Sunday, November 7, 2010

How foodie culture has made people afraid to cook

It's not just cheap, available, easy and frankly tasty boxed food, fast food and prepared foods (even the so-called "organic" companies have gotten into the act) that have made ordinary people reluctant to cook.

It's also the popularity of writers like Martha Stewart and even Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver, as well as cooking shows that emphasize high end ingredients, professional preparers, and exotic dishes.

I love to cook, and I'm pretty good at it, but these shows, books, and articles are just plain intimidating.

They purport to be encouraging people to cook, but frankly, I'm not going to have "pizza night" where I have to make pizza from scratch, however seasonal, local, organic and whole I'm trying to be; it entirely defeats the benefit of pizza night, which is that there is no prep and no clean up. Do these writers not get that? I'm never going to hunt for chanterelles; I didn't even know what they were before I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I don't know anyone with a backyard clay oven. Can I cook a whole goat in my Kenmore, do you think?

We're never going to get people back to preparing their own home-cooked food by only talking about $12-a-pound morels, and turning up our noses at the perfectly fine, pre-sliced plain white mushrooms available at the Safeway. I love making scones, but grating frozen butter, per America's Test Kitchen, is just a pain in the ass. But apparently this is the only way to make "perfect" scones. We don't need another Hell's Kitchen, or Rick Bayless with his flawless urban farm; we need Prince spaghetti night again, where Grandma makes sauce to put on the readily available pasta from the grocery store.

Tomato-apple soup

This is a wonderful "leftovers" meal, which I made with the apple peelings from a simple homemade apple sauce (peel and chop up apples, throw them in a saucepan, simmer until it turns into sauce. A four-year-old could do this.) I served it with this morning's banana-apple scones.

10 small to medium tomatoes, cut in half
Apple peels and cores from 8 apples
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
1 cup apple cider, or any vegetable broth

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, and put all the veggies/fruits on it. Lightly salt and pepper (I used sea salt, but any salt will do), and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 1 hour in a warm oven (300F), or until the tomatoes start to brown and shrivel very slightly. Put all in a 2 quart sauce pan, including draining any liquid. Add the cider or stock; all the veggies should be covered, just. If they are not, add more water. Simmer until the tomatoes have lost all shape and the skins have slipped off. Run this through a food mill until all seeds, skins, pits, etc have been seived out, return to the sauce pan and smooth with a handheld immersible blender, or smooth it in the blender or food processor. Makes enough for two large or three to four smaller servings.

This does not need any additional spice, herb, or garnish.


  1. I hear what you're saying but . . . why can't we have both? I like having the easy stuff (my local Boggy Creek Farm's cookbook is as easy as it gets) and I also love reading America's Test Kitchen's food theory. I love my Julia Child, and I love M F K Fisher's depression era foodieness.

    Most importantly, by not thinking of it as a zero-sum game in which one means I can't have the other, I am able to expand my options and have both! I say: the more, the merrier.

    Best to you -

  2. In my case Foodie culture hasn't made me afraid to cook it has put me off on cooking. Mostly, it hasn't been the celebrities of the foodie world, but the average person and how they talk about food. The way that food is fetishized by some coupled with the self-righteous attitude fires up the contrarian queen within me.

  3. Exactly, to both of you. I have so many conversations with people (because they all know I cook) where they complain about things like what type of salt to use. Good heavens, folks, Morton salt, like your mother used. Someone needs to be saying that it's okay to start there. (i.e. thank god for Rachael Ray)

  4. Well I think some people are just passionate about food and cooking so they get quite wrapped up in it and are surprised to learn that others don't share their thoughts on food. I know once I started getting good at cooking I was looking for new and better ingredients to keep exerpimenting with. To me cooking is an adventure and I look at the professional chefs and foodies as an oppourtunity to learn. Now, it's not so much that I shun pre-made things (time and money do get the best of me as well) but it's just more fun for me to make my own mayonnaise or spaghetti sauce.