Side Order: Cooking with Dad a life lesson

Side Order: Cooking with Dad a life lesson

June 12th, 2013 by Anne Braly in Entertainment

For Chattanoogan Kelley Nave, Father's Day brings back a myriad of memories about her father, Charles Nave, and his love of cooking.

He didn't enjoy cooking inside, she says. The outdoors were his kitchen; he loved grilling. In fact, he had three grills that stood outside the back door of her childhood home, not all at once, but one after the other as they eventually bit the charcoal dust. There was a store-bought gas grill, a huge charcoal grill that he built and welded himself, and an early smoker that he also made before eventually buying a store-bought smoker that became his favorite.

"He never worked from any kind of recipe," Nave recalls. "He just did his own thing, and everything came out juicy and succulent and perfectly seasoned.

"Dad had a pattern -- hamburgers and hot dogs one night, then steak and finally smoked turkey if my mom got him to cook three nights every week. Fridays were always hamburgers and hot dogs and Saturday night was usually steak night. My father taught me to eat it so rare it would moo if you stuck a fork in it.

"As for seasonings, Dad was always on this quest to find the perfect salt. I think he finally settled on Lawry's, but he also tried onion salt, celery salt; garlic salt was always a favorite, and even sea salt, which he said was fine for seafood but too bland for meat."

Nave says one thing that stands out about her dad's cooking lessons was appreciating quality ingredients.

"He hated store-bought produce and meat," she said, "He always went straight to the farm whenever possible. I guess he was all about shopping local and fresh-from-the-farm before it became a trend."

Food Network star chef Aaron McCargo, host of "Big Daddy's House," understands the need for children and dads to spend time together cooking -- and he's not just talking about standing around talking.

"It gives kids an opportunity to experience teamwork, possibly for one of the first times, with their dad and work together to produce something great for the family," McCargo says.

One of his top memories is his father giving him the task of peeling potatoes, snipping green beans and helping to deliver the plates to the family at dinner time.

McCargo, who has three children of his own now, realizes the importance of spending time with them in the kitchen.

"They each have a strength and weakness when it comes to duties in the kitchen, which makes it more worth cooking with them. One is strongest at cutting, the other tasting, the other at listening and supervising," he says. "It's important for kids to cook with their dads to know that, for the future, if addressed by someone and asked the question, 'Do you believe men have a place in the kitchen?,' they can say, 'Yes we do.'"

He also says cooking teaches boys survival skills that they'll appreciate having when they're on their own.

"I believe every man should know how to cook, whether planning to be a father or not, but just for the sake of being independent. But for all children," he says, "cooking with dads allows children to see their fathers in a vulnerable state because food can be a trial-and-error task sometimes."

Here's one of his favorite dishes to make with his children. It's a recipe he found at www.readyseteat.com, a website he says is filled with good ideas. All the recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, so they're quick and easy -- and great for teaching little ones kitchen basics while having fun, McCargo notes.

Spicy Tomato Cheesy Mac and Cheese

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons diced onion

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups milk

1/2 cup shredded Muenster cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar

1/2 cup shredded Gruyere

1/2 pound whole-wheat rotini, cooked al dente

1/2 cup packed chopped fresh baby spinach

10 ounces Rotel habanero and diced tomato, drained

1 1/2 cups panko

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add onions. Add flour, black and cayenne pepper and mix until mixture is the consistency of paste. Whisk milk into pan, incorporating the roux. Bring to a simmer over low heat and let thicken. About 5 minutes. Once thickened, turn off heat and whisk in the cheeses. Add pasta and mix until pasta is well-coated. Fold in spinach and Rotel habanero and diced tomatoes. Let stand.

In small pan, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Once melted, turn heat off and add panko and paprika, mix well to combine. Pour pasta mixture into large casserole dish and sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture. Bake in oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.