At a local supermarket, two women push half-filled grocery carts. The ladies are good friends, but they couldn't be more different. One is a stay-at-home housewife who loves to create culinary masterpieces from scratch. The other is a training supervisor at a prestigious advertising agency. Household chores, particularly those in the kitchen, are not her idea of fun. The two ladies stop for a moment in the frozen foods section. "I'm so tired," sighs the professional woman. "I don't know what to do about supper." Her friend suggests, "What about a microwave dinner?" The weary professional sighs, "No, I don't feel like cooking tonight."
If you think American cooking means opening a package and tossing the contents into the microwave, think again. On the one hand, it's true that Americans thrive on cold cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and instant dinners. From busy homemakers to professional people, many Americans enjoy the convenience of prepackaged meals that can be ready to serve in 10 minutes or less. On the other hand, many Americans recognize the value of cooking skills. Parents-especially mothers-see the importance of training their children-especially daughters-in the culinary arts. Most Americans will admit that there's nothing better than a good home-cooked meal. But with cooking, as with any other skill, good results don't happen by accident.
Probably every cook has his or her own cooking style. But there are some basic techniques and principles that most people follow. For example, baking is a primary method of preparing food in America. The dinner menu often has casseroles, roast meats and other baked goods. For that reason, Americans would find it next to impossible to live without an oven. American cooks give special attention to the balance of foods, too. In planning a big meal they try to include a meat, a few vegetables, some bread or pasta and often a dessert. They also like to make sure the meal is colorful. Having several different colors of food on the plate usually makes for a healthy meal.
For those who need guidance in their cooking, or for those who have just run out of ideas, recipes are lifesavers. Recipes list all the ingredients for a dish (generally in the order used), the amount of each to use, and a description of how to put them together. Finding recipes in America is as easy as pie. Most good cooks have a shelf full of cookbooks ranging from locally published recipe collections to national bestsellers like the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Magazines devoted to home management, such as Good Housekeeping and Family Circle, are chock-full of scrumptious selections. Friends often augment their recipe collection by passing around their favorites written on cards.
For experienced cooks, true artists that they are, recipes are merely reference points. They often make adjustments as they go along, depending on the quantity of people they need to serve, the ingredients they have available and their personal taste. Some cooks use recipes very little, preferring instead to depend on their intuition as they add a pinch of this and a dash of that to create just the right flavors.
Of course, Americans don't have a corner on the market when it comes to good cooking. Wherever you go in the world, people love to eat. As a result, every culture and nationality has its own share of mouth-watering delicacies. And America, as a "land of immigrants," has imported practically all varieties of cooking. Most good cooks in America are "fluent" in several cooking "dialects": Mexican, Italian, Chinese and good old American style, just to name a few. But whatever the dialect, cooking is a language everyone understands.