In one of my earliest memories, I was probably 3 years old — maybe barely 4 — and I had woken up before my family, went down to the kitchen and decided I wanted my maple and brown sugar oatmeal right then. Being an independent, spirited young person, I found the oatmeal box and grabbed a packet, trying to figure out what came next.
Fortunately, my grandmother came downstairs and intervened.
Another early memory? Bellying up to the counter with my aunt to make potato pancakes and applesauce for the whole family on Sunday morning. The scent (and flavor) of warm cinnamon-laced applesauce takes me right back to those moments every time.
When I was 11, I first attempted to cook a meal — I roasted veggies and mixed them with marinara sauce to create a sauce for pasta that I served with store-bought garlic bread. That was in the time before roasted veggies were starring on restaurant menus and headlining cookbooks, and I was just looking to do something different … and meatless.
But that’s about where my cooking interest stopped. Sure, I dabbled in baking and created unusual sandwich fillings with alfalfa sprouts, tuna and olives in high school. And I even played with a slow cooker in college (though everything that came out of it tasted remarkably similar, regardless of ingredients). But I never really learned to cook. Cookbooks were overwhelming. I didn’t understand terms like “saute” and “braise,” and couldn’t tell a rimmed baking sheet from a roaster pan.
At the time, I didn’t care. I was young and happy to eat things from boxes or just get takeout. However, when I reached my mid-20s, the ability to feed others became more important to me. It was time to learn to cook.
So I did — through experimentation, finding cookbooks that spoke to me and lots of trial and error. There may have been a cooking class or two in there, too, but ultimately I learned through doing.
When I look at my kids, I hope they won’t face the kitchen with the apprehension and disinterest I did. Someday, I want them to be the ones in the college suite who can confidently scramble eggs, saute veggies and roast chickens. I want them to not rely on packaged food and takeout to stay nourished.
That’s why I’ve made teaching them to cook — in as low-pressure a way as possible — a priority. While they, like me, spent many an hour bellied up to the counter when they were very little, that just isn’t enough. The memories we created are invaluable but they need more than a warm fuzzy feeling when they smell cookies baking.
They need to know how to turn asparagus into an easy, tender side dish and how to combine ingredients to make a salad worth making again. They need to know why “perfectly cooked” varies based on what you’re cooking — and why it really, really matters, especially when it comes to chicken, fish and beef.
When a note came from my kids’ after-school program announcing once-a-week cooking classes, I signed them up immediately.
While my son was initially uninterested, he quickly discovered that he enjoys the hands-on classes. Since then, I’ve given both my kids light cooking duties at home, too — and they love it. And it also means that we’ve slid into a new era of kitchen memories — ones where we cook dinner together.
Now, more than six weeks later, my daughter is coming home with recipes to re-create and my son is voicing ideas for what he wants to make as their contribution to dinner.
And that’s where this recipe — or a version of it — came from. Is it simple? For sure. But when learning to cook, simple lessons are necessary building blocks for greater ones. In this case, my kids learned how to layer ingredients to create different pizzas. They also learned about safely using an oven (with supervision, of course) and how a few minutes of baking can turn those ingredients into a toasty, warm dish.
Next week? They’re going to learn how to brown meat for tacos, and season it with my homemade taco seasoning. After that? Who knows.
When my kids came home the day they had made English muffin pizzas at their cooking class, Paige handed me the recipe and suggested that I should use it for Maine Course. So here we are. Enjoy.
- 4 English muffins, fork split in half
- ½ cup diced tomatoes (from a can)
- ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or more, to taste)
- toppings such as ham, bacon, sliced olives, sliced sausage, tomatoes, broccoli bits, onions, etc
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the English muffin halves on a baking sheet.
- Divide the tomatoes evenly among them. Top with cheese and desired toppings.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.