Conquering Your Kitchen – A Kitchen Guide You’ll Love

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I recently had the opportunity to review a cookbook that’s right up my alley, and I wanted to share it with you!  Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), by Annemarie Rossi, is about one mom’s journey to becoming competent in the kitchen.  With no formal training and little knowledge of how to cook healthy food, Annemarie set out to learn to cook meals from scratch that her whole family would enjoy.

Conquering Your Kitchen with Menu Plans and Easy Prep Recipes - An Interview With the Author - BPhotoArt.com

Conquering Your Kitchen

The book isn’t just a cookbook, but a guide on how to get organized in the kitchen.  Annemarie explains how to meal plan, grocery shop, and make meals from real food — without a lot of complicated directions or a huge time involvement.  All of the 80 recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen require 30 minutes or less of prep work; with recipes this easy, there is no excuse not to eat healthy!

There are sections on breakfasts, snacks, dinners, desserts in Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink) — you’ll be inspired and ready to feed your family once you’ve delved into the various recipes.  I know I’ve been on a quest to cook from scratch and make healthy meals for my own family, so it was exciting for me to find some recipes that we could incorporate into our (very relaxed) meal plan.  I’m especially excited about the fact many of Annemarie’s recipes are low in sugar, or use natural, unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup or honey — things I can actually eat!  She also discusses adaptations for those with food restrictions (i.e. gluten free).

Also, make sure to check out the free printable resources — including menu plans, conversion charts, a shopping list, and more!

My Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

Long, extravagantly prepared meals are lovely, and we have accomplished a number of those at our house, but that’s mostly thanks to my husband.  He has a lot of cooking experience, including restaurant training, so at least one of us is great at timing meal components to be ready simultaneously, even though it’s not me. The recipes that Annemarie shares are right up my alley, and I love the promise of 30 minutes or less to a finished meal.

I have to admit, there are a number of occasions where I’ve gotten flustered in the kitchen while cooking, and my dear husband has rushed to my side to take over and rescue whatever meal I was attempting to create on my own.  He’s even saved a gluten-free playdough experiment from failing for me.

Despite these speed bumps, my cooking skills have improved over the years.  Practice makes perfect, and if you don’t try, you won’t have a shot at ever succeeding.  Maybe that’s why this book was such an enjoyable read for me — I’m in the process of learning how to conquer my kitchen

While reading through Conquering Your Kitchen, I definitely had some “aha!” moments.  I don’t have any specific examples that come to mind, other than the kitchen organization section in general, but I definitely found some information and ideas that could be immediately incorporated into our kitchen.

Anyways, no need to bore you with an more extensive review (though I will share some more thoughts at the end of this post).  Let’s get on to the really exciting part — an interview with the author of Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink)!  I think you’ll find Annemarie to be really down-to-earth; her journey to conquer her own kitchen may sound similar to your own story.  Without further delay, here are the questions I asked, and Annemarie’s candidly refreshing answers!

An Interview With The Author, Annemarie Rossi

Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and the kind of cooking you all enjoy most (any favorite recipes?)
I live with my husband and two elementary school aged children outside Boston, Massachusetts. We’re a mainstream suburban American family. My 10-year-old son helps on occasion with the cooking, but it’s my 9-year-old daughter who really likes to get in on the action. She likes to make recipes out of her ChopChop Kids Cookbook (#afflink). Our favorite family meals include taco night and pizza. Personally, my favorite meal is a big, loaded salad. And we all love just about every type of dessert! Homemade ice cream is a treat we enjoy during the summer.

What was the inspiration behind The Untrained Housewife Series?
The Untrained Housewife was started by Angela England in response to an email that was sent across her mothers’ group email list: “Help! My mother never taught me how to cook!” Many women who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t learn basic cooking skills at home. A whole generation of intelligent, accomplished women find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of providing homemade food to their families.

Were you what you’d consider an “untrained housewife?”
I did learn a recipe or two from my mother, but in general, I was not especially “trained” in the kitchen. I learned to cook little by little over the years.

I love the concept of empowering women to feed their families good meals. Where did you get the idea for Conquering Your Kitchen?
Angela envisioned this book long before we met, but the topic was a natural one for me. I get sad when I hear women say, “I can’t cook,” and I loved the idea of writing a book that would walk people through the logistics of how to cook good meals at home. I believe that everyone can cook. My 9-year-old makes lasagna all by herself. It’s not rocket science – it just takes time and commitment.

How did you go about changing from a packaged food household to a from-scratch food household?
We started out with the 10 Days of Real Food challenge from the website, 100 Days of Real Food. During those 10 days, we made a commitment to eat food that was either made from scratch at home or that had a very short ingredient list with ingredients that we might cook with at home. For those 10 days, we didn’t eat anything with added sugar except for natural sweeteners (honey and pure maple syrup). This 10 day experience help get me started on adjusting to a homemade food lifestyle.

Was your family enthusiastic about the home cooked meals, or did they need some convincing of your new cooking style?
My family was generally enthusiastic. They liked the idea of the 10 day challenge. There were a few instances during the 10 days when the kids encountered highly processed treats like popsicles and lemonade stands. I left it up to them to decide if they wanted the treats (I wasn’t forcing this commitment on them), and they did choose to stick with the real food commitment.

What’s your opinion on the importance of families having sit-down meals regularly together?
Sitting down as a family to eat meals together regularly is essential. My family has dinner together most nights, and we like to do a sit-down breakfast on the weekends. Family mealtime is one time of the day when distractions are set aside and we can simply spend time together.

How do you keep on top of the never-ending cycle of keeping good quality food ready for your family?
It’s impossible to keep on top of the cycle without meal planning. I plan meals one week at a time so that I never find myself without anything healthy available to eat. I also try to keep my freezer stocked with back-up meals and healthy snacks like muffins and granola bars. That way, there’s always something available even when our schedule gets interrupted.

I’m not perfect. We do go out to eat sometimes, and we do eat processed food sometimes. It’s all about doing your best and not getting stressed out about food.

Do you have any recommendations for those who are trying to conquer their kitchens — on a restricted diet?
I was diagnosed with dairy and gluten sensitivities several years ago, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It woke me up and made me more aware of what I was eating. I stopped eating dairy for 2 years, and I didn’t eat gluten either for one of those years. I became skilled at reading ingredient labels, which I hadn’t regularly done before that. I now eat small amounts of high-quality gluten and dairy, but they aren’t the focus of my diet like they used to be.

For those who are living with food restrictions, I recommend focusing on the positive. You have an awareness about what you’re eating that others don’t have.

How did you see your food budget change when switching to completely homemade foods?
My food budget didn’t actually change much when we switched our focus to homemade food. Processed food is almost always more expensive than homemade food (contrary to popular opinion), but my budget remained stable because I started buying higher quality, often organic ingredients. It’s important to look at your food priorities and decide where you want to focus your spending. Organic milk and veggies, grass-fed meat, and locally produced items often cost more than their lower-quality counterparts, so you need to decide where to focus your resources.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those considering a CSA or farm share, but are worried about the “odd” foods?
I was nervous to join a farm share at first, but now I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. A farm share stretches people outside their comfort zones and gets them eating veggies they wouldn’t buy at the store. This imposed variety results in a healthier diet, and it facilitates meal planning. Many farms allow you to swap veggies that you know your family won’t eat, so you won’t necessarily come home with food that’s destined for the compost bin.

Is the Farmer’s Market a good step down from a CSA, for those who aren’t willing to make the commitment?
I wouldn’t call it a step down. Farmers’ markets are another great way to support local farmers and get delicious, locally grown produce. Shopping at the farmers’ market is a good fit for people who want to pick out exactly what produce they bring home. It’s also a good option for those who travel often in the summer and can’t get to the farm share pick-up each week.

Do you maintain a vegetable or herb garden, and why?
We don’t have a lot of sunlight in our yard, but I do grow raspberries, chives, and a few other goodies each year. We’re planning to try pumpkins this summer. I love being able to show my children how food grows, and we all enjoy the fresh bounty that comes from our own yard. I don’t have a green thumb, so it feels a bit miraculous when things actually grow in our yard and we can eat them!

Any suggestions for those of us who have trouble timing all the components of a meal to be ready at the proper time?
I always prepare part of dinner before dinnertime. We all get hungry and cranky around 5:00 at my house, so I can’t bear to do the entire dinner prep in that time and space. I put some of the pieces in place the night before, or else during the morning. Planning ahead is a key element to success in the kitchen.

How has eating from scratch impacted your family’s health?
When we used to eat a lot of processed food, my children were always bringing home the latest cold or stomach bug from school. These illnesses would typically spread through the family, and someone was sick more often than not. I also suffered from seasonal allergies. I never thought these minor health annoyances had anything to do with food. But when I started cooking most of our food from scratch, we stopped getting sick and my allergies disappeared completely. I haven’t been congested in years. Our quality of life has improved dramatically as a result.

Of all the recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen, which are your favorites?
From the breakfast chapter, I’d say it’s the blueberry banana baked oatmeal. The raw chocolate energy bars are my favorite snack at the moment. From the veggie chapter, I love the roasted cauliflower. For dinner, I never get tired of the chili recipe. I love every recipe in the dessert chapter, but I think the brownies are probably my favorite.

Do you have any favorite cooking websites or cookbooks that inspire you?
I’ve always been inspired by Lisa Leake’s website, 100 Days of Real Food (#afflink). She helped me to see that a typical family can move away from processed food. My favorite cookbooks are Joy of Cooking (#afflink) and anything by Mark Bittman. In Bittman’s cookbook, Kitchen Express (#afflink), the recipes are written in paragraph form without specific quantities. The reader has to figure out what he means when he says to add a little bit of this and a handful of that. I think it was this cookbook that taught me how to cook things on my own without following a recipe exactly. Everyone should learn how to do this.

Anything else you want to share, about Conquering Your Kitchen or otherwise?
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t actually love to cook. I’m not one of those people who gets excited about cooking all afternoon and creating a feast. I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t love it. I do LOVE to eat, though, and I love having a healthy family. This is what keeps me motivated in the kitchen. Anyone can do this!

Annemarie Rossi, is the author of Conquering Your kitchen. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the College of the Holy Cross, as well as a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. Now a suburban mom in the Boston area, Annemarie has been happy to see a trend in healthier eating throughout New England. She enjoys traveling with her family, and they always visit farmers’ markets and restaurants that celebrate locally sourced food while on vacation. To keep up to date with Annemarie’s recipes, tips, and food travel stories, follow her at RealFoodRealDeals.com.

Final Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

While I received a complimentary copy of the book, Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), for review purposes, my opinion of this book is my own — and I am a fan. I really enjoyed the recipes, the discussions of how to arrange your kitchen for efficient cooking, and many other tips that fall in line with my vision of a well-run kitchen.

Thank you so much, Annemarie! I hope Conquering Your Kitchen helps many feel more confident and at home in the kitchen. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there is nothing like a good homecooked meal. They always taste so much better.

So, what about you? Do you have any favorite easy recipes or go-to meals that can be made from scratch — without too much effort or pre-planning? I’d love to hear thoughts on your confidence in the kitchen, or where you are at in your journey to conquering your kitchen!

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