. “Fresh food is easy to work with because it’s full of moisture. It’s crisp,” Jeff explains. “The whole process becomes more enjoyable with fresh ingredients, from cutting and chopping, to cooking. Your food smells better, and it tastes better too.” 


Learning to cook is one step that can be taken to fight kitchen intimidation. Challenging oneself to eat fresh, seasonal foods is another. Local farms produce an abundance of healthy, beautiful ingredients that practically beg to be eaten. The farmers select unique and splendid varieties you cannot find elsewhere, transforming any recipe from good to extraordinary. Often, the food is harvested at the peak of its ripeness, when the flavor is most profound and perfect. The farmers transport their harvest shorter distances the day they are picked, providing the greatest nutritional bang for your buck. Moreover, you gain more control over the food you eat when you know where it came from and how it was grown, which ought to bestow a greater sense of pride and confidence in the food you prepare. 


Barriers, both real and perceived, make it hard, even impossible, for some to shop local, but we're working to change that. Grow Chattanooga is a program that increases awareness, production, and consumption of food in our region. We believe in building stable, sustainable local food economies that connect our city to our countryside. Grow Chattanooga serves as a bridge between area residents and more satisfying, empowered eating by increasing access to fresh, healthy foods for everyone. Grow Chattanooga also offers area growers complimentary trainings, networking events, and marketing support to help them reach a greater, concentrated customer base. This work enables local farmers to better provide for our community and invigorates public demand for quality food. 


The TasteBuds magazine which you hold in your hands is one piece of this program, FREE to the public and full of information about the suppliers of local food in our community. This guide lists Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, grocery stores that stock locally sourced items, farmers markets - many of which accept SNAP dollars (some even double! Look for the SNAP icon to learn more.) - and even community gardens where you can grow your own fruits, veggies, and herbs. An online version of TasteBuds, found at www.growchattanooga.org/foodguide, makes it even easier to search for specific ingredients and growers. You can also call us at 423.493.9155 x13 to talk to a real person about where and how to find wholesome, healthy meals for you and your family. 


Why go to all this trouble to help families cook and eat together, you may ask? Jeff Pennypacker sums it up nicely: “Cooking and eating together is the oldest form of community. Breaking bread is a practice that goes back to ancient times, that creates the bond between people. Families that eat together stay together. The benefit is profound.” We couldn’t agree more.