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This is part of an occasional series on The News' recent food survey.

Never mind their busy schedules, Western New Yorkers find ways, and time, to cook.

Take Eddy Dobosiewicz, for instance. Every day he prepares (and usually freezes) a different main dish for each of his two children, his wife and himself.

"It's not unusual to put four things on the table at one meal," Dobosiewicz says. "My 9-year-old son is a vegetarian, my wife hates vegetables and my 6-year-old daughter would be quite content to exist on tuna fish and artichokes.

"In order not to be a short order cook every day, I have found that preparing a few extra individual servings when I am preparing something and putting them into the freezer for future use is a major time saver."

Western New York is full of stories like these. When The Buffalo News conducted a survey late last year about our eating habits and attitudes, it showed that the majority of respondents cook at home most of the time.

Despite all the restaurant hype and fast food commercials, 64 percent of those surveyed said they cook dinner at home more than than five times a week.

(The survey was conducted by telephone and cut across age, income and neighborhood lines. Results were in line with similar surveys conducted in other areas of the country.)

But we also wondered just what kind of cooking Western New Yorkers were doing. Maybe we're just talking semantics here, but what does the word "cooking" really mean in 2001?

"I cook every night but I define it differently," says Cynthia Koren May who works full time. "My definition is based on the time available. Fortunately we like a lot of things that are already prepared.

"When I get home from work late, tired and hungry, the term "cook dinner' means throw in the oven a prebaked (store-bought) quiche while I walk the dog, read the mail and toss a salad," the East Aurora resident says. She and her husband James make up the household.

"However, on a day off or an evening when I prepare for the next day's dinner guests, cooking dinner may mean following a new or tried and true recipe. It means spending time in the kitchen, gathering the ingredients and the utensils; it means cutting, chopping, slicing, rinsing, beating, folding in, mixing, heating, sauteeing, baking, etc., etc.

"Then it also means cleaning up the mess," she adds quickly.

Tom Mazur, an enthusiastic cook who learned in the Army while he was in Vietnam, says he believes in cooking from scratch, but he also believes in what he calls "cheating."

"A good cook cheats but never gets caught," Mazur says. "Peel off labels from Franco American Gravy cans, Campbells soups, etc. Put cans in the appropriate recycle bins before the company arrives."

Mazur says he has tradition on his side. "My mother made the most scrumptious mushroom soup for our Wigilia (holiday feast), but she always gave her original recipe a boost from Campbells."

Mazur says the "cheating" should only be a fraction of the whole. "I love to whip something up in a heartbeat. I love to make soups and stews which often taste better the day after, and I love to bake pies," he says.

May adds that she always balances her take-out meal with salad made from scratch. "I don't buy the bagged stuff because I especially like the baby lettuces and the spinach," May explains.

"Cooking is alive and well," agrees Nancy Byal, executive food editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

"But people are doing it differently. What it all boils down to is what people think of as basics today are not the basics their moms or grandmas thought of. The new basics are jarred spaghetti sauce which they will doctor up, for instance.

"There is creativity in it," Byal said in a recent phone interview, "but they are starting out with something at least semi-prepared and add their own touches."

Busy people often find time to cook during the weekends.

Williamsville resident Ann More cooks Crock-Pot dishes or casseroles from scratch when she has time off from work. And she and husband Rick and 2 1/2 -year-old Cameron dine on them Monday through Friday.

But even that depends on how much time is available. "Sometimes I make my own pasta, sometimes I make my own bread. I always make salsa," she says. "And I always make the salad and my own dressing - I guess I like to fuss.

"But on a quick night, we'll have hamburgers or a steak," she adds, "and tonight we're having leftovers. There's some leftover bratwurst in there, I think. It's clean-out-the fridge night, anyway."

Joyce Janson of Clarence Center works part time and has two children, 21 months and 5 1/2 years old. "I cook dinner for the most part every night," she says, but the dinner is tailored to fit the weekly calendar.

"For the most part I use quick things Monday through Thursday, tacos, grilled chicken or pork chops, stir fry, jarred spaghetti sauce with ground beef. I do buy packaged items (spaghetti sauce, Rice-a-Roni) but because my husband is diabetic, I check sugar content.

"I always have a vegetable plus salad, starch and meat plus some extras like apple sauce."

But one weekends the meals get more elaborate. "Friday through Sunday, I make more time-consuming dinners and larger quantities to have some leftovers," she says. "Weekends will be roast beef, chili, beef stew, sauerkraut and pork, stuffed peppers. I also will try to bake something."

And, let us never forget the freezer's role. Eddy Dobosiewicz is the chief cook in his family because his wife hates to cook and works full time while his working time is more flexible. (Dobosiewicz is the host of the late night movie show on Channel 7, "Off Beat Cinema.")

"When I come home and I'm under the gun to get one child to soccer and one to dancing lessons, it's a help to take the meatballs out and some of the sauce, which I've made ahead, he says.

"I even make extra pancakes and freeze them, and then put them in the microwave so the kids can have a hot breakfast later."

The survey questions

Here are some of the questions The News asked 300 respondents in its recent food survey as well as the answers.

How many times a week does someone in your household cook dinner?

More than 64 percent of the respondents said they cooked dinner five times a week or more. However, when we looked only at the households with higher incomes ($75,000 plus), it turned out that approximately one third of them reported cooking dinner six or seven times a week as opposed to 42 percent of the other respondents.

How many times a week do you order in or have takeout?

A full 60 percent of those surveyed by The News said they did this once or twice a week.

How many times a week does your family eat dinner together?

About 41 percent of the respondents said they eat dinner together seven times a week.

Does your household pre-plan your evening meals?

More than 60 percent answered yes.

Does your household cook ahead for the weekdays on the weekends?

Only 22 percent of the respondents said yes; 78 percent answered that they didn't cook ahead of time.

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