Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CREAM, BLANCH, FOLD, DREDGE....The Washington Post reports that we are all now idiots when it comes to cooking actual food:

At a conference last December, Stephen W. Sanger, chairman and chief executive of General Mills Inc., noted the sad state of culinary affairs and described the kind of e-mails and calls the company gets asking for cooking advice: the person who didn't have any eggs for baking and asked if a peach would do instead, for example; and the man who railed about the fire that resulted when he thought he was following instructions to grease the bottom of the pan the outside of the pan.

OK, sure, but anyone who's worked retail or manned a tech support line can offer up an endless supply of anecdotes like this. Like the guy who came into my Radio Shack store once and wanted to know if some electrical device would work if electricity had to flow upward to get to it.

Anyway, the gist of the story is that no one can follow cooking instructions anymore, and they even have a little test to see if you can follow cooking instructions. Unfortunately, the test is no good. I got all five questions right even though I only really knew the answer to one of them, which just goes to show that making up the wrong answers in a multiple choice test is harder than it looks. Test creation is apparently a dying art too.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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Comments

Knowldege and competence are so overrated -- Faith in Jesus, hatred of gays, and worship of blastocysts alone will Save Us during the Rapture!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 19, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of related remedies:

Reprint The Settlement Cookbook! (One with the early edition's instructions for immigrants not used to a modern kitchen or food preparation techniques.)

Like the Gideons, organize a group to go around placing a beginner's cookbook in every kitchen.

Posted by: Dave Alway on March 19, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I love to cook -- I learned from my mother. The Joy of Cooking is my kitchen-basics bible, and any terms it uses that I'm not familiar with offhand, I can just look up in the glossary (as far as the quiz was concerned, I knew all five off the top of my head). Maybe it's just me, but it's hard to imagine anyone unable to handle at least the simpler recipes in that book.

Frankly, my problem with recipes in some cookbooks these days is not so much that they use unfamiliar terms but that they call for ingredients I am not likely to have around the house. That's fine when planning something special for company, but when feeding my two young daughters, I can't spare a half hour to nip out to the store to pick up some shallots or capers (not to mention that they are likely to turn up their noses at anything unfamiliar in the first place).

Sure, anyone whose only experience with cooking is to toss something in the microwave might get lost when taking on the real task, but what else is new? Food Network has both programs for newbies and for gourmets. If anyone's confused, they're just watching the wrong show. (Give me Iron Chef any day -- I'll never make any of the stuff they cook, but it's loads of entertainment.)

Posted by: Gregory on March 19, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm happily surprised at the number of kids (teenagers, but also the 8-12 crowd) who seem to still possess the concept of what to do, how to do it, and the simplicity of just doing something. I think Baby Boomers, and perhaps even Gen xers, are the problem in this country. The little ones...they will fix things, if they don't get brainwashed by their stupid adult companions.

Posted by: Chris on March 19, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cooking's easy: remove package from freezer, put in microwave ...

Posted by: Peter on March 19, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Given that electricity is mainly taught at the grade school level using the analogy to water in a pipe, the question seems reasonable to me.

Having worked tech support for many years, I don't consider ANY question from a first-timer to be unreasonable or stupid. Or the 2nd or 3rd question. It is when essentially the same question is asked the 23rd time, with no effort having been put into understanding between the 1st and 23rd, that I start to dismiss the asker.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 19, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

When I lived in Scotland, I bought a box of lasagna noodles that had a recipe in every European language on the outside. The ones I could translate went like this:

Italian: (1) Make a bechamel sauce. (2) Make a tomato sauce ...

German: (1) Make a bechamel sauce, by melting butter and adding an equal volume of flour, then adding milk... (2) make a tomato sauce, by sauteeing garlic and onion until soft, then adding tomato ...

English: Buy a premade bechamel sauce and a premade tomato sauce ...

Posted by: derPlau on March 19, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Don't you know that the destruction of the family home by liberals is why all the institutional knowledge of cooking has been lost?

Used to be one parent stayed home with the kids and prepared the meals for the wage earner. Now, with liberal silly notions of "self-realization" and "self actualization" no one can bother to commit themselves to home improvement.

It's not difficult to understand.

Posted by: Egbert on March 19, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in a left-liberal household, went to progressive schools and a classically liberal Ivy-league college -- and I've been a demon cook for nearly 50 years. But perhaps being an organic chemist counteracted all that permissiveness...

Posted by: theophylact on March 19, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Multiple-choice tests are easier to write for math classes, where plausible wrong answers are not difficult to cook up. But I never give multiple-choice tests in math because I think they're immoral. No guessing: Show me your work instead, kids.

Posted by: Zeno on March 19, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Meal Prep:

Remember: Get your lungs full of air before shooting a can of Readiwhip into your mouth. That way, if you fill your esophagus, you can cough it clear and continue to live.

Posted by: ferd on March 19, 2006 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Like the guy who came into my Radio Shack store once and wanted to know if some electrical device would work if electricity had to flow upward to get to it.

This is actually an interesting question. If we lived on the surface of a neutron star, it would be a real concern.

And I hope you dealt with him nicely. Radio shack hires far more than their fair share of assholes. I'd be very disappointed to learn you were one such.

Posted by: Boronx on March 19, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Question four on the quiz, like any good SAT question, also has two "right" answers. To lightly coat a chicken in flour, "dusting" -- i.e., sprinkling it over -- the chicken is at least as effective as "dredging." Which probably does translate to the uninitiated as wielding the poor bird or its parts to excavate a ditch into a superfluity of flour, most of which will then just get thrown out. Personally, I put the seasoned flour, including my own secret mix of herbs and spices, into a paper bag, dip the chicken parts in a mixture of milk and beaten egg, drop them into the bag, shake vigorously, remove (a very important step) and fry. Mm!

Posted by: David Ollier Weber on March 19, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

I have an even better one. The president of this nation is an illiterate, and holds degrees from yale and harvard. Bet ya didn't know that.

Posted by: Pechorin on March 19, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

There are lists of surreal questions from the computer tech support departments, too.

When told to "Open Windows [MS]" the caller got out of her chair walked over to the window, opened it, came back and asked what next?

The person who copied a floppy disk on the office photocopier.

These are the least of them

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 19, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe this is because I'm 26, but I'm much less willing to believe that we are any more stupid than we've ever been. We just have many more ways to find out just how stupid we've always been...such are the joys of instant communication and world-wide networking.

It also seems like we're much more dismissive of stupidity than before. Why should we assume that people should know how to cook basic things? The entire food industry is dedicated towards 30 minute recipes and pre-cooked, warm-up everything - and it's been that way my entire life. Not to mention the fast food industry. Who's got time to cook? I've got dates, or at the very least, marathon Halo-sessions to attend to!

I agree with Cranky Observer. There are no stupid questions. Or rather, stupid questions are the ones that get asked over and over when the questioner makes no attempt to understand what's going on.

Finally, if we're so bad at cooking, then why do I eat so well? You want shitty cooking? Go back to your childhood in the 1950s and see the crap your parents forced down your throat - canned salmon, jello salad, fried bologna, etc. I'll take a Marie Calendar pot pie over that crap anyday.

Posted by: Chris on March 19, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

When I went to school at an ivy league I was eternally amused by the self-service waffle irons in the cafeteria. There were students who would faithfully fill up every portion of the waffle iron before closing it, letting a good cup of batter spill out on all sides. They did it all year long, letting the cafeteria staff clean up the batter that was baked on the control dials. I can only imagine that some of these bright young engineers were mulling over concepts for a better waffle iron while they ate their breakfasts -- perhaps one with controls off to the side or attached to the upper plate where they wouldn't get covered in batter.

Of course we had our share of people putting entire boxes of laundry detergent in the washer and quite a few folks screaming "I don't know how to stop" as they bicycled through campus in the fall.

My latest toaster has a manual that was written with the assistance of tech support. My favorite instruction is that you do not need to (and should not) operate the toaster inside your oven.

Posted by: B on March 19, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Having done decently well in organic chemistry lab classes, not to mention microbiology and plant anatomy, I supposed I'd be able to make sense of cookbooks. No such luck. Then again, a local Italian deli closed a while back and the good canned tomatoes were 50% off, so there's some urgency about utilizing this one-time bounty.

Posted by: Dave on March 19, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Like the guy who came into my Radio Shack store once and wanted to know if some electrical device would work if electricity had to flow upward to get to it.

I used to be captain of a boat taking tourists out to look at glaciers in Alaska. One asked me "Will the magnetism in your compass ruin my film?"

Posted by: anandine on March 19, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Aptitude in organic chemistry lab class is probably not a good indicator. However, if you can reproduce a 5 or 6 step synthesis in JACS, you probably have what it takes to eventually bake a good cheesecake.

A well written cookbook aimed at novices would go a long way. You really need to explain the common mistakes and how to identify them in the product.

Posted by: B on March 19, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

'we are all now idiots when it comes to cooking food'.

No. But life is different than a generation ago, and there are other competitors for time. It might be true that we simply no longer devote time to planning and executing a full range of weekly menus. [Paraphrasing Chris above, that is what Marie Callendar, Lean Cuisine, or Papa Murphy Pizza is for]. But I am willing to bet that everyone blogging here today has a short list of favorite dishes that they make very well, and get rave reviews when served to others. It's not that we are idiots, but in today's world ya gotta choose your battles carefully. We seem to be more selective about why we are in the kitchen.

Posted by: jcricket on March 19, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I propose that one of the unexpected consequences of the feminist movement has been the rejection of the basic social survival skill of cooking.

To wit:

First, I know how to cook. I was quite struck therefore when I realized that the young professional women with whom I worked considered the ability to cook as declasse. For them, it was "high status" to be unable to cook. They would say things like, "Oh, I don't even know where the oven is!" or "We eat out every night." Housewives cook. Smart professional women aren't housewives. They don't cook.

Second, I know how to cook but I often don't. That is partly because when this smart professional woman gets home at 6:30 or 7:00 after working all day, I want to eat. I don't want to take an hour preparing something to eat.

Also, once upon a time, the kitchen was the domain of the housewife. Family members ate what the housewife cooked and didn't get to complain. In my egalitarian household, however, I have given up my authority over the kitchen. The people I live with get to express preferences, and it happens that what I like to cook is not what they like to eat. One will eat no meat and the other will eat no lean. It is much easier letting them cook for themselves than getting into endless fights over what to eat for supper tonight. Which means that very little sauteing, dredging, dicing, julianning, and braising occurs in my kitchen.

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 19, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I helped a guy who'd ran out of gas on the freeway once. I told him to put a little gas into the top of the carburetor, and pointed to it. He was about to pour it directly onto the air filter cover before I had to suggest that he take that off first.

People nowadays!

BoreAmerica

Posted by: TLB on March 19, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You mean you didn't actually know the answers to four of those five questions? God. What's the world coming to?

Any skill has to have some specialized vocabulary, because without one you are stuck using an awful lot of words in place of one. A decent general-use cookbook therefore ought to contain a glossary at the back, a discussion of basic techniques at the front, or both, and most do. Old ones as well as new ones. I think my Mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook defined "braise" just as every cookbook I've ever bought that contained braises did. But they didn't hesitate to use the word once they'd defined it.

It shouldn't be necessary to skirt around terms like "simmer," "dredge," "cream," saut," and the like in the text of a recipe. If you don't know what it means, for God's sake, look it up.

FWIW, I grew up with basically zero cooking skills, and acquired those I do have in the last decade or so, by reading stuff, and experimenting in the kitchen. It is not impossible to learn enough not to make a complete idiot of oneself in the kitchen. And the specialized vocabulary is very clear and very useful and incidentally very small. Anyone who can't face having to learn that shouldn't be trusted with making coffee ;-)

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Most recipes in cookbooks suck if you more left-brained than right.

Usually something like:
1. braise the bargsnot
2. reduce the xpargot
3. before you do step 1, dust the birdsnout with the reduction remains of step 2, being sure to not let the braise temperature rise above "soft".

The solution:

Pizza Recipe for Engineers

The best part of it is near the bottom of the page, where they show the recipe in graphical form with both parallel and serial steps clearly deliniated.

Posted by: xmd on March 19, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Chriss. The food in the fifties brown hot and plenty of it. Many people do'nt care what they eat. So they eat what's easy. A little off track but I found this intresting. I do all my parents shopping. It is not embarrassing for me to buy depends, but it is embarrassing for me to buy frozen dinners. Strange.

Posted by: cheflovesbeer on March 19, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Do they still sell the already made and mixed pancake batter at Safeway? I'm hungry.

Posted by: Realtor Danny on March 19, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Different kinds of expertise come and go. I know in general terms how to format and partition a hard drive, optimize HTML code, create interactivity in a .swf with Actionscript, do general image editing, or build and render a 3D model. My grandparents had none of these skills. Am I supposed to feel guilty because I can't do from-scratch cooking the way my grandmother could? It apparently hasn't been necessary for me to know how to do that in my life.

Should my grandmother have felt guilty that she couldn't read classical authors in the original greek? Should the ancient greeks have felt guilty because they couldn't create stone arrowheads and axes by striking rocks together?

This sort of cooking has been on the wane due to the rise of convenience foods, and is passing into the hands of expert enthusiasts instead of the mass public. It's silly to moan and groan about it.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 19, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Heh, years ago I managed a camera store in Atlanta and this lady bought one of the little Minolta 110 underwater cameras. She had only had it for a few days when she brought it in for repair. Seems she had tried to reload the cassette underwater and couldn't understand why she couldn't do this since it was an underwater camera. Minolta refunded her money!

People never cease to amaze me!

Posted by: Fred on March 19, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

American cooking is too complicated.

Learn to cook East Indian food (not the kind you get in East Indian Restaurants). You just need to learn four or five basic methods of cooking, and with that knowledge you can cook anything from scratch.

Posted by: lib on March 19, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect a conspiracy anmong the food processors of America to make cooking uncool. I'm amazed at the number of 20 something women I meet that are somewhat proud of the fact that they can't cook.

Meanwhile, my supermarket mostly stocks item that can be eaten from the package after maybe heating first.

Heat & eat mashed potatoes cost about 10 times that of raw potatoes (that is if you buy the potatoes by the sack, not individually in microwave wrappings).

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on March 19, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

The invention of the telephone was bemoaned because people lost their ability to write.

Email has been similarly castigated for its destructive influence on phone skills.

Twain loved to criticize those who could only spell a word one way.

If you can't deal with elliptic integrals, and you don't understand LIE algebra, they you must be innumerate.

Any other clear and perfect dividing lines between the uneducated and the elite?

Posted by: m on March 19, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

jimBOB,

This sort of cooking has been on the wane due to the rise of convenience foods, and is passing into the hands of expert enthusiasts instead of the mass public. It's silly to moan and groan about it.

That's right. "Simmer" is now a "term of art," suitable to "expert enthusiasts" but opaque to the general public.

Well, can we still write cookbooks for people who want to learn how to, you know, cook stuff? No one's keeping you from your "convenience foods," but presumably if that is what you eat, you won't mind a cookbook that includes the word "saut," because you wouldn't buy a cookbook anyway.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, glad to be gay... and to have taken Home Economics in Jr. High. As old-fashioned as it sounds, teach a man to cook the fish, and you feed a man for life.

Now if I could just work up the energy to make Duck confit and TurDucken the way I keep talking about doing...

Posted by: weboy on March 19, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

m,

Are we really back to George Will's old line about the demise of the buggy-whip industry when the Model-T was introduced? Please tell me that we aren't to the point of talking like that about agriculture and cooking.

Do you really think it's a grand idea that people be encouraged to think of "food" as something other people serve up to them? And what the hell is "elite" about cooking dinner? I rather think most of the "elite" don't cook for themselves.

Never mind the pathetic math joke. I think what is necessary to pass the standard exam in CA is 8th-grade math, which probably doesn't involve quadratic equations (it didn't in my 8th grade in NY), let alone calculus.

Re spelling, I hadn't seen that in Twain, but I remember it from Peter DeVries' Slouching Towards Gomorrah: something like "The girl sometimes spelled a word two different ways in the same paragraph, thereby displaying spontaneity."

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Automotive spin; Mix anti-freeze with equal amount of water because without it neither cools well or protects against freezing as stated on the label. Mixing has been required since it was invented back in 1915 or so, until just very recently. Odd thing is, the new pre-mixed coolant costs the same or more than the condenced version. I know of two repair shops locally that don't know to mix in water.

Eating and driving a car for most people is done several times a day, a bit of know how can go a long way. Myself, I never hire anything out that I need done. I want to fill my own teeth but haven't done so yet. Still have an upscale doctor i.e. dentist do that. But everything else is common sense. If you keep aquiring new knowlege, by the time your middle aged you should be near genius.

Sadly, this isn't the case today. Most only learn in the narrow experience of employment. "Do you need cream for your coffee, sir?"

Posted by: artemus on March 19, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

The other day I was in a grocery store and discovered a package of hard boiled eggs. Is this common? I've never seen it before.

Some young Republican genius suddenly slapped his head and shouted, "I've got it! Let's boil the eggs before we sell them!"

Posted by: cld on March 19, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's what happens when you drink to much Kool Aid...

Posted by: Ben Merc on March 19, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Waterfowl

No, not too many convenience foods here (except for the kids sometimes). OTOH cooking's not a big focus. Not many souffles or fondues either. We're more stir fry.

As to writing cookbooks with advanced terminology, go ahead, knock yourself out. Just don't imagine I'll feel guilty if I don't understand it.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 19, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

The person who wanted to substitute the peach for an egg and the other person who greased the "bottom" of the pot with fiery results undoubtedly are Republicans.

Republicans don't do science, which is what cooking, in part, is all about--chemistry and the like.

The New Yorker has a fascinating article in last week's issue on how the Bush Administration is harming science and the pursuit of science, with results that may affect a generation or more of potential scientists--not to mention plain ordinary people and even Republicans.

(An aside but covered in the article: Apparently they think if they can eliminate contraceptives and sex education people won't have sex outside marriage.)

Posted by: e on March 19, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

"(An aside but covered in the article: Apparently they think if they can eliminate contraceptives and sex education people won't have sex outside marriage.)"


They don't really think that, they just want to ensure that those who do have sex outside marriage run the risk of being as hurt and injured as possible and thereby subject to social ostracism, blackmail, so in need of money they'll be willing to risk doing anything at all for it.

Posted by: cld on March 19, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

jimBOB,

No, not too many convenience foods here (except for the kids sometimes). OTOH cooking's not a big focus. Not many souffles or fondues either. We're more stir fry.

Um, me too. Never tried a souffl in my life and don't particularly want to. Fondue was something my parents were into; don't want that either. All I remember from that experiment was a lot of gooey chocolate-covered strawberries that I really could have done without.

As to writing cookbooks with advanced terminology, go ahead, knock yourself out. Just don't imagine I'll feel guilty if I don't understand it.

What's so goddamned "advanced" about "simmer"? I don't "imagine" that you ought to "feel guilty" about what you do or do not understand in any book. I just find it amazing that such common words are being cut from cookbooks because people don't any longer have a clue what they mean.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

e,

The person who wanted to substitute the peach for an egg and the other person who greased the "bottom" of the pot with fiery results undoubtedly are Republicans.

Sigh. Obviously every clueless person is a Republican. Law of nature, right?

You understand, Bob, why I get occasionally tired of this place?

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

waterfowl:

Well, I *do* have a problem imagining how highly cultured musicians who are into extremely complex and far-out orchestral music composed in the 60s (mostly by closet Commies) could *possibly* be Republican -- but maybe that's just me :)

*tweak*

I mean ... you *have* read Theodor Adorno in The Philosophy of Modern Music calling Igor Stravinsky every dirty Freudian name in the book, right?

Because Igor wrote bourgeois pastiche, while Arnold Schoenberg was submitting to the tectonic processes of historical dialectics :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 19, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

waterfowl:

I'm obviously just affectionately teasing you :)

I think Adorno went off the deep end against Stravinsky (a much more memorable composer than anybody from the Second Viennese School, for my money), and his Marxist dialectical approach to music history turned out to have, uhh, fudged the dates.

Art of course has always communicated social ideas -- but great art and hardcore ideology have rarely mixed successfully.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 19, 2006 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Go back to your childhood in the 1950s and see the crap your parents forced down your throat - canned salmon, jello salad, fried bologna, etc. I'll take a Marie Calendar pot pie over that crap anyday.
Posted by: Chris

Wow. Not in my household. Never.

Maybe an occasional aspic...

My great-aunts would have been appalled at the very idea. It would have been an enormous scandal. Fueled family gossip about child abuse.

My step-dad, also Chris, did all the shopping and cooking. He once persuaded a pilot at Chenault (SAC base) to bring live lobsters back from NY. Quite an exotic item in SW LA, I promise. It must have raised a few eyebrows on the flight line.

:-0

And my Grandfather was one the best cooks on the planet. I was quite amazed to discover that most people didn't dine on squab, pheasant, bar-b-qued crab, duck gumbo ect on a daily basis.

Posted by: CFShep on March 19, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Um, Bob, I really am not particularly interested in Adorno. Nor would the rest of the readership here be, if they knew what he thought of, say, jazz.

And I don't know how many times I have to say it, but I'm a registered Democrat. There are times I wish I weren't, but there it is.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 19, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

waterfowl:

Well, like I said, I was only lightly teasing -- riffing on the fact that a great many academic composers (at least pre-minimalism) tended to be notorious lefties.

Or if they knew what Adorno thought of ... sunbathing, for that matter :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 19, 2006 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Another thought.

Having just finished cooking and eating dinner (broiled salmon, new potatoes with garlic and dill, and fresh green beans), it occurred to me that the real skill of cooking -- much moreso than knowing what the hell blanching is -- is timing. Where I've improved most with practice is being both more efficient in preparing food and timing everything to be ready at the same time. (I like to think making good tasting food is a given, but given that my daughters are at that finicky age, they might vote against me there...)

Posted by: Gregory on March 19, 2006 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

I believe instructions to "simmer" are on every box of Kraft Mac and Cheese. Hard to believe they can't put it into a cookbook.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 19, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

egbert (who really doesn't post often enough -- not that I mind -- to get recognition as the intellectually dishonest troll he is): Used to be one parent stayed home with the kids and prepared the meals for the wage earner. Now, with liberal silly notions of "self-realization" and "self actualization" no one can bother to commit themselves to home improvement.

Actually, I'd say it's more that in the Republican-style corporate economy of the supply-siders' dreams, for most Americans, both parents must work in order to have enjoy anything resembling prosperity, to keep out of abject poverty, or sometimes not even that.

Posted by: Gregory on March 19, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

BOB'S SARCOPHAGIC BBQ TREATS

Ingredients:

2 moderate-sized Republicans, pre-shaven
12 quarts of Miracle Whip
2 large apples
A case of Velveeta
5 lbs of flour, freshly ground

Take pre-shaven Republicans and liposuction out all available body fat. Place fat in large baking bowl
Empty flour sacks into bathtub. Place dessicated Republicans into flour. Roll gently, pouring fat evenly across body surface until the flour sticks. Get your children to help.

Take Velveeta blocks and place them in your yard. Run over them with your lawnmower. Place Velveeta and grass clippings onto four large baking pans, taking time to smooth them out evenly. Bake each tray of Velveeta lightly in oven until cheese turns the color of a sebaceous (smegma) secretion.

Dig hole in your back yard with backhoe. Fill with 12 quarts of Miracle Whip. Take third car that doesn't start anymore and smash gasoline tank with hatchets. Stand 5 feet away, toss match and jump back immediately. Cut down telephone pole in your front yard, remove cables and save them. Take Republicans and tie them across pole with cables. Place large apple in each Republican's mouth. Enlist your family to carry pole with Republicans to burning car and hoist it over the hood. Cooking should take 20 minutes, until flesh starts to release acrid smoke.

Remove blackened Republicans from poles. For the sake of the neighbors, be careful to avoid the temptation to sing Al Jolson songs too loudly. Section Republicans with chainsaw, laying slices across the Velveeta bed. Carry to your back yard, say Grace, and dip sectioned Republican in Miracle whip. Throw bones into this pit.

Start backhoe and run soil back into pit and over the evidence when meal is finished.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 19, 2006 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Earth to Stephen W. Sanger: >50% of Americans are idiots, period. End of transmission.

Posted by: ogmb on March 19, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Over the last 40+ yrs I have spent the majority of my time making my living as a cook(I am now a very successful chef), though I took time off to get an advanced degree in another field. It saddens me to say that most people who call themselves chefs don't know all that much about cooking either. This lack of skill is both good and bad for me. It means that I have always been in great demand. On the other hand, it means when I try to hire staff, I am obliged to teach them what many of them have already spent a fortune at the Culinary Institute of America to learn. They know a bit, but what they know blocks the acquisition of more knowledge since they've been told they already know everything.

Learn how to cook at home, people. The Joy of Cooking really is a good cook book. One of the best you can buy, since if you truly study it, you will learn a vast amount about the field.

Cooking isn't hard, but the facts of life for the American family are that with both parents working, no one has time. Sometime in the late Seventies, we passed the point where most meals were taken outside the home. And just as I doubt most people anymore could work on their cars, we are reaching a point where no one knows how to cook.

There are several ironies to this, of course; people spend more and more money on kitchens that they aren't going to cook in-my customers are always telling me about how magnificent their stoves are-yet their in my dining room-and I could never afford a kitchen that cost over 100k; they think the Viking or AGA or La Cornue range and Sub-zero fridge will make the food cook itself. I learned from the Marines that it ain't the dope ON the gun you shoot that matters, it's the dope who SHOOTS the gun.

Posted by: carwinrpc on March 19, 2006 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Great cookbooks for the novice cook (or for the science geek) are Alton Brown's (of the Food Network) books. Seriously, most convenience dinners are just as easy to make from scratch. They're less expensive and produce less waste from packaging, etc., and are better for you.

Posted by: jillbee on March 19, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

You wanna cook?

Get Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It's a big, fat sucker with lots of easy, easy recipes made from just a few ingredients. Plenty of interesting variations for dedicated foodies also.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 19, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

I'm Guessing that Stuff from General Foods qualifies as Food?
And Taco Bell Knows how to make Tacos Right?

And Bush having a HAHVARD MBA is supposed to make a Republican Fiscal Conservative as well?

Well Hell that Article left out a whole lotta Dumbasses

Posted by: Duhbya Doolittle on March 19, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

those frozen dinners has as much salt as whiskey barrel full of salt pork the old horse soldiers ate with their hard crackers.
try boiling your egg in the micro , at your own risk ; exit the kitchen or get under the table ! !

Posted by: CHUCK WAGON on March 19, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm the Man of the House, and for the last 27 years I've done ALL the cooking. When my wife once complained decades ago about my lack of adequately sharing in the housework and I brought up the cooking, she exclaimed, "that doesn't count because that's creative work," implying that it doesn't count because it's fun. When her sister, who does ALL the housework in her household--including the cooking--heard about this, she came to my defense in a way I'll always respect her for. Since then, my wife has given me full credit for the cooking. As a post script: I now find myself doing ALL the housework since I work out of my own home as an architect. Damn, I gotta re-think...
--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on March 20, 2006 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

I knew what they all meant, and I'm a 20 yr old college student who doesn't even cook.

Posted by: Shoshana on March 20, 2006 at 3:43 AM | PERMALINK

I have nourished a theory that the decline in cooking skills arose with the spread of the accursed electric range.

I loathe these things. Perfect for Kraft Mac & Cheese and frozen pizzas; dreadful for anything else.

(Okay - I exempt some decent convection ovens from this general condemnation - but that's baking/roasting - and I'm mostly talking about all the really important stuff which takes place at range top level.)

And, yeah, along with carwinrpc, I also deplore the conspicuous consumption 'display kitchens', laden with granite countertops and $500 copper saucepans, where no one actually cooks.

My first 'cooking bible' was my cherished "A Woman's Home Companion Cookbook' (copyright 1943) which one of the above noted Great Aunts gave me when I was 12.

Cakes didn't come out of boxes, nor pies out of freezers - I know this because from the time I could perch on a counter I was put to work sifting flour, measuring sugar, flouring pans - it would never have even occurred to these ladies that I should be sprawled in front of a TV while they worked. They'd have been shocked by the very suggestion that children should be waited on like little pashas.

Posted by: CFShep on March 20, 2006 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK

I think I went to the same Ivy as B. First week, a friend knocks on my door - "Can you explain how I put my sheets on my bed?" - I'm not kidding you. Now, in his case, he was legitimately a math genius and possibly somewhat autistic. But still.

Posted by: MDtoMN on March 20, 2006 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

I'll be honest, I didn't get 2 of the questions, and I'm pretty good at vocab & multiple choice tests, and I've managed to follow every recipe I've ever encountered. But I don't remember ever "blanching" vegetables.

Posted by: MDtoMN on March 20, 2006 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, for those golden oldie days of yore, when one could simply slap a DVD of Jacques Pepin into the 13 inch TV on the counter - or perhaps a Julia Child or Julia and Jacques together. Even Alton Brown.

However, for a leetle fun, try the Dan Ackroyd, Julia bit.

Posted by: stupid git on March 20, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure how new this "problem" is. My Mom loves to tell the story about her sister-in-law, the newlywed wife, who misread the instructions for cooking the steak her husband had scrimped and saved a week to afford.

She boiled it for 6 minutes on each side. Get it? Boiled not broiled!

This happened in about 1950.

My Mom also claims the "cooking snobbery" was all a government plot to get women out of the workforce after WW II and back in the kitchen to make room for the boys coming home.

Your man needed you spending 8 hours in the kitchen cooking the gourmet meal instead of standing next to him working the drill press.

Personally I'm appalled at the lack of proper penmanship these days. Does no one follow the Palmer method anymore?!

Posted by: Tripp on March 20, 2006 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp: She boiled it for 6 minutes on each side. Get it? Boiled not broiled!

My siter came home with the story of the little honey who was instructed to 'wash the lettuce' and plunged the heads into hot soapy water.

It's scary. A whole generation raised without ever encountering real food.

I'd be in favor of a comlete ban on NY City based food writers who begin with: "Instruct your fish man...pork butcher...cheeseman..." and go on to include lists of ingredients which are utterly unobtainable in 99% of the country and which cost the equivilent of the yearly GNP of many countries.

'Green-lipped New Zealand mussels"? Oh, bite me!

Posted by: CFShep on March 20, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Since there seems to be some reference recommendation going on, I've found Essentials of Cooking to be a great help; its not really a cookbook in the usual sense, it focusses more on techniques than recipes, though it has some recipes, mostly to illustrate the techniques.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK
American cooking is too complicated.

Learn to cook East Indian food (not the kind you get in East Indian Restaurants). You just need to learn four or five basic methods of cooking, and with that knowledge you can cook anything from scratch.

Eh. If you know the right basic techniques, you can do a lot from scratch, sure, but that's hardly limited to East Indian food. Its just as true of "American" food.

The problem is that fewer people are learning the basic techniques in the first place.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

"she boiled it six minutes"

Used to be a pickup technique at the Brothers Market at Marina del Rey in LA.
Lots of singles moved to the Marina in the 60s and 70s. There were many very pretty young ladies who shopped at the market. So, the guy would stand by the meat section looking at a steak - When a young lady approached, he would ask how long should he boil the steak - He would add that his ex had done all of the cooking, but, now, alas, he was soooooo alone.

Mentioned this to a lady one evening - she said that she also shopped there, but she had met a guy who asked her about frying broccoli.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on March 20, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that fewer people are learning the basic techniques in the first place.

And hardly anybody codes in assembler these days.

heh heh

People learn the skills they need.

Posted by: Tripp on March 20, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Is it just me, or did Steve Gilliard have this same story (with Kevin Drum's comments, unattributed) on his site a little while ago, and now it's gone?

Posted by: anonymous on March 20, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

I think you are reading way too much into the word "problem"; I was merely stating that in American cooking, as in other styles, knowing a a handful of fundamental techniques will take you far, the limiting factor ("problem") is the reduced familiarity with the basic techniques, not some unusual complexity of American cooking.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

I was merely stating that in American cooking, as in other styles, knowing a handful of fundamental techniques will take you far, the limiting factor ("problem") is the reduced familiarity with the basic techniques, not some unusual complexity of American cooking.

Heck yeah. I mean, to the extent that there is such a thing as "American cooking," apart from "cooking food Americans eat," which is to say damn well near anything. (I think it was Virgil Thomson who said writing American music is simple: Just be an American, and write whatever you like.) But what people think of as "American cooking" is, as you say, almost childishly easy once you know a very few techniques. I except grilling, which is a lot harder than it's made out to be.

Various "ethnic" cuisines look complicated to us white boyz 'n' girlz, but that's because we see the ingredient lists and go madly scrambling about trying to find galanga and asafetida and lemongrass [actually, you can get the last two in any supermarket in Northern CA, but galanga I have to go to San Rafael for]. The actual cooking is easy once you have the ingredients. One of my favorite Indian recipes takes half an hour; it involves a pile of spices, but if you have them on hand it's simplicity itself, takes next to no effort, and is about the best way of cooking chicken breasts I know.

Assemble your spice rack and you're 7/8 there already. The rest is self-training, which is anyway fun.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 21, 2006 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

Indian food comes out of a tradition of large extended families. Done correctly with its many courses and accompaniments, it's both time and labor intensive.

There's no way to make 'few roti'. Fresh chutnies half a half-life of hours.

I deplore wasting food.

You pretty much have to live in large metro areas to have access to the specialized and highly perishable ingredients. I no longer have the time or space to grow my own fresh exotic veg and herbs either.

I did a good deal Indian cooking when I was married - the ex-adored it - but now find that unless one is willing to endure leftovers for days and days, and one also happens to possess a huge pantry and an enormous fridge for storing all those half-empty bottles of sauces, pickles, and condiments it's just not feasible.

Unless that's all one wishes to eat of course, which is not something I find that attractive as a long term proposition.

Posted by: CFShep on March 21, 2006 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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