Cooking with Carson: Food is the way to the heart

You don’t have to cook something fancy, just something that warms your heart



Cooking is not about being fancy, it is about enjoying your food

CARSON HOLLAND, Evergreen columnist

We are going to mix this week’s column up a bit.

Maybe it is Valentine’s Day coming up or maybe it is the crippling amount of prep work that I need to do for my student teaching, but I am feeling incredibly lazy when it comes to cooking. For years, I often felt guilty whenever I turned to the comforting glow of the microwave to zap whatever processed food I had chosen for that night’s dinner.

Yet, as I have cooked more often throughout writing this column and eaten some delicious food at restaurants in my other column, I have come to an important conclusion.

Food isn’t about spending hours working away in the kitchen, nor is it about the amount of money that you spend on it. You can enjoy a bowl of cereal after a long final just as much as a ribeye steak.

Valentine’s Day tends to be a day of going out to fancy restaurants or cooking a fancy dinner, and that is all well and good. But as you are going about your Valentine’s Day planning, I would urge you to consider what makes you happy about the food you eat.

Food is a great way to show someone that you love them, but it is the essence of the food, the thought behind it, that holds the love. This is not just a message for romantic partners, but for roommates, friends and even yourself.

This column could have just as easily been devoted to a multi-hour dessert or entree to win over your Valentine, but instead, I wanted to refocus the lens on the why of the food. What you make does matter, but you, the chef, are the person who assigns meaning to whatever you make.

And with that all being (perhaps exhaustively) said, I present the humble Marie Callender Pot Pie.

I am going to be sharing some of my favorite frozen foods or go-to meals in a rush. Most of these are pretty widely available and their health benefits are … negligible, but they scratch a certain itch that, despite their quicker origins, reminds me why I love food.

The first we will cover is the titular pot pie.

I am a sucker for these things, and if I was not paying attention to my full stomach, I could easily down two or three before realizing it. Though I am sure they are available at many a grocery store, I made the journey out to Costco for these bad boys.

Fixed with a stunning six-minute microwave time, these pot pies are surprisingly full of flavor and ingredients. Not only are you hit with an unusually crispy crust, but also a handful of vegetables and chicken to compliment the flavor, all topped with a wonderful gravy.

I cannot tell you how many study sessions or workdays that this frozen meal has gotten me through. And a meal it is; I am almost always filled up by these, or near so.

The next frozen meal on this list is the Trader Joe’s Pork Siu Mai.

Whenever I take a drive up to Spokane, I make sure to stop and get some of these delicious, if not entirely authentic, balls of pure serotonin. While not so much of a meal itself as the pot pies are, the siu mai represents a wonderful entrée to pair with rice and vegetables: a middle ground between cooking a full meal and still having the illusion of doing so after a long day.

Not only are the siu mai delicious, but they are also very easy to make, which is a hallmark of nearly everything on this list. Though not listed on the package, I popped these into the air fryer and got a wonderful crisp that tasted just as good as a three-course meal after going to the Student Recreation Center.

The last menu item for this slightly different culinary adventure is the ramen noodle packet.

I believe that many of us can relate to hearing stories from our parents about them nearly living off these things when they were in college, and until I ate one for the first time, I didn’t believe them. Of all of these, the ramen noodle can be one of the most modular things for a college student on a budget.

Do you want to add a fried egg in there? Some protein like chicken or pork? Or maybe you want to spice things up with some green onions and veggies. Or you can just plop the hot water in and have some noodles and broth if that is what you are feeling.

Though the ramen noodle packet does not know it, it really captures a foundation of cooking.

This, of course, does not cover all of the frozen food that has occupied my freezer over my past few years in college. I have eaten enough Kraft, Hot Pockets and Bagel Bites to feed an army twice over.

It may be easy to feel guilty when turning to the microwave or frozen meal instead of sitting down and cooking, but this Valentine’s Day, I would urge the opposite. The stress of cooking is often what kills the enjoyment for people. Do not force yourself over the stove when that is the last thing that you want to do, for it will show in whatever you make.

As you are navigating the fun intricacies of Valentine’s Day on the Palouse, whether dining out or cooking in, make sure to remember to actually enjoy the food that you are eating. From the humble Hot Pocket to The Black Cypress steak, each has a place this Feb. 14.

If you recreate this recipe or any other recipe, use the hashtag #cookingwithcarson