I asked my boys (who are old enough now to think it’s not cool to cook with dad) what their favorite memory of the three of us cooking dinner was. The answer was unanimous. I’m sure they are biased because they picked the same day and the same dish. Biased because (1) it’s their favorite; (2) it was the same day, and (3) because it was the beginning of a great evening.
It’s odd to look back and think about all the lessons I tried to teach my kids. Mostly because, as parents, we do, say, and teach our children things sometimes without knowing why. When they were younger, I was not as conscious about food safety as I am now but I still tried to instill in them the importance of all the process when cooking.
I taught them the importance of cleaning. Be it the food, counters, or their hands, I knew then it was important in order to avoid bacteria. I also reinforced how big a part safety played when cooking. And most importantly, I lead them to realizing cooking was fun.
The Unanimous Answer
The favorite meal, from my family to yours.
I am going to share the recipe with you.
Not something completely out of the ordinary. Especially for a food safety site, but that is usually not our main position. I feel it is important here for you to understand not only the simplicity, but the tastiness level involved. To this day, this is the first meal mentioned when I ask what they want me to cook for dinner.
Hot Chicken Salad
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 chicken breasts chopped
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 large bag chow mien noodles
- 1 cup shredded cheese
Cook onion in butter until tender. In separate bowl mix soup and mayonnaise. Add every other ingredient except the cheese to the same bowl. Coat backing dish with butter. Add mixture to dish. Cover with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes.
That is it. Simple right?
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that over the years a few tweaks to the recipe have been done. This is the base recipe. And, of course, because it goes over so well I usually double or triple it. As I wrote this, I had to giggle to myself because our family loves cheese. No, that’s not entirely correct. We are obsessed with cheese. So, adding lots and lots of cheese to this is a given around the house. But… I digress….
Whenever chicken and cooking are used in the same concept, the first thing we think about is Salmonella. That word is on everybody’s lips these days due to the amount of outbreaks we are having. It is imperative to remember the basics when so many other scares are going on.
Not washing chicken in your sink, making sure it is properly cooked, and cleaning surfaces is imperative in avoiding Salmonella.
The particular day I am describing I decided to do the cutting but the lesson was still important. I remember the questions came rushing in when I started discussing why treating chicken delicately was necessary:
“What is Salmon-Ella?”
“What if we eat this and get sick?
“Can we get sick from chicken nuggets?”
You get the point. So, being the patient person I am, I started with what little knowledge I had and explained to the boys how Salmonella was transferred. If we cooked the chicken all the way and washed our hands before we touched anything else we wouldn’t catch it. We needed to be extra careful when moving the chicken from the cutting board to the pan because there were a couple places it would touch and to wash those right away.
I believe something got through. To this day, they both are avid hand-washers when they cook for themselves. Score one for Dad!
The other topic during the cooking process was cross contamination of the different ingredients. I am not saying the other ingredients had the possibility to cause sickness but I felt it prudent to mention it. When cooking with multiple ingredients, it is important to mix them when called for. I use a cutting board for most of my meal prep and wash it after every ingredient touches it. I may take that to the extreme when cutting vegetables but it’s what I do.
I also took the opportunity to teach the boys (not for the first time, mind you) about kitchen safety. There are many hazards in the kitchen. Teaching them about knife safety, staying away from the over, and being aware of others when moving all went over well I think.
Sometimes we forget there could be others coming and going through the kitchen and carrying knives is big one for me. Now that I have a granddaughter, this type of safety is back in the front of my thinking. Making her aware of a hot oven, not to be underfoot, and not to grab things from the counter is important for her safety.
Keep it Fun!
I love to cook. I love to eat more. Part of the draw for me is the pleasure in preparing meals. There’s something calming about it. I can hear those out there saying I have never cooked for a big family. Trust me, I have. I still love it.
I wanted to help my boys find that love too. At least show them the path and let them decide for themselves whether to walk down it or not.
They both still enjoy cooking. Be it for themselves or friends, they both still have a lot of fun in the kitchen.
Remember, I said they both picked the same day and the same recipe? It was my birthday. Years ago. What happened after dinner to make the day so memorable will have to be for another day. Let’s just say it involved a movie, ice cream cake, and uncontrolled laughter – I may have laughed so hard pop ran out of my nose which made us all laugh even harder. I’ll never tell.
Happy Father’s Day. May it be a wonderful one. Stay safe and thank your father for teaching you to be a great person. It was his pleasure … trust me.
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)