My very first job (other than babysitting and eldercare) was at the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm, as a waitress in their Rose and Kettle Tearoom. I was 15. I had visited the farm and museum countless times as a kid, and I knew it well. I also knew I wanted to eventually be a server as soon as I was legal age. Waitressing in a tearoom was the perfect “in” to the serving world, as they didn’t serve alcohol.
What I didn’t realize (and my parents certainly didn’t realize) was that waitressing at the Rose and Kettle Tearoom was barely waitressing at all. The traffic was very low (sometimes we wouldn’t have any customers in an entire day, especially if it was raining), the menu was extremely simple, and there was only ever one server and one cook. And everything was done the old-fashioned way… so I became domesticated very quickly.
I mopped floors, scrubbed bathrooms, pots, pans… all sorts of dirty work I hadn’t done at home before (although I did have my fair share of chores chez Mama, let me assure you). And let’s not forget the tearoom was built in the 1800s, so everything was dirty and ancient and consequently much harder to keep clean. I also weeded the vegetable gardens, harvested carrots, tomatoes, lettuce… whatever was ripe and ready that day. Every single item on the menu was made from scratch, and most of the ingredients came from the farm or the garden. I’m not kidding… they put a lot of emphasis on the “old-fashioned” thing so the tearoom was authentic to the era. I learned so much about the workings of a kitchen. I made gingerbread cookies, jams, pies, cakes, cinnamon buns, fresh-squeezed lemonade, quiche, 50 billion different types of tea, scones, biscuits, squares, soups… you name it. If it sounds old-fashioned, I definitely learned to make it.
So I was exposed to domesticity in a way most teenagers never are. Mama loved it. I came home and whipped up fudge, soups, cinnamon buns… I cleaned bathrooms better than ever before, and I made Daddy a mean pot of tea. They thought it was great! And I would say it was the start of my love for what I like to call the “traditional domestic arts.” That is, if you don’t count cross-stitching, knitting and sewing, which I already did (I was cross-stitching at age 6, I’m pretty sure. Talk about a weird kid).
Anyway, when I took off for university, I still didn’t know much about cooking healthy and complete meals. I didn’t want to put on the “freshman 15” (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily exist, because none of my friends put on weight), and I wanted to eat a balanced diet while away at university. So who comes to the rescue? (Drum roll please)… my incredibly youthful, hip and resourceful grandmother, Nan-Nan!
She’s my Daddy’s mum, and she’s had quite the life. Forgive me if I get the specifics wrong, but she married my grandfather (Dad-Dad) at age 19 in England, and shortly thereafter had four sons, all within five years (my Daddy being the eldest). Then the whole family immigrated to Canada in 1966, I think. I’m pretty sure she always wanted a daughter, but it wasn’t in God’s plan. I was her first-born grandchild, so I like to believe I was pretty special to her, especially since I was a girl. Anyway, we have a lot in common, and she’s a riot. She does awesome things grandmothers aren’t supposed to do. She dies her hair pink, drives a smartcar, recently got a couple tattoos, travels the world, and one time she even got a fake tongue ring to scare her unruly teenage granddaughter.
Nan-Nan always had the answers (and still does, quite frankly, to this day). She knew exactly what she was giving me as a university going-away present. A slow cooker! (They may be more commonly known by their brand-name, Crock Pot). She explained to me that they’re a life-saver… you can throw literally whatever you want into the slow cooker at the start of your day, turn it on, leave, and by the end of the day, your complete meal is ready. I thought this was genius, obviously, and welcomed the idea completely. And trust me, my roommate and I made fantastic use of this Crock Pot right from the getgo.
So this was an incredibly long introduction to my main point: slow cookers are probably the best tool for beginner cooks. They are so easy and so reliable. They are relatively inexpensive (you can get a really nice one for under 50 bucks) and you will use it countless times for the rest of your life. Roasts, stews, chili, you name it… a slow cooker can do it in the easiest way possible. And the best thing to do is to go out and buy a proper slow cooker cookbook, or to frequently visit www.crock-pot.com for recipes.
So what’s on the menu today? A delicious-looking recipe from my very own Crock-Pot cookbook, called Spicy Cheese Soup. I cut this one in half because it just sounded way too big. You’ll soon learn that I love spice (friends always comment on the “kick” in my cooking) and I adore cheese, so this recipe was right up my alley. It’s also got a twist of Mexican in it, and, well… working at Feleena’s for three years definitely has created a bias.
- 1 lb cheese, cubed
- 1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
- 9 oz whole kernel corn
- 15 oz kidney beans, undrained
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
- 14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
- 14 1/2 ounces stewed tomatoes, undrained
- 1 envelope taco seasoning
- Combine cheese, beef, corn, beans, jalapeño if using, tomatoes, and taco seasoning in slow cooker. Cover and cook on Low for 4 to 5 hours or on High for 3 hours. Serve with corn chips, if desired.
And this recipe is super easy (like all slow cooker recipes) too! Honestly, it doesn’t need much comment, as it’s so simple… I just went to the grocery store to pick up the specifics. I will add, however, that the cheese melts and adds to the soupy texture, so don’t worry about the chunks. And make sure you pre-cook the beef. And that the jalapeños are a must.
There you have it. Buy a slow cooker, get a slow cooker cookbook, and you’re practically a chef. That’s exactly what my cousin got in our family Christmas gift exchange last year! I’m sure she can attest that they’re the best addition to your kitchen.