You know, I’m not your typical food blogger. While I would hesitate to claim the mantle of food writer, I spend more time looking around at what is going on in food and cooking, and researching the history, science, and lore of food, as it were. I don’t write about what I cooked for dinner last night. And, while I do cook real food, on any given day, it is possible that I simply popped a frozen pizza into the oven.
While I’m doing all this research, I come across all sorts of cooking tips and myth-busting. What I notice, and what differs greatly from what I do here at Culinary Lore, is any sense of practicality! Who cares if you can find the perfect way of doing something if it adds two hours to what would have taken 15 minutes? Are you really going to put a steak in the oven and cook it slowly instead of pan-searing it or grilling it in a matter of minutes? Probably not. And, by the way, you can’t finish it in a bunch of butter if you put it in the oven. You haven’t lived until you’ve basted a seared steak in brown butter. Now that’s real food.
Food TV is For Entertainment First, Cooking Second
Cooking from scratch meals for your family is still hard work. It has been for hundreds of years. It may not have escaped your notice that very few people watch cooks on Food TV preparing gourmet meals because they plan to duplicate what they see at home. They view it for entertainment. And yet this same unspoken truth, that people don’t actually cook what they watch on TV, is at work on the internet and in cookbooks, including the hundreds that claim “quick and easy meals.” A gourmet meal cooked in 15 minutes? 30 minutes? Does that count all the preparation? Does that count washing the vegetables or even buying them? Does that account for skill, speed, and practice?
Again, we have the unspoken truth: very few people who buy fancy gourmet cookbooks actually cook more than a few recipes before the book goes on a shelf to collect dust with all the other cookbooks.
The same industry that has maligned all the things that could make cooking easy has tried to cash in on a promise of fast and easy cooking. Cooking from scratch without any canned or packaged products. Cooking with the types of ingredients that your grocery store likely doesn’t even stock.
The First Cookbooks for Home Cooks Were Not Written By Chefs, But By Home Cooks
What few people know is that historically, most cookbooks used by home cooks were not written by professional chefs. They were written by home cooks. People who actually understood the difference between cooking at home for a family and cooking in a professional kitchen. Now, cookbooks are an industry in themselves, even if the chefs who write them don’t actually cook that way at home and even though the techniques used in the books are not practical for a home cook in a hurry. And here we come again to the central issue: practicality.
Most ‘Simple’ Gourmet Recipes are Not Really Simple At All
Why do you think Instant Pot cooking and Slow Cooker Recipes are all the rage? People are clamoring for wholesome but convenient ways to cook. So, if you are someone who has found a “simple and easy” recipe online, or in a book, and found yourself on the other end of it saying “this was not simple, this was difficult,” I’m here to tell you: You aren’t alone. Most gourmet recipes claimed to be simple are not all that simple at all, and the author of such is selling a bill of goods to suggest otherwise. It is marketing that motivates the labels.
I’ll admit something. I can cook tasty food quickly, with a minimum of effort. But I’d get laughed at if I tried to pass it off as chef quality, or something you see taught on Worst Cooks in America. The reason I can throw something pretty good, but not great, together in a hurry is not because of great skill as much as it is from a lifetime of experience and messing around in the kitchen, not to mention initially learning to cook as part of a poor Southern family.
Have You Ever Really Cooked a Gourmet Meal in Fifteen Minutes? Be Honest!
The thing I wonder is whether other people involved in the industry notice this pretense to quick and easy or “effortless” gourmet cooking from scratch? It almost seems as if a person purchasing a cookbook making grandiose promises of 15-minute meals filled with recipes that will take at least an hour if you’re lucky should be asking for a refund. Yet, I suspect that most home cooks feel that it is somehow their failing if it takes them the whole 15 minutes just to get the first few vegetables or herbs chopped up. Well, food writer Elizabeth G. Dunn has certainly noticed. She made a fairly provocative statement in her article [*http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/11/the-myth-of-easy-cooking/417384/ The Myth of ‘Easy’ Cooking]. It is a statement I agree with and would stand behind:
Real “easy” cooking, if that’s what you’re after, is far too simple to sustain a magazine and cookbook industry.
Why the Rant, Eric?
But you have every right to ask why I should make a big deal out of it. If ‘real’ cooking takes time, so what? We should take the time, learn to do it, and practice until we can do it quicker.
Well, should we? If you asked me this question, I would ask who made you the arbiter of what people “should do?” There is an unreasonable fear about “fast and convenient” foods. I’ve seen it expressed that if you don’t cook everything from scratch, etc. you risk “poisoning your family.” There is, in fact, a few well-known people making a lot of money from this premise, with dire warnings about food toxins, and the promise of quick and easy ways to feed your family and keep them healthy and toxin free.
You can use fresh wholesome ingredients to make quick easy meals at home. Can you do it in 15 minutes? Not if you count the preparation. This includes washing vegetables, chopping, and any prep that must be done in advance of the actual cooking. It certainly doesn’t include the shopping. Taco night takes me way more time than I would like. And tacos are simple food.
Have you ever really sat down and thought about how much of your time is spent finding, acquiring, and preparing food, if not just buying it? Even in these modern times, we spend a good portion of each day on matters of food. If your desire is to save time, though, while expecting to turn out restaurant-quality gourmet meals, it may be a pipe-dream. If you added all the time that is actually taken to turn out a restaurant dish, it is much longer than the cooking time. You don’t have any kitchen staff preparing your mise-en-place, etc.
You must be the decider when it comes to how much time and effort you want to put into cooking. But don’t let a profit-driven industry shame you into thinking you are harming your family because cooking dinner is only one task in a dozen you have to get through before you can finally settle down and get some ‘me’ time, all before a few hours of sleep and a brand new work day.