Chef Emily Cook shares reflections on creative skills for home cooks
As a Chef Instructor at Chicago’s Community Kitchens, I teach students skills and techniques that they can use to be successful in their careers in hospitality and food service. Some of these skills are what we call “hard skills,” like knife skills or baking techniques. Then, there are the “soft skills” – communicating professionally or knowing how to ask for help. But as a chef, there’s another category I’d call “creative skills” – like how to minimize waste or find the Plan B when Plan A falls apart.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I know many people are looking for Plan B in many ways, including in the kitchen. I’ve found myself staring into my refrigerator at home wondering how to get the most of what I have. Items that may have once gone forgotten – or worse, wasted – are now scrutinized for their value and potential.
I think about my grandmother and how she used everything – every last scrap. I used to think it was silly that she kept all of her vegetable scraps in an old Tupperware on the bottom shelf that she would turn into vegetable broth for a soup. Now, I see the tasty potential in those scraps!
Over the next few weeks, I will be looking into my fridge for some common and affordable ingredients. Then I’ll share a recipe to create something nutritious and delicious.
I hope that you are able to find solace, as I do, in the kitchen during this challenging time.
I wish you peace, love, and full plates. – Chef Emily Faith Cook
Look at all those scraps going to work! Parsley is inexpensive and packed with nutrients and flavor. Don’t add any salt to your stock – you’ll want to use this in place of water in savory recipes.
You can use any scraps you have on hand, such as celery tops, onion trimmings, and zucchini peelings.
To make: Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let go for about an hour. Strain and let cool. Don’t put it in your fridge hot or it will warm up the whole fridge.
Vegetable Minestrone Soup
Use what you’ve got! The vegetables in this recipe can be substituted, the beans can be substituted. I had some farro that needed to be used up, so I used it in place of the pasta. No regular sized carrots? I used baby carrots.
- ¼ c olive oil
- 1 c onion, small dice (1 onion)
- ½ c celery, small dice (2 stalks)
- ½ c carrots, small dice (1 regular size or about 8 baby carrots)
- 1 c zucchini, small dice (1 regular size)
- 1 c green beans, small dice (about ¼ lb)
- 2 T garlic, minced
- 1 c fresh parsley, minced
- 2 qts vegetable stock (see recipe above)
- 1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 T dried oregano
- 1 T kosher salt
- 1 t ground black pepper
- 1 t dried basil
- 1 t dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 qt fresh baby spinach, packed
- ¼ lb whole wheat pasta (orzo, elbow macaroni, etc.)
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Gently cook onion, celery, garlic, green beans, carrot, and zucchini in the oil for 5 minutes or until onions begin to turn translucent.
- Add vegetable stock, plus drained tomatoes, beans, and spices.
- Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
- In a separate pot, cook the pasta according to package instructions and set aside.
- Add spinach leaves right before serving until wilted. Add warm pasta to soup when ready to serve. (Extra soup with pasta will not freeze well.)