Anthony Bourdain’s Food Network Take-Down

It started at Michael Ruhlman’s site (which is up to 468 comments) with Anthony Bourdain’s take-down of the Food Network.

Then it moved over to Elise’s Simply Recipes, where I felt compelled to add my 2 centimes worth….

“I’m curious when people say they appreciate these time-saving cooking shows. But really, how long does it take to make good food? A roast chicken can be tossed with a broken up head of garlic and some herbs in less than 30 seconds. And how many seconds does one save by opening a bottle of pre-made salad dressing as opposed to mixing together a few spoonfuls of olive oil & vinegar? Is it really that much easier to rip open a box of cake mix than to drop a stick of butter in the mixer, add some eggs, then stir in some flour?

And doesn’t homemade foods taste better, and is far healthier for you (and much less-expensive), than all those convenience foods? Other than as a gimmick, I don’t see how how saving a few minutes is really worth sacrificing your family’s health and well-being for by using all these processed foods. While I don’t begrudge any tv chefs cooking with real ingredients, it’s quite a disservice to spray things with aerosol cheese and call it dinner.”

While I realize that everyone’s busy (and I’m sure to get some remarks that not everyone gets to live in Paris), I wonder what people are doing where they don’t have time to eat anymore. When I moved to France, they practically had to nail me in my chair to get me to sit down and have a decent meal. I was so used to eating on the run (in my car, in the shower, etc…) But cooking and eating are two of the most fundamental things that human beings do, but what’s happened to us if we can’t do them anymore?

I feel bad when people tell me they don’t have time to cook.
Not everyone has the luxury of going to an outdoor market like I do and doing their shopping, then taking the time to prepare a proper meal three times a day. Especially in these days of multiple jobs and kids running underfoot. But surely stopping in the supermarket, picking up some chicken and vegetables, and roasting them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper for an hour takes marginally more time than dumping cans into a saucepan. And isn’t it far tastier and more nutritious, and cheaper than pre-packaged foods you’d heat up in a microwave? I can’t believe that popping frozen waffles in the toaster and dousing them with artificially-flavored syrup really easier, less-expensive, or better for anyone than a few slices of toast with butter and honey.

Why are these programs so popular?

Categories:

Whining

72 comments

  • i know that for me, before i started getting serious about cooking, it was having enough time all at once. in the morning i’m not willing to get up earlier to cook breakfast — it’s as simple as that, and that remains true to today (toast is my solution of choice). and as far as lunch and dinner, i was always eating on the run, and on weekends going out with friends. on top of that, i had no idea how to meal plan or shop for meals or cook ahead, so it was easier to buy frozen/prepackaged. i think the reason for the popularity of shows that use aerosol cheese is that it affirms that behavior, it tells you, hey! you are busy and important, and you don’t know that there’s another way, and that’s ok.

  • The missing element is knowledge, don’t you think? In other words, if you don’t know how to create a simple vinaigrette, it doesn’t matter how easy the task is — opening a bottle will always *seem* easier.

  • Especially people with kids should make an effort! I have two (4 and 1 1/2)and I do know very well how disruptive young children can be. But instead of sending them away I try to get them involved (even the youngest by letting her climb on a chair (safely!) and watch me). ‘Get them young’ I say :) If you get them used to nice, well defined flavours, then they won’t let go of them very easily (I hope ;D)

  • Well, I don’t watch cooking shows, being inclined more to reading. I read lots of blogs such as this one to buoy my (feeble) efforts to feed myself better and healthily.

    Robert raises a very important point, but there’s no “seems” about it. Suppose I want something like Italian dressing. Here are some of the ways that ignorance, as well as other factors, keep me from doing it myself on the spur of the moment:

    • What proportion do the oil and the vinegar need in?
    • I’m comfortable that olive oil is okay. But what kind of vinegar should I use? Is my rice vinegar okay? Will the flavored vinegars I have make things taste funny?
    • I don’t tend to keep fresh herbs around, because I don’t really know how to use them. Will dried herbs do? Will just throwing my dried herbs into the vinaigrette work, or will I wind up with just bits of dry, too-strongly-flavored bits of gunk in my oil and vinegar?
    • If I do use fresh herbs, how much is too much? Will my minimal knife skills get the herbs small enough?

    I’m not asking for advice: when I’m ready to try making my own dressing, reading a few recipes will tell me what I need to know, (I’ll also probably need a trip to the grocer’s, and it may be a couple of days before I can do that.)

    My point is simply this: making your own dressing for the first time is NOT as quick as it is for an experienced cook with skills, a repertoire of recipes that need no book, and a pantry that’s well-matched to the way that person cooks.

    I suspect that the main audience for such shows is not good cooks looking for shortcuts but the trying-to-do-better.

  • The best cooking shows are really travelogues (Anthony Bourdain) or reality (The F Work). Once you’ve mastered the basics who needs Delia Smith or whoever. In Australia we also have to suffer a rash of wooden chefs in need of personality.

  • I think the main deterrent to home cooking is the perception that meals need to be elaborate, or chefy.I know that before I got in the habit of cooking every night, I thought of cooking as following a recipe, and so something I did “for special.” It was only when I pared down my expectations that I really learned to cook.

  • Hmmm David this is fodder for an article on my site, as usual your feeding my brain! I work in a kitchen all day and come home and nosh when I get through, of course on my own home made bread, I don’t live in Paris, but I try to imitate the flavors.As for Tony Bourdain well, I liked his brashness but this reality TV show he is on with Tom Colichio is so stupid!Sure I am sore he wouldn’t do an interview, guess I don’t ring a bell? Well I prefer to talk to the workers, and people who really eat like you!!!

  • I don’t watch TV so I can’t comment on the shows. But when I had my personal chef business, I observed that many people really don’t know how much better real food tastes. They think there’s fast food, restaurant food, and frozen or other prepared foods, period. I’d get so many questions on the order of “what makes your food so good?” or “why does your pie crust taste better than Pillsbury’s?” Or worse, this real conversation with a client

    Her: “I made your gingerbread recipe (actually a slightly tweaked version of Claudia Fleming’s wonderful cake), but of course I wanted it to be lower in sugar so I reduced it by half, and somehow it just didn’t taste as good as yours does.

    Me: “The sugar is what makes it caramelized and crunchy, the things you like about my cake.”

    Her: “No, but I like less sugar”

    Me:”You like the IDEA of less sugar, you like the cake with more sugar.”

    I think many Americans have lost their relationship to ingredients and don’t know what’s responsible for flavor, how ingredients interact in the pot and on the palate, and generally have forgotten that crap in=crap out.

  • Oh Abra, you poor thing. How can she take out a major ingredient and expect it to taste the same, especially in BAKING for heaven’s sake? Arrggh, some people are just plain clueless.

  • We make time for things that matter to us. It’s as simple as that. I am positive that if people “who don’t have time” had their days analyzed, they’d have more than enough time to prepare some great meals, and do the shopping for them. People simply don’t make the time for food because “convenient” options do exist. This makes me so sad because (not to play with cliche to much) we truly are what we eat. To quote a Food Network star himself, Michael Chiarello, “crap in, crap out.” You might think you are saving time, but you’re losing a lot of it in the long run.

  • Education is the key and unfortunately the FN doesn’t seem to be doing much of that. I so agree with your comments.

  • What happened to the notion of: “Just wing it!” I understand that sometimes it is a matter knowledge but fact is that 98% of the time I never follow a recipe or even close to something I ever did in the past. I just wing it. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. What difference does it make in the end? You won’t attempt the failures again and go somewhere else. You’ll never know how much oil or vinegar in that salad until you put too much. And I don’t believe, as some of the best chefs in the world show us everyday, that there is no such thing as things that don’t go with others. Wing it.

    If anything, it’s is MORE difficult to cook in Paris where the size of the average kitchen is so freaking small that you end up with dirty pots and pans on your bed because there is no other choice…

  • “I think the main deterrent to home cooking is the perception that meals need to be elaborate, or chefy.”

    This is a big one from what I’ve experience. My wife and I had some people from church over and just made some grilled chicken (lemon, rosemary, garlic, red pepper), some grilled asparagus, and some fresh rolls from the market. Everyone was floored with the meal saying things like “gourmet”, “chefy”, and “You eat like this every night?!” when we put it on the table. But it is about as simple to make as ranything I can think of. Both recipes were actually the first thing I ever cooked (got from a Men’s Health magazine of all places). People simply don’t want to take the chance that cooking will bleed into their TV watching is best I can figure.

    My wife and I love to cook together simply because we know exactly how healthy the food is and it guarantees us a set period of time everyday that we can talk and do something together.

  • I think part of the problem is people who grew up with parents who didn’t cook for them. They not only don’t know how to cook, but are unable to understand that cheese that has to be unwrapped one slice at a time is not actually food. I agree with Anthony in regards to Sandra Lee and Paula Deen as they showcase incredibly poor nutrition. And Rachel Ray is going to fall and break a hip because her arms were too overloaded to see where she was walking.
    But I also have to add, Iron Chef was AWESOME entertainment. Iron Chef AMERICA sucks. Out loud.

  • I don’t like Sandra Lee or Rachael Ray, particularly. I think that the “shock and awe” school of cooking is irritating and kind of gross.

    But, if Bourdain could actually come up with a cookbook of quick, easy recipes that didn’t rely on packaged foods, I’d respect his opinion more. (In fact, if anyone could recommend one, I’d be much obliged!) :)

    Everyone (Amanda Hesser, Bourdain, etc.) criticizes Sandra Lee by saying “Oh, come on! How hard is it to roast a chicken and make a salad?” Even David used this example. But some people are busy every night of the week, and probably don’t have any ideas beyond roasted chicken, pork chops, or pasta. I know that when I was busier, I didn’t. I know that you should make time for things that are important to you, but recipes for good, healthy food seem to be generally somewhat time consuming (and rarely things that you can leave alone to cook by themselves). Winging it is a great way to learn how to cook, but making something tasteless or inedible is not an option at 8PM at night. At that hour, if I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to eat it, I’m not going to make it.

    My best friend from college is a doctor in the ICU. She gets up at 5:30am to get to the hospital, and usually gets home at 7 or 8pm. At that hour, standing in a kitchen to cook (and then to wash dishes) is a daunting idea. She eats a lot of processed food, knowing very well how bad it is for her. But I’m not going to criticize her until I can offer her a better option.

    Rather than just criticize a food trend, I’d appreciate it if someone did something about it.

    P.S. Not everyone loves Sandra Lee. If you read her “recipes” on foodnetwork.com, some viewers leave the funniest comments I’ve ever read. “Sandra expects me to make chocolate chip cookies from a mix? Who does she think I am – an Iron Chef?!?”

  • P.P.S “But surely stopping in the supermarket, picking up some chicken and vegetables, and roasting them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper for an hour takes marginally more time than dumping cans into a saucepan.”

    When I was in college (and too busy to really cook), I knew this on an intellectual level. But the reality was that the contents of those cans will be ready to eat within 5 minutes. But 5 minutes is barely enough time to kill the salmonella in that chicken. And I was usually ravenously hungry (having skipped lunch and breakfast), so the choice was pretty easy. I’m guessing that, for some people, this is the choice that they’re frequently faced with as well.

  • Bob: Your points are good, and I agree with Simon not to be scared to cook. When I moved to France, I didn’t know how to cook half of the things I saw around here, so I pulled out my Zuni Cookbook and tackled recipes. As I started cooking, I learned about shallots, good olive oil, and different cuts of meat that I was unfamilair with.

    For some reason, though, people have become scared to cook or make mistakes. I get questions from readers asking if they can substitute almond extract for vanilla extract. The obvious answer is “Yes, but it will change the flavor.” Which to me seems evident, but it sometimes surprises me that folks don’t realize that they can just try it and see. Similarly, why not try dried herbs in place of the fresh ones in a recipe and see what happens? Making a vinaigrette is 1 part vinegar, 4 parts oil and a pinch of salt. Whisk, then taste. If it doesn’t taste right to you, balance it to taste. Similarly, if a recipe calls for 1/4 cup chopped parsley, is it really going to make a different if you just eyeball it instead of worrying if it’s going to be right or not?

    This statement isn’t meant to make fun of people who can’t or don’t cook, but to show that it doesn’t really matter all that much most of the time. Obviously for baking you need to measure, but when people tell me, “I can’t bake“, I’m always perplexed because 1 egg is 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar is 1/2 cup sugar, and you just follow the instructions. (Abra…I feel your pain.) So I recommend getting a good cookbook, like The Zuni Cookbook, and tackling a new recipe every weekend.

    (Start with the Duck in Red Wine…you can’t miss! And if you can’t find duck, substitute chicken.)

    Deborah: Although I don’t own a copy, Molly Steven’s book All About Braising has gotten many kudos for the recipes, and I’m sure given her reputation, it’s a great place to begin.

    I, too, am often time-pressed and of course, there’s always someone who just doesn’t have a lot of time to cook or eat. What I do is keep my refrigerator stocked with cheeses and sometimes pât&eagrave;, which is admittedly easier since I live in France. I’ll often accompany them with a big salad and some bread (and wine, of course!)

    But in the US, there’s great cheese now available, keeping good-quality tinned tuna on hand, making a batch of hummus on the weekend (which, gulp I’ll admit, can be made with canned chick peas), or cooking up a big pot of soup and freezing batches are simple options for time-pressed cooks. Similarly, I remember my local supermarket in San Francisco (Tower Market) had great roast chickens that take zero time to cook and one would last 2-3 meals for a single person.

    (And I’ll take a look at the comments on Sandra’s site since as my readers know, I like a good laugh!)

    MikeB: It’s interesting because there’s a perception that French people cook all the time, but when I invite people for dinner here, they’re always floored that I’ve made a cake, for example (a lot of French people don’t bake much at home…why bother when there’s a great bakery on every corner?)

    And you’re right that a recipe doesn’t need to be fancy to be good. Braised dinners are perhaps the easiest, most foolproof things to prepare, and often taste the best.
    _______

    Someone invariably left a comment at Elise’s site in response to mine about people being ‘food snobs’ who turn their noses up at these television personalities. While I don’t worship the ground Mr. Bourdain walks on, it’s nice to see someone take on an unpopular point-of-view (admittedly, he totally endeared me when he said something very nasty in response to Anne Coulter making fun of the women who’d lost their husbands on 9/11).

    But it’s easier to attack the messenger than the message: That people are being pursuaded to use convenience foods at the expense of their health and well-being.

    If you look at someone like Martha Stewart, but who’s taken a lot of ribbing, she’s shown that Americans don’t need things to be dumbed-down to so much after all, and that anyone can make cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, etc…without opening a can or box, but using fresh, easily-available ingredients.

  • It’s interesting…I can’t remember not knowing how to make vinaigrette, because my mother always made her own. She cooked from scratch, every night of the week: we couldn’t afford to eat out. (By the way, she was a TERRIBLE cook, at least then – I still can’t eat boiled peas, carrots, or corn.) So none of us grew up with any understanding of why there were bottles of vinaigrette for sale at the grocery store, and convinced that other families must have HUGE incomes if they could afford to buy all of the frozen and prepared foods.

    I personally learned to turn out decent meals, every day of the week, when I was in graduate school in Belgium, and didn’t have a lot of time. I had a kitchen with a fridge the size of a beer fridge, two hotplates, and a large toaster oven. I was too broke to purchase any cookbooks (and my french wasn’t really strong enough to truly understand the instructions), so the monthly arrival of ‘Gourmet’ magazine was my only source of recipes.

    The lack of kitchen facilities (and in particular the non-existent storage) – not to mention an extremely tight budget – forced me to carefully plan out the week’s meals to respect both financial and space constraints. And since I get bored easily, I almost automatically started to rotate through recipes to the greatest extent possible, to avoid repetition.

    Interestingly, I have continued to plan meals ever since (typically on Saturday mornings, before doing the weekly grocery shop). It’s the greatest time saver, because when I arrive in the door and have a tight schedule to adhere to, I know exactly what I am going to serve (and the meal plan has taken into account the fact that I will only have 20 minutes to put dinner together), and I know that the ingredients required are in the fridge. Whenever I have a week where the meals aren’t planned, it is highly stressful, we don’t eat as well, and it is generally more expensive.

    I truly don’t find that it takes me a huge amount of time to cook dinner for my family every night, and although I am very busy (who isn’t?) the act of putting dinner on the table, and of sitting down together to eat a meal (something that comes naturally when you aren’t eating meals out of boxes), is one of life’s greatest pleasures: cooking dinner is ‘me-time’, and is a fundamentally creative activity (even though I follow recipes for 90% of what I cook).

    Maybe compulsory cooking classes should be brought back to teach everyone to make vinaigrette?

    At any rate, interesting comments on this post!!

  • Just a note to Deborah-Bourdain has actually a cook book out there called “Les Halles” which is pretty much about the typically french bistro/brasserie fare. And I am pretty sure his recipes doesn’t rely on packaged foods!;-)

  • PS: Although I don’t have one, lots of people are in love with their crock pots. Apparently they make the best stews and braises, and Jeffrey Steingarten says his makes the best Coq au vin ever. Usng one couldn’t be easier; you just dump everything in, press the button, and dinner’s ready when you get home from work.

    Hmmm…I think I’ve talked myself into getting one too!

  • I don’t know the shows except what people tell me, but I remember that Food TV used to have real cooks and chefs really cooking. Why is it altered?
    I surmise that the new stars are appealing to a wider audience who want their own laziness rubber stamped. “Look, there is Rachel Ray using packaged foods, it must be OK.” “There is Sandra Whatsis using all that crap and she says it is still semi-homemade!” So they are officially permitted not to think about what they eat and how it is made. They don’t have time to think about whether a potato still has any vitamins in it once it has been dried to leathery chips in an ‘au gratin in a box’, because they are busy sitting and watching TV.
    The other may very well be that you can sell a lot more advertising for prepared foods than for fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and fish. Real food, whole food, doesn’t tend to have a big ad budget. Supermarkets do, but they make lots more money on packaged stuff than fresh stuff.
    It wouldn’t take a lot of time to figure out herbs and spices, nor to read a nutrition page to see what is nutrient packed and what just adds flavor. If you spend your every evening doing something else, you won’t know that, your kids won’t know that and you all end up undernourished. Is it more important that you or your kids get carted to organized activities every single night? Or might it be valuable to know that no matter how many hours you spend on the stepper or playing Little League or taking ballet lessons, without the basic building blocks of life, selected and prepared to be delicious, your ass is going to end up in a sling someday?
    I think it is criminal that people don’t care to learn how to feed their kids and are rearing kids who are totally ignorant of what food really means.
    Day in and day out, many of us prepare, photograph and publish easy real food on the internet. Where I live you can’t even buy canned soup. People manage without it.
    NB to David, I did not bring my slow cooker here, but I find that a covered casserole in a slow oven does the same thing. Don’t have a microwave, either.

  • Wow- David really struck a chord here.

    -First on time: I suggest to those who argue that they don’t have time to cook that they turn OFF the television and get IN the kitchen for that 30 minutes.

    -Next on learning: We’ve all learned to use a computer. And like me, most people do it without having gone to school or taken special classes.
    I teach cooking both in France and the US so I do understand the fear and uncertainty that seems prevalent in the kitchen. If you can read, you can learn to cook. If you can’t read, stand next to someone and watch. If you can’t see, I’ll talk you through it. Making dinner is not brain surgery!

    -on shopping: I think this is part of the real culprit here. I just spent three months in the States and was whelmed by the minefields that supermarkets have become. Making choices from a selction of 50 olive oils is ludicrous. Which vinegar of the 28 varieties on the shelf? Grabbing a bottle of ready made is an easier decision. What cut of meat and from what animal is frightening when you haven’t a clue that bacon comes from the belly of a pig, or that beef stew needs stew meat to taste good. I would walk out of a mega store having felt like I had just run through the processed food gauntlet. My shopping list for the dinner I was cooking for a family was just a cart full of fresh food, no condiments, no packages. (Besides, their cupboards were overfull of bottles, jars and pretty labels but no food.)

    ? How many people still have a friend that doesn’t use a cell phone, a computer or remote control? Not many. Even my 82 year old Mother uses skype, buys on ebay, programs her TIVO. And she managed to teach her children to cook as well. it’s our obligation to feed our children good food AND to teach them how to prepare it. Check out what Freddy’s mom is doing on http://www.greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com/ and get inspired.

    ok, David- thanks for starting this discussion. I’m off to the village market at Lavardac to buy food. Pim and Lucy are coming for dinner and I want to cook for them my favorite Gascon dishes. This is the root of all good cooking, the giving.

  • I agree with a lot of what many people have already said above… I have to admit that for years I was intimidated just by the “idea” of cooking, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t get myself into the kitchen and start cooking on my own until I was 30 years old. But I think a lot of the reasons were circumstantial, at least in my case… I spent quite some time with a man who had professional cooking training, and so he ended up doing most of the meals. He did encourage me to try, and to cook myself, but I simply felt like I would never meet up to his or anyone else’s level — it was a question of confidence, which I was definitely lacking…

    I love my mom, but I have to admit that growing up she wasn’t really the type to encourage my participation in the kitchen either. She’s a good family cook, and I’ve always admired her for making well-rounded meals for us growing up, as she is also a nurse and often worked long days. But she did tend to, and still does, combine fresh ingredients with certain packaged things, I believe just out of habit and also for economic reasons. My mom is a VERY frugal woman… So organic is pretty much not an option, and it’s funny — now that I’m learning more about cooking and produce, etc. here in France, I think I even teach HER things when we chat on the phone!

    Because yes, I finally broke down and started cooking after getting just a tiny bit bigger apartment, in any case one with a halfway-decent-sized kitchen. And I try to go to the market on a weekly basis to buy my seasonal fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. I sometimes treat myself to good cheese too, but I can’t always afford the nicer fromagerie cheeses — there is an enormous quality difference, I agree, but I also admit to buying camembert or comte at the grocery store on occasion.

    In any case, what I basically wanted to say is that I agree it’s a question of education and the desire to learn: I realized that I finally WANTED to learn to cook, so I started teaching myself. Which I think is exactly what my mom did years ago too, if I remember correctly. There are certain things that I enjoy cooking more than others, as is the case with everyone. And I’m learning more every day! Which makes me more and more happy…

    I love the fact that veal or pork roasts can come in so many varied forms, and that recipes for them abound here — I have tried several different ones, and I’m always eager to try new ones. I’ve also gone the roasted chicken route. I need a lot more kitchen equipment to do certain things, but I figure it will all come gradually. I try not to be too hard on myself when something doesn’t come out exactly like I expected it to, and then I move on to something else.

    I don’t think I have enough confidence yet to “wing it” or improvise, as I know some people are able to do easier than others. But maybe in a few years time, once I’m more comfortable with food in general. Now I’m just starting to spread my wings, and it is a good feeling.

    The truth of the matter is that it’s thanks to great food blogs like David’s and Clotilde’s C&Z that finally got me really motivated, and I make my way around the Internet discovering other sites too.

    Oh, and I rarely watch TV now… I did in the U.S., but not here. So I don’t need the Food Network distraction! And I also agree that U.S. supermarkets and their overly vast selection are so tremendously overwhelming, I just don’t know how I’d do it there. I guess I’d find a different routine, but for now, I like my system here.

    Thanks for a stimulating discussion!

  • I feel really divided in this conversation. On the one hand, I appreciate good food and I manage to cook real food for my family most night (partly through the expedient David advises of cooking on the weekend for the week ahead). It helps that I enjoy and regard it as a fun thing to do to spend a weekend afternoon laying in food (and a lot of people don’t). On the other hand, getting good food prepared and into my family night after night after night can be an enormous pain in the —, and when I see a magazine article promising “20-minute meals” I check it out to see if there’s anything edible, and I have a Rachael Ray cookbook that has given me some fine recipes to put into rotation.

    How long does it take? asks David. Well if you get off work at 5:00, stop by the market for fresh food (where the parking lot is crowded with the rest of the after-work crowd), and cook it, the kids will have about 15 minutes to eat it before they need to be in bed by 8:00. If you need to help with homework, make calls for the PTA, do some laundry, and reconnect with a spouse while the chicken roasts and you chop the vegetables, you may opt to save a few minutes with a prepared rice pilaf mix and some bottled dressing.

    No, not every night is like that; and a chicken bought at the weekend will still be safe to eat (without being defrosted) on Monday, but people who don’t have professional food skills or the desire to spend a lot of time planning meals often need to make compromises. Rachel Ray and her ilk are enormously helpful in help people figure out what compromises to make. A dish made with boneless frozen chicken breasts and frozen vegetables, for example, can free up time for mixing the vinaigrette and peeling some potatoes. Canned and frozen foods mean fewer hectic midweek afterwork trips to the store. Getting kids to help with the meal because you WANT to and not because you HAVE to leaves you with energy to teach them how to make civilized mealtime conversation. Until the U.S. experiences an enormous wave of cultural change, the choice isn’t between home-cooked fresh meals and Rachael Ray’s recipes, but between Rachael Ray’s recipes and even worse alternatives (fast food and the worst of the processed foods).

    Instead of critizing the slavish devotees of the Food Network, why not suggest some alternatives? Let’s have it, David: three recipes for balanced family meals that kids will eat, that can be on the table an hour after you walk in the door (even by someone without professional knife skills who is trying to field questions from two children and a spouse about a variety of unrelated topics) and that can be made on a Thursday with ingredients purchased at an American grocery store on a Sunday.

  • Hi Good Enough Cook:

    Happy to help! ; )

    Three fast, easy, wholesome recipes using just:
    -2 pans
    -1 cutting board
    -1 knife
    -1 saucepan.

    All ingredients are available in most US supermarkets and dinner should take just under an hour and uses no artificial ingredients. I don’t recall the prices of things in the US, but I can’t imagine the ingredients here costing more than $15, and this menu should serve 4 people.

    Voila!

    First…

    Caramelized Shallot Chicken:

    1 cut up chicken (I recall those are available in US supermarkets)
    3 T (ea) good olive oil & red wine vinegar
    4 shallots, peeled & minced
    salt and pepper

    Toss everything together in a roasting pan. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour, turning once.

    (If you don’t want to chop shallots, substitute favorite chopped fresh herbs, or dried thyme, or whole cloves of garlic, which are excellent roasted then peeled.)

    While the chicken is baking…

    Brownies

    3/4 stick salted butter, cut into pieces
    8 ounces chocolate chips
    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/4 cup flour

    Criss-cross an 8-inch square pan with a 2 long sheet of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and reaches up the sides. Spray with non-stick coating.

    Melt the butter & chocolate in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add in the eggs then stir in the sugar, then flour. Beat vigorously for 1 minute, until batter loses its graininess and becomes smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan (no cheating…really beat it, it’s good exercise!)
    Scrape into pan. Bake for 30 minutes, until they feel just slightly firm.

    (You can vary the recipe by adding nuts, more chocolate chips, marshmallows, or diced dried fruits to the batter before baking.)

    Then make the salad about 5 minutes before serving. Feel free to improvise…

    Salad with Feta

    2 T good olive oil
    1/2 T vinegar
    dab of Dijon mustard
    salt and pepper
    4 oz of feta cheese
    4 big handfuls of salad greens

    In a large bowl, sitr together the oil, vinegar, mustard and salt & pepper. Toss in the mixed salad greens. Crumble feta over the top.

    (Add pitted olives, toasted pecans or walnuts, or cherry tomatoes, in season, if you like.)

    Serve the chicken and salad, then the brownies for dessert. You can accompany them with premium store-bought ice cream or sorbet to jazz them up.

    Other options are to roast small potatoes or cut up sweet potatoes with the chicken, or other root vegetables. If you don’t want salad, bughur wheat cooks up in 15 minutes and is delicious, cheap, and extremely nutritious. Toss it warm with a pat of butter, salt, and some chopped scallions or (frozen!) peas if you want. Couscous and brown or white rice, and quinoa are quick-cooking ideas too.

    Fast-cooking main course options are roast pork loin and pan-fried chicken breast (marinate them in herbs and olive oil before you go to work, which takes a few seconds, and they’ll be all set to go when you get home. Or go vegetarian and split a butternut squash in two lengthwise, smear it with butter and salt, then bake them cut-side down on a non-stick baking sheet until soft and caramelized.

    If you don’t want to make brownies, served store-bought pure-fruit sorbet with seasonal fruit, like orange segments, strawberries, or canned pineapple packed in its own juice. If I remember correctly, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies don’t have a lot of added chemicals or ingredients, and they taste great most frozen dessert.

    Hey…I’m getting hungry for those packaged Pepperidge Farms cookies now…

  • One problem there: the chicken. Yes, chicken is available, but if it was purchased on Sunday and left in the refrigerator it will be suspect by Thursday. So if you planned to eat it Thursday, you probably froze it, so you need to calculate in defrosting time, which for an entire bone-in cut-up chicken is going to be at least 15 – 20 minutes (and a fiddly 15 minutes of checking, turning, rearranging, to make sure it defrosts evenly–and is frozen chicken even okay? If I remembered to take it out of the freezer before I left for work it might be half-thawed in the refrigerator–so maybe 10 minutes in the microwave.)

    By Thursday, my husband will have eaten all the feta in the house unless I’ve hidden it beneath the salad greens, but they also may be gone by Thursday (or not looking terribly appealing if they’re still on hand). Never mind. I’ll make the bulghur–I think I picked some up the last time I went to the health food store–our supermarket doesn’t carry it–oh hell, it’s got that health-food-store-wheat-fly infestation. Wait, what was the other thing? Oh yeah, potatoes, yes, we have potatos. I didn’t think to get the little ones, so these are just regular baking ones, but I’ll peel them and cut them and throw them into the pan while the chicken defrosts. Ack! The chicken! I suck at defrosting in the microwave, and the outer bits are starting to cook already. Okay, just rearranging the pieces, so the cooked parts are toward the center, the raw bits on the outside. Okay, pause to wash all the chicken germs off my hands before I go back to the, what was it? Oh yes, potatoes. Okay. Scrubbing, scrubbing (I won’t bother to peel them, I’ve still got to get the brownies started…) So we don’t actually seem to have anything resembling a green or yellow vegetables here, since the salad greens didn’t make it to Thursday. The brocolli is still good though–maybe I can get that started after I get the brownies underway.

    Okay, potatos are peeled and cut up. I even found the red wine vinegar. Everything went into the roasting pan and into the oven. Only 10 minutes behind schedule so far. Of course, baking two things at once in my oven is going to slow things down even more, but here goes with the brownies…

    Okay, the smell of melting chocolate drew the attention of They Who Must Be Fed, who had been leaving me blessedly alone, but are now peppering me with questions about Dessert? Not Fruit? On a Weeknight? Why? Are you feeling okay, Mom? Is my piece going to be bigger than HERS because I’m OLDER? And EWWWWW!!!! do we have to eat that brocolli????

    Okay, they who must be fed have been shooed out of the kitchen. We all have our compromises and nonstick cooking spray is NOT one of mine–that big metal can that our local recycling plant won’t accept, the chlorofluorocarbons, and what the —- do they put in it anyway? No–I’ll grease the pan the old-fashioned way with a fat that doesn’t have propellants in it. Which means either taking the time to find the pastry brush or to wash my hands after I’ve used butter.

    Okay–that’s done. Yeah, brownies are easy. It was still ten minutes though that I didn’t spend putting the laundry in, which I was hoping to do while the chicken cooked. Oh well, I think we have clean underwear for tomorrow, and it will be a nice treat.

    Now for that broccoli. Chicken germs splattered in the microwave, so I’d better do it on top of the stove until I have a chance to clean out the microwave. Scrub, chop, boil water, brocolli in pot. Start cleaning up brownie bowl. Yep, chicken’s not done yet, even though it’s been in there an hour. Potatos are, though. Dang, I should have known better than to throw them all in the same roasting pan. There are worse things than mushy potatos, though. Get kids to set table.

    OKAY!!!! in an hour at 20 minutes: roasted chicken parts with overcooked potatos and steamed broccolli. It wasn’t quite the menu David proposed, but the chicken is delicious and the brownies are a huge hit.

    Okay, that’s one meal down. Two more?

  • On this icy snowy day in the North East of the U.S.A. what a perfect Valentine dinner. I think the food network changed, not the foodies who watched it. What started with Marion Cunningham interviewing chefs on how and why they cooked, and that wonderful series with “the Bakers dozen” the food network became fast food faster and a lot less good food on the table. But that’s okay. We don’t have to watch. Maybe all this hoopla is that we are disappointed. Okay. Go to the internet (which apparently we have done). Find good cooks with like tastes (David, the Wednesday Chef, et al) and listen and follow them. I think I’ve upped my cooking abilities since reading these posts. Especially in making sorbet (thank you, David).

  • It isn’t always cost efficient to you cook at home for only one person. It works best if you are making a meal for 2-6 people. What I try and do is take one day and make a bunch of stews and soups, then I freeze them individually. It isn’t ideal to eat frozen food that is reheated, but at least I know what’s in it. I usually dress it up a bit with fresh herbs and a tossed salad. This way, on a busy night I have a minimal amount of dishes and shopping.

  • very interesting discussion here. generally speaking, people are easily influenced by the lure of ‘convenience foods’. the value is placed on the ‘time-saving’ aspects of it. i would say that it’s really more of a ‘mind-saving’ convenience. there’s not much thought going into it, someone has already done that for you.

    for myself, i place value on the time and energy and emotion going into food preparation. you can surely taste the difference!

  • Mmmm…I love your three quick recipes, David. They remind me of a piece the late Laurie Colwin wrote about cooking well and easily — her piece also featured chicken and brownies. I grew up cooking alongside my (working) mother, so I have the advantage of feeling that whipping up a good homemade vinaigrette is just part of my DNA.

    Time is an issue for most of us, and that, of course, is how “quick cooking” shows and pre-packaged convenience shows find a market. The best solution I’ve found is to cook extra quantities of something good when you have the time, like on the weekend, and freeze it or store it for later in the week when you come home tired and don’t feel like cooking. My freezer generally contains homemade pasta sauce, soups and stews. There’s always something for dinner in a hurry. I am, however, going to go for a crockpot (aka “slow cooker”) on my wedding registry ;)

  • It’s not likely you’ll ever read this note, but…..I watch the cooking shows because it gives me ideas. I almost never follow a recipe completely. I always seem to feel that I should change or add or delete one or more ingredients. I do make my own salad dressing. In fact, I usually make two each night. One for myself and a different kind for my partner. Oh, and you’re definitely lucky to be living in Paris where you have so much so readily available. Well, that’s my two cents worth.

  • What makes them popular?

    Entertainment value.

    Ruhlman’s post on this has just been a pep rally for foodies or food enthusiasts who read blogs. For real man, do you think people who don’t like cooking and have no passion for cooking would have found your post or Ruhlman’s? Unlikely.

    The criticism thus far has been that FN is not educational enough. Or their TV personalities are just that… food actors, so to speak. Yea, they might be phasing out real chefs but FN is a cable network. They are there to make coin, not to educate.

    Food enthusiasts seem to believe that FN should be held to a higher standard, that they should elevate the level of food consciousness in America. I would argue that’s not their motive, even if they lie and try to say it is. They are there to make money.

    FN is not sustainable without the market which sustains it. The FN hatred is spewing out left and right on the food blogs as if FN *owes* the real foodies an educational and watchable television.

    The other part is food enthusiasts don’t want FN to disingenuously try to pretend they are elevating the level of eating and food awareness… but the fact of the matter is, how can exposure be bad?

    No one is born a great enthusiast. It takes time. So what if the majority of America is not here with us yet. There is nothing wrong with that. Suppose the progression of food awareness exists on a line… and the general public is on the left(dark) side, FN is in the middle, and foodies are on the right. How is FN bad?

    This is all reminiscent of MTV bashing. MTV makes $$$$. That’s what a successful business will do. You start with a model, and it morphs over time. If there truly exists a way for a cable network to sustain a channel for foodies, and a way for that channel to feature prominent chefs… then that network will come along.

  • To Deborah who asked: “But, if Bourdain could actually come up with a cookbook of quick, easy recipes that didn’t rely on packaged foods, I’d respect his opinion more. (In fact, if anyone could recommend one, I’d be much obliged!) :)”

    I find “The Silver Spoon” excellent for this reason: it was written in a time when people didn’t rely on packaged food because they didn’t exist, especially in Italy, and when you would eat simple, healthy food during the week, and more elaborate dishes only on special occasions. No flavour enhancers are added that will hide the blandness of bad ingredients, so you’ll need to look for good produce, but not many: the recipes don’t call for long lists of ingredients.

  • Although I love to cook for myself, I very often don’t because in my experience it’s very possible not to have a lot of time for dinner. If you have a job that requires that you put in long hours, and you are not getting home until 7 or 8 pm, then by the time you stop at a grocery store and pick up some chicken and garlic and herbs, prep all the ingredients and then roast it for an hour … well, it’s about 11:30. Not my favorite time to eat dinner.

    The nights I do cook from scratch I usually don’t end up eating until 9:30 or 10:00 no matter how simple I try to keep it.

    I often think about preparing meals ahead and freezing them for the week, but honestly, if I’m working a lot during the week then I don’t really want to spend my entire Sunday in the kitchen. I also don’t really like frozen and reheated foods.

    That said, I don’t eat packaged meals or crib 30 minute meals from Rachel Ray (they would probably take me much longer than 30 min. anyway, I’m meticulous and slow when it comes to cooking). I just rely on things like salads, pasta and sandwiches that are both quick and can be healthy if you take care what components you use. You can also make them without much knowledge or expertise.

    I think people who value those Food Network shows are people for whom preparing and eating food is a necessity and an obstacle, not people who think of it as a pleasure that they look forward to. Which is fine, except that if you are using lots of processed foods a la Sandra Lee, you’re probably doing things to your body you’ll regret later.

  • Yeah, unfortunately, it’s also written for a time and place when people could shop for fresh food every couple of days. For many of us, that just isn’t realistic and that creates further obstacles for food preparation (as I tried to point out in my admittedly snarky commentary on David’s lovely recipes). For people who don’t work with food for a living, who try to limit grocery shopping to once a week, who have rather limited local sources for food, and simply don’t always have the mental resources for planning ahead, getting home-cooked food on the table (worthy goal, we all agree!) is a challenge, and meeting it successfully, night after night, involves compromises. Rachel Ray and the FN help people figure out ways to make those compromises and meet that challenge.

    I offered David the opportunity to rise to that challenge and he offered me three recipes that, while excellent, offer, at best, a half-way solution for one meal for the working-parent-home-cook who needs to get protein and vegetables into spouse and children 7 nights a week. If said cook can stop at a grocery on the way home from work/school/day-care-pickup, it’s more than a halfway solution (but most of us can’t do that on a regular basis without placing further crimps in home life).

    Let David (and Anthony Bourdain and whoever else cares to chime in) give me real recipes that I can cook with what remains in the house on Thursday (assuming a big trip to the grocery on Sunday), and I’ll let them pass judgment on the compromises I choose to make. If those recipes are better than what Rachael Ray comes up with, more power to them.

  • I’m ducking as I write this, but I LOVE cake mixes!!! I’ve had scratch cakes (delish), scratch cakes made by my Grandma (delish), and I can say that I’ve equally loved box cakes. Each has it’s place and oh my goodness if Duncan Hines ever takes them off the market I’ll be twenty pounds thinner and a whole lot sadder.

    I do, however, make my own vinaigrettes and just about everything else. Pretty much the only thing we eat from a can are quenelles and that’s just because they are impossible to find fresh in the US, I’ve made them with absolutely no success and no one around has any words of wisdom for me!

  • Man there seems to be a lot of excuse making out there folks, pick up a pan and feed yourselves!
    You will do it if it is important to you. Fill your pantry and your freezer , and tell your family no more fast food!
    It doesn’t have to be involved, just start with the best ingredients you can get and the rest will follow.

  • Great comments from everyone. Several things came to mind while reading all of the posts. One is that Bourdain’s point (in all it’s snarky fun) seemed to be that the Food Network had changed greatly since it’s debut, and he preferred the was it was originally programmed with real chefs. This was also covered in an article in the New Yorker magazine a few months ago – (of course I can’t remember now who wrote it) about how the management of the network was going in a different direction. And yes, I do think that this is greatly affected by the dollars big food companies have to spend on advertising, etc.

    Secondly, some people just don’t care about how food tastes or how it is prepared. Not long ago I decided to make chocolate pudding from scratch, something my mother had never done while I was growing up, it had always been from one of those little boxed mixes. When I made the comment about how it wasn’t all that hard but I was surprised at how many dirty pots and pans I ended up with for such a simple dessert a friend said – “why would I want to make pudding from scratch!” There are a lot of people that the big food companies cater to that just don’t want to be bothered.

  • The shopping on Sunday for Thursday’s dinner will condemn you to stale and uninspiring food, no question about it.

    No time to shop for food? I don’t believe you.

    Make a choice. You can’t have it all. If good food, lovingly prepared, is your choice, you’ll never regret it.

    Happy Valentine’s Day to all lovers everywhere.

  • Time to harangue David L. on his blog, but no time to put a chicken in the oven, cook some pasta, or saute a piece of fish to feed the kids. Puzzling.

  • Overall I love Tony’s assessment of the whole situation! I actually commented on the preponderance of Rachael Ray shows nearly two years ago and was promptly slapped around by her fans. And, at the time, I wasn’t even suggesting she needed to go – Although I might suggest that now.

    My complaint (and I think what many of us would like) is that I’d like to see is some balance in the programming. At the time I wrote my post Sara Moulton’s shows were being bumped. I loved her shows! And, what I found very ironic, is that many of the recipes and ideas I’ve picked up from Sara took less than 30 minutes but they were still good food done right.

    I think there is a place for the Rachaels and Sarah Lees – there are some people who just aren’t comfortable in the kitchen or who choose not to learn.

    But there is still a huge place for those cooks/chefs who teach us new techniques, the basic building blocks of cooking with style and do so with quality ingredients – whether it takes 15 minutes or a couple of days to come up with the finished dish.

    There are still a few shows left out there but most have been relegated to midday programming so are not available to most of the viewing audience.

    Let those of us who want to learn something or need a new challenge have some programming at a decent timeslot to stimulate our brains and excite our senses!

  • Wow, David, you have quite a discussion going here. My only comment to all of the above is to read Michael Pollan’s article in the New York Times from January 28, 2007 titled ‘The Unhappy Meal’. I can’t get this quote out of my mind: “Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” is my new shopping and cooking mantra.

  • This is a terrific discussion.

    Pauper: The original comments I left at Elise’s site began with the same premise as yours and I’m in total agreement. I just paraphrased my comments here. But I agree, that’s what the people seem to want, since it’s what they show on tv. (Except does that mean anyone really wants Katie Couric reading the news or to look at Conan O’Brien’s hair every night?)

    I do wish that there wasn’t such a delineation between people that like simple, unprocessed foods (ie: the snobs), and folks that use convenience foods, with the FN being the devisive line. I eat M&M’s, gummy bears, too much Pocket Coffee, and packaged marshmallows on occasion. But to me, they’re the exception rather than a majority of my diet. I think people should eat whatever they want, but if people are going to complain about their weight, their health, the expense, and the lack of time they spend with their family, it’s probably something worth re-examining to see if there’s a better way for them to lead happier lives.

    Kevin: Can I got to Greece with you? I’ll carry your luggage.

    Veronique: I wanted to get a copy of that book last time I was in the US, since I’ve heard it’s great. There’s lots of good books out there on simple cooking. But I think once you master a dish or technique, you can make endless variations of it, and then it’s a snap to make the next few times. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Gregory: I actually like shopping for food and that to me is part of the fun. It takes much (much) longer here in Paris than it did back in the US (since you have to talk to the butcher, and the cheese guy, and the woman at the bakery and fill them in one every aspect of your life), but it’s probably like the US was during my parent’s generation, when neighborhoods had butchers and bakeries. It’s been a great lesson for me to slow down and figure out what’s important, and re-examine what are my priorities in life. (And Happy Valentine’s Day to you too…)

    Bob: I do read all comments. While I am fortunate to live in Paris (well..sometimes…I tried to return a defective battery last week and it took almost 2 hours. I could’ve made 2 dinners in that time, come to think of it!) there’s great food in the US as well. I did a cooking tour once in Ohio and I was blown away at some of the markets there (the Dorothy Lane Market, in particular). Even my Safeway in California carried regional cheeses, aluminum-free baking powder, organic dairy products (priced similar to conventional ones), and locally-made chocolates and sausages. It’s a question of asking them to stock those products, then buying them when they do. (Although I do admire your moxie for making 2 salad dressing each night…even I wouldn’t do that!)

    Christy: I would slap you on the wrist for tearing into a box of cake mix, but you’ve redeemed yourself with the homemade salad dressing. Thank goodness you don’t have to make two!
    : )

  • Very interesting, indeed. I think most of us would prefer to eat a bit lower on the food chain, seeking pure, fresh ingredients as much as possible.

    I don’t watch the TV shows referred to above. The only time I see them is on those rare occasions my husband (who has command of the controller) surfs past them and I happen to look up from my book or pass through the TV room. So I cannot judge.

    I do find the notion that those of us who are busy are busy watching TV a bit ridiculous and insulting. Some of us — regrettably — must hold down demanding jobs working for someone else.

  • Although I’m retired now and live not too far from some excellent markets, at 67 I’m TIRED of having to plan what to cook for every meal. And some days I am totally absorbed in projects and don’t start thinking about dinner until the last minute. I do NOT always have a fresh chicken in the fridge and I don’t like to keep one more than couple of days. So when I make last-minute meals, I may use canned tuna or chicken in necessary, great chicken sausages, or perhaps frozen fish. The real challenge when I’m in a hurry is to still get in sufficient decent vegetables and fruit.

    When I entertain, I love to cook and I use recipes from a wide variety of sources. And thanks to David, I don’t think there’s a cookbook I don’t own. I am a HUGE fan of Epicurious where I can see the ratings recipes have gotten. All serve as inspiration for my own verion of whatever I’m making. In fact reading Epicurious is often what prompts me to try a serious new dish.

    I think there is a valid place in the world for both the cooking shows for serious cooking as well as for the quick-and-dirty cooking shows. What’s the harm in learning how to make dinner in 30-minutes from ingredients that come off the shelf? I can remember when Julia Child was out there almost alone and I watched her and bought her books. I was young and very inexperienced. Not all cooks are experienced or have time to have fresh chicken in the house on demand.

    While I would almost never use a cake mix, I have found several bottled dressings that are healthy and superb. If I have to make dinner for unexpected guests and don’t have time to make everything from scratch, I sometimes use them and people love them. They taste homemade. But they aren’t. Just as people sometimes buy a dessert from the bakery, so should they also have the right to buy a decent dressing! David, I won’t reveal here in public the name of our mutual friends from Chez Panisse who lives near me. But I fixed lunch for them recently and used one of my favorite bottled dressings and Charles did NOT walk away from the table!

    Let’s lighten up. Food isn’t meant to consume our whole life. Surely there’s time for other interests or hobbies that sometimes impinge on cooking time….

  • People are confused. It is obviously easier and quicker to open a can or eat fast food that it is to cook. Busy people often have no time to cook, it happens to everyone at some point. The issue is that the food network is presents this decanting as cooking. The people who are watching sandra lee and rachel ray clearly must have the time and the desire to learn about cooking. They are sadly being duped because they are not being taught that real cooking can be quick and easy. The network should have a variety of shows some that show easy cooking and some that show more advanced cooking!

  • Hi Everyone: I’m glad that the conversation’s staying on track and appreciate that unlike other places online, it’s being kept civil and friendly. It’s easy to sit on one side of a keypad and forget that what you’re writing at 3am is going to have an effect on the person that’s on the receiving end.

    I’m not criticizing Rachel Ray at all (in fact, God knows I wish I was her…) and her stylist told me that she was a big fan of mine (not Rachel…the stylist). I don’t watch FN but it seems like she’s simply resorting to shortcuts and not pushing a lot of junk on the public. I’m sure she’s a nice person who happened to hit the jackpot. Lord knows, it’s tough to make a living writing cookbooks and if I got the chance to cook up a few grilled cheese ‘sammies’ on the little screen, perhaps I would too (but don’t hold your breath, folks…)

    There are far richer people doing a greater disservice to humanity than her but don’t inspire as much hatred as she does. It would be great if some of that vitriol could be re-directed at the more pressing, globally important issues that are confronting us today.

    Like the quest to find out who’s the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, for example.

    I’ll keep my personal opinions about Anthony Bourdain to myself but I do respect the fact that he was a working cook and chef for many years and isn’t afraid to confront popular opinion, which seems to be somewhat lacking in the past few years. And he did want to feed Ann Coulter a poopy pie, which gets brownie points from me without question.

    The other woman, Sandra Lee, I haven’t seen.
    But I did look at her recipes and while many are quick to defend her, I honestly don’t think she personally eats that food that she’s pushing. She may do it when the camera lights are on but I just have a hunch she doesn’t really believe in what she’s promoting. But I’m the first to admit that I may be wrong on that. Maybe she does go home and make creme brulee with lemon pudding mix or fill cakes with corn nuts.

    I don’t think anyone who doesn’t use convenience products ‘elitist’. Yes, it’s fast and easier to microwave a frozen chicken casserole than to bake fresh chicken. I don’t like the taste of frozen food so I don’t eat it, but I know people who do. I suppose if I had a family to feed and a full-time job in an office, or a larger freezer, I’d resort to it.

    My grandmother raised 4 kids and worked a full-time job running a four-story furniture store with her husband, and in her day, there weren’t any convenience foods and somehow she did it. (No wonder she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day!) Similarly, both my parents worked full-time jobs and my mother rarely resorted to convenience foods. We did have frozen brocolli but we rebelled at the powdery instant mashed potatoes. So my mother relegated some of the cooking to me and my sister from an early age.

    I bristle at the terms ‘elitist’ or ‘food snob’.
    I don’t think my grandmother was a food snob, although later in life, she complained that food didn’t have any flavor anymore. So if appreciating honest flavors and well-prepared food made her a food snob, then perhaps she was.

    Perhaps this has to do with the government and television trying to divide people into the elitists, and pit them against the working person. Or the proliferation of television programs that pit people against each other for our amusement. Everything from cooking dinner to finding a husband to getting a nose job has become a competition. It’s easy to say divisive words, but it makes it hard to come together to find solutions.

    Lastly, Good Enough Cook did email me directly, with her real name, and explained she didn’t mean to incite anything. The reason I responded to her first email was that I seriously wanted to show that it was easy to put together dinner in about an hour using easy-to-get, uncomplicated ingredients. Not everyone has the time to cook, I realize, and I made a choice to give up my fabulous 3-story house in San Francisco (and my Mercedes!) to live in a little Parisian apartment with a kitchen the size of one of my bathrooms back in California.

    She, like many others, is a working mom who does bake from scratch (including my Matzoh Toffee recipe!) but resorts to shortcuts when pressed, as many of us probably have done.

    Now I’ve got to go shopping.
    I’m almost out of lemon pudding mix…and corn nuts ; )

  • The only thing left to say is: you have a recipe for Matzoh Toffee?

  • My advice for anyone who wants an easier more pleasurable time in the kitchen making dinner is to make sure they have a good knife. I cringe whenever I cook at someone else’s house and they hand me a dull crappy knife and mention that they hate cooking. Yeah, I’d hate cooking too if this was the best knife I had! Spend $150 (maybe less even) and get yourself a good chef knife. It will last the rest of your life.

  • Well said David!

  • I am an admitted FN fan, sorry! The shows I enjoy include, Food 911, Elle Kreiger, Everyday Italian, Easy Entertaining, Boy meets Grill, Nigella Feasts & yes Paula & Rachel. But the recipes I chose to make (from those chefs)are those with good ingredients, I ignore the others. I do learn good tips to because I didn’t learn anything about the kitchen from my own mom. So even though I’m a FN fan & a David L. fan(I know some people think it’s not possible to be both, but it works in my world) I do try to cook healthy, use fresh foods (when in season), avoid processed foods, and just have fun in the kitchen with my kids. The FN chefs are entertainment value to me, I’m a stay @ home mom who can’t stand talk shows & soap operas, what can I say! I do love Martha too! And,David I don’t think you’re a food snob! I look forward to trying the recipes you gave (I’ve made your brownies before)!

  • In the last year & a half I’ve learned to cook starting from strictly following cookbooks (my favourite is the ReBar cookbook), and now I’m just starting to be able to make things off the top of my head (vinaigrette being one of them) with the ingredients I have on hand. I was wondering though, is there a book that teaches how to cook, not just recipes? Because I really don’t know what cumin does & when to use it, for example, unless I have a recipe that tells me to plunk it in.
    I’m in art school, and there’s an interdisciplinary art history class I’m attending called Eat Me, Drink Me, which is talking about food and art, but a lot of my fellow students are hearing for the first time about the importance of eating healthfully & the importance of our shopping choices. Thanks to blogs like David’s and others, as well as other media such as documentaries & “Good Food” on kcrw by Evan Kleinman, I feel myself quite educated to these matters. I think it’s a spreading consciousness, as evidenced by this class.
    It does seem like a bigger problem, though. I can’t believe how busy people are! Stuck in the capitalist system that keeps us running around on the hamster wheel such that we can’t even take a breath to feed ourselves and our children properly. It’s amazing to me how much we depend on corporations & their packaged foods to feed us, we’re becoming a species that doesn’t know how to cook for and feed itself.

  • p.s. What are we working so hard for, if one of our basic human needs – eating – isn’t being taken care of?

  • Dear Good Enough Cook,
    If you work and that is your situation, you need: 1) a second spouse or 2) a firecracker under the one you have.
    No one parent is supposed to have the shopping, the cooking, the laundry and the homework to handle alone.

  • David – I’ve been reading and enjoying your journal for the better part of a year. The fact that you write about cooking, Paris and chocolate has definitely endeared me to you! :)

    This is such an interesting discussion and I thought that I might have a different perspective to add to it. I’m a 23 year old university student, by the way.

    I feel very passionately about food and cooking with fresh ingredients. However, there have been many stumbling blocks along the way to my getting to a place where I can cook like that. Firstly, my parents never taught me how to cook. My dad’s idea of cooking is opening a can or burning something to a crisp on the barbecue. My mom mostly relied on packaged food to feed our family of six. I’m sure I am not alone in coming from a background like this. I am currently studying in Paris with 25 other Canadians and most of them have been making pasta for dinner every night for a month.

    Cooking scared the hell out of me at first. I had no idea how to truss a chicken. I didn’t know the difference between chopping and dicing or even how to cut vegetables in a way that didn’t make my partner cringe. I’d try and plan meals ahead of time but then realize that I was too tired from classes or studying to make anything other than a sandwich. When I had time and energy to cook, I wouldn’t have the ingredients and the grocery store was a half hour bus ride away.

    I am not saying that it is impossible to learn how to cook from scratch. I have gotten much better at it with time. I do think that it comes more easily to some people than others. There are certainly lots of people who don’t care. I think that the real problem is that many people from my generation simply weren’t taught how to cook. I think that’s where many of these food network shows come in, some helpful some dubious.

  • Good Enough Cook, I must (gently) agree with Judith, you need some help in the kitchen! Is there a way your spouse or even kids can contribute? Also, I started buying bags of frozen chicken breasts and tenders (flash frozen so they are in indiv. piece, not one huge block) at Costco, along with 6-packs of chicken stock (organic, even!), and it has changed my life. No more worries about fresh meat sitting around too long — I use those cuts on Mon/Tues, and later in the week I have the freezer to fall back on. Just my $0.02….thanks for hosting this discussion, David!

  • Good food for thought David! ;)

    I do watch FN occasionally…I _love_ Alton Brown!! :) He’s just cute and interesting!!

    As for the shows in question…I think if they get people into the kitchen, those very people will, over time, try more complicated cooking as they get comfortable cooking. They’ll desire to make food healthier and more interesting.

    That’s how it worked for me. To see that food could be made w/out a lot of work inspired me to get back into cooking in the first place. Once there I broadened my horizons to more natural ingredients and simpler, yet tastier, dishes.

    I will admit that I have criteria when recipe browsing…SHORT INGREDIENT LIST!!! If a recipe has more than, say 6 ingredients, I tend to move on. David, let me say your recipies were spot on!! :)

    I am a baker by nature…I’d back a cake from scratch any day of the week!! Candy making?? I’m there!! But cooking..not so much…

    I’m thankful for the FN for reminding me that cooking can be easy and fun! Blogs, like David’s, remind me that it can also be sexy and delicious!! :)

    Thank you!!!

  • I’m with deborah and good enough cook. You see the alternatives as between the convenience tips and “real” food. For me, 3 nights a week, the REAL alternative is between convenience tips and takeaway.
    I love food, good made from scratch food. But when I get home from work at 8pm your “simple” recipe really doesn’t sound so simple any more. Recipes never seem to account for shopping and prep time (e.g. remembering to get the chicken out of the freezer on the day) and washing up time. And a one hour (plus 30 minutes for washing up and prep) takes me to 9 pm before I eat and 11pm before I sleep. And because I love “real” food, I regularly TEST AND TIME this theory.

  • wow, i must be really out of the loop, or i’ve got this entirely wrong…. if i’m interpreting what’s been said so far correctly, people who don’t eat convenience foods and are eating healthy, wholesome foods are regarded as ‘elitist/food snobs???’ really? if that’s so, my, how things have changed!

  • I sympathize with those who have difficulty getting started with cooking. Growing up I never learned how to simple things like saute a piece of meat, and I would always overcook it after cutting into it 10 times to see whether it was done. Likewise a recipe would call for onions, they would end up either burned or raw and harsh, because I didn’t know how hot to make the pan, or the amount of oil to use. The dishes never tasted any good and I would get frustrated.

    Another big problem is being able to determine *why* a dish doesn’t taste right, often due to underseasoning, lacking aromatics, or other problems with flavor balance. Because a properly seasoned dish doesn’t taste salty per-se, when it is missing, it isn’t obvious what the problem is, just that the meat tastes like cardboard or the soup like water. And a novice identifies a failed chicken dish as “dry”, not realizing that this is 99% of the time simply due to overcooking. I only got any good at recognizing these after taking neighborhood cooking classes, and had a great Chinese cooking teacher who was fanatical about balance would not let me out of the classroom until I could figure out what it needed!

    My takeaway from my experience while you can learn an awful lot about cooking from cookbooks, some from the internet, and a little from TV, for the basics, it really helps to have someone there in the kitchen with you. Whether from parents, spouse, or neighborhood classes.

    One book that really helped me with weeknight cooking was How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson (from Cook’s Illustrated). It focuses on a simple technique and provides numerous suggested variations by changing the meat, aromatics, and flavorings. I would love to see more of these types of cookbooks available.

  • I am a little bewildered by all these people that say they have no time- weekends and late night are your best friend to plan meals and cook. I’m a grad student who babysits to earn money (so I knwo kids can be super distracting) and who on average gets less than 5 hours of sleep at night. The freezer is great- I always keep homemade cookies and ice cream in there, as well as tomato sauce, meatballs, soups, pie dough… Braised dishes and soups also seem to last a long time in the fridge. I do all my baking at night and usually make a large pot of something like beans, soup, etc.. to serve as my go to meal when I’m too tired at night.

    It’s jsut fear that keeps people from cooking- if it’s a priority, you’ll make time for it. Just pick up a cookbook and try. Oh yeah, cooking things from scratch saves a ton of money.

  • Although I cooked professionally, years ago, it is indeed a great challenge to cook for a family on a day to day basis. I have also watched quite a few Food Network shows (usually when I should be preparing my own dinner) curious to see if I can glean any tips or ideas for my own family’s meals.

    With some exceptions (Good Deal with Dave Lieberman & Food 911 with Tyler Florence) a great many Food Network shows are largely entertainment. It is very difficult to learn real cooking skills when food is being prepared at a frenetic pace in order to beat a 30 minute clock.

    In order to aquire real cooking skills, I would recommend watching any show with Jacque Pepin… a true master chef! You will learn to prepare simple, good food quickly, with clearly demonstrated cooking techniques.

    Thanks, David, for the lively discussion!

  • I’ve enjoyed the comments from everyone, and I try my best to do homecooked meals (for only two people, which means we get sick of leftovers) but I do resent the implication that if I’m not skilled at cooking I need to straighten my priorities and get good.
    I’m good at math and I’ve spent many years of study becoming better, do I go around and tell people who aren’t good at math that their lives are screwed up and they need to change their priorities until they are good at math? I’m sure to many people math and food are different, but to me they are both important, and vital to life.
    My mother cooked from scratch every day when I was growing up, and the food was TERRIBLE (except for steak, she was a natural at that) I’m sure we were healtier for it, but this sanctification of home cooking does Not fit in to my experiences.

  • I was thinking today (for a change) that although people grouse about the low-quality of the cooking on Food Network, and the emphasis on speedy cuisine, one of their most popular shows is Alton Brown’s. And his show focuses on techniques and the hows and whys of cooking, which seems to me the complete opposite of what people are saying: that these quick-cuisine & semi-homemade programs are a necessity in this day and ago of being so busy, but on the other hand there’s much interest in the basics and science of cooking as well. Hmmmm…

  • Still snowed in, still fascinated by the other-worldly Sandra Lee. Yesterday’s show featured Lee swooning over her tablescape of red Ostrich feathers and a fish bowl with a red Beta swimming around beneath floating plastic pearls! This is surreal stuff, people. As for her continuing muck-a-thon, no she didn’t dump a tub of Cool Whip into a store-bought shell, throw some lemon slices on top and proclaim, “serve this and you will be the hostess with the mostess”! Into a pot, she dumped canned condensed crab soup, canned crab meat and lemon juice and bragged “Voila! You have something you’d get in a fancy dancy restaurant. Perfection.” For her entree, she commanded “I want you to buy canned beef broth and instant stuffing mix.” She then slathered the soggy mess over a flank steak, tied it up and stuck it in the oven. When it came out it looked like a petrified Buche de Noel. Accompanying the log was her highly-recommended “pre-made instant frozen mashed potatoes”. A side note: she must have borrowed one of Giada’s blouses to wear. But no danger of a boob falling into the mish-mash since her breasts lie securely at her waistline.

    This show is merely an infomercial for processed Kraft crap.

  • Good lord, I go away for a few days, and look at what I have missed….

    I just have to say that I entirely empathize and agree with you, David. Last week, I put up a post that skewered the idea of people buying convenience and processed foods, and I was slammed with so many malicious personal attacks that I was astounded. I think this is the problem: people are addicted to fast, not-good food. The companies fill them with so much sugar and salt that they leave you craving more. It’s like cigarettes, really.

    I write about this all the time, but I’ll keep writing about it: cooking from scratch, slowly, simply makes food taste better. If people are too pressed for time, then they really should look at their priorities.

    What are we doing with all that saved time, anyway?

  • I don’t think the issue is whether it’s harder to make the dressing or to prepare and roast the chicken yourself. I think the issue is the perception that it’s harder, or more time consuming, or a bigger clean-up. So, I don’t begrudge the folks who do things the Sandra Lee Way, I just don’t choose to use those methods or products myself.

    But then again, I’m single, no kids, and usually, like to cook. And I’m not big on multi-step preparations, though I absolutely appreciate the care and love that goes into a great indian or thai dish. So instead, I bring the homemade brownies, and my friends are happy to share their lovingly prepared thai curry with me, which works out just great.

    I commented on the Bourdain thread too, mourning the loss of Sara Moulton, and other real teachers on the Food Network. Of course, I still watch my faves. And a few not so faves.

  • I didn’t mean to come off tough, I really have never seen anything wrong with having two husbands if you need them. It’s folly to expect all the talents a home needs in one person, no?

  • One sure thing about Rachael Ray is that her show has a huge impact on people who never dreamed of cooking before. She has brought more people to their kitchen than any other chef. Comme on dit en France: “il faut bien commencer quelque part!”

  • I’ve been reading all the comments with some amusement. I used to be one of those people who “Didn’t have time to cook from scratch” because I had 3 kids and a job. Then I joined Weight Watchers to lose weight for health reasons. One of the first things I learned was that you can control the nutrition, fat and calorie content of your food much better if you cook it yourself. I’m not saying I don’t use prepared foods on occasion, because I do. But I’ve lost over 31 pounds in the last 6 months simply by cooking my own food on a regular basis. I’m here to tell you that “scratch” is the best for health and peace of mind.

  • This topic confuses me to no end.

    No one is born knowing how to cook. I taught myself starting at age 11 as my mother (a single working mother of two) was an awful cook and I wanted better. There was no Food Network, I picked up a cookbook and followed the directions. When I didn’t like the way something tasted, I experimented and figured out what I did like. If an 11-year-old can do it, grownups can too.

    Anyone who has kids is in a situation where time is of the premium, but they also have an opportunity to involve their children in meal preparation–giving a child both healthful food and the skills with which to take care of themselves for a lifetime. How could you not want to do this, despite crazy schedules and fatigue? It may be the greatest gift you can give a child.

    Everyone takes shortcuts when they are super busy, but my friends who claim they are too busy to cook somehow manage to watch 2 hours of TV a night (if you cut out TV you don’t have to worry about what horror Sandra Lee is preparing–you’ll be eating a delicious dinner instead).

    Those who are too busy to grocery shop–consider supporting a local farm by subscribing to a CSA box. What could be better than farm fresh produce delivered weekly to your door or nearby? For a CSA near you look here

    And if you fear the meat you buy on Sunday won’t be good by Thursday or Friday–make something vegetarian. Chopped up vegetables in a baking dish with ground polenta, water, a little olive oil and cheese turns into a hearty veggie caserole while you make a salad, play with your kids, or check your email. Roast cauliflower takes 20 minutes in the toaster oven while you do the laundry.

    It simply requires making healthful food a priority, even with all of our busy schedules. What did people do before prepared foods and take out? They cooked. It’s just now that there are mass produced alternatives that it seems optional.

    And David–good lord, you taught yourself how to cook using Zuni? You don’t believe in starting out easy, do you? Zuni is like the master course–it still intimidates me.

  • Appologies in advance for perhaps abusing the post…

    OMG… these posts turning into streaming consciousness / discussion… just tooooo delicious. I presume it can do nothing but good for David, so keep it up kids!

    I think probably 2 Fat Ladies (Fat Girls RULE) sum it all up even if they were a litte… shall we say, BLUNT…. but the point is, if you are here, you must like FOOD and if you are not rich you need to COOK, and if you are busy you are looking for HELP… personally I suggest less moaning and more effort… think innovation, look for ways to be creative in the kitchen. Take advantage of this site and others like it.

    Me?: well yesterday, I dragged the twins (2-1/2 yrs boy/girl) to butcher/cheese shop/veg. stand/regular style supermarket then stopped by the park (my mistake) then walked back to the apartment (3rd floor-no elevator) one screaming-bloody-murder twin in each arm held together by the sack of groceries. This all after the aftenoon nap, during which I had finished the backlog of business paperwork. So by the time that my partner got home from his job at the bank, I had everything in order to finish the dinner, eat and get the monsters into bed by 20:30… Not bad for a 53 yr old guy! Sorry, what can I say… a shameless braggart.