Reality is squares of peanut butter toast
December 3, 2015 9:08 AM   Subscribe

At The Atlantic, Elizabeth G. Dunn dispels the Myth of 'Easy' Cooking.

While Dunn sees takeout and premade food as a modern solution, Tamar Adler maintains that home cooking can be simple. In her 2011 book The Everlasting Meal, she tries to dispel myths about homecooking and eliminate the idea that cooking has to be magic (YT).
posted by tofu_crouton (197 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes.

To be fair, peanut butter toast is one of the great comfort foods. Have to eat something, but your brain can't cope with cooking? Toast + peanut butter = pure momentary contentment.

Note: does not apply to people with peanut allergies. Be sure to shut off the toaster. Other restrictions may apply.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


real “easy” cooking, if that’s what you’re after, is far too simple to sustain a magazine and cookbook industry. It relies on foods that can be purchased at a single point of sale and involves a bare minimum of ingredients and a small repertoire of techniques. It leans heavily on things your mom taught you. There are no garnishes of thyme leaves in simple weeknight dinners, and no appetizer salads.

Precisely! A typical wholesome dinner [as opposed to the "omigod it's 9pm and I have nothing to eat, here is popcorn" kind] for me is "large serving of vegetable sauteed in olive oil plus a separately sauteed vegetarian protein with lemon juice or hot sauce or some other premade flavor thing, plus baby carrots". I like these dinners and they really are generally are ready in ten minutes with minimal clean-up, but you sure don't need a cookbook.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on December 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


It seems pretty healthy to ignore "cooking culture" as much as possible, and just have two dozen or so "go to" dishes that can reliably be made in 10-15 minutes with minimum hassle and ingredients.
posted by naju at 9:20 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Eh, yes and no?

I confess it is probably a bajillion times harder to make an "easy" meal if you're a parent, and as part of a DINK couple, it's only hard when we're feeling lazy or stressed or sick. (It's been a panoply of weird hobo lunches for me this week; my husband has remarked that I haven't really cooked in nearly three weeks, which is unusual). I distrust any recipe that tells me it can get me a meal on the table in less than an hour, especially when it might require specialty ingredients I have to spend time to get. TBH, the only cook I feel who might nearly master the fast easy meal is Nigel Slater. His stuff I have had the most success with but the caveat that it's only portions for two (hence, my love for him).
posted by Kitteh at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I dunno. Dunn is right in a lot of ways - there are a lot of worse things than eating at Chipotle too often. But I think it's a false dichotomy - the choices are not scramble madly at the last minute to make a home-cooked meal or go to Chipotle.

All this means that tonight, I can order excellent pad thai from my phone in under a minute. Or, I can find a recipe for “easy” pad thai, run—literally, run—to the grocery store at lunch, hope that grocery store sells fish sauce, then spend 40 minutes making the dish and 20 minutes cleaning up.

A little menu planning goes a long way. Why are you running to the store at lunch? I mean, I understand that people have different things going on, but if you have time to go to the store more than once a week you have time to organize a menu plan. But like I said, ordering pad thai is fine, certainly nothing wrong with it if you can afford it. (And I'm going to guess the author lives in New York where ordering pad thai is probably cheaper, faster and better than homemade, unless you're a cook in a Thai restaurant).

Ironically we have Massaman curry on our menu this week but it remains to be seen whether we get our shit together enough to make it either tonight or tomorrow.

And finally we've moved out of the little-kid phase into the teenager phase of parenting which means I don't give a shit how long it takes to do the dishes because if I cooked then I am not doing the dishes. (Although I did have to re-wash a couple pots earlier this week... teenager QC leaves something to be desired)

Za’atar? Yuzu juice? Persian cucumber? For a special cooking project, fine, but galling to discover in the ingredients list for a weeknight dinner.

I dunno, I find it amazing how grocery store have changed in the 20-ish years I've been feeding myself. You can get persian cucumbers nearly everywhere these days around here. Yacón syrup for my wife's vegan dessert cookbook? OK, I had to go to Whole Paycheck for that one but there it was. I'm hard-pressed to think of a major world cuisine whose ingredients can't be obtained at my local safeway (again, I realize YMMV depending on where you live. again, I doubt the author lives in Nowhere, North Dakota)

Maybe the author is railing against something much more specific than the difficulty of cooking - I don't spend a lot of time reading "easy cooking" magazines so maybe they are full of glossy lies promising something that doesn't exist.
posted by GuyZero at 9:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


Yay Slater! Screw that Ottolenghi guy and his 30 ingredients per meal and his fricking pomegranate molasses.
posted by biffa at 9:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I feel like it's not so much that easy is a myth or a lie as it is that easy is relative. It's like a free throw in basketball --- is that an easy shot? Well, a pro player will sink it +90% of the time. A good high school one maybe 3/4. Of course, that's because they have natural talent and spend hours practicing.

I dunno about natural talent, but I like to cook, and I've spent hours doing it. Could I chop up two onions and a cucumber in less than 10 minutes? Uh...yeah, I could. That in fact, does seem pretty easy to me. Easier than ordering take out? No. Nothing is going to require less effort than picking up the phone. If that's what easy is to you, then no, you're never going to find a recipe that compares.

But hell, even delivery is going to take 30 or 45 minutes to get there. Taking an hour to make something yourself instead of waiting around for it to get there doesn't seem wildly extravagant to me --- especially if your kids are a little older and can be put to work setting the table and washing veg and so forth.
posted by Diablevert at 9:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Our desperation-toddler-dinner is scrambled eggs followed by a big pile of fruit and maybe a piece of toast if there's bread. But this hits home. I'm not a fancy cook; I don't usually make fancy food. I'm competent in the kitchen, and pretty quick and, if nobody gets in my way (a toddler yelling "up. see. see. see. up," for example), I can get a pretty good dinner on the table in 20 minutes. But that's not the real world. Stuff gets in the way. Interruptions happen.

So we've been doing a lot of pre-prep. I treat the night before as time to make anything that would be okay reheated the next day (my standards for this get lower every day; basically anything except most meat).

The TEDx talk, on the other hand, is just batshit from my perspective. Sorry, not picking roadside weeds or cooking dried beans. None of those things look like sufficient meals to me. We do eat a lot of greens, a lot of beans, but it's frozen spinach or sauteed kale from a bag, beans from a can cooked with jarred sofrito and served with a grain. Pasta with beans and greens. Bean soups. A roast that I cook on Sunday and manipulate all week. Stuff that can be on the table in real-world 20 minutes or less (and cleaned up quickly, too).

Sometimes I miss making involved meals, but honestly, when I can put something on the table that we'll all eat I'm pretty happy.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:37 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I agreed with Dunn's essay and I see very little in Adler's interview to contradict Dunn's central premise that cooking is time-consuming multi-stage process of shopping, prepping and cooking, all of which take much more time and effort than the breathless promise of 30 minute meals.

Then it has to be cleared away, pots washed, counters cleaned, floors swept and 10 hours later, it's time for breakfast.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


the idea of easy cooking often overlooks the work it takes to get there, menu planning, making sure the veg has kept, the protein is thawed (but also hasn't sat in the fridge 12 hours too long), the tastes of the eaters is what it was 5 days ago when you made the plan, the time to keep the kitchen clean so it's ready to cook in, the fridge being cleared enough to store leftovers (along with meal planning for the leftovers) and and and. yesterday we ordered pizza because even though i'm a housewife who does all that work, sometimes i get ready to cook hatch chili chicken tacos and find out the chicken i just bought from the store is still frozen. and now i'm behind on my menu plan and today i'm cooking the stuff for the tacos, the special meal i have planned for a friend, and either prepping or prepping and cooking the curry we'll eat for the next few days for lunch. all of the meals i'm doing are easy but the whole process to get here has been pretty time consuming. i can't imagine doing it by myself for 14+ meals a week if i had kids or a paying job.
posted by nadawi at 9:41 AM on December 3, 2015 [47 favorites]


Could I chop up two onions and a cucumber in less than 10 minutes? Uh...yeah, I could. That in fact, does seem pretty easy to me.

Yeah, I think I get the premise, but feel like this person is kind of catastrophizing about chopping an onion or buying a bottle of fish sauce. They know that you don't need a new bottle for every meal, right?

If you don't like it, don't do it, that's totally fine, but it's not some impossible standard.
posted by ftm at 9:41 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Or, I can find a recipe for “easy” pad thai, run—literally, run—to the grocery store at lunch, hope that grocery store sells fish sauce, then spend 40 minutes making the dish and 20 minutes cleaning up.

This reminds me of the startup thread from yesterday about the "easy" NLP idea that can ship in three months and be turned into a multi-billion-dollar business.
posted by grobstein at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


But hell, even delivery is going to take 30 or 45 minutes to get there.

Yeah, one weird thing I found during nanowrimo was that unless I was going to be at a place that served food anyway, it was faster for me to make a simple dinner and get that out of the way then picking a place for takeout, driving over to get it, etc. The same would not be true of my partner-in-crime, though, who does not have the same level of menu planning and cooking experience.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cook In Bulk And Freeze, Re-Heat And Serve. CIBAFRHAS. Rolls right off the tongue.

Pronounced "Chi-Baf-Ra-Has."
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:46 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


his fricking pomegranate molasses.

This really is a chance flavors the prepared mind kind of thing, though. Once you have pomegranate molasses you're probably set for quite a while, and if you have enough durable staples (not the kinds of dried herbs that lose all their luster in a week or two) it's much easier to bring more, and more complex, things together quickly. (I'm really bad at this, to be honest, and my pantry is pretty shitty.) Of course, you can also eat just fine without doing this, and it can be some trouble (and the increased options can also lead to paralysis).

One of the things the tv chefs have, in addition to years of practice that makes the prep phases fly by way faster than they do for the folks at home, after all, is the ingredients ready to hand. That part, for a significant class of ingredients (not, obviously, all of them), is far easier for the home chef to duplicate than the amazing speed with a knife.
posted by kenko at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


They know that you don't need a new bottle for every meal, right?

Yes. She does. But:
I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes...Every day, when I...open a glossy new cookbook, check my RSS feed, or page through a stack of magazines, I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals...The disorienting part in all this is that so many of these recipes carry promises of speed and ease.
This isn't about how easy cooking is or isn't, it's about how cooking is discussed and presented. And she's entirely right: there are a huge number of writers that sell recipes as 'fast and easy but also gourmet and fancy' for which you would have to buy new ingredients, often in larger quantities than needed for one meal. It's about the dissonance in how food writing presents itself, not about the difficulty or ease of cooking any particular food.

It's easy to say, oh, you should cook [these other things], which is true. But that's not what the article is about, and it's also true that cookbooks, recipe blogs, and cooking shows, by and large, are not marketed currently with the message of 'cook now, reheat later, it might take a while up front.'
posted by cjelli at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


But hell, even delivery is going to take 30 or 45 minutes to get there.

Yeah, we get delivery when we feel like having delivery-pizza or delivery-Chinese or sushi. It's not a time-saver and, frankly, barely an effort-saver. I'd rather spend half an hour cooking than an hour waiting.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2015


Fish sauce is another thing that lasts a long time, incidentally, so while you may not be able to make the easy pad thai the same day it occurs to you, you can get the fish sauce the next time you're at the store anyway and let it hang out for ages, doing its fish sauce thing, until you want to use it.
posted by kenko at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Admittedly, that kind of knowledge about what can be bought ahead of time and kept and what needs to be fresh is also something that you aren't, like, born with.
posted by kenko at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


Yeah, the idea that it should be "easy" to scratch-make an exotic dish that you've never made before, from a cuisine for which you don't have the basic ingredients, is just nuts. I bet it is easy if you have everything in stock and you know the process.

To complain that you've been tricked, somehow, if you can't pull this off in 10 minutes with no preparation and no background, is pretty rich. Take some responsibility and don't make out like every checkout-line sales pitch is a Bernie Madoff conspiracy.
posted by grobstein at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've found that what's made my cooking way easier, sometimes, is to devote some time on the weekends not to cooking - but to what I call "processing". What I mean is: I take individual ingredients, like dried beans, kale, or rice, and bring them to a state of "done"-ness. Or, I'll make double a portion of something and save the rest.

What this means is: at any point there are probably leftover pre-cooked ingredients of some kind already waiting in my fridge when I get home. So to make a dinner out of them, I just have to combine them in some way, and either throw them into a pot or into a microwave, and I'm good to go. Just last night, in fact, I pulled two tubs of pre-cooked beans out of the fridge, and all I had to do was chop a carrot and an onion and throw that all into a pot with some broth and I had Tuscan bean soup. On another night, I took some of the kale I'd pre-cooked, threw that into another pot with some broth, some precooked rice and some bitty baby meatballs I'd picked up somewhere, and I had Italian Wedding soup. On yet another night, I took another handful of cooked kale and stirred that into some leftover mashed potato, and all I had left to do was grate some cheese on top and sling it under the broiler and I had colcannon. some of the leftover roasted vegetables I made one night went into a pasta sauce the next night. Etc.

I say all this, though, knowing that I earned my way to that state of being after 40 years of experience in kitchens. I'm comfortable in kitchens, and always have been, and I know that this is a head start for me that not everyone has.

....I do agree, though, that food and cooking has been aestheticized a fuckton in this society and that's throwing a lot of people off. I think I always have been kind of cavalier and "I'm not taking it too seriously" about food because I've always realized that we're talking about something that's going to be poo in 12 hours no matter what.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on December 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I work at a university with a good culinary degree program (all the way through PhD!), and one of the chef-instructors is a friend. He once brought us over some food during a tough time, and we all loved it. Some kind of pasta, but we couldn't figure it out -- so I flat out asked him for the recipe.

He told me that it's a Rachel Ray recipe his family loves, and it has like ten or a dozen simple ingredients because, honest to God, who has time to cook?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:55 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I was going to write a big comment but then my browser ate it and grobstein beat me to it anyway:

To complain that you've been tricked, somehow, if you can't pull this off in 10 minutes with no preparation and no background, is pretty rich. Take some responsibility and don't make out like every checkout-line sales pitch is a Bernie Madoff conspiracy.

I guess those magazines are somewhere between outright lying and being slightly optimistic and probably the authors suffer from the bias that they know how to cook already but this is a little like saying that all laundry detergents aren't getting your whites as white as the ads claim. Ads lie. Magazines lie. I've read lots of articles on how to get toned abs in 15 minutes a day and yet here I sit with my flabby spare tire.
posted by GuyZero at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


He told me that it's a Rachel Ray recipe his family loves, and it has like ten or a dozen simple ingredients because, honest to God, who has time to cook?

*snerk* I freely admit that I use premade pie crust for any pie-related item because making a pie crust from scratch is a pain in the absolute ass and also I just plain don't give a crap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


My parents actually made full-on dinners for four six nights a week for many years. (One night was hotdogs from Chicago-area chain Portillo's.) But my mother was only working full time after my little brother was in first grade, and was working part time from home before that. My parents both had short commutes, too, which helped a lot. I actually think they were just harder-working people than I am, since I really cannot imagine doing so, but they did have a system which got things down pretty well:

1. Very basic salad. We had iceberg lettuce until our fortunes improved in my teens, but basically: tear up greens, add chopped carrot and chopped celery, use special measuring bottle to make olive oil/water/vinegar dressing, add dressing, add salt and pepper. It really is an under-five-minutes salad. If I were doing it myself now, I'd use mustard in the dressing to jazz it up and drop the celery.

2. Largely hands-off main or else very quick one - we had roast chicken once a week (the only meat I really know how to make) and also had pork chops, ultra simple meat loaf, spaghetti with a super quick onion/garlic/sauteed ground beef/tomato paste/tomatoes sauce; baked chicken breast; or Big Roast Meat Thing On Sunday Turns Into Leftovers Monday and Tuesday.

3. Largely hands-off sides - rice or egg noodles finished with salt, pepper, olive oil or maybe garlic powder; baked potatoes; microwave-steamed vegetables.

You really can get all that on the table pretty quickly, especially if the kids start the baked potatoes or roast chicken before you get home.

But again, it's very simple. When my brother and I grew up, my dad started experimenting with different dinner stuff, but while we were at home, it was a quite limited menu for most dinners.

If I were doing all that now, I'd be adding more lemon/hot sauce /grated cheese/ herbs to the sides and salad, but we didn't have the money for a lot of extras when I was a kid and food distribution was very different.
posted by Frowner at 9:59 AM on December 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


to be fair, i find the 15 minute abs stuff to be pretty objectionable.
posted by nadawi at 10:01 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pronounced "Chi-Baf-Ra-Has."

I tried saying that out loud and now there is a jackal-headed demon standing outside my cubicle demanding I recite certain spells from the Book of the Dead. Pls help
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:01 AM on December 3, 2015 [54 favorites]


If there was one quote I'd pull from this article, it would be her statement that
[T]he weight of expectation imposed by our cooking culture [which] offers unrealistically complex recipes while at the same time dismissing them as simple, can be crushing...I think we should talk more realistically about what’s involved in from-scratch cooking...and the fact that little of the complexity offered by today’s published recipes is really essential to cooking a delicious meal.
I've known people who thought that making themselves a simple dinner wasn't really 'cooking' because it didn't match their expectations as presented in magazines/books/etc etc. They were brought up by parents, or a parent, who didn't spend much time cooking, so for them cooking was always only something that happened for display: it was for the holidays, or when guests were over; it was to impress. That was their baseline expectation of food prep, rather than an exception.

It's easy to say that 'oh, you shouldn't believe stuff in magazines,' but if you aren't brought up in a family that cooks, the idea of buying ingredients to cook Just One Meal might already be normal. Why would you disbelieve something that's in line with your upbringing?
posted by cjelli at 10:03 AM on December 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


Dunn name-checks Bittman, and up until his latest book he was as guilty of the rest of them. But his How to Cook Everything Fast is the first cookbook I have ever had that has cooking times even close to accurate. This is funny because Bittman was responsible for one of the worst recipe timing I've ever seen, that my wife and I mock to this day, where he expects half-inch pieces of chicken to be cooked through in 2 minutes. Every time I make that recipe I say at the 2 minute mark, "Who wants some of this tasty, fully-cooked chicken." No takers so far.

All that said, even with realistic recipes, the work that we put into planning our weekly meals, sourcing ingredients, preparing meals and cleaning up is exhausting. We do it because we like it, we love the food we make, and we don't have fancy-pants delivery services in West Bumblefuck PA, but it's exhausting, no doubt.
posted by dellsolace at 10:04 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Real easy cooking recipes can be found in the sorts of cookbooks that contain recipes from home cooks. Church cook books and the like. There are lots of hot dishes (casseroles), pasta dishes that don't take much time, and stuff that can be made in the slow cooker. We tend to use a couple church cookbooks, a book of recipes from my wife's grandma (the best home cook I've ever known), and some recipe cards my wife got from her mom (the recipes are all named after people, "Mr. A's Spanish Rice," "Barb's Potatoes," etc.). Recipes from fancier cook books, even those claiming to have easy recipes, are for weekends or occasions when company is coming over.

If I'm really in hurry, my stand-by home-cooked supper is something like rice, broccoli steamed in the microwave, and a fried or baked meat. Maybe a salad.
posted by Area Man at 10:06 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The ab stuff is so objectionable because the only way to see your abs is to drop your entire body fat percentage down through diet and cardio. You can strengthen your core for general health and functional fitness and tone them all you want but you basically need a super low carb diet and determination of a demon and the knowledge that once you get them, you'll be fighting to keep them until you decide to let go. I wish that sort of conventional wisdom would just break through already but there's too much money in it, much like the conventional wisdom that Hollywood celebrities get superhero physiques with pure diet and training but don't cheat with steroids or pure testosterone (LOL, Roids are used everywhere including developing "cut" Brad Pitt style physiques and anytime you hear someone talking about their grueling 3-4 hours of training per day the only way dudes are recovering and building tissue with that much stress is steroids).

The biggest practical thing that helps me cook healthier is a simple steamer appliance. I know I can always toss some asparagus or cruciferous veggie in there fifteen minutes ahead and then toss the results in oil, lemon, garlic. Getting comfortable with protein techniques is huge, and took me a long time to get to the point where I make steaks better than most restaurants.
posted by aydeejones at 10:07 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


To complain that you've been tricked, somehow, if you can't pull this off in 10 minutes with no preparation and no background, is pretty rich. Take some responsibility and don't make out like every checkout-line sales pitch is a Bernie Madoff conspiracy.

This is a weird way to characterize the article, which is more about the twisted and loaded rhetoric of foodie culture than how hard things are. She literally explains that she is not complaining about the recipes themselves, but the ways the recipes are presented:
So, why does it matter that recipes marketed as easy often aren’t? A few years ago, I would have interpreted it as a harmless pretense—maybe even a good deed—to nudge people with the lure of simplicity toward cooking for themselves. Now, pulled in a million directions by the demands of a young family, I’m not so sure. Despite the much-ballyhooed increase in men cooking, women still do the lion’s share of the food preparation in this country. And the weight of expectation imposed by our cooking culture, which offers unrealistically complex recipes while at the same time dismissing them as simple, can be crushing.
"Why not throw together this recipe with 27 ingredients and 8 different steps that requires four different cooking vessels, it's so EASY!" is selling a lie. Peanut butter and toast requires one dish, a knife to spread the PB, as long as you eat it over the sink. That's easy. Like, actually easy. Something that requires half an hour of prep and half an hour of cleanup when you don't have an hour to spare might be labeled easy, but that label is incredibly subjective.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:08 AM on December 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


*and misleading.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:09 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Count me in the camp of people that read the Dunn essay and thought, people think cooking is hard because their standards for quality and variety are awfully high. And, most likely, they're misremembering their own childhoods.

"Meat and potatoes" is a cliched phrase for a reason.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:09 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


The thing about the fish sauce bottle is that American cooking is no longer just one cuisine, and if you're starting out, it can be really expensive and daunting. Spices are a great and inexpensive way to improve a dish, but only if you can pay the initial money for several $3 bottles of powder. But not every culture uses the same spices, so deciding you want to cook an Indian curry after you spent a few weeks making Italian food can be a bit of a sticker shock. And if this is your first time buying an expensive ingredient, it's really hard to predict if you'll be using it again, since you aren't familiar.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


i wish i could lean on potatoes or rice or pasta dishes, but with a diabetic in the house, a lot of my quick and easy tricks are out the window.
posted by nadawi at 10:12 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I appreciated the Dunn article! I hate cooking. I'm a good cook, ironically enough, but everything about it, from making sure you have all the ingredients and having to budget a quick trip to the supermarket after work just in case you're out of onions, to cooking the thing, to washing up afterwards, to waiting for the leftovers to cool so that they reach a temperature at which it is safe to refrigerate them, to washing up the pots and pans afterwards - I hate it all with a burning passion.

I have definitely felt a little put-upon by cooking culture and its emphasis on fresh ingredients and lovely food photogenically arranged on a plate all thrown together in 15 minutes. Most of the time I make an omelette and some toast, or dump a load of frozen spinach in with a packet of instant noodles (I know, I know...) That is about the extent of cooking I am willing to do. I know it's disgusting; good thing I'm only cooking for myself. I wish there was some sort of book on Shameful Cooking Shortcuts. I would be all over that.
posted by Ziggy500 at 10:12 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Why is nobody advocating cheese + apple + celery + bread = meal?
posted by amtho at 10:13 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am capable of some fairly impressive culinary feats but weekday dinners with two working parents and a preschooler are neither the time nor the place. I suspect though that my preexisting ability in the kitchen makes the extremely boring, extremely utilitarian protein+veg served over/mixed in with carb I make in the 20 minutes after I get home much easier than if I was a babe in the woods. So I (or my husband) do have the ability to homecook every meal (who has the money for take out on the regs?) fairly easily. Even Pad Thai of a sort. I mean, that is also just protein+veg mixed in with carb. The sauce is, like, soy, fish sauce, lime juice and ketchup. I've had the same bottle of fish sauce in my fridge for over a year. (No, my child will probably not eat this. That's what peanut butter toast is for, though half the time he won't eat that either. The struggle is real.)

It's really not a conspiracy. Lifestyle magazines gonna lifestyle, but if you know what you're doing in a general way, you can do this stuff. Either that or my whole life is a lie.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:14 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cutting out carbs does get boring after awhile for sure. And expensive if you want to transcend boring and also have something quick...I ate a $10 markdown steak yesterday for lunch and was still hungry because SAD makes me crave bread like a motherfucker
posted by aydeejones at 10:14 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Meat and potatoes" is a cliched phrase for a reason.

Cliched, but not actually easy. 80% of 19th century literature (and a healthy proportion of early 20th century literature) features constant scenes of people struggling and failing to make meat and potatoes edible (at the same time) for daily meals.

Mealy potatoes, tough as leather meat, undercooked potatoes, watery potatoes, lumpy potatoes, oversalted potatoes, undersalted potatoes, scorched potatoes (so many scorched potatoes) more leathery meat, rubbery chicken, more leathery meat-- it's hard to find a literary portrait of domesticity that doesn't contain narratives of how hard cooking on a regular basis is, especially for the uninitiated.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:15 AM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


As for using time efficiently in the kitchen, Kenji from Serious Eats once suggested taking a scientific management approach to prep work. Rather than doing long sequences over and over, break up the task into baby steps that you repeat. Say you have to cut up 8 potatoes into cubes for a recipe. You could wash a potato, peal it, quarter it lengthwise, chop those quarters up until you get cubes, and get started on the next potato from scratch. But it's easier in terms of motor skills and staying on task to wash all the potatoes at once, peel them all at once, etc.

I find myself becoming much more comfortable with the knife that way, and get faster and more consistent results.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


He told me that it's a Rachel Ray recipe his family loves

Rachel Ray is actually an interesting example of the skill and effort level it takes to put a meal on the rank in 30 minutes. She's really clear about the shortcuts she takes and the prep she does beforehand --- washing veg when she gets home from the store, etc. --- and she is extremely quick and competent at breaking down veg. I've heard people complain about it taking them an hour to do one of her 30 minute meals, and I sort of feel like, man, have you actually watched her show? Lady can break down an onion in less than a minute. If it's taking you 5 times as long to do the same, then yeah, it's not to be on the table in 30.

She gets a lot of guff for her cutesy slang and perkiness, but in terms of a practical guide to everyday cooking, she's by far one of the best TV chefs. And she uses a lot of fresh ingredients, too. If you don't cook and you wanted to get to the point where you can throw a healthy meal together in half an hour, you could do a lot worse than boning up on your Rachel Ray.
posted by Diablevert at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


I wish there was some sort of book on Shameful Cooking Shortcuts. I would be all over that.

I wish we could get rid of the shame. The difference between me feeding the kids a really simple meal of rice (or noodles), steamed veggie, and meat (sometimes tofu or something else now that the middle kid is turning anti-meat) and my wife doing so is that I don't feel guilty about it and she does.
posted by Area Man at 10:18 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


mccarty.tim, get thee to a store that sells in bulk. Bulk-bought herbs and spices are ludicrously cheap. Like, bay leaves barely even register on a scale. I have a huge drawer full of empty baby food jars that hold all my culinary herbs and spices and the whole lot cost probably $10 total.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't half of cooking dinner as a parent teaching your kids how to feed themselves as an adult? I grew up with 4 siblings, and dinner for 6 every night is an undertaking. My mom could never have managed without enlisting us as her minions, which meant that I could cook probably 20 dishes passably well by the time I left for college, and so could all of my siblings except the poor youngest, who always got stuck setting the table and never really learned as much as the older of us, by the time she was a teenager the rest of us were on the way out and there weren't as many cook-for-6-and-maybe-some-friends nights.

Sure we had plenty of drive through McDonald's or mom didn't make it to the grocery so it's hotdogs and beans nights, but we were never rich, mom wasn't a 5 star chef, only owned maybe 5 cookbooks and 90% of what we made could be considered 'easy' cooking, but she/we cooked at home 70% of the time without ever once looking up what the hell is a Za’atar.

This writer is either a really terrible cook or making it entirely too difficult, easy cooking is easy. Hell, I cook 50% of the time for my wife and I, we made a whole chicken pot pie last night, it took an hour and 15mins and Im having the leftovers for dinner tonight, and probably for lunch tomorrow too.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am a decent cook, when I try. But my husband is allergic to a million things, and my kid is averse to many others, so cooking is not very pleasurable for me and I seldom see it as anything but a chore.

We make a protein (pork or chicken) that gets cooked once and then used up all week, we make rice every few days to go with, the kid has his few favorite dishes using those ingredients and a few others plus fruit, the husband doesn't care if things have any flavor, and lots of time I just eat a bowl of cereal because fuck cooking after I've been at work all day.
posted by emjaybee at 10:26 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


easy cooking is easy.

Only once you have the skill set. And I think that a lot of us who have developed the skill set through either childhood or professional experience tend to underestimate the effort it takes to build that set. I enjoy cooking and am glad that I don't look like a deer in the headlights of a Mack truck when I enter a kitchen, but I forget sometimes that the experience of being a sous chef for my parents did a lot to help with that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, a crockpot is the best investment you can make for a home cook. Chop up a bunch of crap, brown the meat, come back in 5 hours and hey! soup! Or put on 3lbs of green beans in the morning, stir at lunch, take them off for dinner and you have perfectly seasoned green beans to heat up as a side the rest of the week. Put in a rack of ribs in the morning, pour the sauce on, take off when you get home from work and broil finish for 15mins, hey! ribs!

Easy cooking is supposed to be easy. Buy a crock pot.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Isn't half of cooking dinner as a parent teaching your kids how to feed themselves as an adult?

#NotAllParents

I grew up an only child and my mom did almost all of the cooking, with my stepfather occasionally stepping in to do extravagant breakfasts or steak. I always wanted to learn how to cook, but the opportunity didn't really present itself. Aside from a terrible corn cake (with uncooked corn in it!) and an unsuccessful attempt to mix peanut butter and milk to make... something, I pretty much ate what mom made. In college, after I moved out of the dorms, I got a little better, making spaghetti a lot, along with sandwiches. Once I graduated and moved out on my own I started to experiment but didn't really come into my own until I started dating a woman with three sibilngs (all of them excellent chefs, two of them professional) who grew up in an environment like T.D. Strange's. These days I would say I'm competent, though I tend to lean on showy dinner party stuff.

My wife, who grew up with three siblings who were forced to cook dinner themselves once a week once they were of age, doesn't consider herself a great cook but is, in my mind, an absolute magician. She can take whatever's around and make a fantastic meal out of it.

So you can bet that when we have kids, they'll be enlisted to help cook as soon as they can not stick their hands into the fire.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


This writer is either a really terrible cook or making it entirely too difficult, easy cooking is easy.

1. Being good at a thing doesn't mean the thing is therefore easy. People tell me I'm a great cook, but I still consider it a chore. Even slicing a piece of cheese to put on a cracker is work. Easier than sous-vide-ing a side of venison doesn't mean it is no work at all. Sometimes any work is too much.

2. She is not "making it hard". She is talking about all the people running food blogs/food empires who keep framing their recipes as "easy" even when those recipes contain unusual ingredients, require copious amounts of prep, or use an unreasonable amount of dishes/hardware.

The thesis of this article is not "making simple rice/veg/protein for dinner is hard." The thesis of this article is that purveyors of cooking lifestyles label their recipes easy without any regard for whether or not that word applies.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2015 [33 favorites]


And I think that a lot of us who have developed the skill set through either childhood or professional experience tend to underestimate the effort it takes to build that set. I enjoy cooking and am glad that I don't look like a deer in the headlights of a Mack truck when I enter a kitchen, but I forget sometimes that the experience of being a sous chef for my parents did a lot to help with that.

I think that's a great point and it further shows the problem with the sorts of "easy" recipes she is criticizing. It isn't fair to push that sort of stuff on people who really don't know how to cook under the guise that the cooking will be easy. They'll get discouraged and decide cooking really is too difficult. Instead, they need someone showing them how to put a decent, if simple, meal on the table.
posted by Area Man at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2015


Also, a crockpot is the best investment you can make for a home cook. Chop up a bunch of crap, brown the meat, come back in 5 hours and hey! soup! Or put on 3lbs of green beans in the morning, stir at lunch, take them off for dinner and you have perfectly seasoned green beans to heat up as a side the rest of the week. Put in a rack of ribs in the morning, pour the sauce on, take off when you get home from work and broil finish for 15mins, hey! ribs!

Exactly. I had to work on Thanksgiving but still wanted a a real meal, so 15 minutes chopping potatoes and carrots the night before, 10 minutes browning the meat, dump everything in, come home 8 hours later to a fantastic venison stew. My mother used the hell out of our crockpot, and I'm starting to understand why. You can also use a liner if you like and end up with basically no dishes.

Also, caramelized onions. Pounds of them, if you like.
posted by neonrev at 10:45 AM on December 3, 2015


I can make dinner in 20 minutes. I even have emergency dinner things I can make in like five minutes.

But you know what? I know how to cook. I have been preparing food since I was a little kid, and I have done a whole lot of intensive work learning and practicing basic food preparation to become competent at the subset of skills I need to competently cook the way I want to.

And even then, the first few times I make my quickie dinners, it takes at least twice as long. And just because I can do it doesn't mean that literally anyone can. Cooking skills aren't some easily acquired or default kind of thing. They're skills. They take time to learn, you get injured and you screw things up pretty regularly, even when you know what you're doing.

Try to watch an inexperienced cook slice a vegetable or prepare a simple, easy meal, and marvel at all the things they don't know: Basic food safety, rudimentary knife skills, the fact that ovens need to be preheated and salt isn't just something you add at the table. I got chastised once by someone who had done math with my instructions for making a pot roast by cooking it at 400F for three hours rather than 200F for six.

But there's a huge, competitive lifehack culture out there tries to sell people on the notion that life can be easy and totally fulfilling with a minimum of effort, and that I guess everyone who came before you was just stupid or something, wasting all their time doing things inefficiently.

And you see people who think like that all the time. People who think that there's some magical trick to making healthy, inexpensive, delicious meals with 30 minutes and no experience.

Really, it's kind of insulting and dismissive. You don't see people expecting to be able to build a bespoke gaming system in an afternoon if they've never seen the inside of a computer, or make their own furniture with no carpentry experience. But cooking? Naw, any old asshole can do that. I'm an old asshole, and I can, so you can too!
posted by ernielundquist at 10:46 AM on December 3, 2015 [36 favorites]


In the Tamar Adler video she talks about Rachael Ray's ability to make 30 minute meals as part of the problem. Ray is a huckster; she has to make it sound like things take longer to make than they do so that she can sell you on her version of it and make her $25 million a year. There are foods that do not take 30 minutes to cook; we've listed a lot of them in this thread preceded with "why don't people just cook X?". The way to sell 20+ cookbooks on 'fast cooking' is to make it seem like steamed veggies or apple+cheese+bread or mashed potatoes from a box are shameful or less worthy, so you have to cook the complex dish, and you can only make that happen if you follow her instructions.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:53 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


But there's a huge, competitive lifehack culture out there tries to sell people on the notion that life can be easy and totally fulfilling with a minimum of effort, and that I guess everyone who came before you was just stupid or something, wasting all their time doing things inefficiently.

3 second abs!
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:54 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree with the author's argument. I find most recipes for cooking culture is designed for impressing guests or making a mindblowing recipe, but not necessarily a theory or a repertoire of easy meals. For example, making Chipotle at home is actually really awesome, and really easy to scale up for a week's worth of meals. However, it does require some good knife skills and finding possible shortcuts for the most labor intensive food, not to mention access to fresh ingredients and knowing what to do with them. I think about food deserts and how they contribute to certain ideas of what 'food' means.

I really like the prepared meats at Costco, and that was really cost-effective and labor-minimal, more so than the rotisserie chicken in some ways. Because of that, I was able to make the Chipotle bowls for dinner very quickly and easily, but I would never even bother attempting it if I didn't have that access in the first place.

Also, I think what always makes me most interested is that the 'true' easy recipes are those that you don't see in restaurants or food blogs . I've been hanging out at my friend's house, who is Vietnamese, and they had a delicious simple plate with fresh rice noodles, Chả lụa, bean sprouts with julienned cucumber, and on the noodles was a stir-fried onion and pepper sauce. It also came with Nước chấm . It sounds complicated, but it was basically a noodle plate with staple items, such as prepared meat, veggies, and a sauce. I think we could reverse engineer it and make it into batches, that's truly easy food, and I've found most Asian food (not the Americanized type) is based around easy food culture, but those are not what gets into the restaurants.
posted by yueliang at 11:00 AM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


ernielundquist makes a great point. I'm a good self-taught cook and can make tasty meals out of whatever's in the house. But I was involved in basic cooking with my family as a child so I at least had a foundation once I was out on my own and teaching myself.

As a result, cooking comes naturally to me so when I watch amateur cooking shows where people struggle to make scrambled eggs, my first thought is, "come on, this is not hard." Then I realize that if I was on an amateur car repair show and tasked with replacing brake pads you can be damn sure I'd lose a thumb along the way. So, yeah, there's a lot of nuance behind cooking being easy or hard for someone.

My husband, who grew up with no foundational cooking skills, is a good cook but can only follow recipes. I'm not even sure I know where our measuring spoons and cups are, but when he cooks he uses every single one of them and pores over the cookbook like it's the Rosetta Stone. He has a hard time fathoming how I can eyeball a tablespoon of olive oil and I can't grasp why he's so afraid of thyme that he micro-measures it to the single grain. We find each other's cooking styles hilarious.
posted by _Mona_ at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


> How to Cook Everything Fast is the first cookbook I have ever had that has cooking times even close to accurate

This gets back to the profit idea Dunn raises. I sometimes tech-edit recipes, which includes making sure that cooking times are reasonable. But tech editors cost money, so there's more profit to be made if instead the cookbook writer is given the responsibility for writing everything accurately.

Being able to come up with a good recipe and being able to write down a good recipe are different skills. Being your own second pair of eyes is impossible.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have thought about making a food blog where all the “recipes” are the kind of cooking “life hacks” I personally use, like—

1. Stab sweet potato all over. Microwave for seven minutes, then wrap in foil. Leave on counter until you remember it exists. Open foil, spoon out squashed sweet potato onto triscuits.

2. Pop microwave popcorn. Wrap every third kernel in baby spinach before eating. Occasionally eat an almond.

3. Make a large amount of steamed rice on Sunday. Every weeknight thereafter, grab a spoon. Use it to scoop avocado out of an avocado, then some rice out of rice container. Dip in soy sauce. This is slothful sushi, and it is excellent. (Super fancy version: actually mix salt/sugar/rice vinegar in rice on Sunday)

4. Eat plain cheerios. For lunch. At work. The end. (Maybe also an apple?)

I can make international cuisine of all varieties, and I have catered multiple events. When given a reason, I can make fancy and delicate and impressive feasts. I own fish sauce and powdered lemongrass and an insta-read probe thermometer. But for the regular daily grind, I tend to eat like a confused toddler, and I like it that way.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2015 [40 favorites]


I have a huge drawer full of empty baby food jars that hold all my culinary herbs and spices and the whole lot cost probably $10 total.

In my experience spices bought in bulk are still pretty damn expensive (I bought spices for the co-op I was in in grad school... the cumin bill alone, yowch). If you got an entire drawer full of spices for ten bucks you need to let me know where you shop!
posted by en forme de poire at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


5. Take turns with spouse shamefully eating cheese and crackers while hiding in the pantry so toddler doesn't see you and demand nothing but crackers for dinner.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've been hanging out at my friend's house, who is Vietnamese, and they had a delicious simple plate with fresh rice noodles, Chả lụa, bean sprouts with julienned cucumber, and on the noodles was a stir-fried onion and pepper sauce. It also came with Nước chấm . It sounds complicated,

It sounds fantastic!
posted by kenko at 11:29 AM on December 3, 2015


This essay was perfectly timed for me. Just this past Monday Andrew Zimmern put a link on his Facebook page for an "easy to put together" French Country Stew based on a Jacques Pepin recipe that looked really good so I decided to make it for dinner that night. And it was actually a pretty simple recipe, except for the fact the dish calls for pancetta as a key ingredient, which I discovered is not a standard grocery store item, so I had to also make a separate trip to the specialty Italian market in a totally different part of town. Before I even started to make the dish I already had about 2 hours invested into it with the combined shopping and drive time.

A decent portion of our pantry is made up of "used once" items where I had to make a similar "second" trip to a specialty grocer who had some super specific item a recipe called for (but didn't stock EVERYTHING the recipe called for), so however "quick" the recipe was to make was negated by the effort to obtain the ingredients.
posted by The Gooch at 11:39 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


when my kids were young a favorite quick supper evolved: popcorn, cheese, sliced fruit

this remains on the static menu at chez moi
posted by j_curiouser at 11:49 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was about to tell you you just could have subsituted bacon for the pancetta (not that it would help you now), when I paused to ask myself how did I know that. Oh right, I've worked in kitchens for 10 years. All I can say is if I had written the recipe, I would have made a note of it.

If I could easily set up and run a hotline where you could get that kind of information instead of driving accross town, I would, because I agree that most published recipes are needlessly complicated and daunting.
posted by STFUDonnie at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm actually surprised your local grocery store doesn't have pancetta. But again, I live in fancyville, USA.
posted by GuyZero at 11:55 AM on December 3, 2015


The I Hate To Cook Book
posted by alasdair at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ah you can still get the canonical reference!

First thing as you walk in the door is put a pot on the gas range to boil (this was pre microwave)

I made a pretty elaborate omelette last night in well under 10 minutes (including simultaneous washup), but had precooked asparagus in the fridge. A dish of pasta that's decent can be well under five. But it does take a bit of understanding the way the different foods cook and not mindlessly trying to interpret a recipe that's probably a revision carefully changed to avoid copyright infringement rather than actually improving the previous ten versions.
posted by sammyo at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing about the fish sauce bottle is that American cooking is no longer just one cuisine, and if you're starting out, it can be really expensive and daunting

I cook on average 10-12 meals/week for myself (single person, working full time) and I will say that a large reason I've been successful is that I have more or less stuck to two culinary traditions: when I started to cook I essentially cooked only Chinese food for two years; in 2015 I've been working on Thai a lot. And even with the Thai it's helped that there's quite a bit of overlap in pantry and technique with Chinese cooking, thanks to the historic Chinese influence on Thai cooking. (Stir-frying, soy sauce and oyster sauce are among the now-integral parts of Thai cooking that originated in the Chinese culinary tradition.)

While I will freely out myself as someone who enjoys cooking -- since I know for many people it's an enormous chore, much like cleaning (ugh) is for me -- I do think that the expectation that we have a global pantry and should be able to whip up Korean tacos tonight, boeuf bourguignon tomorrow and ceviche the day after is what makes people frustrated about these cooking claims.

As an example, I'm making black bean mussels tonight, which is a recipe that calls for fermented black beans, ginger, garlic, scallions, rice wine, light AND dark soy sauces and fresh red chilies (among other ingredients). For me it's going to be a fast dish since all I need to do is pick up the mussels (which steam in no time) after work; but that's because I already cook a lot of Chinese food at home and already stock all the other ingredients: the two soy sauces, rice wine, black beans, etc.

If I read this recipe and was like "OK, where am I going to find fermented black beans? Are those the same as Mexican black beans?* And what's this 'Shaoxing rice wine'? Can I substitute other wine instead? Oh crap I need to get all these fresh herbs" you bet this wouldn't be an easy recipe for me.

*Answer: No. They've got a strong umami/salty flavor.
posted by andrewesque at 12:00 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, we get delivery when we feel like having delivery-pizza or delivery-Chinese or sushi. It's not a time-saver and, frankly, barely an effort-saver. I'd rather spend half an hour cooking than an hour waiting.

When you're waiting, do you just sit on the couch staring at the door? Why not do other things while you're waiting, which you can't do if you have to cook? Read a book, clean up around the house, do some laundry, watch cat videos on YouTube, whatever.

I learned how to cook because I was raised by a single mother who worked through dinnertime most nights, and I'm a biologist now and following a protocol to run an assay is actually very similar to following a recipe. I used to have more free time and cooked my dinners, but these days I either throw a bunch of things together in the slowcooker Sunday nights for the rest of the week, or just eat a simple salad (bagged lettuce, though; I don't even want to take the time to wash and spin a head of lettuce now). There's a big opportunity cost to cooking proper meals every night.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


The pancetta is usually hiding - I don't know why they don't just put it with the bacon but it's usually in a strange refrigerator endcap.

But yeah, figuring out that I didn't have to drive around town for special fresh peppers and could just substitute, I don't know, chipotles in adobo sauce or whatever I can get at the local was a big sea change for my exasperation with cooking. Is this shit that other people learned from the parents? Home Ec?

I want a book called, "Home cooking is boring but you have to do it, one way or another." Subtitle: "Use Martha Stewarts 2-hour chicken and dumpling recipe but substitute nearly every step with something packaged!"
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Protip: in a pinch, you can sub sherry for shaoxing rice wine.
posted by kenko at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2015


"Everywhere, there are magazine features proclaiming that making and freezing my own chicken stock is a “no-brainer”"

I hate this framing so much!

-First, even if making and freezing chicken stock requires no "brain," it still requires hands and eyes and money and time and energy.
-Secondly, making your "no brainer" stock still requires that you roasted the pre-existing chicken correctly and safely, which arguably DOES require a brain, at least at first.
-Thirdly, the way to convince me something is worthwhile may vary, but it is NEVER "imply that if I somehow do it wrong, I'm sufficiently stupid as to be basically comatose."

Ugh. I hate cooking anyway, but the culture around it makes me hate it even more.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:08 PM on December 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Is this shit that other people learned from the parents? Home Ec?

Common sense plus years of trial and error are what can lead one to be confident in making substitutions in recipes. Like you can substitute lemon juice for yuzu juice, or regular cucumbers for Persian cucumbers, and not really notice the difference, but if the main component of your recipe is beef tenderloin and you decide to substitute eye of round then you will be sad. On the other hand, I've never done enough baking to be confident substituting ingredients - as far as I'm concerned a baking recipe is a magic spell that must be performed perfectly or else my kitchen will explode.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:12 PM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


The whole chicken stock thing reminds me of the trite saying that "if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." Which is bullshit, fine, but I think the people who find making chicken stock easy are people who really love being in the kitchen cooking stuff and it probably does seem quick and easy to them while it is, in fact, something time consuming and not all the critical in this age of bullion cubes.
posted by GuyZero at 12:13 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'll be honest: I like to cook, as in I actively enjoy the whole process, but there is zero chance I will ever, ever make and freeze chicken stock. I recognize that fresh is best, but it's just not happening. There's no room in the freezer, first, between the ice cream, all the meat, and the veggies, but more than that, it's so much effort when I can just dip into the jar of Better than Bouillon.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:17 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Once you have pomegranate molasses you're probably set for quite a while, and if you have enough durable staples (not the kinds of dried herbs that lose all their luster in a week or two) it's much easier to bring more, and more complex, things together quickly.

Once you have a flying carpet you are set to save on airfares for life. Who sells pomegranate molasses? No one in my town that's for sure, since I asked. Really. All of them. How much prep do I need to do? We have our own herb garden for God's sake, we have a bay tree so large I am hoping to put Schwarz out of business.
posted by biffa at 12:27 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals. Homemade beef barbacoa tacos. Short-rib potpie. “Weekday” French toast..

I was with her until french toast. French toast is bonehead simple. what do you need to do? You need a plate, egg, milk, maybe some maple syrup, icing sugar if you like that, or vanilla. You put bread on the plate. You mix the egg and milk and maybe vanilla if you like that sort of thing. you pour it on the bread lying on the plate and let it sit there like 2 minutes until it soaked through. You put it in a frying pan until it's ready. It takes maybe 3 times as long as peanut butter toast--well under 30 minutes, anyway--with hardly any ingredients or effort other than watching that it doesn't burn in the pan. If you have trouble with french toast, then yes, a lot of things are going to be difficult to pull off in a reasonable time frame. But it is not in the same universe as "short rib pot pie" in terms of effort, cooking time, prep, or ingredients-likely-to-be-around-the-house.
posted by Hoopo at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cliched, but not actually easy. 80% of 19th century literature (and a healthy proportion of early 20th century literature) features constant scenes of people struggling and failing to make meat and potatoes edible (at the same time) for daily meals.

Fair point, but my larger point was the interpretation of "meat and potatoes" to mean food that is simple, unadorned, basic, and served over and over again. My Mom could make, like, only four dishes. Which is fine, if that's the way it has to be.

The latter part is key, because by cutting variety, you can apply economies of scale and efficiency to preparation. You can make a cheap, tasty dinner in a flash if you're making the same dish for the 1000th time.

Variety is the spice of life. It's not life itself.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:31 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Secondly, making your "no brainer" stock still requires that you roasted the pre-existing chicken correctly and safely

No it doesn't!
posted by kenko at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


My ex used to call me an intuitive cook. I never knew what to make of that other than to wonder if he had no clue how much work and practice it took for me to get to that point in my ~craft~. I certainly wasn't born that way. And I thank my mother for teaching me such a valuable life skill.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2015


She's not railing against French Toast, she's railing against fancified "French Toast" recipes - for example, this one. No one makes money by selling an actual easy french toast recipe, so they complicate it and then still sell it as "quick."
posted by muddgirl at 12:38 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


But for the regular daily grind, I tend to eat like a confused toddler, and I like it that way.

No lie, one of my greatest fears about hypothetical parenthood is that I will raise children who eat like feral animals because prepared meals, on a plate, is something that almost never happens in our home. Like, sometimes my husband will reheat pizza on a plate or put milk on his cereal, and, I dunno, that seems like way too much work when I get home.

*jabs spoon into peanut butter jar*
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I make my own chicken stock. It's much better and cheaper than store bought.

All I do is save chicken leftovers and bones (cracked, with a meat cleaver as necessary because you have a big assed meat cleaver for that), plus the appropriate vegetable asses from your cooking, until you have enough to make stock.

Then, you get out the special gigantic stock pot you have, get some extra chicken guts as necessary plus chicken feet to give it body. Brown those in the pot, add your frozen chicken and vegetable parts, plus onion, garlic, carrots, and celery as necessary to round out the vegetables, then top it up with water, and add the correct amount of fresh and dried herbs common to the cuisines you regularly cook, plus salt and pepper. And a "splash" or so of cider vinegar for a reason I forget.

And then, you let it simmer pretty much all day, and you can't leave the house because the stove is on, and then, at the end of the day, use your largest slotted spoon to get the big parts out and don't forget the chicken feet are in there because they look like baby hands after they've been simmering in liquid all day, which can be alarming if you're not prepared for it, and then strain it through your chinois and/or cheesecloth, then you transfer it to your preferred storage containers, and freeze.

And then, clean up all the chicken spatter that got everywhere and wash all the stuff you used.

And that's all there is to it! Months of preparation, a well stocked kitchen, a trip to the store or two stores if your regular one doesn't have chicken feet, a day you can't leave the house, and sufficient storage containers to hold the amount of chicken stock that justifies spending a day making it.

And it only takes thirty minutes to read the instructions.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:41 PM on December 3, 2015 [42 favorites]


No lie, one of my greatest fears about hypothetical parenthood is that I will raise children who eat like feral animals because prepared meals, on a plate, is something that almost never happens in our home.

I don't know if this will comfort you at all, but I grew up in a house where we ate multi-dish sit-down dinners at the dining room table every night for my whole life. Starch, protein, veg, also salad, and likely bread with butter. I did not learn from their example. I mean, I know how to do it, but I choose not to.

So hey, maybe your kids will end up doing full-on tasting menus every night! :)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


she's railing against fancified "French Toast" recipes - for example, this one.

Ok seriously that's a bread pudding recipe, cripes people, if you're going to write recipes please learn what things are named first.

And yes, that recipe is terrible. No one had dried bread cubes just sitting around. And very few people have time to oven-bake anything in the morning unless you're a very early riser.
posted by GuyZero at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


And yes, that recipe is terrible. No one had dried bread cubes just sitting around. And very few people have time to oven-bake anything in the morning unless you're a very early riser.

Yes, that is the actual point of the FPP article. There is a cottage industry of taking incredibly easy recipes that were originally designed to make use of leftovers and scraps (french toast, pot pies, stir fries), then making them pointlessly complicated, labor-intensive, and expensive*, and then selling them as 'SO EASYYYYYY (if you love your kids you will make this otherwise you have Officially Given Up) FOR BUSY MOMS!!!!!'


*or impossible! I had a friend who worked at a magazine that published recipes, and special compilation recipe BOOKS, and she found out that only about 10% of the recipes published had ever even been tested. They would get letters about how disgusting/unsuccessful the recipes turned out to be, and they would tell the readers they must have missed a step, but no. The recipes were just made up nonsense that resulted in disgusting, inedible trash.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:57 PM on December 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


Secondly, making your "no brainer" stock still requires that you roasted the pre-existing chicken correctly and safely

No it doesn't!


ernielundquist completely demolishes this retort better than I could ever hope to do.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:57 PM on December 3, 2015


ernielundquist completely demolishes this retort better than I could ever hope to do.

But you don't have to roast the chicken, and in fact stock from a thoroughly roasted carcass is not as good as stock from a not-thoroughly-roasted bones.

I'm not going to pretend that making stock involves no work or is ever simple or easy (I hear people cut down on lots of trouble with pressure cookers but I've never done that). I just deny that roasting the chicken is part of it!
posted by kenko at 1:00 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


(You can make a totally serviceable chicken broth in like an hour, though. Will it be rich and gelatinous? No. Will it taste good? Sure. For such a purpose you don't need feet, even (and even there wings will work fine too). Again, it's not like this is something you can just toss off without any effort or thought, but there's no need to exaggerate the difficulty.)
posted by kenko at 1:02 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean all of this is pretty academic to me as I have never actually used chicken stock for anything in my life, and almost certainly never will, but I feel like the level of specificity and nuance described in this conversation has illustrated my initial objection to the use of the term "no-brainer" pretty thoroughly.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:08 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Most people who cook or bake regularly have some type of food we claim is "actually, really easy." I've told several people in the last month that pie crust is "easy," and I believed it as I said it, but I've been baking for years and used to make lots of pies with my dad when I was a kid.
posted by Area Man at 1:11 PM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, a crockpot is the best investment you can make for a home cook.

And also the exact opposite, the pressure cooker, when you want to make something as quickly as possible.

In fact, I just picked up an Instant Pot on Amazon, which is a: Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Saute/Browning, Yogurt Maker, Steamer & Warmer. It has great reviews and was on sale for like $80 on cyber Monday, and is still pretty cheap at $100.
posted by Huck500 at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


I mean all of this is pretty academic to me as I have never actually used chicken stock for anything in my life, and almost certainly never will

Cut up 1-3lbs of chicken breasts into cubes, saute/fry them up with butter or olive oil. Open 4 cans of white beans into your crock pot (you bought the crock pot, right?) Toss in some chopped onions if you like onions, or not. Put the cooked chicken cubes in the pot, cover with as much chicken stock as you like and cook it on high for an hour. Spices are good if you have them, cumin and paprika mainly, cayenne works too. Fresh cilantro is nice if you like it, but whatever. Congrats, you made easy white chili with chicken stock, enjoy for a week, remember the sour cream and jack cheese toppings. Works fine with boxed stock too, no need to get all fancy.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cut up 1-3lbs of chicken breasts into cubes, saute/fry them up with butter or olive oil. Open 4 cans of white beans into your crock pot (you bought the crock pot, right?) Toss in some chopped onions if you like onions, or not. Put the cooked chicken cubes in the pot, cover with as much chicken stock as you like and cook it on high for an hour. Spices are good if you have them, cumin and paprika mainly, cayenne works too. Fresh cilantro is nice if you like it, but whatever. Congrats, you made easy white chili with chicken stock, enjoy for a week, remember the sour cream and jack cheese toppings. Works fine with boxed stock too, no need to get all fancy.

I honestly cannot think of any circumstances under which I would do these things, but uh, thanks I guess?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:34 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sous vide circulators are great convenience items, too. You can use them to make fancypants entrees or expensive cuts of meat, but they're also a super-easy way to make (for example) five perfectly cooked, individually wrapped chicken breasts for a week of office lunches.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


with hardly any ingredients or effort other than watching that it doesn't burn in the pan

Ehhh see, you're underestimating how much of an effort it can be for some of us (ahem) to avoid burning stuff in the pan. I regularly burn bread in the toaster, too. You have no idea how long it took me to learn to do scrambled eggs and I'm still not happy with the results but at least it can be called scrambled eggs, I've had worse at some cafes. Or poached eggs, everyone says it's easy yeah it is easy but only once you learn by trial and error.

That's the thing about so much of cooking, you need to practice to make it easy, and after practice, a lot of it is habit, too. You learn but you can also lose it. I'm Italian, I'm supposed to know how to boil pasta without overcooking and use the right amount of salt, I've grown up seeing that done and I've done it myself a zillion times too. Maybe it's because I don't live in Italy anymore, maybe it's because I haven't really cooked that frequently in past years, and almost never pasta anyway, but now, when I do pasta, I regularly undercook it and use too little salt. It's still better than oversalted and overcooked, but still. I've lost the hang of it (or, "lost the hand for it" as you'd say in Italian - it is your hands after all that learn and memorise these things through practice).

I don't hate cooking, but oh it's all so much nicer and appetizing when someone else is doing it, someone who knows what they're doing...

Anyway, as others already pointed out, the article is indeed less about all this, and more about how cooking is represented in the media and on blogs and tv shows and by god she is absolutely 100% right there. Especially with all these celebrity chefs lately. It's ridiculous, sometimes, how much they take for granted when calling something easy.

Even Jamie Oliver, bless him, but really, this one is classified as "super easy". HAHAHA. Go ahead, try it from scratch, without having ever done it before, without ever having even cooked mussels (*raises hand*), and come back and tell me how many ways you found of screwing it up before you got a decent result, and now tell me if it isn't super-easier to make a toasted sandwich.

And yes, oh finally someone mentions the process of buying ingredients and lugging them up the stairs and washing and peeling and chopping and preparing etc. Or even finding those ingredients around you in the first place. We don't all live in London or New York, with easy access to all sorts of shops with all the world's ingredients, some chefs seem to forget that.
posted by bitteschoen at 1:38 PM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I always assume any recipe is going to take me three times as long as claimed. And I cook relatively regularly (not every day since as a single person most meals last me several days, but not once in a blue moon either) so I usually know what I'm doing. I imagine someone new to cooking having that experience, thinking it's their own fault that it's much more difficult and time-consuming than implied, and just giving up and ordering take out. I know what to expect at least. A lot of people don't and are put off from cooking entirely after a few bad experiences.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even Jamie Oliver, bless him, but really, this one is classified as "super easy". HAHAHA.

If only they sold single anchovies.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most people who cook or bake regularly have some type of food we claim is "actually, really easy."

Area Man - exactly. I'm totally sure linguine with mussels is indeed "super easy" – for people who already cook. The recipe is simple enough. But I've never cooked mussels by myself before, and I know you can screw up mussels, it happens even to more experienced people, overcooked mussels are worse than no mussels, they're like cardboard, they'd go straight in the bin, and with what they cost... just the thought of ruining a nice ingredient that doesn't come cheap, and ruining everyone's dinner, would mean I certainly wouldn't be trying that by myself when looking for new ideas.
So that "super easy" tag is not really that super useful to me when it's unfamiliar ingredients, for a start.
posted by bitteschoen at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2015


We don't all live in London or New York, with easy access to all sorts of shops with all the world's ingredients, some chefs seem to forget that.

Chefs are the worst. Their cookbooks frequently contain recipes that don't actually work (they've adapted something they do in the restaurant, but haven't checked whether it can actually be made that way at home by a non-professional) and they don't usually have a good sense of what's feasible and easy for an actual home cook. Professional cook book writers are a bit better, and magazines with test kitchens like Better Homes and Gardens and Cook's Illustrated can be pretty good (of the two, BH&G is much more likely to have recipes that are actually easy and simple).
posted by Area Man at 1:58 PM on December 3, 2015


I was thinking about one of my go-to "use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey" dishes - quick and dirty turkey pot pie. And for me, it's something that I can whip up pretty quickly. But the first step in that recipe?

Build a roux to serve as a gravy base.

I can do it pretty easily, but for a lot of people, that probably sounds like culinary dark magic. Hell, I managed to bork mine up by putting a bit too much flour in, resulting in a gravy that thickened to a consistency along the lines of spackle.

I think we should be teaching kids how to cook, proper techniques, and the vital importance of mise en place.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:58 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I've never cooked mussels by myself before, and I know you can screw up mussels, it happens even to more experienced people, overcooked mussels are worse than no mussels, they're like cardboard, they'd go straight in the bin, and with what they cost

The real terror with screwing up mussels isn't that they're overcooked, it's that one of them was a little bit open (i.e., already dead) when you started out but you didn't notice, and then you ate it, and spent the following 12 hours on the toilet.
posted by kenko at 2:01 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I recently got the cookbook Street Vegan, which I thought would be simple recipes since a lot of it is adapted from food truck recipes -- but, in fact, a lot of these recipes have close to 30 ingredients, or possibly even more.

To make Ginger Island Tofu with coconut mashed yams and fried ginger, you must:

- Cook mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, habanero, cilantro, cloves, allspice, tamarind concentrate, tamari, maple syrup, molasses, and lime juice.

- Blend all that into a marinade, which you will use to marinate your tofu.

- Grill your tofu.

- Cook your yams, and drain them.

- Cook ginger, cloves, cinnamon, Sucanat [this is a vegan sweetener] and coconut milk.

- Process the yams and the coconut milk into a puree.

- Peel very thin strips of ginger and fry them in hot oil.

- Toss the ginger with cinnamon, chili powder, evaporated cane juice, and salt

AND NOW YOU HAVE TO GET A RING MOLD

and fill your ring mold with yams puree, then baby spinach, then tofu, then mango salsa (which you have made yourself at a separate time????), and garnish with some microgreens and scallions.

TOTAL INGREDIENTS: 28, not including the separate ingredients for the mango salsa.

TOTAL DISHES YOU NEED TO CLEAN: Saucepan, grill pan, blender, baking dish, cutting board, pot, saucepan again, food processor, saucepan again, mixing bowl, ring mold.

Now, to be fair, the author says that these are not easy weeknight recipes. Well, he says that if you don't have time to do all of this, this is not a cookbook for you. But the cookbook very much doesn't come off as a "super fancy chef" kind of cookbook, like the Ottolenghi vegetarian cookbooks do (and for which I forgive the guy.) Tofu with mashed sweet potatoes should be a recipe with less than 10 ingredients, done in less than 45 minutes.

I guess it's a cookbook that really follows the workflow of a food truck -- prep a few components in large quantities, and assemble them to order -- but home cooks just don't cook like this.

Not when they're cooking for just one or two people, anyway.
posted by Jeanne at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Right, I'mma address some of the nitpicks about chicken stock:

"Don't you have to roast the chicken first?"

Nope. You can just get a plain ol' pack o' chicken parts from the grocery store and dump it in and use that. Or just go with all chicken wings or all chicken feet or a mix of that stuff. Or, hell, get a rotisserie chicken and pick the meat off and use the bones from that.

"Do I have to crack the bones or something?"

If you....want? If you got the time, it may taste marginally more yummy, but it's not like your kitchen is going to melt if you don't.

"I don't wanna purchase fresh chicken just to dump it into a pot and use as stock."

The rotisserie route, or feet, may be a way to go then. Or - if your supermarket has a butcher counter, see if the butcher has some of the bits he was just gonna throw away and see if he can sell them to you cheap. I did this once, and the butcher sold me five pounds of chicken backs (from organic, free-range superprimo chicken) at like $2 a pound

"Eh, what would I use it for anyway?"

Soup. Or, use it instead of some or all of the water when you make rice.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:35 PM on December 3, 2015


Or I can buy a can of Better than Bullion for $5 and get nearly 10 quarts of broth. I don't even have a 10 quart pot, or room for 9 quarts of stock in my freezer.
posted by muddgirl at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


From the article: real “easy” cooking, if that’s what you’re after, is far too simple to sustain a magazine and cookbook industry. It relies on foods that can be purchased at a single point of sale and involves a bare minimum of ingredients and a small repertoire of techniques. It leans heavily on things your mom taught you. There are no garnishes of thyme leaves in simple weeknight dinners, and no appetizer salads.

As someone whose mom didn't have time to teach her to cook, I would kill for a cookbook with this premise.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh my god you chicken stock people, I am going to buy it at the store in a box the 2-3 times a year I need it, ok? That is what is going to happen. I am not going to boil any goddamn chicken bones. Please stop telling me I have to, or that it's easy or awesome. I have done it. It's kind of a pain in the ass and I am not that particular about my chicken broth.
posted by emjaybee at 3:06 PM on December 3, 2015 [34 favorites]


The real terror with screwing up mussels isn't that they're overcooked, it's that one of them was a little bit open (i.e., already dead) when you started out but you didn't notice, and then you ate it, and spent the following 12 hours on the toilet.

kenko - erm, yeah, that too... see, I unconsciously assumed at least enough savviness to recognise a potentially lethal mussel, or that you'd be getting super fresh mussels from a good source and cook them immediately, thereby committing 2 unconscious chef-taking-it-for-granted-its-all-super-easy crimes, all while criticising that very attitude, see how it works?!
posted by bitteschoen at 3:16 PM on December 3, 2015


But there's a huge, competitive lifehack culture out there tries to sell people on the notion that life can be easy and totally fulfilling with a minimum of effort, and that I guess everyone who came before you was just stupid or something, wasting all their time doing things inefficiently.

I just finished Cintra Wilson's Fear and Clothing, and one of the things she writes about with great eloquence is the notion of that human effort is greatly devalued and that one of the most radical things you can do in this day and age is appraise and/or appreciate the effort that goes into domestic labor.

This is relevant because I feel like those "easy meals" features that magazines do are sort of sinister in how they devalue kitchen labor. They posit that there's something wrong with you if you're not lifehacking your kitchen time until meals take 20 minutes. And as so many people in this thread have noted, it's easy to pull together a meal quickly if you have put in the practice. But these "easy meal" features don't help people cook more efficiently or with more savvy. My kid thinks I'm a wizard for making her an omelet, bacon, warm biscuits and fruit salad for dinner in under twenty minutes, but I had years of practice. My twenty-minute easy meal took 30 years. Ten of those years were spent optimizing the timing so I could multitask on prepping things and plate it all at once.

I am charmed by the cooking features Buzzfeed has been experimenting with where they tell you what to buy, what to prep, and what to make when. It's a way of teaching people basic meal planning, time management and cookery.

Good cooking is like good anything else: it requires time management, practice, a firm grasp on the "rules" so you can improvise when you need to. It's insane to me that it's presented in magazines and TV shows as this weirdly decontextualized new commodity.
posted by sobell at 3:25 PM on December 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yeah, I make chicken stock, but it's primarily to make me feel like I've accomplished something other than sandwich and internet that Sunday. Also because my friends on snapchat remain confused about the occasional images of half frozen Cronenbergian meat spheres I send with the title "INCURSION FROM THE CHICKEN DIMENSION".
posted by lucidium at 3:26 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there's also a pernicious interface with the "frugality" and "wellness" internet lifestyle subcultures, where the consensus is that if you don't cook every meal from scratch then you will probably die with metabolic syndrome and rock hard arteries and massive debt, and you will moreover have deserved it, because everyone knows the only guaranteed safe and affordable and ethical way to cook naturally involves doing everything yourself in as close to a state of autarchy as possible.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:27 PM on December 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


Anytime you hear the word "easy" just imagine a rough and tumble kid at the playground talking about backflips or a dude in a Fedora talking about how Linux was ready for the desktop in 2001.

Not to knock all dudes in Fedoras, but having grown up as a sort of know-it-all computer dork (who quickly learned to drop that pretense after dealing with worse know-it-alls) who can also cook pretty decently, and being a parent, I realize that almost any time someone says something is "easy" they're really saying "I have invested a lot of time and energy over the years [or in the case of children, days/months/etc] slowly acquiring a skillset that I am taking for granted and now I'm going to make you feel bad, I just don't realize how much I invested in the skillset because I've been subconsciously practicing the art of kaizen, continuous improvement, always twirling, twirling towards improvement."

They aren't bad people, they just don't realize they've benefited from all sorts of things -- often it's being "forced" to cook by your parents that you take for granted because it wasn't all that fun.
posted by aydeejones at 3:33 PM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also I have been unemployed and contracting a bit since July and totally took over cooking dinner for a long time. At first I caught myself "out-doing" my wife semi-consciously, not trying to prove anything, but just trying to overcompensate for the fact that I wasn't working by making some serious eats. Along the way I fumbled a couple of times, but for a couple of months it was genuinely fun and novel, and I was like the classic cliched housewife stereotype, on my feet constantly all day, racking up 20,000 steps on a pedometer by constantly being in the kitchen making juices, prepping sauces, chopping up produce for my kids to eat, processing pomegranates...let's just say cooking can be genuinely fun but I can see the exact same burn-out scenario I saw in IT, where just because something is fun sometimes, doesn't mean you want to do it Every. Fucking. Day. Last night I had to totally surrender and be like "I don't know what to make, I'm too low energy" (bipolar / SAD peak suckage) and my wife bailed me out with some frozen salmon burgers and broccoli. Thanks CostCo! One thing I do like to do constantly depressed or not (now that I've figured out what essentials to consistently buy without analysis paralysis) is going to the grocery store, like every 2-3 days and just staying on top of the mark-downs for cheap meat and getting shit-tons of produce to feed my kids or make juice from.
posted by aydeejones at 3:38 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the Tamar Adler video she talks about Rachael Ray's ability to make 30 minute meals as part of the problem. Ray is a huckster; she has to make it sound like things take longer to make than they do so that she can sell you on her version of it and make her $25 million a year. There are foods that do not take 30 minutes to cook; we've listed a lot of them in this thread preceded with "why don't people just cook X?". The way to sell 20+ cookbooks on 'fast cooking' is to make it seem like steamed veggies or apple+cheese+bread or mashed potatoes from a box are shameful or less worthy, so you have to cook the complex dish, and you can only make that happen if you follow her instructions.

The central conceit is that they are "30 minute meals that will impress your family or guests and be all unique and shit and mostly from scratch or close." I can't stand watching her load her arms up with stuff like the ticket to saving time is being silly and then running the sink non-stop overflowing a pot for boiling because she's multi-tasking. Personally I'm still overweight and I like making lots of trips around the kitchen rather than trying to be Captain Efficiency (but I do like to be Captain Efficiency with setting lots of timers and planning mise en place to the max, ramekins and all) and now I totally sympathize with the stereotype of the stay at home mom who is always exhausted from trying to meet the needs of the children because you get fucking tired if you try to prep stuff all day, cut up watermelon, clean up your messes, run to the store, pick up the kids, blah blah blah
posted by aydeejones at 3:43 PM on December 3, 2015


Ah, finally. This is painfully hard to google for when you don't quite remember the details, but I found out recently that the spiritual father of all of these "x minute meals" things was a French scientist named Édouard de Pomiane, who wrote La cuisine en dix minutes in 1930.

He basically advocates what a lot of people here are saying, not ridiculous faffing meals, just fairly realistic goals. Get a pan on when you walk in, boil some vegetables, fry a piece of meat, put some salad and some cheese (and wine) on the table, and that's a three course meal.

The absolute best part is the BBC made a semi fictional cookery show that has him (played by Christopher Rozycki) show you a ten minute meal in his apartment while he waits for his lady friend to arrive. Ep1, Ep2, Ep3, Ep4, Ep5, Ep6.
posted by lucidium at 4:11 PM on December 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


Well, most of us can't *afford* to eat out or order out every meal. Plus, restaurant meals are often *way* more fattening than cooking at home.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:13 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a billion kids and no time at all and my 25-minute dinners are this:

- Tortillas stuck right on the oven rack with frozen okra, canned/frozen corn, canned tomatoes and cheese melted on them, with a box/envelope of 7-minute Spanish rice cooking while the tortillas cook at 350 for 10 minutes, and fruit, or steam-in-the-bag broccoli/green beans. 25 minutes prep/to the table, 1 pot to wash after.

- Ricotta cheese mixed with an egg and microwave-steamed frozen broccoli folded in a tortilla and baked in a 350 oven for 10 minutes. Serve with heated jarred spag sauce for "calzones." 25 minutes prep to the table, nothing to wash except plates (like we use those, ha!).

- Tortilla and cheese scrambled egg wraps + orange or apple + instant grits if I'm feeling fancy. 15 minutes prep to table.

- Broiled pre-peeled frozen raw shrimp (6$ at Aldi) + can of black beans + chopped avocado + jarred salsa + pre-shredded cheddar + 20-minute basmati rice + tortillas.

The lesson: I would be lost without tortillas. I actually make them from scratch every Sunday -- a big batch, from this recipe http://thecafesucrefarine.com/2013/08/best-ever-homemade-flour-tortillas/ -- because it is easy and cheap and something I can do with my kids, but I also don't sweat it if I buy pre-packaged tortillas, too.

Also, egg noodles with jarred spag sauce pureed with carrots and spinach + store-bought Italian bread + bagged salad. Tortilla chips on a cookie sheet heated at 350 with black beans, cheese, diced tomato, avocado, any other veg your kid will eat. Also, pancakes with frozen blueberries and a scrambled egg and a side of plain yogurt with vanilla extract and almonds on it.

And eggs. Lots of eggs. Jesus God, I'm tired.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:01 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, go to Aldi or wherever, buy 3lb bag of frozen chicken breasts and big jar of salsa, plus tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and sour cream/avocado if you are feeling all gourmet. Thaw chicken breasts, dump chicken + jar of salsa in crock pot, cook on low for 8 hours. Come home, spoon that shit on top of tortilla chips, sprinkle cheese, avocado, sour cream on top. Family thinks you are a genius. Serve the next day wrapped in tortillas for burritos! They won't even notice.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:10 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh my god you chicken stock people, I am going to buy it at the store in a box the 2-3 times a year I need it, ok? That is what is going to happen.

And that's fine. All I want is for people to stop acting like making chicken stock is like climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro or something. It's labor, yeah, but it's not like building a cathedral, okay?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not for you, because you've practiced. Which is the whole point of pretty much this entire thread.
posted by muddgirl at 6:20 PM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Wake up on Saturday morning, throw chicken bones/bits that you've saved in freezer for 6 months into big pot with water to cover. Bring to boil then simmer for 5 hours until you come back from your jogging or movie or whatever. Pour into tupperware. Freeze until you want to use it. That's it. If you can put stuff in a pot and turn your stove on, you can make chicken stock. It's easy. Seriously. There is some cooking stuff that requires practice, but chicken stock is definitely not it. I think it's more planning ahead than practice or technical skill.

Edit: use a strainer to make sure you don't get solids in the broth you're freezing. Just the liquid.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:27 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like the chicken stock argument is a new prime example of chefsplaining. I dunno, whatever it is I feel like there's still a strong whiff of judginess in the whole, "look, I'm just saying it's not that hard and it's useful to have!" continued comments. I can actually probably guarantee that I am more likely to climb Mt. Kilamanjaro in my lifetime than I ever am to make chicken stock at home rather than out of a box.

I'm someone who loathes cooking. Like, even waiting for a pot of water to boil is unbearably tedious to me. There is still tremendous social pressure and judginess about adults (particularly women) who admit this. And for any of us who are adults and are perfectly fine grazing from a bizarre assortment of no-prep meal options most of the time. No, I do not eat out every meal. Yes, I try to be health-concious. No, I do not ever feel any satisfaction when I am forced to throw something together for a party or a potluck. Someday I'm going to have a party where everyone just has to bring their favorite cereal, and I'll provide all different kinds of milk options.
posted by TwoStride at 6:33 PM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Not for you, because you've practiced.

And if you look upthread I acknowledge that. And even in the comment you responded to I admit that there is a degree of labor involved. And it is perfectly fine to not want to engage in that labor.

But you could simply say "eh, it probably is something I could learn how to do, but I just got other priorities so meh", or even "okay, maybe someday when I'm a bit more comfortable in a kitchen, but that day isn't now" rather than trying to shit over the whole thing the way it looks like some people are doing in here. It's that shitting-on-it that sticks in my craw, honestly, and it's probably just as annoying as the "but it's so EEEEEEEEASY" claims are to you.

It's not easy for everyone, but AT THE SAME TIME it's not completely outside the realm of human endeavor altogether. It's in the middle, that's all, and can't we agree on that point?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


No way, man, I am not judging anyone who doesn't want to make chicken stock. I seriously haven't washed my hair in a month because I just don't care. And I totally hear you about the judgement. I make chicken stock because it is actually really easy, and when the judgey people confront me, I brandish my chicken stock at them and say "Chicken stock! Step back!" Then I feed my kids Cheerios for dinner. Works every time. It's just what you're willing to care about/spend time on, and that should be, and is, everybody's own decision.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:38 PM on December 3, 2015


Plus, I sort of hate cooking, but I hate spending money even more, so when I can boil some 6-month-old carcass in hot water and people ooh and ah over me like I'm all Saveur, it makes me feel like I'm pulling a fast one. If I absolutely loathed cooking, I'd definitely just buy a box of broth (which I often do) and not feel anything about it.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:43 PM on December 3, 2015


No one's saying it's completely outside the realm of human endeavor! At least, not seriously. Tons of people make their own chicken stock, or breakfast strata, or one of a dozen things mentioned in this thread from scratch all the time. I think it's kind of a given that these are humanly possible endeavors and doesn't have to be caveated.

Discussing how I don't have the time or inclination is not a judgement on those who do.
posted by muddgirl at 6:43 PM on December 3, 2015


I made turkey stock in the crockpot this year and it totally worked guys!

Also, yeah, don't tell people pie crust is easy or you will get eyes rolling at you. Ask me how I know. Intellectually I know it's not actually easy. But I'll be damned if I could tease out what I do differently and tell anyone.
posted by bq at 6:54 PM on December 3, 2015


No one's saying it's completely outside the realm of human endeavor! At least, not seriously.

Mmmmm, I think there have been some degrees toward seriousness on the continuum.....

Discussing how I don't have the time or inclination is not a judgement on those who do.

Nor is the observation that "it actually isn't that hard" a judgement on those who don't want to or sincerely can't. That's all.

I'll admit, too, that I may be a bit defensive about this mainly because I've been seeing more and more ads lately trying to over-sell how "hard" cooking is as a tool to sell really crappy food, and that bugs the snot out of me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:00 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


You guys, the stove is a sub-optimal place for chicken stock! Better to follow in the steps of Michael Ruhlman, where instead of simmering on the range, you pop the chicken bits it in a 185°F oven overnight.
Then you throw some veggies in for an hour in the morning. Then you strain, refrigerate, skim as with normal stock. Wayyyy lower maintenance/hassle than stovetop stock.

(The tomato paste and peppercorns aren't really necessary, and sometimes I even skip the veggie step. But seriously this is the way to go. The lower temperature means fewer of the taste-molecules escape from the pot, too.)
posted by Maecenas at 7:03 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, most of us can't *afford* to eat out or order out every meal. Plus, restaurant meals are often *way* more fattening than cooking at home.

This is basically exactly what I was talking about upthread — it totally elides any middle ground between, on the one hand, DIY chicken stock and mashed yams in a ring mold, and on the other hand, eating out for "every meal."
posted by en forme de poire at 7:03 PM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I totally just threw out the turkey stock I made on Thanksgiving because it wasn't good enough, and I feel way more shame about that than is reasonable, even though no one in my house could care less about stock.

I did do something awesome and crazy unhealthy on Thanksgiving, though. I pulled the skin off my bird, draped it over my upside-down roasting rack, and blasted it at 400F until it was super crunchy. Om nom nom turkey skin forever. Or for a day.
posted by Night_owl at 7:10 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I got a copy of this when I was first married back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth-if you want easy cooking, or want to learn how to cook without a recipe, this is what you want.


I haven't seen the updated version, but what I can tell you is once you get a feel for the recipes and philosophy of this book, you'd be amazed at what you can do without someone else telling you what to do in the kitchen.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:26 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The absolute best part is the BBC made a semi fictional cookery show that has him (played by Christopher Rozycki) show you a ten minute meal in his apartment while he waits for his lady friend to arrive

These are seriously charming.
posted by kenko at 7:31 PM on December 3, 2015


Somehow cooking is the one adulting skill that I'm actually reasonably competent at. (I just spent an hour agonizing over how to get a jump start) These days I'm mostly making single-person meals for a depressed person, which sometimes seems like it must have much in common with cooking for a toddler. This thread got me thinking about what that competency actually consists of and how I've pared work down to the minimum in order not to spend every dime I have on GrubHub:

I buy almost no perishable ingredients. Almost entirely frozen or canned vegetables, Very little meat; it freezer burns. Yes, this means I'm paying like 500% more for the frozen cut onions than just buying a whole onion, and for some purposes the cut is inferior to what I'd do myself, but there's no risk of spoilage, clean up goes way down, and compared to eating out the markup is minimal. This also makes planning for shopping pretty minimal since I have sufficient storage space that if I'm temporarily overstocked on something it's NBD, so I can pretty much just buy the same set of ingredients every shopping trip.

All of my dishes are composed of a pretty small set of ingredients arranged in a not much larger variety of ways. 40% is pasta with something on it, 40% is rice with something on it, 50% is something made in a single frying pan on something. (Obviously not mutually exclusive categories.) This means I can, for example, start the onions and garlic sauteeing while I figure out what the main ingredient is going to be. And I have a tendency towards things that don't need a lot of monitoring, like aforementioned pasta, or a big pot of beans to last for two weeks. Or, when I'll risk buying a bag, baked potatoes.

I don't follow recipes and I don't measure. I can get away with this because I have enough experience to be able to adjust for flavor combinations on the fly. Again, having a limited set of ingredients helps with this. Either that or I'm doing something like using a paste in a fat of some kind (green curry). This is why I'm not a very good baker.

So a lot of it, seemingly, is knowing which shortcuts are acceptable to still get the desired outcomes, and figuring that out requires room for trial and error.
posted by PMdixon at 7:58 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


OK, I'm going to do the embarrassing thing and admit I'm the person who has been believing the hype of the glossy "easy" recipes. This whole time I've been assuming that I take longer and don't have the right ingredients and produce a bunch of dishes because I am fundamentally bad at this, and if I just had my shit together things would be as easy as the recipe promises. I've always felt really bad about this and reading that I'm not the only person who doesn't find these recipes easy is kind of revelatory.

You can get persian cucumbers nearly everywhere these days around here. . . . I'm hard-pressed to think of a major world cuisine whose ingredients can't be obtained at my local safeway

I live in Philadelphia and used to live in Baltimore. They're not NYC or Chicago but not North Dakota either. I didn't know there was such a thing as a Persian cucumber, and I have definitely not seen one in my nearest grocery store. I admittedly don't live in a tony part of the city though.
posted by schroedinger at 7:59 PM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Pre-made spice/seasoning packets and pastes are a great way to make cooking easier. Chop up your meat and veg, cook them and then mix in the seasonings. Even if it doesn't end up being "authentic" it'll still be pretty good. But a cooking show/recipe that said chop vegetables and add packet of this seasoning probably wouldn't do all that well.

One thing I disliked about cooking shows (when they were about cooking) was that so many of them focused on using the best ingredients and showcasing what makes them great when for most of us it is more a matter of trying to make crap ingredients taste good. Like there was a Food 911 where the solution to giving kids a tuna sandwich with canned tuna was to make your own tuna burgers from fresh tuna and to double fry some french fries as a side.

I often wonder what it would be like to live in a culture where it wasn't expected that everyone has a full kitchen in their house and makes their own food. Does eating become more expensive or does it stay about the same? If everyone is always eating out is that a net gain in economic activity (people eating at restaurants more) or a loss (equipment manufacturers and grocers having less business)? Does less food get wasted because it doesn't go bad in people's kitchens? In a small house or apartment a kitchen can take up a big chunk of the space, factor in the cost of appliances as well as the need for additional plumbing, electric and gas lines I'm sure it is a significant factor in the cost of housing and a significant factor in household accidents/fatalities. Could you have housing without a kitchen and not have it be seen as something lesser?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:05 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


While it is fun to once in a while make chicken stock from scratch, it takes an entirely different set of skills to throw dinner together in a hurry on a crappy weekday night, and it is easy for the two to become confused in comments. (Purely at a voyeuristic level, however, I enjoy these discussions for the window it provides into other people's eating habits, especially when the food combinations are particularly odd.)

I'll admit, too, that I may be a bit defensive about this mainly because I've been seeing more and more ads lately trying to over-sell how "hard" cooking is as a tool to sell really crappy food, and that bugs the snot out of me.

This, I agree with 100 percent. There are a lot of people (including cooking celebrities and food companies) that have a lot to gain from making easy cooking seem hard, while also setting unrealistic expectations.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:06 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


my God people are sea lioning the fuck out of chicken stock


it's that one of them was a little bit open (i.e., already dead) when you started out

Oh fuck me kenko, are mussels in the store alive? Like is this a horrible situation where that one time I cooked mussels I was boiling them alive? Like a lobster? I thought an open mussel meant "starting to rot". I didn't know it meant it was dead and all the other ones were alive.
posted by schroedinger at 8:24 PM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, fresh mussels are alive and the open ones (mostly, see below) are dead. I suppose the relevant thing about the open mussels from a "don't eat this" perspective is that they've started to rot (since obviously it's ok to eat a dead mussel, since they don't survive the cooking process), but mussels like other shellfish and seafood generally rot very quickly, so generally if it's already dead when you take it home you don't want to eat it.

Some of the mussels you buy might already be open and alive; if, when you rinse them, they close themselves, they're ok. (Or anyway that's the rule I've used and I have never given myself any mussel-related trouble—I am not your doctor, or your food scientist, and this is not medical or food-scientific advice, obvs.)
posted by kenko at 8:32 PM on December 3, 2015


Er, run them under water and tap them, I think, also. It's been a while since I prepared mussels. :/
posted by kenko at 8:39 PM on December 3, 2015


Re: ordering delivery or coming at home reminds me of a British show called Take on takeaway.
posted by JiffyQ at 9:07 PM on December 3, 2015


No man, I am never ordering mussels again. I can keep up a veil of cognitive dissonance that enables me to eat already-dead meats but now that I know I'm boiling mussels alive I just can't do it. :(
posted by schroedinger at 9:23 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm hard-pressed to think of a major world cuisine whose ingredients can't be obtained at my local safeway

Weird claim. There's plenty of Chinese things that are tough to get at any Safeway I've been to (e.g. tofu skins, thousand year eggs, even long beans). There's a reason I have to go to ranch 99 and places in Chinatown.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:26 PM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pomiane is solid, IME. Also good in a different tradition, Whitehorn's Cooking in a Bedsitter. Ha, I hope someone is writing the Apodment Cookbook.
posted by clew at 10:14 PM on December 3, 2015


Folks, cooking should be relatively easy without a ton of ingredients. Of course, you can execute a complex recipe if you want but for beginners or those with little time, master these 4 dishes to be made in a large volume and frozen in smaller quantities as they can be eaten "as is" or other ingredients(meats) added for a completely new meal:
homemade chili
homemade chicken soup
homemade curry sauce
homemade tomato soup

And consider learning a dozen easy ways to serve eggs. Respect the egg.
posted by Muncle at 10:18 PM on December 3, 2015


I used to make all sorts of elaborate meals for my family when I had a six hour work day and a 10 minute commute. But I work a full day now and have a longer commute so my meals are much simplier (meat plus veggies). But I do have lots of practice and enjoy cooking so it's all fairly easy. But there are days when I eat cheese, salami and baby carrots for dinner.
posted by vespabelle at 10:38 PM on December 3, 2015


Yeah, I mean, if we're framing things by "weirdly picky food credentials" I make my own whipped cream and I bake from scratch, but over Thanksgiving a kindly family member had to take pity on me and teach me how to make mashed potatoes because guess what, I have zero reasons to ever make mashed potatoes. I haven't peeled a potato since Girl Scouts, because roasted potato wedges are a gift unto us all. If you had asked me to make mashed potatoes two weeks ago, I would have given you something resembling chalkboard dust mixed with bear tears. Also, I don't have any potatoes.

I do have two kinds of za'atar, like eight different mustards, and a pound of amchar powder, but as it turns out, 80% of my meals at home are cheese hunks and an apple or cheese melted in a tortilla. I can't remember the last time I got home before 7 and it's usually after 8-- something's got to give and if eating avocados for most meals is wrong, I'll never be right. I don't even have to keep anything else alive besides an air plant. I just like saving up all my cooking energy for times when making fritters with pomegranate drizzle and three kinds of salad sounds like fun. I once made French Onion soup with friends, where the recipe called for "caramelized" onions in an "easy" "thirty" minutes, which was eighteen kinds of lies. So we ate dinner two, three hours late, after the onions finally caved, and it was glorious, but you know what? Cheese plates never betray me. You know where you are with a cheese plate. Gold stars to everyone who has a meal system that works for them!
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I do want to make it clear that mashed potatoes are wonderful, they're just, like chicken stock, something unusual and foreign to what I eat at home.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:03 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't generally feel like making stuff that has more than like, five ingredients and takes all that long to prepare. So sue me, I'm permanently single and thus I don't HAVE to like to cook. I pretty much want to eat and get out if it's my own home cookin', which is never going to taste as good as "someone who actually enjoys this made it and not me" anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:28 PM on December 3, 2015


Pomegranate molasses is fuckin' awesome by the way and goes with lots of stuff, almost like ketchup. Wish I had some right now.
posted by grobstein at 12:44 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


See, I didn't even know that open mussels were bad. (It took me about five minutes to puzzle out what "open" meant, to realise you were talking about the shell rather than some feature of the little thingy inside). I didn't even know that cooking mussels was in any way more hazardous than cooking, I dunno, salmon. Had I tried to follow that "super easy" recipe, it probably would have taken me four hours and I would have sent everyone to the hospital with food poisoning.

Luckily my eyes glazed over within a few lines of the recipe, and my general loathing of cooking further ensured that there is no way on God's green earth I would even try it. My family is safe to live anther day!

But this is how novice cookers get in trouble trying to follow recipes. True experts genuinely don't know what they know, so they just don't mention all sorts of key details.
posted by forza at 1:12 AM on December 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


> Also, yeah, don't tell people pie crust is easy or you will get eyes rolling at you. Ask me how I know. Intellectually I know it's not actually easy. But I'll be damned if I could tease out what I do differently and tell anyone.

I feel you on this. I make pie (and pie crust) only 1 or 2 times a year, and use whatever recipe I can grab off the net or from a cookbook lying around - this year I used this NYTimes pie crust recipe, although substituting lard for part of the butter. And it's fast and easy, the most time-consuming part being washing the food processor bowl and lid. And the crust was rich and flaky. So it's hard to tease out the success factors, when all I did was follow some recipe.

I am a pretty decent cook, but I hate the messy kitchen resulting from cooking - all the dirty bowls, spoons, grease spatters if I've been frying (like when I made karaage this weekend), the grease and leftovers after straining homemade chicken stock, etc. And I hate eating the same thing for a week, and I've hated most crockpot recipes I've tried. And then I find myself eating cheese toast over the sink or tamago kake gohan if there's rice in the rice cooker (the instructions on Wikipedia are too elaborate - I just crack the raw egg over the rice in the bowl, then add a couple of drops of soy sauce, and stir with chopsticks).

What I really want is a cookbook with recipes using frozen, not fresh, vegetables, with cooking steps and times adjusted accordingly, and also guidance on when one should absolutely use fresh, not frozen, and when it doesn't matter.
posted by needled at 3:51 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm hard-pressed to think of a major world cuisine whose ingredients can't be obtained at my local safeway.

I live in New York City and there are still plenty of ingredients to various cuisines I can't get at my local supermarket. I go through an Asian foods phase every winter, and I usually have to make a pilgrimage to a megamart in Sunset Park to get some of the stuff I need.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:38 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it's hard to tease out the success factors, when all I did was follow some recipe.

The thing is, pie crust is insanely simple. The only fiddly bit is "do I have the right amount of water," really. Which, again, takes a little practice. But, like you, I make pie crust only twice a year (Thanksgiving and Derby Day), and it usually turns out great, so maybe not so much practice.

(Also the Serious Eats crust recipe was the winner this year; it looked really, really dry going into its rest, but turned out to be a real joy to work with; also I did substitute about a third of the butter for lard.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:11 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nor is the observation that "it actually isn't that hard" a judgement on those who don't want to or sincerely can't. That's all.

The thing is, in a world that's constantly trying to sell effortless, stylish domesticity (especially, but not exclusively to women) as the sine qua non of authentic, proper living, then it absolutely 100% comes across as judgment, whether you mean it or not. I like to cook and threads like this feel judgmental to me for all the times I don't have the energy or can't be bothered. The incessant chorus of "it's actually not that hard!" to people explaining how they can't or don't want to do something that they're under no practical or moral obligation to do feels like it must come from a place of judgment, otherwise why talk about it? I make my own chicken stock sometimes, you know what else I do? I don't fucking talk about it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:38 AM on December 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


where the recipe called for "caramelized" onions in an "easy" "thirty" minutes, which was eighteen kinds of lies.

OMG this is one of the absolute worst cons in the whole cookbook/recipe enterprise. From Slate:

Layers of Deceit: Why do recipe writers lie and lie and lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions?
posted by andrewesque at 6:46 AM on December 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


but there is zero chance I will ever, ever make and freeze chicken stock.

Especially in this era when you can get organic free-range chicken broth at the Aldi for iirc $1.40 for 32 oz.
posted by aught at 6:58 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


But you don't have to roast the chicken, and in fact stock from a thoroughly roasted carcass is not as good as stock from a not-thoroughly-roasted bones.

The stock my partner made from our thanksgiving turkey carcass was disappointing, we realized in hindsight, because we took such care cooking then resting the turkey before carving it that it re-absorbed most of the goodness. The turkey was very good, however. (And the anemic broth will still be okay for non-soup uses where it's not the main taste.)
posted by aught at 7:02 AM on December 4, 2015


I often wonder what it would be like to live in a culture where it wasn't expected that everyone has a full kitchen in their house and makes their own food. Does eating become more expensive or does it stay about the same? If everyone is always eating out is that a net gain in economic activity (people eating at restaurants more) or a loss (equipment manufacturers and grocers having less business)? Does less food get wasted because it doesn't go bad in people's kitchens? In a small house or apartment a kitchen can take up a big chunk of the space, factor in the cost of appliances as well as the need for additional plumbing, electric and gas lines I'm sure it is a significant factor in the cost of housing and a significant factor in household accidents/fatalities. Could you have housing without a kitchen and not have it be seen as something lesser?

Based on my brief experience living in Thailand, I think this is very common among younger people in urban areas there. When I was there, most of the people I knew didn't have a kitchen - maybe just a rice-maker and a hotplate. Granted, this was all young people, but it struck me as a big difference compared to the US, where even the vast majority of tiny studios have a small but fully-outfitted kitchen (stove, range, sink, fridge).

Unsurprisingly, it is easy to eat quite well in a city or large town in Thailand on just a few dollars a day - there are cheap but good food stalls everywhere you go, with lots of healthy options.
posted by lunasol at 7:18 AM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I live in New York City and there are still plenty of ingredients to various cuisines I can't get at my local supermarket.

I don't mean you can get every possible ingredient at Safeway, just that these days you can get ingredients for Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, etc pretty reliably everywhere. Which isn't that hard I guess, but reliably having fresh lemongrass available 365 days a year did not happen a couple decades ago.

Indeed there is a big gap between a jar of black bean sauce and more obscure ingredients that you get at Ranch 99 but you could still make a lot of passable Asian meals from Safeway alone.
posted by GuyZero at 7:23 AM on December 4, 2015


I think (and I will admit that I think this because I'm a little bit of a Marxist) that the underlying theme here is that there's an enormous socioeconomic class component to what makes cooking "easy". I think it's alluded to in Elizabeth Dunn's article, because it made me think about how I often will cook something and think, "oh, that was surprisingly easy", ignoring that I have:

1) a mother who could afford to be a SAHM and spend time teaching her children how to cook
2) lots of kitchen equipment and appliances and enough space in my home to store non-perishables
3) time to cook, thanks to a stable 9-5 job and no childcare/caretaker responsibilities
4) money to afford whatever ingredients I want, within reason
5) residence in a major city, so it is easy to simply walk to a grocery store and that store will have a large variety of high-quality food items. If for some reason something is too rare to find in DC, my ability to get a bank account and permanent address mean I can order other ingredients on Amazon

I say this not to brag but to make a point. Any "easy" 5 step recipe I follow is only "easy" because I actually followed at least these 5 additional steps before I even started. (And if I didn't limit this to economic privilege I could think up at least 5 more.)

(I definitely do the fake onion caramelization thing though because one thing I do not have is patience.)
posted by capricorn at 7:42 AM on December 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


> you could still make a lot of passable Asian meals from Safeway alone

If you know that you can substitute mayo for fish sauce, or bananas for hoisin sauce, or whatever, I don't even know enough on the topic to come up with a good comparison. Which gets back to a point raised many times above -- if you don't already have the base knowledge, these "simple" recipes are going to be difficult. If the recipe had a paragraph on substitutions it would start to look complicated, and so it doesn't get include.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:43 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't mean you can get every possible ingredient at Safeway, just that these days you can get ingredients for Thai, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, etc pretty reliably everywhere.

Some of them, perhaps. Soy sauce, hoisin, and a pad thai sauce are all things you stand a good shot at getting, but not necessarily ponzu, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, sesame oil, tamarind paste, fish sauce, daikon, napa cabbage, fish dumplings....and if you want the noodles for ramen you need to purchase them in individual packs with an accompanying "flavor pak".

Hell, I have a hard time finding the super-ultra-mega-thin cuts of raw meat you need to make sukiyaki anywhere in that local supermarket. That's the biggest thing I go to Sunset Park for, to get that specific cut of meat for Asian stews and for this thing that I call "meat sushi" to make in bag lunches.

(Actually, y'all, have a super-quick recipe - make up a sauce out of some soy sauce and some chopped ginger and garlic - like maybe a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon each of the garlic and ginger - then cut some carrot sticks and steam them, or steam some green beans or asparagus. Then get some super-paper-thin cuts of meat - like, seriously, literally paper-thin - and slather some of that sauce on each cutlet. Stick a couple carrot sticks or a couple green beans or an asparagus spear at one end and roll it up in the meat, then plunk it in a frying pan and let that cook until the meat's done; it'll probably only take about five minutes. Then you can cut it up into 2-inch pieces that look like sushi rolls or just eat the whole thing like it was a really interesting Popsicle.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:47 AM on December 4, 2015


So in all seriousness, not trying to be snarky, that recipe does not look that quick or easy to me (partially because my husband does the cooking, but still). Here is what I see that is potentially challening:

1) I don't have soy sauce or garlic.
2) Chopping ginger seems tough. I have to peel it, right?
3) I would have to measure that stuff because I can't eyeball teaspoons or tablespoons. Then I have to wash the measuring spoons.
4) Steaming things? In fact we DO have a steamer basket but this is more ingredients and chopping and a steamer basket is not a given for everyone and I'm not actually sure I know how to use it. I have to put it in a really big pot, right? And make the water boil? How do I know when it's done?
5) We don't all have access to thin meat.
6) I have to cook it? AGAIN? I already steamed something! Two different types of heat seems like a lot of work to me. Do I have to let the oil get hot before I fry it? How long does that take? How do I get it out? How do I keep the meat from unrolling and spilling all the stuff into the frying place? How do I know the meat's done? If it's that thin, I can't use a meat thermometer so how do I know I won't get sick?

I don't even have kids! The time it takes to chop multiple things, steam something, roll stuff, and fry it is non-negligible even if you are a skillful cook which, again, I'm not. You need knives, measuring spoons, steaming stuff (?), and a frying pan. You have to know how to peel and chop ginger and garlic, you have to know how to steam stuff, you have to know how to fry things (and I think there are different kinds of frying?). You have to have ginger, garlic, soy sauce, carrot sticks or similar, really thin meat which you have said yourself is hard to get, and probably like oil or something for frying. Parts of this are potentially hard and confusing -- there's extra "rolling" techniques and I don't know how to fry something rolled up.

I understand that to you this is easy. To my husband, who's a good cook, this might be easy. To me this is not easy and it makes me feel like a failure as a woman and a person when I keep seeing recipes that I am told are easy that look intimidating and contain steps I'm not sure I know how to do. That is the cost here: when you tell people stuff they can't do is easy and it doesn't feel easy to them, and then give examples where you say it's easy but it still doesn't seem easy, it makes them feel bad and scared and it's a real actual problem.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:21 AM on December 4, 2015 [22 favorites]


Had I tried to follow that "super easy" recipe, it probably would have taken me four hours and I would have sent everyone to the hospital with food poisoning.

To be fair, good old Jamie Oliver had a little side note thrown into his "super easy" mussels linguine recipe that said:
"As usual with mussels, if any remain closed after cooking, throw them away."

Which is not even as detailed and clear as the info given above by kenko on how to recognise bad mussels from the start - which I ahem also didn't really know, or think of, or remember before I read it here, soooo...

And now that I also have this clearer picture in my mind of mussels being alive, nah, thanks. Luckily I'm not even too keen on the taste of shellfish in general so I'm going to turn that into an advantage and spare myself both the cooking effort and the money and the potential food poisoning. Now THAT is what I call super easy!
posted by bitteschoen at 9:40 AM on December 4, 2015


but not necessarily ponzu, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, sesame oil, tamarind paste, fish sauce, daikon, napa cabbage, fish dumplings...

That's the thing, my safeway carries all those things except for fish dumplings. Again, I live in an area that's both wealthy and has a significant Asian population so I don't expect the average midwestern Kroger is going to have the same selection, but even those are better than they used to be. Heck, my local safeway carries corn husks for tamales although I'd be surprised if anyone bought their tamale ingredients at Safeway and not Mi Pueblo or wherever. But it's not strictly necessary to go to Ranch 99 or Mi Pueblo or India Cash & Carry or Mitsuwa or some speciality "ethnic" grocery store to get specific ingredients.

I get what people are saying that close substitutions are not a simple thing to know, but my point is that you don't have to figure substitutions nearly as much as you used to. You really can just go out and buy napa and sesame oil and long beans if that's what the recipe calls for. This really is a big change over the last few decades.

Although my local store often only has tamarind chutney and not straight paste. So I guess you got me there.
posted by GuyZero at 10:14 AM on December 4, 2015


I think this is a thing that REALLY depends on how diverse and how wealthy your neighborhood is, though; I live in Brooklyn (but not fancy Brooklyn) and the biggest neighborhood supermarket has sesame oil but not napa or long beans. They're better on Mexican food but last time I bought tomatillos I was stuck for ten minutes at the checkout line because nobody else could figure out what they were.

I don't mind the big Asian grocery trip two or three times a year, but if I want fresh lemongrass it's a big trip.
posted by Jeanne at 10:27 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


- The thing is, in a world that's constantly trying to sell effortless, stylish domesticity (especially, but not exclusively to women) as the sine qua non of authentic, proper living, then it absolutely 100% comes across as judgment, whether you mean it or not.

- To me this is not easy and it makes me feel like a failure as a woman and a person when I keep seeing recipes that I am told are easy that look intimidating and contain steps I'm not sure I know how to do.


Oh god yes, that myth of domesticity being pushed on us, that's what bothers me a lot about the "easy cooking" trend the article is talking about. (Not so much the discussion here - I can tell the pro-broth brigade is genuinely passionate about it, it's natural, when you enjoy making something yourself - but it's the cooking blogs and magazines and tv shows etc. that can get annoying about it.)

And you know what, I'm a woman and I'm also Italian, I feel the weight of decades of tradition pushing behind me, but I also can think of a million other more fun things to do in my spare time than kitchen utensils and gas cookers, so screw that. If and when I'm bothered, I'll make a simple cake because I like that, I like playing around like a kid with cake ingredients, watch that gooey stuff become something you can eat, at least the times I don't end up burning it or screwing it up, and oh I like eating homemade cakes (and by the way, I've found the "easy" tag is generally far more accurate in baking recipes you find online, thankfully); or anything simple enough that can go in an oven and you forget about it until it's time to eat it, and meanwhile you can have a nice drink and a chat, and get warm too.

It doesn't happens very often lately though. I'd rather, I don't know, read a new book, watch a new tv series, learn a new language, write a longwinded comment on the internet...

If I had kids, I admit, I'd maybe put in a bit more of an effort - but I'd demand the same from their dad. And I was brought up on very simple dishes myself by a working mother. It's possible to feed children decent food even without actually spending much time cooking. Better still, get them to help in the kitchen too by the time they're old enough to be able to use their hands productively. Kids in the kitchen - an underrated form of legitimate child labour.

Seriously, my deepest respect for foodies and chicken broth fans and amateur chefs – and professional chefs too, you all have a passion, I respect that, but really, keep in mind we all have our different lifestyles and tastes and priorities in life.

I understand by now everything revolving around cooking is a huge industry, but I wish the celebrity chefs especially spent some time thinking about what message they're sending to those who still end up doing the lion's share of the home cooking across the world.

(And dear Jamie, you really should add more of a clear warning about mussels because on top of making a mother feel bad because she didn't cook the linguine al dente enough for modern standards*, you really don't want her to inadvertently send her kids to hospital too.)

*the pasta I grew up with was always well cooked, and very often left over and reheated, it'd make today's chefs recoil in horror
posted by bitteschoen at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also I should note that I never buy napa, long beans or corn husks, but there they are in Safeway, taunting me and making me feel bad for buying veggie hot dogs and baked beans without bacon bits for the tenth time in a month.
posted by GuyZero at 10:35 AM on December 4, 2015


On the pomegranate molasses front: I got some at Cub in MPLS. It was in the "international foods" section, not alongside the other molasses. It might be available at other unlikely chain groceries but similarly located.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on December 4, 2015


That is the cost here: when you tell people stuff they can't do is easy and it doesn't feel easy to them, and then give examples where you say it's easy but it still doesn't seem easy, it makes them feel bad and scared and it's a real actual problem.

to be honest, about 15 mintues after I posted that i realized that "oh, shit, that's only an easy recipe for the people who are comfortable in a kitchen", but it was too late to edit that post; I do regret that.

I can promise you - if this is the kind of thing you want to learn - it is an achievable thing to learn. But I also promise you that if you do not want to learn it, that I will still think you're super-keen all the same. My hobby horse is more about people who sincerely want to learn how to cook getting scared off by marketing telling them it's hard; I have absolutely no argument with people who don't want to bother at all. Hell, golf is probably an easy thing to learn too, but I just plain don't wanna do it and that's just that.

But sincerely, casting dispersion on those who can't or choose not to cook was absolutely not my intent, and I apologize if it sounded that way. I wanted to share with people who were comfortable in a kitchen, and just forgot it was a mixed crowd.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on December 4, 2015


It's not that cooking is impossible or anything like that. The problem is the assumptions a lot of recipes make, and the lies and misestimations of how long things will take.

I'm a fairly competent cook, but I can't dice vegetables with the speed and precision of a professional cook. And yet I probably can do it in a fifth, maybe a tenth, of the time it takes my husband to. If he were to try to follow an easy thirty minute recipe, it could easily stretch out into hours, and that's without outright lies like carmelizing onions. (I am, as the young people say, "hashtag blessed" in that I don't care for carmelized onions, so I didn't know about that one.)

Real easy recipes need to account for varying levels of knowledge and experience and the fact that it often takes longer for new cooks to do things, but I suspect that the type of people who write recipes are also the type of people who have a basic background in cooking that can cause them to sort of skip over essential information that a novice cook might need.

So here is a super-simple recipe for bolognese sauce that I probably just picked up watching my dad, and that I might casually assume everyone could follow:

Brown some hamburger, toss in a clove or so of chopped garlic, salt & pepper, and Italian blend seasoning, then add two large cans of tomato puree and simmer, adjusting seasonings to taste.

I've resisted the temptation to make anything more difficult or to fancy it up, but I've skipped right over how to brown the hamburger, what sort of pot to use, how to chop garlic, how much seasoning to add, how to identify what's missing by taste, and I forgot to mention that you should stir it and what heat to set the stove at. Also, I didn't tell you how to make spaghetti to put it on or how to serve it at all.

My husband would not be able to follow this recipe. He's a really smart guy, and a competent, reasonable adult in most other aspects of life, but he just learned that you're supposed to take the skin off onions. He was raised by a single dad who didn't cook, and mostly grew up eating fast food and Spaghettios. Before he met me when he was 45, I'm pretty sure he subsisted mostly on cheese sandwiches. And then he had a massive heart attack right before he turned 50.

We've been together about twelve years now, and he's expanded his palate and he helps me out in the kitchen, but what follows is a comprehensive list of the foods that he has learned to make without my help: Mashed potatoes.

He is not stupid or lazy or irresponsible or sexist. He just doesn't have many of the very basic cooking skills and food knowledge that a lot of people take for granted. He can get jammed up just on the shopping part, because he often doesn't even know what category of foods some ingredients are.

At least for me, if I see a recipe that claims to take 30 minutes, I can look at it and identify whether it can really be done in that time. He really wouldn't be able to tell at all. He'd be totally snookered and it'd likely just reaffirm for him that cooking is some kind of dark and impenetrable art.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:40 AM on December 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Great comment, ernielundquist. The "peel and chop" portion of any recipe is definitely a "times may vary" area depending on the experience of the cook and a strong indicator of whether or not a recipe is truly "quick and easy" or much longer and more labor intensive than indicated. I'm a decent cook, but unlike my brother-in-law (a professionally trained chef) who can peel and chop an onion in about a minute, when I see that peeling and chopping onions are part of a recipe I know to add about 20 minutes to whatever the supposed "prep time" is estimated at.
posted by The Gooch at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really wonder how much of the "cooking is easy" cultural meme is derived from our habitual devaluation of feminine labour? Cooking is the thing that moms do! Surely if moms do it, anyone can, etc.

Cooking sort of belongs in that category of ongoing unpaid and unsung labour that is required to maintain a household, all of which involve their own skillset. Like, cleaning is not easy! Cleaning a large variety of surface materials quickly and efficiently and cheaply and non-toxically is especially not easy. There's so much "institutional memory" (for lack of a better word) about homemade remedies like baking soda and vinegar that is just taken for granted that would be unfathomable to someone who's never faced a grimy kitchen. Similarly, laundry is kind of really complicated! You have to remember what temperature of water and what cycle to use for what kind of fabric, when to turn clothes inside out, when to line dry so as not to damage elastic linings of your clothes, and so on. But there's sort of this flippant dismissal of laundry and cleaning and cooking as something everyone can of course do as a matter of course, without regard for the learning curve involved in these fairly complex tasks. Whereas those household tasks that are traditionally assigned to the male partner, like fixing the toilet or building a shelf, are much more likely to be acknowledged as Legitimate Skills worth building and lauding.

(There's a bunch of additional context to be here regarding the social punishment we impose on people who don't accept those gendered tasks but I'm not sure I could do it justice. E.g., within traditional social expectations, a messy home reflects much more poorly on the wife than on the husband. And while there's immense baggage about masculinity caught up in the idea of the "handyman" or the husband with his workshop in the shed, someone who does not participate in those skills does not immediately stand out as a deviant.)
posted by Phire at 12:22 PM on December 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


I really wonder how much of the "cooking is easy" cultural meme is derived from our habitual devaluation of feminine labour?

So maybe - I mean, I don't dispute the notion that there's a traditional undervaluing of household tasks traditionally done by women - but I think the issue is more about how cooking is sold rather than about how it's actually perceived. Even if a lot of people would say "oh yeah, cooking is hard," magazines sell it as easy because people want it to be easy and you need to sell a dream, not the dreary reality of labour. Maybe that's the same thing in the end.
posted by GuyZero at 12:28 PM on December 4, 2015


Sure, but magazines and food blogs do not create culture wholesale. There are decisions as to what is salable and how to sell it, feedback mechanisms from consumers as to how to package things. Why cooking, in particular? Why now? I find it difficult to believe that this particular trend has nothing to do with the "women can have it all" hand-waving and the pressure on working moms to be goddamn perfect in every realm now that they're occasionally allowed outside of the house.
posted by Phire at 12:39 PM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


But it's not strictly necessary to go to Ranch 99 or Mi Pueblo or India Cash & Carry or Mitsuwa or some speciality "ethnic" grocery store to get specific ingredients.

But isn't the point that this is really still only true if you live in an area with a pretty significant Chinese, Mexican, Indian, etc. population? Which is not the case for many many people, and even in large cities where there's a significant minority population I still don't think that the availability of "ethnic" ingredients (this is a term I dislike, but that's an aside) is evenly spread at all.

I mean, I could say that the Ralph's where I grew up in southern California carries all sorts of East Asian and Indian pantry staples -- I was pretty surprised when I found gochujang randomly on the shelf -- but that's because my hometown is 62% Asian-American with a neighboring town with a "Little India" neighborhood.

I live in Manhattan now, which has the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere, and outside of the Chinese enclaves (or Queens) I have a lot of difficulty finding long beans, napa cabbage, fresh rice noodles, or fish dumplings, to name some things off the top of my head. I mean I'm willing to trek to Chinatown, Elmhurst and Flushing from East Harlem, but that's because I love to cook, and I know that I'm making way more of an effort than many people would.
posted by andrewesque at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2015


I really wonder how much of the "cooking is easy" cultural meme is derived from our habitual devaluation of feminine labour?

Traditionally cooking is coded feminine, but being a chef is coded masculine. This article is partially about how we've culturally raised the expectations of home cooking to be more comparable to what we think of as chef work. Maybe it's related to more men participating in the domestic sphere and trying to elevate it so what they're doing is not 'cooking'?

The problem with this theory is that a lot of this stuff is clearly, clearly marketed to women.

Either way, it goes beyond just the devaluing of feminine labor. Cooking is unique and not comparable to the same way we treat other domestic labor like laundry.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2015


When I was in Winnipeg I made my own ponzu all the time by combining soy sauce, vinegar and lemon juice. It was never exactly right to my wife but it was good enough for me. It's a pretty easy thing to do if you remember the taste of ponzu. You just keep adding spoons of the ingredients until it tastes right and keep track of how many spoons of each you used so that you can make it quicker next time. The worst case scenario is that you end up with more ponzu than you can use at that time. I'm pretty sure that ponzu was available in at least some of the shops, but not at a price I was willing to pay.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2015


> It's a pretty easy thing to do if you remember the taste of ponzu

That's a good example of "this thing is easy to do if you already know how to do it."
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:03 PM on December 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


Onion chopping tip, follow the example in this clip, chop it in half and take the outer two layers off. Ain't nobody got time to peel an onion.

In my experience, one out of five people cooks for themselves. That's not because the others don't know how to cook*, it's just that they can't be bothered with it.

Fresh onions cook in about a third the length of time it takes for shop bought onions, in my experience. I don't know what they do to onions that come from the grocers, but growing my own onions has been a revelation. I didn't think it was worth doing because they are so cheap, but home grown ones are so much better. Even now, three months after they were pulled from the ground they are super juicy and tasty. My storage technique was to leave them outside so long that weeds grew through the pallets I was storing them on and obscured them from sight. When I remembered to take them inside after a month or two, due to the weather becoming damp, I put them in a plastic bag and put that in the cupboard. I can't work out what it is that professional onion farmers are doing to onions to make them so old, dry and tasteless.

That concludes my onion related observation for today.


* But they do lose their skills if they don't practice them, as is the case with everything.
posted by asok at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've resisted the temptation to make anything more difficult or to fancy it up, but I've skipped right over how to brown the hamburger, what sort of pot to use, how to chop garlic, how much seasoning to add, how to identify what's missing by taste, and I forgot to mention that you should stir it and what heat to set the stove at. Also, I didn't tell you how to make spaghetti to put it on or how to serve it at all.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:40 AM on December 4

Good point! When I first started cooking (at university), this aspect of cooking made me crazy! I would call my mom to ask for directions on how to make home-style chicken curry and she would say things like, "Well first you fry the onions, then you add the spices, then you brown the chicken pieces in it, then you cover it with water and let it cook till it's done".

To my mother this sounded like a completely understandable recipe. She would get confused when I asked things like, how many onions? how long should I cook them for? how many teaspoons of spices? what spices? if I couldn't use fresh ones, could I use powdered spices? How much water? how would I know when the chicken was done? She couldn't understand why I was being so pedantic. My mother is such a comfortable, instinctive cook that such questions wouldn't occur to her. She'd just kind of eyeball everything and figure it out.

Bengali cooks have this irritating concept called "Andaj", roughly translated as "measurement", and they use this to tell you that you need to use your judgement: "measure out the spices". It made me CRAZY. I had so many university cooking disasters, it's a wonder I didn't starve. Many of my friends with parents from the same background have similar complaints.

In the end I learned home-cooking not from my mom but from the Bengali cookbook writer Siddiqa Kabir (can't find any recipes by her in English on the net or I would have linked), whose recipes are really simple home-cooked stuff, nothing fancy or cheffy and very straightforward. I used her instructions to become comfortable with the process of cooking home-style food and am now more like my mom, and able to improvise and eyeball things and use the fabled "andaj" to decide how much of whatever to put into my food. (Still hate cooking though: I have only cooked a proper dish once this year and that was as part of a potluck. Hooray for pasta and jarred sauce. Also, by the way, peanut butter goes really well with ramen noodles.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:21 PM on December 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


I really wonder how much of the "cooking is easy" cultural meme is derived from our habitual devaluation of feminine labour? Cooking is the thing that moms do! Surely if moms do it, anyone can, etc.

Yeah, but can't you blame Betty Friedan for that? Feminine Mystique, p. 61 ---
“In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife...they baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept the new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets of the beds twice a week instead of once, took a rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers who dreamed of having a career."
The implication that these things actually aren't that difficult, that there's a whole lot of make-work bullshit to even pretending that housework and cooking are enough to keep someone busy all day, seems pretty clear to me. Twice a week instead of once, and still time for a rug-hooking class.

Also, I take ernielundquist's point that a lot of "easy" recipes presume a certain amount of cooking knowledge on the part of the home cook. But...is that wrong? I'd call, say, James Patterson "an easy read." And I wouldn't consider a reviewer who described him that way to be misleading. Buy it at the airport, finish it on the plane, right? But nothing is an easy read if you're illiterate. I don't know that it's incumbent upon recipe writers to imagine that their audience is without basic knowledge of cooking techniques, any more than it's incumbent upon a novelist to imagine every book buyer is reading at Dick-Jane-Spot level.
posted by Diablevert at 6:17 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Bengali cooks have this irritating concept called "Andaj", roughly translated as "measurement", and they use this to tell you that you need to use your judgement: "measure out the spices".

My mother-in-law is Turkish, and she has a bunch of handwritten recipes from her mother that are just like this. "Add as much flour as it takes." When I tried to use those as a novice cook, I thought they were crazy. Now, having many years of experience cooking in different places with varying levels of humidity, I know exactly what that means. But there's really nothing for it except experience, trial, and error. (Gummy, soggy, crumbly, inedible error.)
posted by Daily Alice at 7:49 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


My mother-in-law is Turkish, and she has a bunch of handwritten recipes from her mother that are just like this. "Add as much flour as it takes."

My Russian grandmother's recipes are a lot like this, or so I've heard (I haven't ever seen them, only heard of them from my father). It's pretty common when you learned in a basically oral tradition where written recipes, if they existed, were reminders for someone who knew the gist already.
posted by kenko at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2015


You guys buy your mussels at the store instead of getting them at the beach? I mean I guess that's ok if don't really care about food quality or your carbon footprint.
posted by ryanrs at 10:20 PM on December 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


> can't you blame Betty Friedan for that

No. Blaming Betty Friedan for society's depreciation of housework is not a sensible thing to do. Women's work was seen as "less than" before 1963, as well.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


> It's pretty common when you learned in a basically oral tradition where written recipes, if they existed, were reminders for someone who knew the gist already

Most (all?) cookbooks were like this until Fanny Farmer, the “the mother of level measurements," came to save the day.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:08 AM on December 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Again, I live in an area that's both wealthy and has a significant Asian population so I don't expect the average midwestern Kroger is going to have the same selection, but even those are better than they used to be.

I think you are really, really, really underestimating the difference between your grocery store access and stock and those of someone in a poorer or less ethnically diverse neighborhood.
posted by schroedinger at 8:47 PM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think you are really, really, really underestimating the difference between your grocery store access and stock and those of someone in a poorer or less ethnically diverse neighborhood.

Exactly. I live about 45 minutes outside of Minneapolis in a semi-rural area. Only one of the 5 grocery stores within 25 minutes of me carries mock duck or curry paste. None of them have lemon grass, tamarind paste, ponzu, or daikon. I'm not even sure what "long beans" are, even though I'm a fairly good cook. Any remotely-exotic recipe will likely require me to plan ahead and drive 100+ miles for a multi-hour shopping trip. The truly rural areas where you're limited to one store are even more limited.
posted by belladonna at 6:55 AM on December 6, 2015


I'm not even sure what "long beans" are

Oh man, you're missing out because they're a great example of binomial nomenclature humor.

The common English name is "yard long beans," but they aren't actually a yard long. They're about half that.

The scientific name is Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, the subspecies name being Latin for "foot and a half."
posted by ryanrs at 8:32 AM on December 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Cooking is super easy. Cooking well is considerably harder, and cooking well without it being exhausting and time-consuming is even harder than that, but doing things like making big pots of tomato sauce or chicken stock or whatever and freezing them for later helps. For my part, I enjoy the cooking nearly as much as the eating, and being forced to work within the narrow constraints of what is available in the smallish Korean city I live in has made me more inclined to just try stuff out and learn what works. That said, I've been cooking for the creative pleasure of it for 35 years now, and so I guess getting there is something that takes time and effort. Everything worth doing takes time and effort, but you know, if it doesn't make you happy, then there's no point in doing it.

It sucks when something doesn't turn out, but when you keep things simple and never ever look at a recipe (unless you forget how many eggs goes with how much flour to make egg noodles or something), well, it gives me great pleasure at least. The lack of turkey in Korea and all the talk about American thanksgiving on the internet led me to invent some faux-stuffing cupcakes with hand-ground chicken breast and like 4 other ingredients last week, for example, and they were fantastic.

Well, I thought they were fantastic. My wife was less enthused, which just mean tMore For Me. Next time I'll have to adjust the oven temperature a bit to get the browning just right, but that's part of the fun.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:17 PM on December 6, 2015


Oh hey I just read the thread after commenting and see how people are arguing about -- of all things -- making your own chicken stock, which, OK, I guess. Let's just pretend I didn't mention that, maybe.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:35 PM on December 6, 2015


> It's a pretty easy thing to do if you remember the taste of ponzu

That's a good example of "this thing is easy to do if you already know how to do it."


I get what you're saying but that isn't quite right. It isn't that you know how to do it (make ponzu) just by remembering the taste but that you can add spoons of these three ingredients until you get to what you remember ponzu tastes like. Not useful if you've never had the stuff before, but if you have, and remember what it tastes like, then it is pretty simple.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:38 PM on December 7, 2015


Turns out the place I'd heard about Pomiane was (previously) right here.
posted by lucidium at 2:37 AM on December 8, 2015


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