Are You a Cook? Or a Snob?
Do you cook for yourself? Not just an occasional cake mix or pork chop, but really cook? Breakfast in the morning? Dinner every night? I do. Although I didn’t learn a lot about cooking when I was a kid, I can now cover the basics nearly every day. And do you know what? Cooking is fun!
Well, sort of. Once I mastered the simple stuff like scrambled eggs, and grilled cheese sandwiches, I started branching out. Looking for recipes I’d never tried before. And that’s where I ran into problems. You see, some recipes are for people who just want to put food on the table. But some recipes are aimed at hobbyists, and hobbyists are a whole different class of cooks. They look for the challenging recipe that needs special ingredients, special devices, and an elevated level of snobbery to pull off.
I once bought a cookbook with a recipe for a delicious-looking blueberry poundcake, only to find that all the ingredients were weighed, not measured. No cups and tablespoons for this chef! And no conversion chart either, for those of us who don’t want to take up valuable counter space with a digital kitchen scale that measures things in grams.
Other food gadgets I’ve been told I “must have” include meat thermometers, candy thermometers, slow cookers, instant cookers, things that cook rice, things that cook beans, and a professional grade stand mixer that costs more than my last four grocery orders combined. I’ve even been told that no Christmas is complete unless I have an ebelskiver pan.
Clearly, if I don’t invest in all these gadgets, I’m not a serious cook. As if millennia of poor folk developing recipes we now call “authentic ethnic cuisine” had to wait around for the invention of the food processor to get tasty results. Which came first? The ebelskiver, or the pan?
And then there’s the “snobbier than thou” ingredient list. Nearly every single hobbyist recipe I’ve ever run across has at least one ingredient that I don’t have on hand. Some of them are not available in my local grocery store. One friend wanted to try a new recipe, only to find that none of the ingredients were commercially available in the entire 910 square miles of her county. And she doesn’t exactly live in a food desert. She has her pick of major grocery stores, plus an active farmers market and countless roadside stands in the summer.
The cooking website wideopeneats.com lists twelve different kinds of salt. Each has a specific use in the kitchen, and if you don’t use the right one? Well, my dear, clearly your palate is not as refined as it should be. Nor is you bank account as fat. Old fashioned cooks like my grandmother may be forgiven for rolling their eyes.
Sometimes the recipe writers assume the home cook has access to things we just don’t have access to. Not only are we expected to have a top-of-the-line, professional grade stand mixer with all the attachments, we really ought to have multi-level cooling racks, a professional grade gas stove, and a huge refrigerator dedicated entirely to proofing dough, chilling cupcakes, and making the fancy frosting frosty. I recently tried a recipe that had me mixing a simple dough in a “large bowl.” The 12” bread bowl I used was just right.
Then I got to the part about chilling the dough overnight in the refrigerator. I found room in my fridge, but I immediately thought of my grandmother’s refrigerator and my mother’s. It was a running joke in my family that those iceboxes were crammed with stuff wall to wall, front to back. My good friend follows that tradition, and kindly let me take a photo of her fridge. Please tell me where the 12” bread bowl is supposed to go?
Cooking Is Fun!
Time to take a deep breath and a big step back. If you try to meet every expectation of those untethered-to-reality recipes, you’ll never venture into the kitchen again. But how do you “de-snobify” a new recipe?
Use what you’ve got: If the recipe calls for salt gleaned from the brows of sweaty Tuscan virgins, just use salt. Table salt is fine. Trust me.
Buy locally: If you must buy an ingredient or two, make sure they’re things you can get locally. No, I didn’t have dried cranberries or orange juice on hand when I made that orange cranberry cake, but I knew they were available at any grocery store, and the cake was worth the trip.
Edit: If I’m trying a recipe for something I know my hillbilly grandmother made all the time—like, say, ham and beans—I feel pretty safe in leaving out the seaweed.
Give yourself plenty of time: That recipe for simple dough that needed to rest overnight in the fridge? From the moment I first mixed the yeast into warm water, to the happy instant I took the finished products out of the oven, I spent 24 hours on that “fun, fast” recipe for pigs in a blanket. Turns out, the dough recipe is enough for three batches of pigs. Maybe a hint that it’s a catering recipe? But the dough keeps in the refrigerator for weeks. The second and third batches are much faster to make, and the “pigs” are worth the work!
When you can bring a recipe back to earth and cut out all the “my palate is more refined than yours” snobbery, cooking is fun!
But “Cooking is Fun!” breaks new ground for us. We haven’t previously written about cooking. What do you think? Would you like to see future posts about cooking? How about recipes? (no snobbishness allowed, of course!) Please leave a comment if you have an opinion or a question!
We have lots of acknowledgements for the montage of gadgets. Many thanks to Williams Sonoma for the KitchenAid stand mixers “rainbow” and the nostalgic photo with the ebelskiver pan. We’re grateful to Alzashop for the pic of the Gorenje food processor with attachments, and to Sur la Table for the photos of a meat thermometer, candy thermometer, and digital food scale. Our deepest gratitude goes to Ebay for the Crock Pot picture, to Zojirushi for the big and little rice cookers, and to the New York Times’s “Wirecutter” feature, for the row of Instant Pots. And finally, we’re thankful to Amazon and Fox Run for the great “bean pot with ingredients” photo.